The Province

Hard-hitting look at reality of racism

New book should be wake-up call for Canada

- TOM SANDBORN Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

White, middle-class Canadians like to think our country is a bastion of anti-racism, citing the escaped slaves from the United States who found refuge here during the era of the Undergroun­d Railway and some progressiv­e current government policies.

Activist and researcher Robyn Maynard argues in her compelling new book Policing Black Lives that we should re-examine our complacenc­y. Canadian residents of African heritage, like Indigenous people and other visible minorities, continue to suffer from discrimina­tion in law enforcemen­t, education, the social-welfare system and the wage economy.

For example, if you are a person of colour in Vancouver, you are far more likely to be stopped by the police and questioned in the street than your fellow citizens who look “white.”

This grim reality is often referred to as “the crime of walking while black.”

Recently a freedom of informatio­n applicatio­n has produced shocking figures from Vancouver Police Department records.

(Disclosure: I am a member of the board of the B.C. Civil Liberties Associatio­n, which helped publicize these numbers.)

People of African descent make up only one per cent of Vancouver’s population, but four per cent of reported “street checks.” Indigenous people make up two per cent of the city’s total population, but 15 per cent of those who are stopped and questioned, while the numbers are even more striking for Indigenous women, who are two per cent of the female population but 21 per cent of women streetchec­ked.

Black Canadians, Maynard tells us, are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be detained pre-trial, to have restrictiv­e bail conditions imposed and to have harsher sentences than white Canadians. Too often, encounters between armed police and people of colour end in civilian deaths.

While some argue that racial difference­s in arrests and conviction­s reflect more crimes committed by people of colour, Maynard argues that it is far more likely that the overrepres­entation of people of colour in Canadian courts and prisons is a result of different levels of enforcemen­t and investigat­ion, as evidenced by the Vancouver street-check numbers and similar numbers in other Canadian cities.

She wryly notes a 2016 CBC report that Revenue Canada secretly offered 26 million- aires amnesty for their involvemen­t in a lucrative illegal tax scam. The poor, the non-white and the marginaliz­ed are seldom offered such official mercy.

A racism-free Canada? As this searing book illustrate­s, we are not there yet. Hopefully Maynard’s readers will be inspired to redouble our efforts to get there.

 ?? — STACY LEE PHOTOGRAPH­Y ?? Activist and researcher Robyn Maynard is the author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present.
— STACY LEE PHOTOGRAPH­Y Activist and researcher Robyn Maynard is the author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present.
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