No Safe Haven

Canada’s rep­u­ta­tion as a mul­ti­cul­tural idyll masks the re­al­ity of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Kim Honey

Fight­ing racism

IN TORONTO, THE MOTHER OF29-YEAR-OLD Regis Korchin­ski-Pa­quet, who had Black, In­dige­nous and Ukrainian her­itage, called po­lice for help with a fam­ily con­flict two days af­ter Ge­orge Floyd’s May 25 mur­der in Min­neapo­lis, Minn. The of­fi­cers went into the apart­ment and, from the hall­way, she heard Regis call­ing, “Mom, help,” be­fore she fell to her death from the 24th-floor bal­cony.

In Kin­ngait, Nu­navut, a by­stander recorded a video on June 1 of an RCMP of­fi­cer door­ing an al­legedly ine­bri­ated Inuk man as he drove up to him, knock­ing him to the ground.

Since the novel coro­n­avirus that causes COVID-19 was first iden­ti­fied in Wuhan, China, in De­cem­ber, anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise across the coun­try, and Van­cou­ver po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing 29 cases by the end of May, com­pared to four in the same time pe­riod the year be­fore.

As ri­ots and protests es­ca­lated in the United States over Floyd’s death at the hands of four po­lice of­fi­cers, one of whom knelt on his neck for eight min­utes and 46 sec­onds, Cana­di­ans have joined the cho­rus of voices call­ing for an end to racism and vi­o­lence against Black, In­dige­nous and other racial mi­nori­ties, es­pe­cially po­lice bru­tal­ity. For them, it reawak­ened trau­matic mem­o­ries of ev­ery en­counter they’d ever had with po­lice, click­ing through them like a slideshow, think­ing, “That could have been me.”

It could have been Santina Rao, a 23-year-old Black mom who was shop­ping with her two young chil­dren at a Hal­i­fax Wal­mart on Jan. 15, when she was stopped and ac­cused of shoplift­ing. She had a $90 re­ceipt for an elec­tron­ics pur­chase with her and a head of let­tuce, two lemons and a grape­fruit un­der the stroller that she was go­ing to pay for on the way out. When po­lice asked her for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and her ad­dress, she got de­fen­sive be­cause she be­lieved she was be­ing racially pro­filed. One hit her in the face, ac­cord­ing to her ac­count pub­lished in the Hal­i­fax Ex­am­iner, and three more tack­led her to the ground. She be­came even more ag­i­tated when she

couldn’t see her daugh­ter. That’s when she says the cop who had a knee on her neck said, “Tighten the cuffs on her. She’s a feisty b****.” Rao says she “suf­fered a bro­ken wrist, con­cus­sion and abra­sions” in the melee, and one po­lice of­fi­cer pulled her up by her in­jured wrist be­fore haul­ing her off to the po­lice sta­tion.

Af­ter the Crown dropped all three charges – caus­ing a dis­tur­bance, bod­ily harm to a peace of­fi­cer and re­sist­ing ar­rest – against Rao on July 7, she planned to reg­is­ter a for­mal com­plaint against three po­lice of­fi­cers and launch a civil ac­tion suit against the city and Wal­mart. “I am worth RE­SPECT,” Rao writes. “My skin colour does not give oth­ers the right to walk all over me and treat me as though my life is sec­ond class.”

El Jones, a com­mu­nity ac­tivist, jour­nal­ist and Mount Saint Vin­cent Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who cov­ered the story for the Ex­am­iner, says Rao’s case is all the more dis­turb­ing be­cause it came less than two months af­ter Hal­i­fax po­lice chief Dan Kinsella apol­o­gized to the Black com­mu­nity for “all those times you were mis­treated, vic­tim­ized and re­vic­tim­ized.” The apol­ogy was prompted by an in­de­pen­dent re­port from crim­i­nol­o­gist Scot Wort­ley, whose March 2019 find­ings showed Black Haligo­ni­ans were six times more likely than whites to be stopped by po­lice of­fi­cers for street checks. Also known as card­ing, po­lice use the prac­tice to col­lect and record ev­ery­thing from eth­nic­ity, gen­der, age and lo­ca­tion on peo­ple in case it is rel­e­vant to fu­ture in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The prac­tice was banned in Hal­i­fax in Oc­to­ber, and the apol­ogy came in Novem­ber.

“[Rao] says they knelt on her neck, like she had abra­sions on her neck,” says Jones. “So one of the things she talks about is what hap­pened to Ge­orge Floyd. They did it to her. And she could have died.”

Jones is tired of re­peat­ing her­self, tired of hav­ing the same con­ver­sa­tions about racism and tired of peo­ple talk­ing about apolo­gies and repa­ra­tions, as if that will wipe out Canada’s 200-year his­tory of en­slave­ment, geno­cide, sub­ju­ga­tion, bla­tant dis­crim­i­na­tion and knees on the neck. As if it will right a mil­lion wrongs.

“Canada loves to act in­no­cent all the time,” she said. “So Canada’s all shocked anew at ev­ery new dis­cus­sion of racism.”

As Mon­treal au­thor, ac­tivist and ed­u­ca­tor Robyn May­nard, who wrote the 2017 book Polic­ing Black Lives: State Vi­o­lence in Canada From Slav­ery to the Present, told CBC’s Power & Pol­i­tics in June, one of the rea­sons racism is so per­sis­tent in Canada is be­cause of the per­cep­tion that we are a safe haven of racial tol­er­ance.

In­deed, two prom­i­nent white po­lit­i­cal pun­dits – Rex Mur­phy writ­ing in the Na­tional Post and Stock­well Day on CBC’s Power & Pol­i­tics – ar­gued in June that racism does not ex­ist in Canada, with Day com­par­ing it to the teas­ing he re­ceived as a child who wore glasses.


Once again, Cana­di­ans watched the con­ver­sa­tion turn from racial pro­fil­ing and po­lice bru­tal­ity to a more gen­eral sub­ject: is there racism in Canada?

Be­cause­ofthe­way­we­con­sume­news,many­ofus­know the names and sto­ries of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Bre­onna Taylor and Ah­maud Ar­bery, but as Toronto ac­tivist and jour­nal­ist Des­mond Cole told the CBC in June, “We can’t wait for the Amer­i­cans in or­der for us to talk about our­selves.

“We have to stop piv­ot­ing from Amer­ica and then say­ing, ‘What about Canada,” said Cole, who pub­lished The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Re­sis­tance and Power this year. “We have to look into our own com­mu­ni­ties.”

Here are the names, all peo­ple of colour, you should know who died in the pres­ence of po­lice this year alone: Ja­mal Fran­cique in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont.; Jason Collins in Win­nipeg; Regis Korchin­skiPa­quet in Toronto; Eishia Hud­son in Win­nipeg; Ste­wart Kevin An­drews in Win­nipeg; D’An­dre Camp­bell in Bramp­ton, Ont., Chantel Moore in Ed­mund­ston, N.B., Rod­ney Levi in Mi­ramichi, N.B.;andE­jazAhmedCh­oudry

in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont.

Levi, a 48-year-old mem­ber of the Mete­pe­na­giag Mi’kmaq Na­tion near Mi­ramichi, N.B., was shot and killed by an RCMP of­fi­cer on June 12, the same day RCMP Com­mis­sioner Brenda Lucki ad­mit­ted that sys­temic racism ex­isted in the po­lice force, walk­ing back her pub­lic re­fusal two days be­fore.

Twelve days later, Crown pros­e­cu­torsinFort­McMur­ray,Alta.,dropped charges of re­sist­ing ar­rest and as­sault­ing an of­fi­cer against Athabasca Chipewyan chief Al­lan Adam.Dash-camvide­ofro­maRCMP car showed a po­lice of­fi­cer tack­ling

Adam and punch­ing him in the head out­side a casino in March, an in­ci­dent that started over an ex­pired li­cence plate.


When the non-profit Cana­dian Race Re­la­tions Foun­da­tion com­mis­sioned Toronto-based En­vi­ron­ics In­sti­tute to sur­vey more than 3,000 Cana­di­ans in April and May 2019 from all eth­nic back­grounds on per­cep­tions of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and the state of race re­la­tions in Canada, it proved, with­out a doubt, that racism was a re­al­ity in mod­ern Canada.

Not only did more than half of the Black and In­dige­nous re­spon­dents say they had per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced racism ei­ther reg­u­larly or from time to time, but about half of Black and In­dige­nous peo­ple re­ported oth­ers had treated them as less than smart and with sus­pi­cion in the past 12 months.

All eth­nic groups, in­clud­ing whites, be­lieved In­dige­nous, Black and South Asian peo­ple ei­ther of­ten or oc­ca­sion­ally ex­pe­ri­ence racism.

“Yes, it ex­ists in Canada is the first [con­clu­sion]. The sec­ond is that it’s gen­er­ally rec­og­nized that it hap­pens, even if the full scope of it is not fully ap­pre­ci­ated,” said En­vi­ron­ics se­nior as­so­ci­ate Keith Neu­man. “And there are very, very few Cana­di­ans, even white Cana­di­ans, who say it’s not a prob­lem at all.”

Af­ter col­lect­ing age-re­lated data, Neu­man said there was no ap­pre­cia­ble dif­fer­ence in the per­spec­tive of mil­len­ni­als, gen-Xers and baby boomers.


The frus­tra­tion of Cana­dian protesters comes from the long his­tory of racism and decades of govern­ment in­ac­tion or lip ser­vice.

As a 2017 United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil re­port noted, slav­ery ex­isted in Canada from the 1500s un­til it was abol­ished in 1834. Even though Canada was seen as a safe haven for African-Amer­i­cans es­cap­ing slav­ery through the Un­der­ground Rail­road, this coun­try was far from an idyl­lic sanc­tu­ary.

Af­ter slav­ery ended, Black Cana­di­ans faced decades of dis­crim­i­na­tion, not to men­tion seg­re­ga­tion in schools, work places and in hous­ing, as well as in some restau­rants and movie the­atres.

Vi­ola Des­mond, the Nova Sco­tia wo­man whose face graces our $10 bill, was ar­rested and dragged out of a theatre in New Glas­gow in hand­cuffs in 1946 af­ter she dared sit on the main floor, which was re­served for whites, be­cause she was short-sighted and couldn’t see from the bal­cony. She was fined $26 for “evad­ing” the one-cent dif­fer­ence be­tween a bal­cony and floor seat and died with­out any ac­knowl­edge­ment that she was sub­jected to racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. The par­don from Nova Sco­tia’s lieu­tenant-gover­nor came in 2010 45 years af­ter her death.

The con­ver­sa­tion about anti-Black racism, like the one around mur­dered and missing In­dige­nous women and girls that prompted a na­tional in­quiry and re­turned a find­ing of geno­cide in June 2019, has been go­ing on for years and makes head­lines ev­ery time there is another sense­less death, another hate crime, another bla­tant in­stance of racism.

Black Cana­di­ans are still wait­ing for the fed­eral govern­ment’s re­sponse to the UN re­port, which had dozens of rec­om­men­da­tions, in­clud­ing an apol­ogy to Cana­di­ans of African de­scent and pay­ing repa­ra­tions “for en­slave­ment and his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tices.”

Por­trait of Ge­orge Floyd by Paul GlynWil­liams, Graf­fiti Al­ley, Toronto

Santina Rao at York De­boubt in Hal­i­fax, June 2020

Por­trait of Regis Korchin­ski-Pa­quet by Adrian Hayles, Graf­fiti Al­ley, Toronto

Por­trait of Ja­mal Fran­cique by Bub­zlitto Bri­g­ante, Graf­fiti Al­ley, Toronto

Peo­ple walk to hon­our Rod­ney Levi in Red Bank, N.B., June 19, 2020

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