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The human rights context

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The purpose of the Code, as set out in its Preamble, is the creation of a province in which there is “a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community and the Province.” Human rights concerns arise whenever individuals are targeted for greater scrutiny, or are the subject of negative attitudes or treatment because of their race.

The Commission’s Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination set out a framework for understanding racism, racial discrimination and racial harassment. The existence of racism in Canada is frequently denied. There is a myth that Canadians are “colour-blind”, and that racialized people are too sensitive and tend to overreact. A frequent method of denial is to blame racialized people themselves for any disadvantage or negative treatment they experience. Contrary to these myths, there is a long history of racism and racial discrimination in Canada, including a history of prejudice, stereotyping, and systemic discrimination against Asian Canadians. While progress has been made, racism, racial discrimination and racial harassment continue to be realities that must be acknowledged, and that have profound effects on racialized communities, and on Canadians as a whole.

Racism and racial discrimination operate on many different levels: individual, institutional, systemic, and societal. They may operate in the form of overt bias and prejudice, or as unconscious attitudes and values that have become deeply embedded in systems and institutions. As such, racism may not be recognized even by those practising it.

It is an established principle of human rights law that where there are several factors or elements at play in the treatment of a racialized person, racial discrimination need only have been one of the factors for a finding of a human rights violation.

Not all manifestations of racism can be the basis of a claim under the Code; some are beyond its jurisdiction. Racially motivated conduct that takes place outside of the social areas of employment, housing accommodation, vocational associations, contracts, or services, goods and facilities falls outside the scope of the Code and cannot be the subject of a human rights claim. Many of the incidents targeting Asian Canadian anglers do not fall within the specific protections of the Code, as they are encounters between individuals outside of the defined social areas in which the Code applies. Where race is a factor in these incidents, they are manifestations of individual stereotypes, prejudices and racism. Such incidents may, however, amount to criminal offences, and where motivated, in whole or in part, by bias or prejudice based on Code grounds, may constitute hate crimes.

These events raise very grave human rights concerns and engage the Commission’s responsibility to educate, inquire and take action, regardless of whether they give rise to a human rights claim. They remind us that racism and racial discrimination exist in Ontario, and can have an extremely serious effect on the lives of targeted individuals. Racialized anglers have felt their physical and psychological safety and integrity threatened, and in some of the cases under police investigation, anglers have been subjected to physical violence. This has a profound impact on the broader community.

These events also remind us of the importance of taking proactive measures to address racism in society and in our institutions, in order to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring. Municipalities, police forces, educational systems, government ministries, community organizations and the Commission itself all have a responsibility to address the causes and effects of these events, and ensure that such incidents do not recur.

Anglers who contacted the Inquiry with stories of negative and frightening fishing experiences generally had not previously contacted the authorities regarding their experiences, whether through a sense of helplessness, or fear of reprisal or for other reasons. This underlines the need for responsible institutions, including the Commission, to make greater efforts to include racialized and at-risk communities, so that they are aware of their rights, and feel confident in contacting the authorities to exercise them.

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