Province hasn't done enough on racism, Wynne tells meeting
Meeting was the first consultation held by new anti-racism directorate
Premier Kathleen Wynne was met with a mix of jeers and applause when she spoke at the first meeting of the province's new anti-racism panel, which was well-attended by members of Black Lives Matter and various other community groups.
"I get that," she said to the hecklers. "This is not a new conversation and I know that ... systemic racism exists."
But the premier said she hoped those at the meeting would listen to one another with an open mind.
"I believe there are people who would like us to go at each others' throats ... I think there are people who would like to see even this meeting dissolve into anger."
The anti-racism directorate's first consultation focused on systemic racism, including anti-black racism, Islamophobia, anti-indigenous racism and racism experienced by other communities.
The premier agreed to the meeting after several BLMTO protests, including one at Queen's Park in early April and later, during this month's Pride parade.
Wynne said she believes governments haven't gone far enough to create a more equitable society.
"I understand that government institutions have not lived up to that," she said. "Part of doing my job is acknowledging that we haven't done enough."
The room broke out into cheers of "black lives matter" several times throughout the night as people spoke, with some speakers leading chants and singing songs.
Many were critical of government officials, saying that not enough concrete action has been taken to deal with racism despite years of activism.
Akua Benjamin was the first speaker at the microphone. She credited the activist group Black Lives Matter Toronto for calling for the public meeting and bringing people together.
"There hasn't been a time in the last 50 years when we have not marched on the streets of Toronto calling out to put an end to racism," she said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory was also present at the meeting but unlike Wynne, he did not have a formal slot to address the crowd.
However, he did speak after a woman asked him when he planned to have his own anti-racism community meeting.
Tory said he had agreed to two series of meetings in addition to the anti-racism directorate meetings, including consultations on a police reform report in August.
Sandy Hudson, is a representative from Black Lives Matter Toronto.
"We wanted to facilitate a space where the public would be able to communicate directly with decision makers and policy makers what their experiences have been at the hands of the police and how the system falls short", she told CBC Radio's Metro Morning host Matt Galloway on Thursday.
She says the meeting was meant to bring together different voices from racialized communities.
"Those of us who are younger and those of us who are older have come together in some ways to try to make this work, so I think you're going to see a more diverse conversation than what we have seen in the past."
Lawyer and advocate Anthony Morgan also attended the meeting.
"That we have representatives from various heads of government is really important. I don't think there has been this much interest in having this honest a conversation about race, racism and its impact on impeding the lives and well-being of racialized people," he told CBC News ahead of Thursday night.
Morgan says black people are over represented in the prison system, and carding has still not been fully eliminated. These are some of the issues he'd like to see addressed this evening.
"I think timelines and an actual action plan will be really important. The government would do well to actually flag or signal some things that they plan to do because there have been some ongoing issues that we have been talking about that aren't new."
He also wants the government to improve on employment equity in the province, and to commit to the collection and publication of race-based data to get a better sense of what is going on in communities.
Hudson hopes this will lead to real change.
"We don't want this to disappear with the next election cycle. We want a real timeline of action, and I think if this government is serious they'll tell us what that looks like" she said.
Michael Coteau, the province's minister of children and youth services, also attended the meeting held at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park.
"I think it's important for leaders to understand what people are feeling, what people have experienced," he said. "I think there's a real will from the premier and from our government to look for ways to make changes."
With files from the Canadian Press