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'Prejudice knows no boundaries,' National racism report rings true for Newmarket's racialized communities

A recently released Canadian Race Relations Foundation report found that one-fifth of the population have been discriminated against or mistreated due to their race or ethnic background.
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Jerisha Grant-Hall is founder and chair of the Newmarket African Caribbean Canadian Association (NACCA).

A significant percentage of the population has been discriminated against or mistreated due to their race or ethnic background, according to a report released this month by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF).

The report said a fifth of the population reported this happening to them regularly, or from time to time.

The experiences reflected in the report parallel those of Newmarket residents, said Jerisha Grant-Hall, chair of the Newmarket African Caribbean Canadian Association (NACCA).   

"The experiences are going to be very similar if you are racialized; Prejudice knows no boundaries."

The report was based on a two-year, nation-wide survey that compared how national perspectives and experiences have changed since a similar survey in 2019.

Discrimination was most widely reported by members of the Black and First Nations communities, and to a lesser but notable extent by the South Asian, Chinese, East or Southeast Asian communities, the report found.

One of the key findings is that Canadians now are more likely to see discrimination as being systemic rather than a matter of individual prejudice, compared to 2019.

Grant-Hall said racism — specifically anti-Black racism — operates on many levels, but changes must definitely be made on an institutional level to shift in behaviour on the individual level.

"It's 100 per cent legislative, it's systemic in nature. What happens in the systemic level in Newmarket is going to impact what happens on the individual level. There's a lot of changes that need to happen . . . That would have a trickle effect because what becomes the values and laws and policies and procedure that we see in institutions, they impact individual behaviour and individual beliefs and practices."

Ben Leung, founder and president of the Newmarket Chinese Business Association said systemic racism contributes to the discrimination felt by racialized Canadians but it will "take time to reform."

The pandemic had a significant impact on Asian Canadians, with 59 per cent of Chinese Canadians, 38 per cent of East/Southeast Asians, and just over a quarter of South Asians reporting that they faced more discrimination than they ever have since the start of the pandemic, the report said.

Leung said he doesn't think the Newmarket Asian community felt an increase in pandemic-induced racism and surmised that may be, in part, due to the comparatively small size of its members.

Racism toward the local Asian community is "not obvious on the surface" like it may be for other racialized communities, he said, but it's felt nonetheless.

"They don't say it, and it's the action, the behaviour, and we can feel it."

One of the more significant ways racism is conveyed to him, he added, is in the lack of representation in local politics.

 "You will not see a single city councillor or any official or MP or MPP that are visible minorities."

"Representation is a big deal," said Grant-Hall. "Institutions need to be more intentional in recruitment in who they're promoting . . . There needs to be accountability mechanisms that are tied to those things. Like in policing, the excuse can't be Black and Indigenous folks are not applying. That cannot be the excuse for not having representation. There's an underrepresentation of racialized community members that are in these institutions."

Only a quarter of Black Canadians and a third of First Nations people believe that local police are doing excellent work but almost three-quarters of non-racialized Canadians think police do an excellent job handling people within their communities, the report said.

"I think that the community sense of improvement or dismantling of anti-black racism has been slow, and as far as policing, regardless of whether it's local or national, the statistics are going to be very similar," said Grant-Hall.

The report found that 23 per cent fewer Black Canadians, 11 per cent fewer South Asians, and five per cent fewer Indigenous people believe that race relations in Canada are generally good as compared to 2019.

"A majority of Canadians are optimistic that progress toward racial equality will happen in their lifetime," the 2021 survey said, but that optimism has diminished among racialized Canadians since the previous survey.  

"What we need to understand about systemic racism, is that it's violence, so a little less violence is no different than the violence itself. So I'm always suspicious of the word progress. I don't want to think of it as 'OK, we've made progress,' I want to think of it as 'our children are safe to go to school and they're free from harm.' That's how I want to think about it. I don't want to think of it as a progression because it makes it seem like it's OK for us to walk slowly to the finish line," said Grant-Hall.


About the Author: Michele Weisz

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