Thursday, 12 April 2012

The persistence of racial inequality in Canada

Today in Canada we have legal protection for victims of discrimination and a constitutional guarantee of equality rights for all. Thus some would say that the March 21 commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is redundant since every day is a racism-free day in Canada. Indeed, according to an Angus Reid poll, while a third of Canadians (32 per cent) believe that racism is a significant problem in Canada, 55 per cent are satisfied that we have overcome it.
But consider these facts from a recent Toronto Star series on Race and Policing. Black males living in Toronto are three times more likely to be carded by police, no matter where they live; police stop residents more frequently in neighbourhoods that are largely populated by people of colour. Not only are racialized people considered a greater crime threat, they also face greater surveillance.
Studies have also documented racial disparities in income, health status, services, civic participation and in the labour market. Employment and income disparities persist for racialized people in Toronto and Canada, regardless of education. They are more likely to be unemployed and underemployed even though they are more willing and available to work.
Racialized Canadians earn an average of $30,385 per year compared to $37,332 for other Canadians, or 81 cents to the dollar. First generation racialized male Canadians earn 68.7 per cent of what their white counterparts make, and second generation racialized males make 75.6 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
Racialized immigrant women earn only 48.7 per cent of the employment income that non-racialized immigrant men earn, while racialized women as a whole earn 56.5 per cent ($25,204) of what white men earn ($45,327)
The effect of these inequalities in the labour market is that racialized Canadians are three times more likely to live in poverty than other Canadians (19.8 per cent compared to 6.4 per cent).
And how about the fact that one in five aboriginals live in poverty and an untold number live without basic necessities such as clean water and electricity?
The dream of a racism-free society is still rather elusive. Those who think Canada is post-racial may wish to review the recently released report from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination looking at Canada’s compliance with the international law on racial equality. The committee acknowledges a number of positive steps taken by Canada, but also expresses these concerns: growing socio-economic gaps among ethnic groups; racial profiling, particularly of African-Canadians by police; overrepresentation of aboriginal and African Canadians in the prison population, and the discrimination they face generally in the criminal justice system. The UN report highlights violence and other issues facing aboriginal women. And it warns that changes to Canada’s refugee system will discriminate against refugees from so-called “safe countries.”
Sure, the UN report is not binding and our governments can simply ignore it. But since racialized groups now make up over 25 per cent of the Ontario population and the percentage will grow to 33 per cent by 2017, one hopes that governments would heed the UN findings.
Yet, apart from the obligatory ethnic outreach during election time when some people of colour are called upon to act as props for campaign purposes, issues facing racialized communities often get short thrift in political debate.
Today, there are many opportunities for the Ontario and federal governments to step up and address these racial inequities. At the provincial level, reviews of both the human rights system and social assistance are underway. The reviewers have an opportunity to ensure that any changes they recommend will positively and substantively benefit members of racialized communities.
The upcoming federal and provincial budgets give both governments a chance to introduce measures that will address the perpetual underemployment and unemployment problems facing racialized communities and invest in programs that will benefit them. Ottawa could take a leadership role by developing a national poverty reduction strategy with universally applicable but targeted programs that meet the needs of the most vulnerable and excluded populations. It should also commit to investments that meet the needs of aboriginal peoples, from basic services to education, employment and economic opportunities.
They could require all provinces and territories that receive federal money to meet federal employment equity targets for any job opportunities created as a result. Employment equity programs work, demonstrably so. The federal contract compliance program has been effective in improving hiring and promotion for women and racialized group members among employers who do business with the federal government over the 25 years it has been in place.
Collectively we should and can lift the well being and ensure full citizenship for members of racialized communities.
Let’s make racial justice our goal, not a slogan for one day a year.
Grace Edward Galabuzi is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. Amy Casipullai is senior policy and communications coordinator at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. Avvy Go is director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.


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