By Lina Katrin
Image source: collage of ethnic media stories
Self-reflection is crucial in times of public unrest, and it is time to look at the facts. The issue of racism is not new, and everyone who says there is no definite answer on whether systematic racism exists in Canada is turning a blind eye to people’s testimonies. In fact, several ethnic media outlets have come forward with opinions on and discussions about the history of unjust discrimination in Canada and repetitive instances of police brutality toward minorities.
On OMNI News: Punjabi Edition, a Punjabi TV program from Toronto, U of T Sociology Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah reminded the viewers: “We don’t have a Canada without the Indian Act, residential schools, and the reservation system. We don’t have Canada without slavery and segregation.” To this day the old system and beliefs influence how employers perceive the potential work ethic of job applicants or how the police decide who they want to stop and search.
Similarly, Annie Lu of Ottawazine, a Chinese web source from Ottawa, said she believes Canadians pay little attention to racial discrimination in their own country. She urged Canadians to take care of their own domestic affairs first and recognize that Black people are suffering due to discrimination. On Mark & Jem in the Morning, a Caribbean radio program aired on G 98.7 FM from Toronto, the hosts provided an example: last fall, an independent study showed a Black person was four times more likely to be stopped by officers.
According to CBC News, since Caucasians are the largest racial group in Canada, they represent nearly half the victims of police violence in the database. However, when taking into account the racial and ethnic composition of the overall population, two distinct groups are overwhelmingly over-represented in these encounters: black and Indigenous people.
It is important to remember that behind each statistic there are real people who suffer from years of oppression. On CIAO 530 AM Punjabi in Toronto, former immigration minister and current Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Ahmed Hussen, said that despite his high-profile position, anti-black racism is a part of his life – and that so many of others. During the interview, he shared that he still gets followed around in stores and has a visceral reaction when police vehicles are nearby.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also shared his experiences with discrimination with the Canadian Punjabi Post, a Toronto-based newspaper. He said: “It’s the sort of story Canadians love to boast about: a country so accepting of others that even our most tradition-loving institutions will immediately welcome people of all colours and backgrounds. But it’s not the full story.” Sajjan said that in his early years in the military people were “throwing” power and privilege in his face, showing him the depth of racial prejudice in Canada.
These are just two stories of high-ranking Canadian government officials. What about the stories of countless Black victims who didn’t just experience an uncomfortable encounter with racism but lost their lives because of police violence and negligence? Van People, a Chinese web source from Vancouver, reported the recent death of a 29-year-old African-Canadian woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, as the fuse of Canada’s protests. As the tension between protesters and police officers is growing, it is quite easy to identify one of the main reasons for public frustration and calls for defunding the police — ignorance of the existence of systematic racism in Canada.
Fadi Al Harouni of RCI Arabic, a web source from Montreal, reported that although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Francois Legault agreed that racism against black people exists in Canada and must be combatted, the two disagreed on the presence of systematic racism in the country. Trudeau said: “Racism towards blacks, systemic discrimination, injustice, it is also with us.” Yet, many officials take Legault’s side. The hosts of Mark & Jem in the Morning specifically called Premier Doug Ford’s commentary on the US protests a “normal blind-sighted ignorance” when Ford said Canada doesn’t have the systemic deep-rooted racism of the US.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Stockwell Day, a former MP and a former cabinet minister of the federal government, both sided with Ford on the issue. Van People reported that Day was dismissed and resigned from two important positions within one day after denying that Canada is a racist country.
However, firing government officials and prosecuting police officers who take the lives of black people isn’t enough. The public is demanding a clear change in the system, starting by defunding the police.
Radio host Eric Sifuentes, speaking on Toronto’s CHIN 91.9 FM Spanish program, said that he isn’t against the police but is in favour of other areas of service, which don’t receive the same injection of public funding, such as services for children and sports. When the crime rate rises, there is a call for more police officers, but when the crime rate drops, there is a call to keep the number of police officers up to maintain the rate, according to Sifuentes. Silvia Mendez, another host on the show, said that the police have been receiving too much funding for too many years. They both agreed that in times of budget cuts, police shouldn’t be spared, and Sifuentes doesn’t want his property taxes funding “the most expensive force in the galaxy.”
Just this January, the city of Brampton welcomed the Ontario government’s funding announcement of $20.5 million for Peel Regional Police to increase resources to strengthen community safety initiatives, according to Urdu Times Canada, a newspaper from Toronto. During the announcement, Mayor Patrick Brown said: “I am grateful that Premier Ford and Solicitor General Jones have heard our call for guns and gang funding. This is an important tool that our police require to keep Brampton and Peel Region safe.” This statement creates an impression that there can be no safety unless the police have access to guns. Yet as recent events show, the immense power the funding grants the police can lead to more violence toward people of colour.
Defunding the police means reassigning some of its roles rather than abolishing it. Mark Strong of Mark & Jem in the Morning said that in Toronto, where almost a quarter of property taxes go to funding the police, two city councillors put forth a motion to cut the city's police budget by 10%. The hosts discussed how redirecting some of the funding would reassign certain functions that the police are not performing well, instances where there have been negative outcomes such as violence and criminalization.
For example, in the tragedy of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the police didn’t take advantage of the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team initiative that was launched in February of this year, allegedly creating a new approach to first response to mental health crises. Prime News Canada, a Punjabi TV program in Brampton, reported that people call the police in an emergency but now with the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, they are supposed to have a social worker and a health care professional with them to help provide people with the right health care. After Korchinski-Paquet's death, there are even more calls for redistributing the police departments’ funding toward organizations that are better prepared to provide essential services.
However, in January this year, Jasbir Shameel, the host of Good Morning Toronto, a Punjabi radio program on Red FM 88.9, expressed an alternative viewpoint, saying that the police budget cuts compromise public safety. Callers also said that increased immigration and migration in the Peel Region, especially in Brampton, is causing more crime in the area. Still, the police have proven time and time again that more funding doesn’t guarantee safety and protection. On the contrary, according to many spokespeople in the community, it gives the police power over people, and such power is often deadly toward minorities.
Racism didn’t start with George Floyd’s death. This issue is deeply rooted in our society, in ways we communicate and treat each other. This issue is ongoing, but enough is enough. What happened to Floyd, Korchinski-Paquet, and thousands of other black people who lost their lives because of police brutality is unacceptable, unforgivable, and measures need to be taken to rewrite the code and change the systemic racism in Canada. Many ethnic media outlets agree that the first step is to review police funding and make appropriate cuts. A caller on Red FM 88.9 Good Morning Toronto bottom-lines the argument: “The police are there to enforce the law and not to deliver justice.”