Doug Ford's comments on racism ignore history of black trauma in Canada, writer says

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's view that Canada doesn't have the same "systemic, deep roots" of racism that the United States does drew strong criticism Wednesday from a Toronto journalist and writer.

Frustration and fear have always been part of black experience in Canada, Toronto writer says

Thousands of people rallied in Toronto last weekend, demanding an end to the killings of black people during interactions with police. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's view that Canada doesn't have the same "systemic, deep roots" of racism that the United States does drew strong criticism Wednesday from a Toronto journalist and writer.

Ford, whose family's label business operates in the U.S., said Tuesday that comparing Canada and the U.S. on racial issues is like "night and day," and he hopes the U.S. can straighten out its problems.

Kathleen Newman-Bremang called the comments "ridiculous.

"I think that people think this is just an American problem, and it's not," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"Of course we're in two different countries and there are differences. But it doesn't seem like an 'us problem' and a 'them problem'," she said. Newman-Bremang writes for the online outlet Refinery29.

Listen to the full Metro Morning interview with Kathleen Newman-Bremang:

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Ford's comments came just days after thousands of people rallied against racism on the lawn at Queen's Park. The protest was sparked by the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from a 24th-storey balcony in High Park during an interaction with Toronto police. Her family has questioned the circumstances of her death, and Ontario's police watchdog is currently investigating. 

Newman-Bremang said that Ford's statements disrespected the history of anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism in Canada.

"When you negate our experience and separate it in that way from what's going on in the U.S., you ignore the deaths of Regis Porchinski-Paquet and D'Andre Campbell. You ignore again that black people are disproportionately likely to be shot by police," she said.

Campbell was fatally shot by Peel police in April. His family said the 26-year-old suffered from mental illness and that there was no "imminent threat" to police during the encounter. The Special Investigations Unit is also investigating his death. 

Watch | Racism a fundamental problem in Canada, University of Toronto professor says:

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Ford elaborated on his comments at Queen's Park Wednesday, and said "of course" there is systemic racism in Ontario.

"There's systemic racism across this country. I know it exists... What I don't know is the hardships faced in those communities and a lot of us this chamber do not know the hardships within those communities," he said.

"I do not have those lived experiences and I can empathize with them but again ... a lot of us have never lived that. We've never walked a mile in someone's shoes that has faced racism. And not only just in the black community, a lot of minority communities throughout the history of Ontario and Canada have faced racism and our government won't stand for it."

'Still happening'

In a piece published on May 29 titled "The Pandemic Of Black Trauma Will Never End," Newman-Bremang writes that the fear of being hurt or killed during interactions with police permeates black communities in Canada and the U.S. alike. 

"We live with that reality every day and I just think I'm tired of trying to appeal for our humanity and to explain to people that this is still happening in this country. I want to be past that conversation," she told guest host Ismaila Alfa.

Part of her inspiration for the May 29 essay, Newman-Bremang said, was seeing social media posts about "getting back to normal" once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

"And I just thought that these feelings of despair and frustration and the trauma that I'm feeling — that my black brothers and sisters are feeling — that is normal," she explained.

The talk

For many black communities, "normal" includes a seemingly relentless march of fear and tragedy, she added. It is so pervasive, that black parents having "the talk" with their children is about as normal "teaching your kids to brush their teeth."

The talk, in this case, is a frank discussion about potential encounters with police.

"My dad told us to put our hands on the dashboard, to make sure they can see our hands at all times. No sudden movements, stay as still as possible. Say 'yes sir' or 'yes ma'am' and do everything that they tell you," Newman-Bremang said.

"The talk is telling your kids how not to die at the hands of police."

It is not a normal that anyone should want to get back to, she said.

Watch | Three black parents discuss having 'the talk' with their children

With files from Metro Morning