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A Look at Canada’s Violent Past & Present

4 min read

Two weeks ago, Chantal Moore, a 22-year-old mother, and member of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation, was killed by a police officer in New Brunswick. She was shot five times because the police claim she had a knife. Moore had no history with the law, weighed 98 pounds, and posed no threat. The police arrived to do a “wellness check” as she reportedly told them she faced harassment.

Indigenous peoples only make up 4.8 percent of Canada’s population. Moore is only one of the one-third of the RCMP’s Indigenous victims and 15 percent of police fatalities that are Indigenous. In addition, cases often go missing, and murdered Indigenous women remain unresolved. Also, in Canada, many First Nations still don’t have clean water. They are deprived of basic necessities and human dignity.

The Black Canadian community accounts for 3.4 percent of Canada’s population and 9 percent of police fatalities. Black individuals in Toronto are also twenty times more likely to be shot by the police. To add, the federal incarceration rate of Black Canadians increased between the years of 2005 and 2016 by 70 percent.

With the murder of George Floyd, the thoughts that flooded many Canadians spiked denial. Denial that our nation has a deep-rooted history of systemic racism and discrimination and rejection that these issues continue to exist within our borders.

It is in their unwillingness to accept the reality that we begin to see the real multitude of our problems.

Colonialism in Canada

From recorded Canadian history, the goal of French and British colonizing superpowers was to assimilate the Indigenous peoples they encountered. This goal remained unchanged post-confederation. Despite a shift in the 1960s, the consequences of discriminatory legislation remain a reality to this day. 

Slavery was abolished in all parts of the British Empire in 1834, 33 years before the Canadian Confederation. However, the segregation of Black Canadians was an accepted practice for many decades afterward. Most segregated schools in Ontario phased out in 1965. However, the last segregated school in Canada, which was in Nova Scotia, wasn’t closed until 1983. In 1946, Viola Desmond, the face of the Canadian $10 bill, challenged segregation when she refused to leave the “whites-only” section of a movie theatre.

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Protesters gathered in downtown Toronto Friday at a rally against anti-black racism. • "Today started as a march in solidarity both with lives lost both to racism and unfortunately some to police," said Delsin Aventus, one of the organizers of the rally. • "People like us are basically fighting for equality and we want to be seen and heard," said demonstrator Aaron Morgan. • "This is a fight that has been going on for years and generations," Erica Johnson told CBC News, adding that it needs to end "right now, right here." • To read more, click the link in our bio. • • • ?: Chris Glover/CBC | @chris_glover_ ?: Evan Mitsui/CBC | @evanmitsui #cbctoronto #cbcto #toronto #racism #antiblackracism

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Discrimination Against Chinese + Japanese

Following British Columbia’s entrance into Confederation, construction of a transcontinental railway began. However, a difficulty arose in obtaining an adequate workforce in B.C. The importation of thousands of Chinese workers was the result. Around 15,000 Chinese laborers helped build the CPR—working for little pay in dangerous conditions. It’s estimated that at least 600 of these laborers died. Their employment continued to cause much controversy about the potential economic and cultural impact of the influx of Chinese laborers. 

Consequently, in 1885, the year that the CPR finished, the Chinese Immigration Act—which established the Chinese “head tax”was passed, forcing Chinese immigrants to pay a head tax to enter Canada between 1885 and 1923. During this period, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants came to Canada.

In 1923, the head tax was removed, and the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, passed and banned all Chinese immigrants until its appeal in 1947. A formal government apology for these atrocities never delivered until 2006.

Violence + Control

During this period, Canada entered the Second World War. Following the Pearl Harbour attack, the federal government faced pressure from the west coast to take action against Japanese Canadians. As a result, on January 14, 1942, Prime Minister King ordered the removal of all males of Japanese ancestry from the coast. This later extended to an Order-in-Council and led to the expulsion of 22,000 Canadian Japanese from their homes, 65 percent of which were Canadian citizens. Most of their property and belongings were sold, and wartime measures remained until April 1, 1989, when they were permitted to return to the west coast. However, an official apology didn’t issue until September 1988.

Education Wired to Discriminate

Another atrocity remained in play—residential schools. They were created around 1880 by Christian churches and the Canadian government with intentions of assimilating Indigenous youth into Canadian society. The last residential school closed in 1996, having seen a total of 150,000 students. A formal public apology didn’t form until 2008, and residential schools’ impacts remain evident to this day. And how could they not be transparent? Canada committed cultural genocide.

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Lost But Not Forgotten, a painting by Ida Bruyere, will be featured on 30 billboards across southern Manitoba to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. • The 18-year-old artist says it's "normal" to feel afraid as a young Indigenous woman. • "Growing up in Winnipeg, I was told it was normal to hear about these things, which is obviously wrong," said Bruyere. • "I was told to make sure I walk on a lit street, and make sure no one was following you, and if a car slows down beside you, you run." • The billboard campaign was launched by the Southern Chiefs' Organization on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the release of the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. • Bruyere's work was chosen for the campaign after the organization’s art competition earlier this year. • "She is painted in black and white to represent herself as missing, and that she had a loved one that was missing, and advocated for that loved one who was missing," Bruyere said. "The handprint shows how she is silenced." • She hopes her art will raise awareness. • "Everyone that is still lost, we still think of them. They're in our hearts," she said. • "We need to stop always feeling like a target." • • • Photos by: Vic Savino, Trevor Brine/CBC | @cbcmanitoba @cbcindigenous #Winnipeg #MMIWG #artist #art #painting #youth #leadership #manitoba

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Following Confederation, Canada’s national police service sprouted. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police controlled Indigenous peoples. Alongside the Indian Act, highly controversial legislation that exists to this day, the RCMP forced Indigenous children from their homes and sent them to residential schools.

Through looking at just a fraction of discriminatory Canadian legislation and practices, the systemic racism of our past becomes evident. But we can’t forget that systemic racism also remains part of our present-day society.

Black and Indigenous individuals grossly overrepresent the corrections system. They make up an outrageous fraction of police fatalities, and systemic racism dangerously exists. The Canadian government is in a position to make a change, but, what will it take?

Canada breeds terror against Black and Indigenous people in its’ discriminatory systems. History mimics the same evil in the U.S. The status quo is killing Canadians and holding our society back from community development and safety. It is time for reassessment in the role of policing and the corrections system. An investment in our communities is necessary. Kneeling at a protest is no longer enough.

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