Ontario government unveils 3-year plan to battle racism
TheStar.com – News/GTA – “Our government is ready to take responsibility and to make change,” said Michael Coteau, minister of children and youth services in unveiling strategic plan to fight systemic racism, including the collection of race-based data.
March 7, 2017. By JENNIFER YANG, Identity and Inequality Reporter
The provincial government has announced a new three-year strategic plan to fight systemic racism, pledging to introduce new anti-racism legislation, commit $47 million to a black youth action plan, and start collecting race-based data in various institutions.
The plan was developed by Ontario’s anti-racism directorate, which was established a year ago under the purview of Michael Coteau, minister of children and youth services.
Under the new plan, Queen’s Park will introduce a framework for collecting race-based data across various institutions, including in the justice, education, health and child welfare sectors — a move that anti-racism activists have long called for.
The directorate will also introduce an action plan for black youth and new legislation to “ensure future sustainability and accountability of the government’s anti-racism work.”
Other measures include public awareness initiatives and an “assessment framework” that will address unconscious bias in policies, programs and government decisions.
“Our government is ready to take responsibility and to make change,” Coteau said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “This specific strategy has been a year in the making … and it’s taken us decades to get to this point. And I believe that it’s never too late for us to correct our course.”
The anti-racism directorate was formed to “address racism in all its forms” in February 2016 — 10 years after the Ontario government first passed legislation that enabled the formation of such an office.
The directorate fills a long-time void left by the province’s former anti-racism secretariat, which was killed in the mid-1990s by the Progressive Conservative government at the time.
When first announcing the directorate last year, Premier Kathleen Wynne said the need for an anti-racism office had “sharpened” in recent years, pointing to ongoing issues like police carding and the debate over Syrian refugees.
The need has since become even more acute. Xenophobic rhetoric is on the rise, hate crimes are dominating headlines, and a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia has ignited ugly backlash and protests.
A recent spate of alarming events — Tuesday’s bomb threats against Jewish community centres in Toronto and London, Ont.; the Quebec City mosque shooting; last week’s bomb threat against Muslim students at Concordia University; several reports of racist and anti-Semitic vandalism — have also heightened fears amongst Jewish communities and racialized groups.
The anti-racism directorate’s mandate is to work together with community and human rights groups to address systemic racism in provincial institutions. The directorate will also work to promote fair practices and policies, and increase public awareness.
Over the past year, the directorate has held a series of emotionally-charged community meetings across Ontario, everywhere from Toronto to Thunder Bay.
Last July in Toronto — where the first of 10 meetings was held — a packed room at Daniel’s Spectrum in Regent Park criticized the government for only allocating $5 million to the anti-racism directorate.
The crowd of more than 1,000 periodically broke out into chants of “black lives matter” and attendees expressed frustration over what they described as an endless cycle of proposed — and failed — government overtures to adequately address systemic racism in the province.
“There hasn’t been a time in the last 50 years when we have not marched on the streets of Toronto calling — calling out, calling out, calling out — to put an end to racism,” said Akua Benjamin, a longtime black activist and professor with Ryerson University.
“There hasn’t been a time when we have not faced (policymakers) — whether it is the Liberals, whether it is the NDP, whether it is the Conservatives — around this issue of racism. And so here we are again.”