Canada isn’t the moral haven some want to claim it is

A rich and continuing history of racism says we are no better than our southern counterpart

Statues like that of George Vancouver shows that Canada has its own history of problematic icons. Photo by: Zhatt, courtesy of Wikipedia

By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer

A few weeks ago, #MeanwhileInCanada was trending on Twitter with people comparing the anti-racism protests (fronted by George Floyd’s murder) to the supposed non-existence of similar racialized police violence in Canada. The hashtag has since been rightfully flooded with the many valid examples of Canada’s long and continuing history of racist violence and oppression, which should be realized and understood by everyone.

Recent examples of this violence just in the last month have included the suspicious death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black woman, in Toronto after police were called to her apartment. Indigenous woman Chantel Moore was also shot and killed in New Brunswick by police during a “wellness check.” And these are just the recent ones. Black Lives Matter protests in Montreal have shown that Canadian police are not above tear gassing and pepper spraying peaceful protesters.

The most blatant example of Canada’s racial injustice is the fact that, like the US, as settlers we are living on stolen land, a product of the centuries-long history of colonial violence and assimilation. This includes the creation of the RCMP, which from its inception was meant to police Indigenous people. This practice continues in the sheer amount of unnecessary force and unlawful trespass from the RCMP that occured when the Wet’suwet’en people were defending and continue to defend their land in northern BC from an unsanctioned pipeline.

I could write an entire A to Z encyclopedia on this topic and only cover a fraction of Canada’s racism. The point is that rhetoric like “At least that’s not us” and “Things are different in Canada” does nothing but ignore the deep systemic racism that lies in Canada’s roots. It is there, and it is real. It’s just hidden underneath a country-wide marketing campaign that began with the 1971 policy that posited Canada as a magical and multicultural place. Just as the US brands itself through the idea of “freedom,” Canada brands itself as “multicultural” to hide its current and continuing history of racist transgressions. This erasure of violence and discrimination in this country is in itself yet another thing to add to Canada’s list of systemic racism. 

One could argue that the aforementioned incidents of police brutality are perpetrated by only a few “bad apples.” But that not only ignores the centuries of colonial oppression, it also denies the statistical data that says Indigenous people make up 5% of the population but represent 36% of people killed by the RCMP, or that Black citizens in Toronto are 20 times more likely than white citizens to be killed by police.

Arguing that “Yes, there is racism here, but it is less than in the US” excuses the racism that we have. To compare two countries’ “levels” of racism is to permit one “level” simply because it is lesser. No amount of racism should be acceptable in any country. We are no better than the US just because our history of racism is guised under a thin veil of carefully branded multiculturalism. We are no better just because maybe the police shoot fewer bullets at civilians. Both countries are built on racism and continue to run on it and there should be no rationalizing for that.

The strong solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement across borders over the past few weeks solidifies this connection. The outpouring of support both on social media and in protests shows that people recognize the systemic seeds that were planted long ago and continue to grow in both countries. We need to continue this solidarity for people to recognize that racism doesn’t stop at a border — if anything, borders only perpetuate it.

Dismissing the US as the only place where racism happens ignores its real and continuing history in Canada. We do not have the moral high ground over the United States, or any country for that matter. I encourage you to educate yourself on the realities of Candadian history and find ways to fight the roots that still strangle people of colour, especially Black and Indigenous people, so that here in the north we can truly be strong and free.