Since May, issues surrounding institutionalized racism and discrimination by law enforcement officials have been the main topic of discussion alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. While local governments, such as the Peel regional council joined by the Peel police services board, have taken some action to combat racial inequality, the same cannot be said for Toronto and the provincial government.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked about institutionalized racism within the government of Ontario at the daily media briefing on June 2.
“I don’t have time to watch the news,” said Ford in response to the increasing concerns surrounding institutionalized discrimination in North America. Public concern intensified following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in the United States who was killed by a Minnesota police officer while being arrested on May 25.
“They have their issues in the U.S., and they have to fix their issues, but it’s like night and day compared to Canada and the U.S.,” continued Ford. “Good luck to them, and hopefully they can straighten out their problems.”
Two days after Floyd’s death, Toronto resident Regis Korchinski-Paquet died under suspicious circumstances with police present at the scene. However, the Premier was confident that these concerns weren’t valid for Ontario and Canada.
“Thank god we’re different than the United States, and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they have had for years,” added Ford. “In Canada, for the most part, we get along.”
Ford’s statements were immediately met with backlash across social media. They were considered tactless if not blatantly ignorant toward the struggles faced by minorities in Canada and especially the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.
The following day, Premier Ford spoke at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and contradicted his previous statement on the topic, going on to state that “of course there’s systemic racism in Ontario.”
“There is systemic racism across this country. I know it exists,” he continued. “What I don’t know is the hardships faced by those communities. I don’t have those lived experiences, and I can empathize with them, but again a lot of us have never lived that.”
Ford concluded his amended statement by stating, “not only just in the Black community, a lot of minority communities throughout the history of Ontario and Canada have faced racism, and I won’t stand for it.”
Despite renewing his stance on the presence of institutionalized racism in Ontario, many critics looked further into the actions of government officials, especially those appointed by the Ford legislation.
Since the lockdown of the province back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence has significantly increased across Ontario. Mississauga alone had 10 separate major cases involving shootings in the past four months.
These tragedies were devastating to the communities involved; however, Jamil Jivani, the Ford government’s advocate for community opportunities, blamed “young gangsters” for the increased violence rather than help the people heal and rebuild.
“During COVID, a lot of young gangsters were talking trash on Instagram and YouTube, making videos about rivals, starting e-drama,” stated Jivani. “Now, the conflicts are boiling over [and people] are dying.”
Jivani went on to call Canadians advocating for legislative change and the restriction of law enforcement’s funds and powers as being “out of touch.”
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Julius Haag, both professors of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, responded to Jivani’s statement. While Owusu-Bempah emphasized the oxymoron of Jivani’s position as a community and anti-racism advocate, Haag addressed the many problematic points Jivani made, going on to call it outright shameful.
“There’s no clear evidence that conflicts on social media are a widespread vector for real-world violence,” said Haag. “Also, describing marginalized and criminalized young people as ‘young gangsters’ is both callous and dangerous.”
Despite the contradictory and frequently apathetic comments made by government officials in Toronto and Ontario, many people continue to fight for racial equality and law enforcement reform.
Sandy Hudson, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, stated on June 5 that she had been pleasantly surprised with the recent popularity of the BLM movement as well as the increased attention on the systematic racism within law enforcement and other government institutions.
“For people to put themselves out there like that means that they’re taking this problem of anti-black policing very seriously and really want some sort of concrete change,” said Hudson in an interview with TVOntario.
Owusu-Bempah, who was also a part of the joint interview, emphasized the significance of recent rallies and protests as by participating, “people [put] their lives on the line not only for the risk of violence at the hands of the police but also contracting a virus that can be deadly.”
The diversity of the Toronto residents taking part in the protests and rallies for change was unexpected for Kike Ojo-Thompson, the founder and principal consultant of the KOJO Institute. This consultancy firm aims to help companies and organizations face racial discrimination related challenges through coaching programs and conferences.
The amount of people advocating for racial equality and law enforcement reform have increased significantly since May 25 and whether government officials have time to watch the news or not, they need to address public concerns sooner rather than later.
As stated by Ojo-Thompson, “this is not Black peoples’ problem to fix, it’s bigger than that.”