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Racial Discrimination: Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 03.16.15
Racial Discrimination exists in Canada in Subtle Forms

Racial Discrimination exists in Canada in Subtle Forms


As we approach March 21st, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, my mind brings to thought all the ways that racism still exists in today’s society. As progressive as we Canadians like to think we are, our personal prejudices are still there, and for the most part, we manage to keep them hidden or in check, at least when we’re in polite company. What we say behind closed doors is another matter…


Racial discrimination is sometimes hard to define, but according to most government sources, it is most often defined as, “an ideology that either explicitly or implicitly asserts that one racialized group is inherently superior to others. Racist ideology can be manifested in racial slurs, jokes or hate crimes. However, it can be more deeply rooted in attitudes, values and stereotypical beliefs.”


Some of us preach that racial discrimination no longer exists in Canada. The numbers beg to differ. According to a 2011 Stats Can report, about half (52%) of police-reported hate crimes were motivated by race or ethnicity, with black populationsthe most frequently targeted. The data also showed the number of reported hate crimes perpetrated against Arabs and West Asians doubled (from 37% to 75%). There was also a 71 per cent increase in hate crimes committed against Jewish people.

In Canada, Half of all Hate Crimes are Racially-Motivated

In Canada, Half of all Hate Crimes are Racially-Motivated


Vancouver itself has an average hate-crime rate of well over 5 incidents per 100,000, higher than both Calgary and Toronto, with Abbotsford-Mission sitting above the national average. It’s obvious to anyone that hate crimes are still primarily motivated by race. So, is racism alive and well in Canada? It would seem so.


Yet, race or racism is rarely discussed, even though many experts say that it is counterproductive and damaging to our social fabric. Racial discrimination is part of a conversation that few Canadians are willing to have, “except,” say researchers, “under our breath.” So, racism continues and it works its way into every aspect of daily life, from how people are treated in restaurants, to which people are approved for loans at a bank.


Exclusion Hurts and Comes in Many Forms

Exclusion Hurts and Comes in Many Forms

I myself have never directly experienced racism. Maybe because I come from a European background and the only subtle difference is that my father is a French immigrant from Provence. But, trust me, being almost six foot tall at a very early age gave me a certain education in the art of discrimination. The taunts I suffered as a child were not racially motivated, but they were still based on appearance: jokes about my height, my facial features, even my glasses which I wore until eighth grade. And though we’ve all heard the saying that “words can never hurt us”. Trust me, they can and they do.


Last year, when I went shopping across the U.S. border, I still remember, with crystal clarity, when a certain angry driver cut me and my friend off, gave us the finger and shouted “Go back to Canada! We don’t want you here, stupid bitches!” I stared at my friend in horror, and she stared at me. Suddenly, our happy mood was long gone. We both felt the sting of judgement and it was based solely on our license plate. Now, imagine what that would feel like every single day? Being hated for something that was out of your control? Being told that you don’t belong here, denied the right to fair, equal wages and job opportunities, based solely on your skin colour or your cultural beliefs?


Subtle racism is even more insidious and can prevail anywhere. It can rear its ugly head when we judge others too quickly, or when we favour others too much, when we make snap judgements about strangers, or laugh at crude jokes about a certain ethnicity. In employment, it can take the form of failing to hire, train, mentor or promote a racialized person. Racialized persons may even find themselves subjected to excessive performance monitoring or may be more seriously blamed for common mistakes. In housing, people may be turned away as tenants, or may not be granted equal access to maintenance and repairs.  Issues also arise in services and facilities including malls, restaurants, movie theatres, education services and healthcare services. Subtle racism is everywhere.


Racial discrimination may be our country’s ‘dirty little secret’, but ignoring it won’t make it go away. And seeing that Canada is projected to be a white minority country by 2031, we might want to address this issue sooner rather than later. We are a mixed, multicultural landscape, after all, and we better learn how to get along.

Let's Embrace and Celebrate Canadian Diversity

Let’s Embrace and Celebrate Canadian Diversity


Advertising will also have to change with the times. Stereotyping in media, ads and marketing is still common and many marketers make quick judgements about what may attract a certain race or cultural group. Even those who are well meaning and not overtly biased can nevertheless stereotype, and in our follow-up article, we will examine the ways advertising can come across as biased or even racist. We will also examine better ways that marketers can forge an honest and enduring relationship with multicultural consumers, without resorting to stereotyping or generalisations.


What are your Underlying Prejudices? Think you don’t have any? You may be surprised! Take this Test to find out…


Sources: (Images courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Top to Bottom: Michael FleshmanVictor,  Twentyfour Students, last image via Wikipedia)