PEOPLE

#MeanwhileInCanada Black Canadians Are Fighting Ignorance and Intolerance

We too are angry. We too are hurting. We too are tired.

Photo by munshots on Unsplash

For a large part of the weekend #MeanwhileInCanada was the number one trending topic on Twitter for Canadians. The tweets were largely comparisons of news coverage between escalating protests in the United States, following the murder of George Floyd, and lackadaisical Canadian headlines. This juxtaposition would be tone-deaf on any day, this weekend it was particularly infuriating.

While some Canadians were tweeting inconceivably ignorant comparisons, others marched the streets of Toronto demanding justice for Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year old black woman, died after falling from her 24th-floor apartment during an altercation with Toronto Police last week. Police have been accused of pushing her over the balcony.

Regis Paquet/Facebook

The fact that these topics can simultaneously trend on Canadian’s social feeds and further that #MeanwhileInCanada can edge out the voices of thousands calling for police reform and an end to anti-Black racism (#JusticeForRegis and #TorontoProtest were the number two and three trending topics over the weekend) is not surprising. Canadians are woefully ignorant about anti-Black racism in our country. A luxury I cannot afford.

In 2006, Duane Christian, a 15-year-old boy, was shot and killed by police in Toronto. I remember the moment vividly. I sat in the living room watching the news with my parents.

A 15-year-old boy was shot by police.

The boy is described as a black male approximately 5'9"

His name is Duane.

Then the calls came — from friends, family members, church members — my parents fielding the questions.

Is Dwaine okay?

Please don’ tell me it’s him?

Did they kill him?

We were the same age. We were the same size. We had the same name. We had the same complexion. It could have been me.

14 years later — in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and countless others — I’m filled with the same dread I was as a kid. The same dread I feel every time a black life is taken without consideration or consequence. It could have been me.

While, I recognize that I am less likely than my brothers and sisters south of the border to be executed by police, less likely is still probable in Canada. I am 20x more likely to be shot by police in Toronto, 6x more likely to be carded in Halifax, 5x more likely to be unjustly searched in Vancouver and 2.3x more likely to be pulled over in Ottawa than my white counterparts.

These numbers should not be shocking. The names D’Andre Campbell, Machuar Madut, and Nicholas Gibbs— three black men recently killed by police in Canada — should not be obscure.

These people and probabilities are on my mind when I walk out outside, when I go to work, and when I am sitting in my home. They are a constant reminder that I am not safe, that my dread is real — even when it is dismissed.

Question: Aren’t you glad you live in Canada?

Answer: Yes, but that doesn’t mean I feel safe

Question: Why are you protesting? The police don’t kill people in Canada

Answer: Because one life taken is one too many and police in Canada have taken far more than one life

Question: Isn’t police brutality an American issue?

Answer: No, I have been brutalized — in Canada

Ignorance

It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. — James Baldwin

The term American Exceptionalism is used to describe the belief held by many Americans — that they are the best country in the world, despite extensive evidence to the contrary. Canadians are typically too polite to position ourselves as the best at anything — the exception, of course, being hockey. However, since 2016 there has been a boisterous disposition building among Canadians as we look on at the chaos that has consumed the United States. I’ve felt it, people have written about it — the pedestal of moral superiority Canada sits on in comparison to its sister country — Canadian Exceptionalism.

Canadian Exceptionalism has crippled our ability to critically reflect on the issues in our own country. It is sobering, that when our Prime Minister was exposed for a history of wearing black and brown-face that millions of Canadians, myself included, were willing to move on in a matter of days. As a Black man, it’s discomforting to think about that now. It’s reflective of our collective desensitization to real issues of anti-Black racism in Canada— almost certainly the result of consistent exposure to the brutalization of Black people in America.

It should disturb us that we so easily accept harmful depictions of Black caricatures, simply because there is no immediate threat to Black life. Have we forgotten that persistent reinforcements of tokenism, fetishism, and dehumanization are the foundations of racism? Foundations, that reinforced over time, bring us to our current reality.

Canada is not good, we simply are not the worst, and therein lies the problem. The fact that a Black life isn’t snuffed out every day in Canada, has resulted in mass ignorance. It has made non-Black Canadians question the validity of Black experiences, the importance of Black protest, and the value of Black lives.

Intolerance

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others. — Ta-Nehisi Coates

Racism in Canada is not limited to ignorance, we too have our fair share of intolerance — white supremacy, the KKK, the alt-right – you name it, we have it. You need to look no further than our most recent elections to grasp the presence and power of these insidious groups.

The signatory records for the formation of the People’s Party of Canada included support from white supremists including, the former leader of a U.S. neo-Nazi group, a former Soldiers of Odin member, and a Pegida Canada official. The Party secured just under 300,000 votes in the 2019 election.

In Toronto — the most diverse city in the world — the 2018 Mayoral election ended with Faith Godly, a white-supremacist, amassing 25,667 votes.

And who can forget Kelly Leitch and the 2017 Conservative Party of Canada Leadership race? Leitch not only aligned herself with Donald Trump, she also proposed a values screening process for all immigrants entering or visiting Canada.

Of course, the impact of intolerance is more than votes — it’s lives. Intolerance ended the lives of six men — two of whom were Black — in the 2017 attack on a mosque in Quebec City.

Canada is not immune to intolerance and ignorance of that fact invalidates the experiences of Black-Canadians. Invalidation, during this pivotal moment in our battle for equality, is its own form of oppression.

So, in case you were wondering, Canada is not a morally superior country. Anti-black racism exists here. Police brutality exists here. Black people are killed, assaulted, and oppressed here. #BlackLivesMatter here. #BlackLivesMatter everywhere.

We too are angry. We too are hurting. We too are tired.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Authour note: This article is about anti-black racism but there is another racialized group in Canada that experiences similar and often greater violence and oppression. To our Indigenous brothers and sisters — we see you, we hear you, we stand with you.

Strategist | Facilitator | Fundraiser. I write about people, culture and organizations.

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