Continuing to call out Anti-Black racism
For several years, identifying and addressing anti-Black racism has been a key OHRC priority, and 2020–21 was no exception. This annual report describes the many steps the OHRC has taken over the past year to continue to call out and address systemic anti-Black racism. The magnitude of the fight against systemic racism is evident in the fact that OHRC’s efforts have targeted anti-Black racism in policing, in the courts and corrections, in health care, in elementary and post-secondary education, in housing and in many other areas where it continues to harm Black people and communities across Ontario.
Anti-Black racism received more media attention following the summer of 2020, as protests against police violence swept across the United States and Canada after the death of George Floyd. In this outpouring of concern, local Black communities identified the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in all regions and sectors of Ontario. The OHRC issued a statement, titled OHRC confronts and condemns anti-Black racism, where it reaffirmed that it stands with Black communities in Ontario to call out and eliminate the racism and discrimination that is causing so much harm.
In August 2020, the OHRC released A Disparate Impact, the second interim report in its inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service (TPS). This report confirmed that Black people were more likely than others to be arrested, charged, over-charged, struck, shot or killed by Toronto police. At the launch, the Chief Commissioner said, “the time for debate about whether anti-Black bias exists is over. The OHRC calls on the TPS, TPSB, the City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario to take immediate action to address systemic and anti-Black racism in policing and to respect and protect racialized people in Toronto.”
Calling out racism in post-secondary education
OHRC concerns about anti-Black racism also apply to the domain of post-secondary education. In response to a series of high-profile racist incidents on various campuses, the OHRC wrote a letter to universities and colleges on racism and other human rights concerns. Released in December 2020, the letter listed and condemned actions and inactions that perpetuate racism – including anti-Black racism. It also affirmed that the legal and practical responsibility for examining the conditions, challenges and impediments to a respectful learning environment lies in the hands of senior administrators and their human rights advisors.
The Chief Commissioner requested that all colleges and universities in Ontario commit to take proactive action and create equitable and inclusive education environments. The OHRC is now reviewing and analyzing responses from the various colleges and universities to track best practices and gaps and will issue a further statement based on information reported by the institutions.
In March 2021, the Chief Commissioner authored an opinion editorial published online by TVO, titled Students should not have to educate educators about racism. She wrote that universities and colleges must take a hard and unflinching look at the ways their policies, practices and attitudes perpetuate discrimination. She noted that academic institutions must promote a culture of equity and inclusion by embedding comprehensive and effective anti-racism and anti-colonial initiatives in all areas and at all levels of their institutions. Students experience overt and systemic racism in their curriculum, lectures, evaluations, residences and campus life, as well as through financial barriers. Institutional racism undermines hiring, promotion and tenure procedures and permeates administrative and governance policies. The Chief Commissioner identified that one serious omission contributing to the problem is the absence of data documenting the racial diversity of students in post-secondary education.
Natasha Daley @NatashaDaley_
When the Ontario Human Rights Commission drafts an open letter: Anti-Black racism within academic institutions is not a matter that should ever be taken lightly.
Taking a year-round view of Black History Month
Every February, the OHRC celebrates Black History Month. This year’s theme was “Honouring the past, inspiring the future.” Using social media, the OHRC highlighted Black Ontarian change-makers such as Dr. Daniel G Hill, Rosemary Brown and Bromley Armstrong, all of whom shaped human rights work at the OHRC and Ontario at large. Social media posts focused on their fervent fight against racism and discrimination, recounting captivating stories such as the time Bromley Armstrong, a civil rights leader, challenged segregation in Dresden, Ontario in the early 1950s before helping to establish the OHRC in 1961.
In a statement posted to the OHRC’s website, the Chief Commissioner emphasized the importance of celebrating the historical achievements of Black Ontarians not just one month of the year, but every day. She went on to express her gratitude towards members of the OHRC’s Community Advisory Group, and government and public leaders, who continue to call out and actively work to end anti-Black racism. As the OHRC continues to work towards the equitable society envisioned in Ontario’s Human Rights Code, our hope is to bring focus and increased awareness of race issues and systemic inequalities. Black history matters, now more than ever.
Launching a new program to combat hate
In October 2020, Chief Commissioner Chadha issued a statement titled “A critical juncture of hate” describing how Canada is facing two pandemics – COVID-19 and the pandemic of brazen hate, extremism and brutality. She urged that to promote a culture of compassion and human rights, everyone is responsible for speaking out against discrimination and harassment, and drew attention to the OHRC’s 30-minute interactive eCourse, Call it out: racism, racial discrimination and human rights. The Chief Commissioner emphasized that we all need to remain vigilant against the open hate and insidious racism that has engulfed our society, so we come out on the other side of this pandemic with our humanity intact. She called on all members of society to champion equality and dignity, monitor our human rights temperature as Canadians, and refuse to be fatigued by COVID-19 in our fight to combat racism and condemn hate.
Inspired by this message, the Investigative Journalism Bureau (a collection of media and academic organizations, including the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Humber College StoryLab, Toronto Star and the National Observer) invited the OHRC to collaborate on an anti-hate project to examine escalating incidents of hate in the pandemic. Through this initiative, the OHRC is providing its expertise on human rights, engaging with community groups and police services to take action against increasing anti-Asian hate and discrimination.
In January 2021, the Chief Commissioner presented a lecture to journalism students on the differences between racism, harassment, criminal hate and cyber hate.
In its work with the Bureau, the OHRC continues to advocate for stronger hate protections, and to promote a culture of compassion and human rights accountability in Ontario.