Toronto·Analysis

Doug Ford has admitted systemic racism exists here, but what's he done to tackle it?

While Doug Ford has acknowledged systemic racism exists in Canada, critics say the actions of his government have not shown a commitment to tackling the problem.

PC government scrapped minister responsible for anti-racism, subcommittees of anti-racism directorate

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has come under fire for his record on anti-racism. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The reaction to the premier's comments was swift and fierce. 

When asked Tuesday about U. S. President Donald Trump's handling of the protests south of the border in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., Doug Ford stated Canada doesn't have the "systemic, deep roots" of racism the United States does.

Despite walking back what he said the next day in the legislature, and subsequently unveiling a new anti-racism youth council, advocates and experts are criticizing the government's commitment to ending anti-black racism.

"Of course there's systemic racism in Ontario," Ford said in the legislature Wednesday. "There's systemic racism across this country."

As if to punctuate that statement, the government announced the Premier's Council on Equality of Opportunity, to be made up of young people ages 18 to 29. to advise the province on challenges they face, including in education, skills training and employment.

Ontario is also giving $1.5 million to organizations that support black families and youth. 

Minister scrapped

But critics aren't buying the approach. 

A similar council with a similar mandate, titled the Premier's Council on Youth Opportunities, was dissolved by the Ford government two years ago. 

"It's disappointing," said Liberal MPP Michael Coteau, who issued a joint letter with fellow MPP Mitzie Hunter to restore funding for programs like OSAP and legal aid that support lower-income students. 

After taking power, the Ford government also scrapped the cabinet post of minister responsible for anti-racism, a role filled by Coteau when the Ontario Liberals were in power.

"It shows they don't think it's important enough to have its own portfolio," said Avvy Go, clinic director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto. 

Anti-racism directorate

Part of the role of the minister was overseeing the anti-racism directorate (ARD), established in 2016, to advise the province on how to eliminate racism from government policy making and programs. The directorate held public meetings across Ontario and released reports, including a strategic three-year anti-racism plan.

Under that plan, the Liberals mandated an annual anti-racism conference, which did not happen under the Progressive Conservatives.

Sociology professor Wesley Crichlow says the government's commitment to ending racism is 'dismal.' (Submitted by Wesley Crichlow)

The PCs also put the ARD under the purview of the Ministry of the Solicitor-General. 

"By putting it under corrections, [Ford] sees black people as criminals ... as social trouble," said Wesley Crichlow, a sociology and criminology professor at Ontario Tech University (OTU).

In 2018, Ford also scrapped four subcommittees of the ARD.

'A slap in the face'

Laura Mae Lindo, chair of the NDP's black caucus and anti-racism critic, called the youth council and funding announcement a "slap in the face" in a release. 

In part, she said, it's because there was a $200,000 reduction in the ARD's budget from the previous Liberal government's spending. 

The PCs dispute this.

"There was no cut. The money wasn't spent," said Ford, saying the government supports the ARD. 

Race-based data

Go, who advised the Liberals on its anti-racism legislation that passed in 2017, said the PCs haven't made the anti-racism file a priority. Otherwise, the province wouldn't have hesitated to collect race-based data during the pandemic. 

In fact, she wants to see the government mandate every ministry and department to collect race-based data. 

Avvy Go says the anti-racism file isn't a priority for the Ford government. (CBC)

"With that understanding, we can formulate appropriate policy responses to combat systemic racism in Ontario." 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Friday there are discussions to collect that data on a provincial level related to COVID-19, after saying race-based data is not "considered to be particularly relevant" in the past.

Meanwhile, some public health units are doing it independently after weeks of criticism from health advocates

Record on anti-racism

While Chrichlow, the professor with OTU, isn't necessarily saying the previous government got the anti-racism file right, he applauds it for starting a conversation. 

"They created a road map." 

He accuses Ford of abandoning the initiatives the Liberals started and calls the government's record on anti-racism "extremely dismal." 

When CBC News asked Ford about the criticism he's received in recent weeks regarding his record on anti-racism, he disputed it. 

"I respectfully, totally disagree with you," he said.

Many would respectfully disagree with him. 

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller. Email her at Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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