The world is marking International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21.
The annual event is an opportunity to renew the commitment to eradicate all forms of discrimination because of race.
Canada prides for its official multicultural policy. However, our society is far from perfect.
To cite an example, hate crimes rose sharply in 2017, increasing by 47 percent over the previous year, according to Statistics Canada. Incidents targeting Muslim, Jewish, and Black populations accounted for most of the upsurge, which was largely in Ontario and Quebec.
Moreover, right-wing and white supremacist groups are on the rise. Barbara Perry, a researcher at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, estimates that between 2015 and 2018, the number of active organizations of this nature increased by 20-25 percent. It is estimated that there are now between 100 and 125 active right-wing extremist groups throughout the country.
Using data from the government’s Canadian Community Health Survey, Jenny Godley, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Calgary, wrote in a study that almost 23 percent of Canadians report experiencing everyday discrimination. Race is one of the most common causes of discrimination, with Arabs, Asians, and Indigenous peoples reporting high levels of discrimination.
The federal government is currently working on a new, national anti-racism strategy. The 2018 budget announced funding for a cross-country engagement for this initiative.
An official backgrounder identified a number of key areas that will be addressed by the strategy.
One issue relates to income disparity among immigrant communities: non-White immigrants are getting paid less than their Caucasian counterparts.
“Foreign-born visible minorities earn, on average, 78 cents for every dollar earned by foreign-born non-racialized people,” according to the document.
The backgrounder also notes that the new strategy will include employment and income supports. These will cover measures to address workplace discrimination, representation by job category, earnings and wage gaps, and employment rate and labour force participation.
Pay disparity is also observed between new immigrants and those whose families have been in Canada for at least three generations.
Writing in the current affairs and news magazine Macleans, Arvind Magesan, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, noted that “in spite of their ostensible importance to the Canadian economy, immigrants themselves have yet to catch up to other Canadians in terms of economic outcomes”.
Citing Census data from 2006, Magesan pointed out that first-generation immigrants were earning 12.6 per cent less than the average wage of native Canadians.
According to Magesan, the gap dropped slightly to 10 percent in the 2011 Census. However, the disparity increased significant to 16 percent in the 2016 Census.
“Looking at the three of the most popular destinations for immigrants in the past decade — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — the gap in 2016 sits at 25, 17 and 23 per cent respectively,” the academic wrote.
The gap also exists for children of first generation immigrants. According to Magesan, the 2016 Census showed that second-generation immigrants earn 5.4 percent less than those born in Canada.
A February 2018 report released by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in the House of Commons observed that “more subtle and implicit forms of racism and discrimination are harder to detect, understand, and address”.
“This discrimination can also manifest unintentionally, a result of the unconscious biases of individuals in positions of power that stem from longstanding stereotypes and myths around ethnic and/or religious minority groups,” the committee reported.
The committee noted that this type of discrimination “can be seen and has in fact been measured in employment and economic outcomes amongst Canada’s minority populations”.
The House committee report cited the testimony of Ontario lawyer and immigrant advocate Avvy Yao-Yao Go, who said that as a “result of the labour market discrimination, poverty in Canada has also become racialized”.
According to Go; “The last census shows that 18.7% of racialized families live in poverty as compared to only 6% of non-racialized families, yet the federal government's current national poverty reduction strategy makes little or no mention of how it would address poverty experienced by communities of colour.”
Canada’s new ant-racism strategy in the making has a chance to make things right.
And while the government is at it, Canada may as well stop referring to non-White Canadians as ‘visible minority’, which is a term based on colour, and sets them apart from the rest of society.