Two decades on, too much is the same: Ontario’s anti-racism office is government on syndication

A lesson from the past, and how little would appear to have changed (I am less pessimistic, there has been progress, imperfect as it is, and the issues are more widely discussed than before).

But having a ‘race or ethnic origin lens’ (along with gender, sexual orientation etc) should improve policy making and outcomes.

However, there is a real challenge to ensuring that both a ‘race lens’ and a separate office become not merely a paper exercise but rather one that leads to concrete and tangible results:

Spurred on by protests over police violence against minorities, frustrated with an education system ostensibly public but systemically biased against darker skin, faced with a children’s aid society anything but colourblind, an Ontario premier vows to act.

A top academic drafts a report that claims “the soothing balm of ‘multiculturalism’ cannot mask racism.” He finds “a great deal of anger, anxiety, frustration and impatience amongst those with whom I talked in the visible minority communities.” They were filled with a “bitter sense” the exercise was “yet another reporting charade.”

“It was truly depressing.”

And it was 23 years ago.

The premier wasn’t Kathleen Wynne, but Bob Rae. The party loyalist tapped for expertise was former provincial NDP leader Stephen Lewis and his report on racism in Ontario was not written in bureaucratese, but as a poignant, personal letter to Rae. It was sparked by what came to be known as the Yonge Street Riots — protests over police violence against young, black men.

It was a call to action. It touted the newly created Anti-Racism Secretariat as one way to start stitching together gaping wounds between communities.

And for three years it sought to do that, sought to analyze government policies through a “race lens,” pushed for greater equity in legislation.

Then Rae lost power and Mike Harris turned the province Tory blue. Shutting down the secretariat was a key campaign pledge.

Two decades later, and everything that’s old is new again. Wynne announced Tuesday she’s going to create an anti-racism directorate, admitting she didn’t now how that differs from a secretariat. Minister Michael Coteau will tack the responsibility onto his existing files and report back soon with what exactly the office will do and what kind of budget it will require.

Her reasons why are, upon reading Lewis’s decades-old letter, like government on syndication.

“The Black Lives Matter movement, the issue of carding, the debate surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis – these events and many others illuminate and illustrate a systemic racism that runs the length of our shared history right up to this very moment,” Wynne said. She promised a “a wide anti-racist lens” will be used to shape government policy.

Change the date line and one could easily believe Lewis penned his letter this decade. He wrote “there must surely be a way to combine constructive policing with public confidence that to serve and protect is not a threat to visible minority communities.”

He notes all minority communities face discrimination, but anti-Black (his capital B) is the most pervasive: “It is Blacks who are being shot, it is Black youth that is unemployed in excessive numbers, it is Black students who are being inappropriately streamed in schools, it is Black kids who are disproportionately dropping-out.”

‘We haven’t dealt with the problems… and it’s not for lack of good intentions’

The Liberals are acting now, but they also bear responsibility for a decade of inaction, having 10 years ago passed a bill that allowed them to create essentially the same office. But they didn’t.

Those who remember the 90s, the Yonge Street Riots and Rae’s best intentions have what can best be described as a cynical optimism about this latest attempt.

“Every effort should be made but made understanding there are greater chances for failure and disillusionment than there are for real success and improvement,” said Lennox Farrell, a retired teacher who co-chaired one of Rae’s anti-racism secretariat advisory committees. That process also began with the highest of hopes, but he soon found the meetings exhausting, circular, counterproductive. He worries the new directorate will just be “more paper.”

Source: Two decades on, too much is the same: Ontario’s anti-racism office is government on syndication | National Post

India trip provides lessons learned, all around: Cohn

Good piece abound the visit by Premier Wynne’s visit to Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the spiritual centre of Sikhdom, and the controversy it provoked:

As for Wynne, her visit to the Golden Temple proved anti-climactic. Despite the media speculation, she received the traditional gift of a siropa robe of honour — though the deed was done, diplomatically, in the basement (as opposed to the sanctum sanctorum, minimizing any awkwardness for the temple’s current leadership, who remained publicly coy on precisely how and by whom the honour was bestowed).

Lest anyone be too judgmental of the public coyness of Golden Temple officials — and their subsequent circumlocutions about Wynne’s circumambulations — one must concede that homophobia is nothing new, whether in the West or the East. Coincidentally, India’s Supreme Court is now revisiting antiquated laws on homosexuality inherited (and imported) from British colonial rule. Canada phased out discrimination against gay marriage only in 2005, and American states are just now catching up.

The lesson for politicians making the pilgrimage to Punjab is that it can sometimes be a delicate dance. You may walk into trouble, as Wynne nearly did, or you may wrong-foot yourself, as Brown might have (until his recent circumspection on sexual orientation).

Good for Wynne for standing her ground, without trampling on local sensitivities. Good for Brown for belatedly standing up against homophobia, after previously stooping to the level of local homophobes and gay-baiters who hyperbolized the sex-ed update.

Lessons learned, one hopes, all around.

Source: India trip provides lessons learned, all around: Cohn | Toronto Star

Men-only Ontario college campuses in Saudi Arabia unacceptable: Wynne

Not exactly news that Saudi Arabia has gender-segregated campuses, workplaces etc so why waking up now? While I have no sympathy with the Saudi regime, I think focusing only on Ontario colleges is shallow and parochial.

The dynamics at play were and are complex. Universal education in Saudi Arabia, if memory serves me correctly, dates from the 1970s, and the regime took some chances in ensuring that this applied to both boys and girls:

Premier Kathleen Wynne says it is unacceptable to her that two Ontario colleges are operating campuses in Saudi Arabia that don’t admit women students.

Niagara College and Ottawa-based Algonquin College have been operating men-only campuses for a couple of years in two cities in Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law forbids the education of women and men in the same classes.

Colleges and Universities Minister Reza Moridi, who had earlier said it was up to colleges to determine the student makeup on their campuses, said Thursday he was concerned that women were excluded from the Ontario-run campuses.

Wynne says she told Moridi to meet with the two colleges as soon as she found out about the situation, which she says has “got to change.”

Progressive Conservative critic John Yakabuski calls it a “stretch” for Wynne not to have known Ontario colleges are excluding women from their Saudi campuses, and says she’s only expressing concern because the media picked up the story.

Ontario provides $1.44 billion in funding to its 24 community colleges, with Algonquin getting $103 million for the current fiscal year, while Niagara College received $45 million.

Source: Men-only Ontario college campuses in Saudi Arabia unacceptable: Wynne

Ontario premier says it’s time the province started analyzing policies through a ‘race lens’

Whether one labels this as a ‘race’, visible minority, or ethnic group lens, there is a need for government policies and programs to consider the needs of an increasingly diverse population:

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says it’s past time the province has a mechanism through which to consider its policies through a “race lens.”

The premier made the comments Wednesday at a breakfast hosted by Equal Voice — an organization that seeks to get more women of all backgrounds involved in politics — and she pointed to recent events to highlight the fact equity issues in government and policy-making go beyond gender.

The recent focus on policing and black youth — especially men — in Toronto and across the province first got Wynne thinking about this issue. Then the recent attacks on Muslim women wearing the hijab — one of which occurred outside a school in her riding when a mother was picking her kids up from school — put a renewed focus on it.

 “I understand we haven’t used that lens, we haven’t used that race lens, we haven’t talked about explicitly, and I think we need to start,” Wynne said at Queen’s Park. “I believe that what we need to do is figure out what is a structure… that is going to allow us to filter the policies we put in place, to create new policies, to put protections in place.”

There is an established equity framework for education, but not across government, and that should change, she said.

Wynne has yet to discuss the idea formally with cabinet, but her office said an equity-based initiatives could take a number of forms: it could be a standalone mini-ministry like the women’s secretariat or a cabinet committee, similar to the one on “diversity and inclusion” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just created. And there is precedent in Ontario — the NDP government set up an equity taskforce — though it was focused specifically on employment.

“I think the moment may be right once again to introduce a more formal structure to say that, you know, this hasn’t gone away and we need to signal, not just internally in government, but externally that there is more work to be done on equity,” Wynne said.

Source: Ontario premier says it’s time the province started analyzing policies through a ‘race lens’

Quebec Values Charter Round-up

A bit of a longer round-up today.

Starting with Lysiane Gagnon in the Globe:

In Quebec, as in France, secularism often serves as a screen for plain xenophobia. Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right Front National, constantly invokes the tradition of laïcité to justify anti-immigrant policies. In Quebec, the discovery of the concept dates from around 2007, coinciding with the rise of Muslim immigration and a few incidents involving unreasonable demands by fundamentalists.

Quebec wants secularism – for some – The Globe and Mail.

And Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne weighs into the debate:

Asked directly about the Quebec proposal, Wynne said her government will continue to promote diversity in its policies and practices.

“Respecting that diversity, being inclusive and finding the shared Canadian values that we all believe in, that’s what our strength is as a province, so that’s how I will proceed,” she said.

“Other provinces, you know, will make their decisions, but I see our strength as our diversity.”

Ontario’s premier criticizes Quebec’s secular charter, says diversity is strength

And Nahid Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, continues to play one of the strongest roles in commenting on the negative aspects of the Charter:

‘What we’re looking at under this charter of secularism is intolerance. Plain and simple,’ Calgary’s mayor said, continuing his criticism

Nenshi calls PQ ‘values’ charter ‘social suicide,’ suggests that upset Quebecers move to Calgary and

Calgary’s mayor gives PQ a refreshing blast of mockery over xenophobic ‘values’ plan

And a reminder about the likely real goal of the PQ in proposing the Charter, using wedge politics to support another referendum:

Quebec’s Marois eyeing another sovereignty referendum

While PM Marois helps create a less welcoming, inclusive society with the Charter, she of course also denounces the recent vandalism, likely a hate crime, of the Mosque in Saguenay, but in Montreal, not with a visit:

Marois dénonce le vandalisme commis sur une mosquée de Saguenay

But Muslim Québécois are understandably worried about how the Charter may feed such intolerance and encourage more vandalism and hate crimes, even if other parts of the country also suffer from such incidents:

Des musulmans craignent une montée de l’intolérance

And on a more encouraging note, and broadening the discussion beyond Muslim Canadians, Mindy Pollack, a 24-year-old Hasidic woman is running for municipal office to reach the divide between Hasidic Jews and their neighbours. A reminder that the issue is participation and integration with the broader community that counts:

“It’s really revolutionary,” Ms. Pollak said. “But if we focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us, then we can work toward solutions.”

 Montreal candidate aims to bridge divide between city and its Hasidic heartland 

And lastly, a somewhat confused article by Tahir Gora on what is included in multiculturalism or not, i.e., whether it is deep multiculturalism, with parallel institutions and rights, or shallow multiculturalism, with all living under the same legal system and Canadian and other charters. The Canadian version is the latter, although every now and then, people will push the limits (as we all do in a democracy). The key point is to maximize the common space for all, and whether one wears a kippa, turban or hijab is less important that being with, and interacting with, others of different or no faith

Would Quebec be Able to Deliver True Multiculturalism?