Cross Country Checkup

Feds fighting racism, 'seriously looking at' Quebec's Bill 21: multiculturalism secretary

Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree says the federal government is taking a leadership role in combating racism with a national Anti-Racism Strategy announced last month, but he stopped short of committing to action against Quebec's religious symbols law.

Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree touts anti-racism strategy announced in June

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Gary Anandasangaree told Cross Country Checkup that he believes his department's anti-racism strategy tells Canadians that 'racism is unacceptable.' (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Federal government leadership is needed in order to combat racism in Canada, said Gary Anandasangaree, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Heritage and Multiculturalism, Sunday on Cross Country Checkup.

The Liberal MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park stopped short, however, of committing to federal action against Quebec's Bill 21, a law banning public employees from wearing religious symbols.

"We are a government that really abides by the Charter, looks to the Charter, as a foundational tool for equality and human rights," he said.

Anandasangaree said that the federal government is taking a leadership role in combating racism with a national Anti-Racism Strategy announced last month

The strategy, he said, includes plans to fight racism through education campaigns and funding for local communities based on consultation with hundreds of Canadians and organizations.

An additional research component will "fight online hatred as it occurs," he added.

Here is part of Anandasangaree's conversation with Checkup guest host Asha Tomlinson.

How will this be prioritized by the government?

If we look at racism as a whole, there's a number of different factors that feed into racism. 

We know that, for example, there's a link between poverty and racism. A link between homelessness and racism; under-employment and racism. And there's a lot of different components to it that we've seen. 

So if we look at what the government is doing, we're investing $45 million toward a strategy. But this is built in our Canada Child Benefit, for example ... the statistics have shown that poverty has been reduced by 20 per cent as a result of that strategy. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Donald Trump last week for tweets by the U.S. president that were widely condemned as racist. Trudeau told reporters 'That's not how we do things in Canada,' but stopped short of calling them racist. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Our national housing strategy is directly targeted toward those from underrepresented groups and those who are marginalized. And we know that too will assist in ensuring an even playing field. 

When we're talking systemic, obviously we're talking about long-term. But let's talk about in the now. What is the government's position on Quebec's secularism law, formally known as Bill 21?

That's something that's definitely being looked at by the government. 

We know the prime minister has made his position very clear. We are a government that really abides by the Charter, looks to the Charter, as a foundational tool for equality and human rights in Canada. 

And we will definitely continue to support Charter principles. I know personally, having spoken to many people in Quebec, this [bill] is something that is very worrisome.

It is pretty concerning in terms of what's happening to those who are employed in the public sector ... as a government, it's something we're seriously looking at.

So what can you say to Quebecers who believe that this bill discriminates against them on the basis of race and religion?

I think it's important to recognize that, you know, [in] many parts of the country there are systems where racism affects people. It affects people directly. 

We've seen it with Indigenous people. We've seen it with Black Canadians. We've seen it with Islamophobia. We've seen it in all other forms as well, including anti-Semitism. 

Heritage and Multiculturalism Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the ministry's anti-racism secretariat will tackle 'systemic racism in all ways it manifests itself in our laws, programs and services.' (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

So it's something that is a reality. Racism is a reality in Canada. It's the reality for many Canadians. It's lived experience. 

I mean, I myself as a racialized Torontonian have had my share of challenges because of who I am, and I continue to have it — even as a member of Parliament I continue to have it. 

Important leadership from the federal government, I think, does really set the tone as to the fact that racism is unacceptable in Canada. Not in 2019. 

And so what is the department's responsibility, then, to people who say they feel threatened or discriminated against?

There are a number of different responses to that, right?

We know that the government cannot get involved or engaged in every single interaction where racism occurs, because that happens routinely ... almost on a day-to-day basis. 

What the government can do is look at its systems to see how it affects people — racialized people. So, for example, if you look at the criminal justice system, we know that disproportionately Indigenous men and women are incarcerated at much higher rates than anyone else. 

In fact, for women it's roughly around 37 per cent of those in federal penitentiaries are Indigenous women. So how do we address the systemic issues? 

Yes, there are many issues with the Indian Act. There's issues within how sentencing occurs. There's issues of access to justice. 

How do we look at all those different pieces and really start hitting away at those numbers and making sure that we're able to reduce the level of incarceration. Because I think ultimately, you know, numbers are very important to guide us in terms of whether our programs are working or not. 

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Richard Raycraft. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


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