Racism in Canada
Canada (and the world) has a background of racism. This was NOT unique at various times of our history. What we did was done globally.
Thanks in part to Britanica
Racism is the belief that humans may be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races”; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioral features; and that some races are innately superior to others. The term is also applied to political, economic, or legal institutions and systems that engage in or perpetuate discrimination on the basis of race or otherwise reinforce racial inequalities in wealth and income, education, health care, civil rights, and other areas.
Historically, those who openly professed or practiced racism held that members of low-status races should be limited to low-status jobs and that members of the dominant race should have exclusive access to political power, economic resources, high-status jobs, and unrestricted civil rights. The lived experience of racism for members of low-status races includes acts of physical violence, daily insults, and frequent acts and verbal expressions of contempt and disrespect, all of which have profound effects on self-esteem and social relationships.
Racism was at the heart of North American slavery and the colonization and empire-building activities of western Europeans, especially in the 18th century.
Racism has been around long before our thoughts of European colonialism, being recorded some 3,000 BC in Asia/Africa/Middle East. What is not talked about is how African tribes were captured by other tribes and sold to the Europeans. Even in Africa, and even today, some tribes are looked down upon by other “superior” tribes.
This “racism” is still carried out in the middle east through religion; Sunni vs Shiite Muslims (Iran); Sunnis vs. Alawites (Syria); caste differences in India; ethnic differences in China…
By the 19th century, racism had matured and spread around the world. In many countries, leaders began to think of the ethnic components of their own societies, usually religious or language groups, in racial terms and to designate “higher” and “lower” races. Those seen as the low-status races, especially in colonized areas, were exploited for their labour, and discrimination against them became a common pattern in many areas of the world. The expressions and feelings of racial superiority that accompanied colonialism generated resentment and hostility from those who were colonized and exploited, feelings that continued even after independence.
Since the mid-20th century many conflicts around the world have been interpreted in racial terms even though their origins were in the ethnic hostilities that have long characterized many human societies (e.g., Arabs and Jews, English and Irish). Racism reflects an acceptance of the deepest forms and degrees of divisiveness and carries the implication that differences between groups are so great that they cannot be transcended.
Racism elicits hatred and distrust and precludes any attempt to understand its victims. For that reason, most human societies have concluded that racism is wrong, at least in principle, and social trends have moved away from racism. Many societies have begun to combat racism by raising awareness of racist beliefs and practices and by promoting human understanding in public policies.
Despite constitutional and legal measures aimed at protecting the rights of racial minorities in Canada, the private beliefs and practices of many Canadians remained racist, and some group of assumed lower status was often made a scapegoat. That tendency has persisted well into the 21st century.
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation did a survey of ethnic groups in 2021 asking participants whether they had racist interactions.
This latest research once again confirms the reality of racism in Canada. A significant proportion of the population experiences discrimination because of their race or ethnic background at least occasionally, if not more often, and has witnessed other people encounter similar treatment.
Racial discrimination takes place across a range of settings, such as public spaces, in the workplace, in stores, and at school and university. And this is, by far, most widely experienced by Canadians who are Indigenous or Black, although it is by no means uncommon among those with other racialized identities.
There has also been notable change in public perspectives about race in Canada since the first survey two years ago, undoubtedly the result of high-profile incidents of racial injustice in the U.S. and Canada that have prompted renewed scrutiny of policing, institutional policies and the historical record. Broad public awareness and recognition of racism has expanded over the past two years, especially as it is affecting people who are Black or Indigenous, but also the Chinese community due to anti-Asian sentiments arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
And there is increasing appreciation of the systemic basis of discrimination in terms of racialized Canadians being treated less fairly than white people across a range of settings, such as when dealing with the police.
Notably, however, the frequency with which racialized people report personal experiences with discrimination has remained largely unchanged since 2019, suggesting that it is awareness of racism in society rather than the problem itself that has undergone the most change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of, and increased the daily stress experienced by, many Canadians (especially youth and those with precarious incomes), but does not appear to have disproportionately affected racialized people in terms of their health, overall life satisfaction and access to needed health care services.
At the same time, Indigenous and Black Canadians express lower confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and, for this and possibly other reasons, have greater hesitation about getting vaccinated.
As well, the research confirms an increase in anti-Asian discrimination, with many who are Chinese or of other Asian backgrounds reporting racially-motivated harassment in various forms (people feeling uncomfortable around them, being subjected to slurs and jokes, feeling physically threatened); treatment that has long been experienced by other racialized groups, notably those who are Black or Indigenous.
The injustices and challenges of racism notwithstanding, it is not a major fault line in Canadian society at this point in time. Despite growing recognition of the problem, Canadians are more likely than not to believe that race relations are generally good in terms of how people from different groups get along and in the equality of opportunity for people with different racial backgrounds.
And a majority remain optimistic that progress toward racial equality will happen in their lifetime, although such optimism has diminished somewhat over the past two years, especially among racialized Canadians. Race relations in this country may now be at an important juncture, and the next two years might well prove to be a critical period of reckoning.
The following are key findings from the research.
Summary of key findings
STATE OF RACE RELATIONS IN CANADA
A clear majority of Canadians believe that race relations in this country are generally good, both in terms of how well people from different groups get along with one another and the extent to which people from all races have equal opportunities to succeed in life. Moreover, views are comparatively more positive when the focus is on race relations in one’s own local community. But opinions about the state of race relations are now less positive than in 2019, with somewhat fewer now describing them as generally good.
This worsening change has occurred across the population, and racial and ethnic groups, but most notably among Black Canadians who, along with Indigenous Peoples, are the least likely to describe race relations as good in their description of race relations today (although, even among these groups, the positive outweighs the negative on most indicators).
While the public assessment of race relations as they are today has deteriorated from that expressed two years ago, there has not been a comparable shift in how Canadians believe race relations have changed over the past decade. As in 2019, opinions are divided among those who see improvement, those who see setbacks, and a plurality who maintain little has changed.
Notably, however, racialized Canadians (especially those who are Chinese, South Asian or Black) are now more likely than before to say that equal opportunities for all groups to succeed have worsened over time.
A majority of Canadians are optimistic that progress toward racial equality will happen in their lifetime, but here as well a positive outlook has weakened since 2019. This downward shift in optimism is evident across the population, but most notably among racialized Canadians, especially those who are Indigenous or Chinese. Optimism about the future of racial equality is now most widespread among Quebecers, South Asians and newcomers to Canada, and least so among Indigenous Peoples (especially those who are Métis).
AWARENESS AND PERCEPTIONS OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
The reality of racism in Canada is widely acknowledged, and by a growing proportion of the population. As in 2019, Indigenous Peoples and Black people are most commonly seen by other Canadians to experience racial discrimination on an ongoing basis, and this view has strengthened noticeably over the past two years; relatively few now maintain that such mistreatment of these groups rarely or never happens.
The most significant change since 2019 is a jump in the perception of discrimination against Chinese people (with seven in ten now saying this happens at least sometimes, if not often), likely due to reports of rising anti-Asian sentiment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic being linked to China.
Perceptions of racial discrimination against Chinese people in Canada is now comparable to that believed to be experienced by people who are South Asian (unchanged since 2019) or Middle Eastern, and to a lesser extent those with backgrounds from East and Southeast Asian countries. By comparison, Canadians are least apt to say that Latin American people experience racial discrimination on an ongoing basis.
In terms of racism directed at one’s own group, large majorities of Indigenous Peoples and Black people say others in their own group experience ongoing discrimination and unfair treatment in Canada today, with smaller proportions reported by members of other racialized groups.
Perceptions of ongoing discrimination have increased noticeably since 2019 among Black and Chinese people, as well as among first-generation Canadians, with smaller increases among those who are South Asian and those who identify with another racialized group.
Those who are Black or First Nations are also among the most likely to say they have witnessed discrimination of other people in their own racial group (although such reports have changed little since 2019) and that such treatment has a significant negative impact on the people they are close to.
Canadians tend to see racism as a function of the prejudiced attitudes and actions of individuals rather than systemic inequities in the country’s laws and institutions, but this perspective has shifted a bit toward the latter perspective since 2019. S
Systemic racism is most widely recognized as affecting Indigenous Peoples and Black people, and in both cases this view has strengthened noticeably over the past two years, as is also the case for the treatment of Chinese people, and to a lesser extent those who are South Asian. Systemic racism (and indeed racism in general) is much less likely to be seen as affecting Canadians who are East/Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin American.
As well, there is a growing belief among Canadians that racialized people are treated less fairly than those who are white in specific settings and circumstances, especially when dealing with the police, but also in the workplace, in the courts, in stores and restaurants, and when receiving health care services. Such racial bias is most likely to be seen as affecting Indigenous Peoples and Black people, especially in situations involving the police, but increasingly in terms of receiving health care services.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH DISCRIMINATION AND RACISM
Discrimination and mistreatment due to one’s race is a common experience in Canada. One-fifth of the population report that this happens to them regularly or from time to time, with another quarter indicating it occurs but very rarely. Such treatment is most widely reported by those who are Black or First Nations, and to a lesser but still notable extent by those who are South Asian, Chinese, East or Southeast Asian, or Métis, and even by a significant minority of those who identify as white.
Since 2019, there is no change in the frequency of such reported experiences for the population as a whole, but it has increased noticeably among South Asian and Chinese people, and by only a small amount among those who are Black, while decreasing among Indigenous Peoples. Across the population, personal experience with racism is most apt to be reported by Canadians 18 to 29 years of age, first generation living in the country, or those with precarious incomes. Men and women are equally likely to report such discrimination.
Racism is encountered across a number of public settings, most commonly in the workplace, on the street, in stores and restaurants, and at school or university. Reported experiences by setting for the population as a whole are unchanged from 2019, but have increased among Chinese people in their encounters in the workplace, in stores and restaurants, and when using public services; and among South Asian people when using public services, and in dealing with the police and the courts.
Canadians who experience racial discrimination are affected to varying degrees; some report that they are bothered quite a bit and others insist not at all. Negative impacts are most likely to be experienced by those who are Black or First Nations, as well as women, second-generation Canadians and those with precarious incomes. As was the case in 2019, three in ten racialized people say they downplay their racial background from time to time (if not regularly), with this practice most widely reported by those who are Indigenous or South Asian.
IMPACTS OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have had little impact on Canadians’ self-assessment of their own general health (as compared to that reported in 2019), but has more negatively affected their mental health and well-being. This latter change is evident across the population, but a decline in mental health status is most pronounced among Canadians with limited education and precarious incomes, as well as those who are Black or First Nations (although Black Canadians continue to be more likely than other groups to report their mental health to be excellent or good).
Experiences of daily stress (e.g., feeling nervous, depressed, lonely, having trouble sleeping) are most widely reported by Canadians ages 18 to 29, and those with lower household incomes, but does not vary as significantly across racial groups.
At the broadest level, the pandemic has not had a significant impact on Canadians’ level of overall life satisfaction, which has diminished only marginally since 2019 across the population and within most of the groups covered in this analysis.
Over the course of the pandemic, a majority of Canadians who required health care services say they were able to access what they needed all or most of the time. But this experience has been much more common for older Canadians than younger ones, with education and household income also noted as important factors.
In terms of needing health care services in the future, Canadians express the most confidence in obtaining emergency care at a hospital, followed by non-emergency care with a family doctor or health clinic, and the least confidence in getting services for mental health and counselling.
Once again, age and household income are important factors in shaping expectations for future access to services, while by comparison, racial identity makes much less of a difference both in obtaining health care over the previous year and expressing confidence in future access. Among the small proportion of Canadians who reported that they or someone in their household tested positive for COVID-19, most describe the care they received as excellent or good, with similar experiences indicated among both racialized and non-racialized people.
Canadians express a range in their level of concern about contracting the COVID-19 virus, with strong concern most evident among Asian Canadians (especially those who are East or Southeast Asian), as well as those who are first-generation and those with precarious incomes. One in ten reports having either avoided getting tested or downplaying possible symptoms, with these actions most common among younger Canadians, as well as those who are Indigenous or Black.
Seven in ten Canadians say they have been vaccinated, with this rate highest among Asian people, and lowest among those who are Black or who have low household incomes. Among Canadians not yet vaccinated, a majority say they will do so, compared with just over one in ten who do not plan to get vaccinated or remain unsure; this latter group is most likely to include those who are Black, Indigenous or another racialized group, as well as Quebecers, rural residents and those with precarious incomes.
Not surprisingly, getting inoculated against COVID-19, or intending to do so, is closely linked to one’s level of confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
Apart from the impact that COVID-19 and lockdown measures have had on the mental health and economic well-being of many Canadians, the pandemic has also led to a rise in anti-Asian sentiment because of the virus’s origin in China.
Significant minorities of Chinese, and East or Southeast Asian Canadians, report encountering racially-motivated harassment since the pandemic outbreak, in the form of people acting uncomfortable around them, being subjected to slurs and jokes, and fearing someone might threaten or physically attack them.
Moreover, this type of anti-Asian discrimination is recognized by others, with a majority of Canadians expressing the belief that Chinese Canadians are now experiencing more racial mistreatment than before the pandemic.
But it is not only Asian Canadians who report racially-motivated harassment since the pandemic began. Such experiences are also commonly reported by other racialized people, especially those who are Black or First Nations.
On the positive side, a notable minority of Canadians from each racial group also say they have had others openly express support for them as a member of their race or ethnicity since the pandemic began, with this most commonly reported by those who are Black or First Nations.
Canadians as a whole are generally positive about the job performance of their local police force, as measured across five dimensions of service. The strongest ratings are given to how police treat people in respondents’ own racial/ethnic group and how well police protect people generally from crime, with somewhat lower ratings given for using appropriate force for each situation, responding to disturbances caused by someone having a mental health crisis, and holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs.
Not surprisingly, perspectives on local police performance vary by racial and ethnic group, especially in relation to how one’s own group is treated: white Canadians are the most likely to say their local police are doing an excellent or good job on this dimension, while this much less apt to be the case among those who are Black or First Nations.
Across the population, positive performance ratings of local police are most evident among older Canadians, and least so among those 18 to 29 years of age or those with precarious incomes.
With attention now being given to how policing needs to be reformed, the Canadian public is divided on the extent to which such change is necessary. Four in ten say what is needed is for police to do a better job of how they currently operate, while a one-third believe fundamental change is required, and another three in ten do not offer a clear opinion either way.
This absence of consensus extends across the population, as well as across ethnic and racial groups, but the balance of opinion tips toward fundamental reform among Canadians who are Black, First Nations or South Asian, as well as among those ages 18 to 29 or those with precarious incomes.