OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

The struggle against racism isn’t cutting it

The Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate (OAD) held its first community consultation in late July to seek ideas on how to address systemic racism throughout the province. Members of the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) attended the consultation at Daniels Spectrum where hundreds of participants, including many community and labour activists, crowded into several overflow rooms and outside in the courtyard.

The event was attended by Premier Wynne who was joined by Michael Coteau (Minister of Child and Youth Services and the Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism), Mitzie Hunter (Minister of Education), David Zimmer (Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation), Mayor John Tory and a number of other cabinet ministers, city councillors and school trustees.

“I was really deeply affected by how much passion was in the room,” said Peter Thompson, Chair of the Workers of Colour Caucus. “It was important that so many speakers not only acknowledged the great tradition of resistance that has always existed in racialized communities–the political struggle, the working struggle, the social struggle—but who were courageous enough to speak truth to the power. To question the years of government evasion and denial when it comes to taking action against anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism.”

“Wynne and Minister Coteau need to show that they’re serious about combating anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and Islamophobia. And we need to name these racisms for what they are,” said Hayton Morrison, Chair of the Region 5 Workers of Colour Caucus. “We need to stop side-stepping the issues. “

Speakers from the crowd called for the OAD to:

  • have a clear, legislated mandate and authority
  • establish an Ontario Anti-racism Secretariat and a department of African-Canadian Affairs
  • reinstate employment equity throughout the province to increase representation of black and Indigenous employees in federal and provincial governments (including hiring and selection processes at the OAD itself)
  • collect disaggregated ‘race’-based data across government institutions
  • eliminate carding and racial profiling
  • inquire into racism in virtually every government institution and agency such as in Corrections, Children’s Aid Society and across school boards
  • implement the Truth and Reconciliation Report’s recommendations
  • address poverty, economic disparities and precarious employment faced by racialized communities in Ontario

“It’ll be important that the OAD challenge, in a systematic way, the repeated ways racialized communities have been violated and dehumanized—everything from over-representation in jails and in care to the economic apartheid that has caused black and Indigenous communities to live in conditions of total destitution,” said Thompson. “And there is significant research already in existence, including studies on racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, and recommendations like the recent Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

“Employment equity measures throughout the government are extremely important but it’s important to recognize that selecting one or fifty racialized employees for positions does not end systemic racial inequality. By itself, it does not erase the years of opportunities and basic rights that have been denied to us,” said Morrison.

The crowd was also concerned about the limited budget announced by Minister Coteau, who said the OAD would have a $5-million budget and a 32-person staff to evaluate government systems and combat systemic racism throughout the province.

This announcement drew the ire of those present. “Peanuts!” yelled participants, “Premier Wynne, you can see we have a problem already. If we don’t have the tools to meet the mandate and to end racism, we will not get there.” One woman present suggested that “10 per cent of each Ministry budget be set aside” to better fund the Directorate.

“When we speak about racialized Ontarians, we are not speaking about a special interest group or a group asking for hand-outs,” Morrison said. “We are speaking about people who have a long history of being vulnerable to the state, to government institutions, to the police.”

“We must confront the myth that there is equality and protection for all,” said Thompson. “Racism, brutality and violence against Black, Indigenous and Muslim communities are our lived reality. These experiences are not incidental or accidental, they’re real and we need to challenge the flaws in the system. We must take a whole system approach to address racism. We need multiple measures like employment equity, the elimination of racial profiling, and eradicating the pipeline that leads racialized kids straight from schools to prisons.”

For more information on the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate http://opseu.org/news/call-strong-anti-racism-directorate