Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during the special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

‘Systemic racism’ in Canada reflected in health, income and other indicators

Indigenous adults make up 3 per cent of Canada’s population and visible minorities more than 22 per cent

For Louise Delisle, an African Nova Scotian who grew up in the rural town of Shelburne, the racism her community has experienced over the years is reflected in the health of its members.

Her father and brother died of cancer. Her mother is still alive after two bouts of breast cancer, and her sister and niece are also cancer survivors. The 69-year-old Delisle lays the blame for her community’s health problems on a now-closed toxic dump that existed for decades near the historical Black part of town.

“There is a lot of cancer in just about every family,” she said in a recent interview.

Ingrid Waldron, a professor in Dalhousie University’s school of nursing, says the health conditions in Shelburne and another rural African Nova Scotia community, Lincolnville, are examples of systemic racism in Canada.

Systemic racism, Waldron said, refers to the exclusion or under-representation of people of colour and Indigenous people in society through the policies and decisions of those in power. These policies and decisions lead to inequalities and disparities between races on such measures as income, education and, in the case of Shelburne, health.

The term has re-entered mainstream public debate across Canada following the killing of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody at the end of May. Floyd’s killing triggered anti-Black racism protests across the United States and in other parts of the world, including Canada.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Indigenous and racialized Canadians have long known “that there is systemic discrimination right across our country and every part of our country and in our institutions. And recognizing that is difficult.”

Waldron said in a recent interview that systemic racism is the way “disadvantage, discrimination and exclusion” are embedded in social systems.

It is reflected when people of colour and Indigenous people are under-represented in the judiciary and over-represented in prisons. Or when people of colour earn less than others and provincial civil services are disproportionately white.

Indigenous adults make up 3 per cent of Canada’s population and visible minorities more than 22 per cent. But in Canada’s federal and provincial judiciaries, 1.3 per cent of judges are Indigenous and 4 per cent are visible minorities.

About 21 per cent of visible minorities in Canada are considered low-income, compared with just over 12 per cent of people who are not visible minorities. Nationally, the median total income for Black people is 34 per cent lower than the income for non-visible minorities.

In 2016, Indigenous woman accounted for roughly 31 of the federal prison population, while men represented 23 per cent.

Waldron says systemic racism explains why Nova Scotia’s Black rural communities are rarely mentioned when political leaders talk about environmental issues.

Her 2018 book, “There’s Something In The Water,” examined the legacies of industrial pollution on towns such as Shelburne and Lincolnville. She argues that landfills, trash incinerators, coal plants, toxic waste facilities and other environmentally hazardous activities tend to be near communities of colour, Indigenous territories and the working poor.

Delisle said growing up, no one in her community wanted to say anything about the dump fires that blew noxious gases and ash through her part of town. The dump was placed in her community, she said, “because no one said anything about it.” It was fully shut down in 2016.

“People didn’t want to do anything that was going to make them stand out or seem like a troublemaker in the community,” she said.

Inequalities in Canada are reflected in many indicators beyond health.

On Tuesday, Quebec’s human rights commission published a report examining the demographics of public-sector workers in such areas as schools, police forces, public transit and municipalities.

It found that visible minorities — people who are not Caucasian or Indigenous — made up about 6 per cent of that workforce in 2019, even though they account for 13 per cent of the Quebec population. The report also indicated that Indigenous people, who make up about 2.5 per cent of Quebec’s population — held just 0.3 per cent of those public-sector jobs.

When it comes to policing, reports in cities such as Montreal and Halifax have indicated that people of colour are more likely to be subjected to so-called street checks.

A 2019 report commissioned by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission indicates Black people in the Halifax area were stopped by police six times more often than whites.

In Montreal, a 2019 report commissioned by the city’s police force indicated Black people were 4.2 times more likely to be stopped by police than whites were, and that rate increased to 4.6 times for Indigenous people.

During the past two weekends, thousands of people gathered in protests across Canada to denounce what they claimed was anti-Black racism in the country’s police forces.

That same level of support, however, was not seen a few months earlier, before the COVID-19 pandemic, when First Nations people across the country protested in solidarity with hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia contesting a natural gas pipeline.

Winnipeg-based Cree community organizer, Michael Redhead Champagne, said he is hopeful the recent mobilization is a sign of changing attitudes.

He noted that thousands gathered at the Manitoba legislature to denounce anti-Black racism last Friday. Those people, he said in a recent interview, signalled they wanted to “understand systemic racism” and shed harmful habits.

“I can take a look at all the things that people didn’t do, or I can take a look at the newly demonstrated capacity that our cities and communities have to address systemic racism,” he said.

“It breaks my heart that I don’t see 20,000 people showing up to support (Indigenous issues) and to support my relatives in that way, but it gives me hope that people are willing to learn now.”

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nelson lacks enough supporting housing to meet homeless demand: report

The annual study shows permanent shelter is needed for people experiencing homelessness

Two new COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health

The total number of Interior Health cases since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 522

Nelson outdoor photo exhibit reflects physically distanced life

Portraits of a Pandemic runs until Oct. 15 at Lakeside Park

West Kootenay mother searching for son missing since Sept. 1

Police are investigating the disappearance of Cory Westcott

Oxygen Art Centre launches new adult classes

There are online and in-person options

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Trudeau ‘disappointed’ by RCMP treatment of Sikh officers over mask issue

World Sikh Organization of Canada said taking Sikh officers off the front lines constitutes discrimination

Liberals reach deal with NDP on COVID-19 aid bill, likely averting election

NDP and the Liberals have reached an agreement on COVID-19 sick-leave

Most Read