Cardozo: Dialogues on diversity is what we need

Agree with need for commission or enquiry to allow for a more substantive, comprehensive and non-partisan review.

Issue is with respect to what the focus should be and what kind of research, process and recommendations are needed (stay tuned, working on my thoughts):

“They made us believe we didn’t have souls,” Elder Florence Sparvier, a residential school survivor, said at a press conference in Cowessess, Sask.

Canada Day 2021 and this entire period has been a time for reflection. We are a good country. We have the self-confidence to know that we have lots of strengths. And in that confidence, we also have the ability to be self-critical to recognize the bad parts of our history, or the problems we have today, and to make amends, or at least to try to do better.

Over 50 years ago Lester B. Pearson established two royal commissions: one on the status of women and one on bilingualism and biculturalism. They recognized the fundamental, and, yes, systemic discrimination that was faced by women and by francophones. The results of the commissions have seen significant advances, and committed Canada to an ongoing path to betterment. To be clear, it has not been flowers and rainbows on these paths, but overall the trajectory has been positive as we try to get things better.

And so today as we need to think deeply, carefully and compassionately about our country and be conscious of the racism epidemic that has met the COVID pandemic, as was articulated by Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard at a Pearson Centre webinar last summer.

What can we do? Many things, but here is one idea, a thoughtful national dialogue on diversity. There are many ways to do this, but, as a nation, we must listen to each other, and, most importantly, we must listen to those with grievances.  That’s how we build a better country.

The discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools has not been a surprise to most Indigenous people, but it is the harsh reality that has triggered for many, the many real stages of grief. Made more devastating by the fact that they have been saying this for years and governments and the rest of society either had not believed them or just looked the other way.

This tragic discovery has become a precipitating event that has been a shock for non-Indigenous Canadians, for the political class, and the mainstream media. We somehow missed Calls Action 71 to 76 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, the missing children and burial information, and all the conversations on this for years.

2020 and 2021 have also seen other aspects of racism come to the fore. With the killing of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer, in the U.S., our racism problems became much more apparent. Once again, it was the precipitating event there that caused us to become more aware in Canada. In addition to systemic and overt racism faced by Indigenous peoples for years, the reality of anti-Black racism has become more evident. Anti-Semitism has reached new heights—or should we say new depths. Islamophobia is on the rise. We saw the killing of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in June. And with the rise of COVID, we have seen the ridiculous anti-Asian acts of overt racism and racial violence.

There is something rotten in our state these days. And there is nothing wrong in recognizing it and dealing with it. The solutions are many: from legal, to social, to economic, to educational measures. But it starts with dialogue and understanding what marginalization feels like, what unspoken discrimination feels like, or what the hand of racial violence feels like. Also what does white uneasiness or fragility feel like?

At the Pearson Centre we launched a six-month dialogue with two webinars, one with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson who spoke about the ancient Indigenous history of his city and one with award-winning author Michelle Good. Her novel, Five Little Indians, is about the lives of five young residential school survivors as they make their way through life seriously damaged by their experience. There will be more over the months ahead, that explore systemic racism and various aspects of inequality while always trying to increase understanding across divides and identifying solutions. Using the marvels of webinars we will easily pull together Canadians from across the country into important discussions.

October marks the 50th anniversary of the multiculturalism policy—in the world. It is a good time to take stock and plan the future.

I urge other think tanks, organizations, and companies to launch their own dialogues and to get involved. As Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said, “All we ask of all of you listening is that you stand by us as we heal and get stronger. All must put down our ignorance and accidental racism of not addressing the truth that this country has with Indigenous people. We are not asking for pity, but we are asking for understanding.”

We are too far apart and we understand too little about each other. We need to learn from each other. And of course dialogue is no reason not to take action. Governments need to engage in dialogue and seriously step up their actions at the same time.

I also think about “what would Pearson do.” I dare say he would strike a royal commission on diversity and equity of some kind, to dialogue about inequality in its various forms.

Source: Dialogues on diversity is what we need

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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