British Columbia

'We all should be pained by it': Survey points to realities of racial discrimination in Canada

A new national survey on race relations in Canada found Indigenous people and black Canadians are most likely to report experiences of racial discrimination, a result that doesn't surprise some researchers.

Indigenous people, black Canadians most likely to report discrimination, survey shows

Associate SFU professor June Francis says when her son tried to write about black history in B.C. as part of a Canadian history school project and was told black history is not Canadian history, 'it deeply affected him.' (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Years ago, June Francis' son Joshua came home from school excited — he was assigned to write about Canadian history and felt, for the first time, he could explore a topic that mattered to him.

He started researching black history in British Columbia. But when he approached his teacher about his findings, he was told that black history was not Canadian history.

"It deeply affected him," said Francis, a professor at Simon Fraser University who is originally from Jamaica.

Francis saw the subtle racism she'd experienced throughout her academic career in Canada was affecting her children as well. Her daughter, Tamara, once drew herself with blond hair. She thought only blond girls were beautiful, Francis explained. 

"I remember for the first time realizing that despite this being a new generation, this was continuing and ... in insidious ways," Francis said. 

Indigenous, black Canadians least optimistic

Francis is not surprised by the results of a new national survey on race relations in Canada which indicates one in five Canadians experiences discrimination regularly or occasionally.

The survey by Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation was conducted online last spring. It examines the attitudes, perceptions and experiences Canadians have when it comes to race. 

A flag used at a Canadian Walk Against Racism event in 2017. (CBC)

Over 3,000 Canadians over the age of 18 participated.

It found Indigenous people and black people are the most likely to report being discriminated against. They are also the two groups most understood by Canadians to experience racism.

Two-thirds of Canadians believes race relations are better in Canada than in the United States. In B.C. at nearly three-quarters, that number is even higher.

When asked whether they would have no problem accepting someone from another racial group as a neighbour, strong agreement was most prevalent among British Columbians and Atlantic Canadians. 

Canadians believe progress is being made

Canadians are also generally optimistic about progress on racial relations, and that progress toward racial equality will happen in their lifetime.

Chinese and South Asian Canadians tend to be the most positive about race relations, according to the survey.

Almost 70 per cent of South Asians and 63 per cent of Chinese respondents were optimistic all racialized people in Canada will be treated with respect within their lifetimes. 

Sign at a Canadian anti-racism rally in B.C. (Belle Puri/CBC )

The survey found few respondents believe Chinese people in Canada often experience discrimination, but the proportion who saw this happening, at least sometimes, is greater in B.C., at 67 per cent. 

However, Indigenous and black Canadians are less positive about the state of race relations and less optimistic about improvement over time.

Black Canadians are also less positive they have an equal chance to succeed in life than others.

The results show Canadians need to confront stereotypes and micro aggressions toward one another for change to happen, said Sarah Hunt, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia in the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. 

"We have ... systemic reviews of those situations. And yet, there is still kind of a like a denial that it's actually racism at play," said Hunt, a Kwagu'ł woman from the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation.

"The fact that people are experiencing this every day. I think tells us that we have a lot of work to do in terms of really grappling with the truth of racism in Canada."

Francis says the survey points to hard truths that Canadians need to acknowledge collectively. 

"I've always said if you don't know you have a problem, you can't fix it," she said.

"We all should be pained by it. And we all should commit ourselves in every aspect of our own lives and every day encounters to do what we can to make Canada the Canada that we hope for."

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