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4. Collective Reponses to Racism

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The Commission recognizes that no one community or institution is wholly responsible for addressing the assaults reported by Asian Canadians. As a widespread issue that occurred outside of the social areas protected by the Human Rights Code, no human rights claim could be filed in these cases. Instead, responsibility is shared among institutions and individuals that have a collective obligation to protect the public interest.

The Commission’s 2003 Racial Profiling Inquiry report, Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling, and the Commission’s Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination (Policy”) highlight the responsibility of institutions for taking leadership on preventing and responding to racism and racial discrimination. The Policy describes how all organizations and institutions have a positive obligation to ensure that they are not engaging in systemic or institutional racial discrimination. This may involve examining and removing any potential barriers in organizational policies, practices, regulations and culture that adversely affect people from racialized groups. Both the Policy and Paying the Price note that actions do not have to be intentional or conscious to be considered racial discrimination. As was noted earlier, where there are perceptions of racial discrimination, acknowledging that racism exists is a critical first step in responding to it and preventing it.

Issues of Integration

In both phases of the Inquiry, many organizations and individuals indicated that Asian Canadians appeared to be singled out due to the visibility of this group in relatively homogeneous communities as well as lack of acceptance of cultural differences in fishing practices. Negative attitudes towards Asian Canadians appear related to the lack of exposure to racialized people in general and the perceived threat of people from racialized groups allegedly encroaching on resources in smaller communities.

Census data from 2006 reveals that people from racialized groups are more likely to live in cities across Canada than in small towns or rural areas.[6] For many municipalities in Ontario, attracting and integrating immigrants, many of whom come from racialized groups, is a key goal to expand the viability and livelihood of these communities. In our Inquiry, municipalities stressed the importance of increasing racial diversity, and told us they are making efforts to demonstrate that their communities are safe and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Many different municipalities have engaged with the Ministry of Citizenship in projects designed to attract and retain immigrants for the benefit of the entire community. The Commission sought various commitments from the Minister of Citizenship, some of which focused on ensuring that the goals of anti-racism and anti-discrimination are reflected in the Ministry’s ongoing work around integrating immigrants into communities.

One part of making communities welcoming to immigrants and racialized individuals is to proactively address issues of racism that may result when integrating individuals into mostly European or White communities. Some communities showed leadership in this area by providing an immediate response to the reports of assaults against Asian Canadian anglers and engaging in dialogue about the impact of racism. These municipalities were quick to condemn the incidents and reach out to community groups.

In Peterborough, the Race Relations Committee of Peterborough held a press conference shortly after the news reported concerns about assaults. Community leaders from Peterborough, the surrounding county, Kawartha Lakes, and the police, among others, condemned the violence. The result was the establishment of a working group with various organizations, including representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ontario Provincial Police, and members of the Asian Canadian community. In Georgina, the mayor met with Chinese Canadian and Jewish Canadian community groups to offer his apologies for incidents that appeared to target Asian Canadians and Jewish people. These kinds of responses have a profound impact on increasing public trust and send a message that the issue is being taken seriously.

Formal Structures to Address Racism

Having formal structures in place to address racism can help to quickly defuse racial tension and conflict in communities when incidents occur. Several municipalities across Ontario have joined The Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (“CMARD”), an initiative of the United Nation’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. The goal of this coalition is to engage municipalities and their residents in activities that address racism as well as share information and practices with other municipalities experiencing similar issues. One success story involves the City of Windsor. Due to having a race relations committee in place because of CMARD, in January 2007, the City of Windsor was able to respond quickly with its community partners to a series of lectures that were perceived to promote Islamophobia.

As a result of this Inquiry, a councillor from the City of Kawartha Lakes will propose to City council that it join CMARD, and the municipality of Georgina has created a race relations committee. The City of Peterborough has also passed a motion to adopt CMARD. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has a role to play in guiding municipalities in responding to racism and will provide an opportunity for municipalities to learn from each other around this issue. The Commission encourages all communities to work with individuals and organizations representing people from racialized communities to continue to build trust and understand the lived realities of racism and strategies to address it.

[6] 96% of the visible minority population live in a census metropolitan area versus the 69% of the general population. Statistics Canada (2008). Found at:

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