The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the Sharpeville massacre that took place on March 21, 1960 in South Africa. On that day, police shot and killed 69 peaceful demonstrators who had been protesting that country's system of racial segregation, known as apartheid.
The United Nations' theme for the 2017 Day is "racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration." In a recent report, the UN defines racial profiling as “reliance by law enforcement, security and border personnel on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin as a basis for subjecting persons to detailed searches, identity checks, and investigations, or for determining whether an individual is engaged in criminal activity.” The UN also states that refugees and migrants are particular targets of racial profiling and incitement to hatred.
Racial profiling is a strategic area of concern for the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC). The Caucus has not only drawn attention to the history of racial profiling that reproduces itself every day in the disproportionate numbers of black and Indigenous men and women who are stopped and detained by the police, but also in the rise in the number of black youth who are subject to carding — they are three times more likely to be stopped by law enforcement and are the subject of 41 per cent of all contact cards collected by the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy. The WOCC has also called on OPSEU members to take action to redress the shooting deaths of members of the black community — Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku — who have been victimized and killed by police.
In recent months, the Workers of Colour Caucus has also condemned the racial profiling and hate that manifested itself in the shooting deaths of six Muslim men at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. The phenomenon of profiling was evident in the act of terror that occurred at the mosque, which had been vandalized previously.
“This is exactly what racial profiling is,” says Peter Thompson, chair of the WOCC. “Even when members of Muslim and racialized communities do not threaten, when they are in a sacred place of worship, they are perceived as criminal, as threatening, as an imminent risk to security. Every time there is an act of hate and violence directed at racialized communities, it reinforces the idea that these very communities must be defended against at any cost.”
The Workers of Colour Caucus is also critical of the recurrent and institutional forms of racism that continue to justify racial profiling and hate.
“Make no mistake, whole communities — Brown, Black, Indigenous communities — are targeted and hunted by police, by the state, and we are subject to extraordinary legislation and measures. All of this is normalized in the way we do things,” says Hayton Morrison, chair of the Region 5 Workers of Colour Caucus. “We are talking about the Muslim ban in the US and the use of immigration purity tests in Canada, and the rise in hate incidents.”
The systemic racism through which racialized communities are targeted is also a focus of the Workers of Colour Caucus. The WOCC has highlighted, in particular, immigration legislation such as the safe country agreement, the use of security certificates, and indefinite immigration holds as especially virulent forms of racism, and are calling on OPSEU members to take action.
Taking real action: Ontario’s anti-racism strategy
The current context of racial profiling and hate led the Workers of Colour Caucus to demand that the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate challenge, in a systematic way, the manner in which racialized communities have been violated and dehumanized — from over-representation in jails to the system of economic apartheid that leaves racialized and Indigenous communities in conditions of destitution.
“We are very heartened that in developing its three-year anti-racism strategy, the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate has taken up many of the recommendations made by the Workers of Colour Caucus and community and labour activists around the province,” says Thompson. “It’s especially significant that the OAD will have a clear, legislated mandate and authority and that it will develop a framework for race-based disaggregated data collection.”
“These are exactly the measures we put forward as critical to uncovering the way in which policies, practices, and decision-making processes in the Ontario government may have an adverse impact on racialized communities,” adds Morrison.
The OAD states in its report, A Better Way Forward, that it will develop race-based disaggregated data so that it can better understand what specific segments of the population are experiencing racism. It will pilot its data collection framework with Child Welfare, Justice and Education K-12. The OAD also plans to introduce anti-racism legislation to ensure an accountability framework for government organizations and mandating data collection in all government-funded agencies. It will also develop a public education and awareness strategy; establish an anti-racism consultation group and conference; and generate population-specific strategies to address Anti-Black racism, Indigenous-focused anti-racism, and an OPS anti-racism strategy.
“This is a promising start,” says Thompson, “but the OAD and the Premier must commit to real action, and the process of carrying out these goals is as important as the outcome.”
The Workers of Colour Caucus says that the OAD must not only be able to mandate the collection of data, but the data must also uncover numerical instances of discrimination such as under- and over-representation across government bodies, and must also contribute to research on the experience of racism. This broad-based research should not simply be conducted for the purposes of public education but as part of the identification of barriers and actions to remove barriers. Accountability measures should include an implementation strategy and action plan with real deliverables, a timetable, and success criteria that are publicly accessible.
The WOCC also hopes that the piloting of the data collection and assessment tool in some ministries signals that there are also priority issues that the OAD will consider, like carding, racial profiling, and setting defined employment targets in the OPS. The Caucus also agrees with labour and community organizations like the Colour Poverty-Colour of Change that call for employment equity measures and for better research on employment labour outcomes and measures to combat wage inequality in racialized communities.
“We look forward to collaborating with OAD in developing its anti-racism strategy and we hope that community groups and labour will be engaged in a meaningful way in shaping the framework, tools, tactics to do this work,” says Thompson. “We agree with OAD’s report that where policies are developed without the voices of Indigenous and racialized people, systemic barriers may result. We know our experiences best.“