New Canadian Media

by Patrick Hunter (@pghntr) in Toronto

A huge wave, represented by about 50 high-profile Canadians, rocked Mayor John Tory’s proverbial boat this week. The “wave” consisted of a former chief justice of Ontario, three former mayors (one of whom is a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission), several former politicians and business leaders.

Identifying themselves as Concerned Citizens to End Carding, they held a news conference steps away from Mayor Tory’s office at City Hall to denounce the controversial police practice.

The result is that the mayor has changed his tune, reversing his position on “carding,” the controversial practice by the Toronto Police Service (TPS) of collecting and retaining information about individuals with whom they engage, but who are not being detained or under suspicion of committing a crime.

In his announcement, the Mayor said: “The issue of community engagements, or carding as it has become known, has eroded public trust to a level that is clearly unacceptable.As mayor, it is up to me to do whatever I can do to restore that trust . . . And so I am announcing today my intention, at the next meeting of the police services board on June 18, to seek the permanent cancellation of carding once and for all.”

"We believe carding violates the human rights of citizens, it goes against the principles of our Charter Rights ..." - Concerned Citizens to End Carding

It is not often that political leaders reverse their positions so openly. Early reaction has been mostly positive. The damage, however, may have already been done. That will become clearer when Tory faces the electorate in another three years.  

The Use of Carding

The carding practice was revealed in a Toronto Star investigative report in 2012 under the banner headline “Known to police.” It uncovered the fact the majority of persons stopped by the police whose information was taken were young black males, and their information was being kept in a database, apparently for future reference when a crime is committed.

Earlier this year, the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) had approved a policy on community engagement, which required police officers to inform individuals who are not under suspicion of any criminal activity that they have the right to end the engagement. If officers took a person’s information, they would also be required to provide a “receipt” indicating why the person was stopped.

William (Bill) Blair, then the outgoing chief of police, had a problem with the requirement and managed to get a watered-down version – without the above requirements of the policy – approved. The reaction and subsequent heat from the black community increased.

Desmond Cole: A Catalyst

In May, Toronto Life published a cover story by Desmond Cole, “The Skin I’m In.” It catalogues his experiences with the police, and outlines the emotional impact that they had and have on him – an impact that is shared by many black men, young or old.

The article became a sensation and was, indeed, a catalyst for the Concerned Citizens group to declare its opposition to carding.

[Saunders'] stance, if continued, will certainly erode any goodwill he may have earned from the black community, and the wider community, as demonstrated by the Concerned Citizens group.

In its statement, the group notes: “We all need to oppose carding vehemently … We are offended by the notion of casually and routinely stopping citizens, outside of police investigations of actual criminal acts that have occurred, to question and record, and then store personal data in police files … We believe carding violates the human rights of citizens, it goes against the principles of our Charter Rights ..."

Last Friday, the chair of the TPSB, Dr. Alok Mukherjee wrote an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star: “We are at risk of turning into a surveillance society” in which he also declared a change of heart.

“I believe the Toronto Police Services Board must now declare unequivocally that information generated from informal contacts with members of the public, which are not related to any criminal investigation or likelihood of a criminal investigation, must not be recorded in any police database,” he wrote.

Where the Police Chief Stands

Mark Saunders, who is black, is the recently appointed chief of police, succeeding Bill Blair. He has picked up the ball, voicing support for carding as a legitimate investigative tool. He has tried to cushion this support by suggesting that there would be changes in implementing the policy by eliminating random stops.

The community is not buying it.

His stance, if continued, will certainly erode any goodwill he may have earned from the black community, and the wider community, as demonstrated by the Concerned Citizens group.

Adding to the community’s concern about Chief Saunders’ position, a recent report in the Toronto Star that revealed an internal memo prepared by Saunders while he was a staff superintendent.

In the memo, he essentially tried to debunk the notion of racial profiling and carding, suggesting that analyses did not support “notions or activities of racially biased policing practices.” According to the Star, his then-superior officer, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, also black, took issue with Saunders’ analysis and conclusion.

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, in the wake of Mayor Tory’s conversion, has also reaffirmed the association’s position, and that of the chief’s: getting rid of carding would have a negative impact on “community safety.” Exactly how is unclear.

It would appear that both Chief Saunders and the police association fail to make the connection that their defence of carding’s use and the fact that the majority of the carded residents are black imply that they believe that members of the black community are responsible for most of the crimes and criminal activities in the city.

If the black chief of police believes that, what chance do we have to change relations between the police and the black community?


Patrick Hunter is a communications consultant and a columnist for Share Newspaper. He is a former communications director at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and has worked in government and the news media.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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TORONTO — Almost 1,000 people filled the George Weston Recital Hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts for a “Celebration of Life”...

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Monday, 08 June 2015 11:56

Ending Police Carding Is Just Step One

by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough

“I’m afraid for my son to grow up.”

The words come via a 23-year-old woman, who sits with her six-month-old son in her arms. These words – words that no mother should have to say – drive home a heavy point.

She’s one of a dozen or so members of the Say Word youth journalism program that runs weekly in Scarborough, out of East Metro Youth Services – a group I’ve been privileged enough to coordinate since 2008.

Her comment comes after she and the group are asked to read Desmond Cole’s recently published Toronto Life article, “The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times – all because I’m black.” Raising her son in the over-policed and often negatively stigmatized neighbourhood of Kingston-Galloway in Scarborough, the young mom doesn’t want her son to grow up and be victim to the racial profiling Cole’s article brings to light.

[A] student – albeit a young Caucasian man who self-identified as a resident of Richmond Hill – asked the teaching assistant, very seriously, “Does racial profiling actually exist?” I answered, out of turn: “Yes, it does exist – just not for you.”

Reading Cole’s work shifted almost the entire afternoon’s program to an open sharing circle – nearly every participant had a personal account (or several) of being carded, negative encounters with the police or witnessing disturbing interactions between police and youth in the community.

Stories of “fitting the description” and of being searched without cause, questioned and arrested abounded.

The Say Word group analyzes articles on a weekly basis so that the participants are able to think critically about how they will write their own pieces for the annual by-youth, for-youth magazine they put together for Scarborough. The consensus on Cole’s work: he hit the nail on the head – everything he wrote in that article resonated.

Racial Profiling Is Real

The afternoon’s discussion made me reflect on the many instances of negative experiences with the police I myself have had over the years growing up in Scarborough.

The disproportionate carding of young black men adds yet another layer to a narrative Canada – a country often touted as an inclusive, diverse, multicultural mosaic – seems all too comfortable with. It’s the narrative of racial profiling, over-policing and criminalizing racialized people and communities.

It also made me flash back to a moment in one of my Intro to Criminology classes at York University, when a student – albeit a young Caucasian man who self-identified as a resident of Richmond Hill – asked the teaching assistant, very seriously, “Does racial profiling actually exist?”

I answered, out of turn: “Yes, it does exist – just not for you.”

If only he could have been with me on that Wednesday afternoon, he could have heard first-hand from the young people most affected: yes, racial profiling does exist – in a big way.

Racial profiling by Toronto Police runs deeper than the highly controversial, and deeply troubling, carding practice – which disproportionately targets young black men. So while Toronto mayor John Tory’s announcement this past weekend that he would like to put an end to carding is a step in the right direction, he’s not going to be let off the hook that easily.

The disproportionate carding of young black men adds yet another layer to a narrative Canada – a country often touted as an inclusive, diverse, multicultural mosaic – seems all too comfortable with. It’s the narrative of racial profiling, over-policing and criminalizing racialized people and communities.

Tory often speaks to the fact that carding is disrespectful and hurtful and has caused him a lot of internal conflict since he took over office, but I’ve yet to hear him really explore the deeply entrenched systemic racism that is the root cause of the deplorable practice.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

It’s not enough to just say, “Let’s end carding.” Tory, the Toronto Police Services Board, and newly appointed Police Chief Mark Saunders, need to dig deeper and take a hard look at the city’s police force. They need to do a lot of unpacking. They need to start asking the tough questions; they need to start listening to the community.

Perhaps most importantly, they need to hear, in a very real way, from the youth and young adults that I spend Wednesday afternoons with (and others with similar stories). And when they do, they need to not dismiss their experiences. They need to seriously take into consideration the irreparable scars each of those experiences leaves on a select population of our city’s young people, and the black community at large.

If that doesn’t happen then I guarantee that, even if Tory and the Police Services Board move to officially end carding at the June 18 board meeting, the real changes that Toronto’s black community deserves also will not happen. The disproportionate targeting, the racial profiling, will persist. The only difference is that it won’t be documented.


A native of Toronto’s Scarborough community, Priya is a journalist and editor with a passion for mentoring young people and thinking critically about matters of social justice. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Urbanology Magazine, a part-time instructor at the Humber College J-School and coordinator of Scarborough’s Say Word youth journalism program, a program she was integral in getting off the ground. She is NCM's production editor.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 07 June 2015 13:56

NCM NewsFeed: Weekly Newsletter June 5

Highlights: Toronto Mayor addresses issues + Resetting ties with First Nations + OMNI cuts hurt Italian-Canadians + Why Alberta reflects Canada + Canadians want TV debates + Canada-Russia spat over Ukraine + More Diaspora stories


 

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Here and Now

We Owe It To Newcomers To Do Better: TO Mayor John Tory tells New Canadian Media reporter Abbas Somji in an exclusive sit-down interview in which he addresses visible minority representation on city council, the carding controversy and improving settlement services.

Thornhill Event Fosters Empathy for Other Cultures reports Fatima Sajan after listening in on the conversation last Sunday at the Jaffari Community Centre when Mulla Asghar Memorial Library and Islamic Resource Centre held a panel discussion on how we can shed the barriers that keep us from becoming human.

Why Reconciliation for Aboriginal Peoples Should Matter to New Canadians is analyzed by Ranjit Bhaskar, our Toronto Editor, in the wake of the TRC report release. He says it is an opportunity for not just respecting historical treaties, but also for resetting ties between First Nations and the “latest nations.”

OMNI Cuts: ‘A Deep and Personal Transgression’ for Italian-Canadians in Ontario says Julian Fantino, the Associate Minister of National Defence, wading into the controversy over Rogers Communications deciding to end all Italian-language news and current affairs television programming on the multicultural station.

Immigrant Waves and Alberta’s Political Culture: In this second part of a three-part commentary series on what happened during the province's recent election, Faron Ellis, who teaches political science and history at Lethbridge College, says there is no reason to suspect that newcomers participated any differently in the populist eruption that put the NDP in power.

And in concluding his series, Ellis offers some insights on What Alberta's Political Climate Means for this Fall's Election. He says the fact that the province's culture has much in common with the larger Canadian one and is increasingly progressive and libertarian often comes as a surprise to many people outside and even within it.

Toronto Rolls Out Red Carpet for Newcomers and Shan Qiao was there to capture the images as Canada’s largest city showed off its diverse colours by holding its inaugural Newcomer Day at Nathan Phillips Square last Friday.

Canadians Want Elizabeth May and a Traditional Debate, even if Harper boycotts, says an EKOS poll and as Kristie Smith of iPolitics reports, 74% want to see a major network to lead it and 62% consider it important in deciding how to vote.

Ripples

An elderly Canadian citizen accused of committing war crimes during World War Two died last week in the midst of a very public and acrimonious spat between Ottawa and Moscow over his fate. Vladimir Katriuk, a former beekeeper of Ukrainian origin, served in a German organized Schutzmannschaft Battalion and is alleged to have participated in a 1943 Belarusian massacre in which an entire village was wiped out. The news of Katriuk’s passing broke only hours after the Simon Wiesenthal Center harshly criticized the Canadian government for declining Russian demands to extradite him to Moscow to stand trial.

India’s oldest regional party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), has plans to win over the large Punjabi diaspora that has been one of its harshest critics. For the first time in its 95-year history, the party will send out a large contingent of senior leaders led by state cabinet ministers to help create a base for itself outside the country. "I am sending teams of my party in June-end to set up our organization in America, Canada and Europe," SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal said. "We will start a membership drive in these countries with each member getting a digital identity card."

WestJet has launched a daily Toronto-Halifax-Glasgow service to tap the potential of diaspora tourism to Scotland. Canada is Glasgow’s third-largest international market with 37,000 trips made each year by visitors who generate GBP12 million for the city’s economy. Some 4.7 million Canadians, many of them centred in Nova Scotia, have Scottish ancestry. Mike Cantlay, Chairman of VisitScotland, said 24% of the diaspora in Canada want to visit Scotland in search of those roots and the new route presents a great platform for the “ancestral market” worth up to GBP450 million over the next five years.

Staying with Celtic nations, Ireland is trying to encourage the diaspora to return. The strategy outlined plans for a newsletter highlighting opportunities in Ireland, minimising logistical challenges, and accessing affordable housing. The Irish Times asked emigrants about returning and here’s one reaction: “Although I miss the ease with which Irish people can handle social interaction in comparison with Canadians, it would be very difficult to go back to a country that doesn’t invest in municipal infrastructure, from community centres or swimming pools to camping facilities…”

significant number of Zimbabweans in the diaspora, including Canada, are not sending money to the country, says a report. According to the 2014 Characteristics of Labour Migrants report, 46% of emigrants did not send remittances. About 24% remitted both money and goods. 20% sent only money and the remaining 10% sent only goods.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has called on its youth to carry forward the legacy of dignity that has helped put the country on the road to prosperity. He was speaking at the inaugural Rwanda Youth Forum gathering in Dallas, Texas that brought together more than 500 diaspora youth from the United States and Canada. "As children of Rwanda, you are the guardians of this legacy of agaciro. Let it be reflected every day in your thoughts, words, and above all, deeds," Kagame said.

The rich crop of African-born academics in Canada and the US want to share their skills and knowledge with universities on their home continent, says this article. In 2008, 297 African-born academics were employed as full-time faculty in Canada’s 124 universities and colleges. The numbers for the US are between 20,000 and 25,000.

Canadians are optimistic about the benefits of direct foreign investment from Asia, but somewhat cautious of investment from large economies like China, according to the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s 2015 National Opinion Poll. While they hold positive views about investment from major Asian players, including Japan (78%), South Korea (67%), and India (59%), attitudes toward Chinese investment are more mixed, with two-fifths (42%) being favourable and half (49%) expressing opposition.

Harmony Jazz

In a significant decision reaffirming religious freedom and the requirement to accommodate, the U.S. Supreme Court affirms religious rights in the Abercrombie & Fitch case, noting that it is largely self-evident that a woman wearing a hijab is doing so for religious purposes (just as a man wearing a kippa or turban).

The controversy over girl players having to leave high school soccer game after complaints from a Muslim boys’ team generated considerable comment ranging from Chris Selley stating that this was not a complicated case of reasonable accommodation (Don’t want to play soccer against girls? You lose) and Sheema Khan, in a more nuanced piece but nevertheless ending up in the same place that the girls should have been allowed to play, but asking that such disputes be handled with “wisdom and aplomb."

On the diversity and employment equity front, Ontario Black teachers still face racism on the job according to a recent survey. And to address discrimination in job interviews, the technology sector has a solution that could be applied more broadly. Some companies have been using “blind auditions” to gauge the abilities of candidates rather than reviewing resumes. Lastly, the lack of diversity among authours in recommended summer reading lists is noticeable despite the considerable talent within many communities.  

Back Pocket

The quarrel between Canada and Russia over Ukraine hit a musical note when Moscow’s embassy in Ottawa hosted Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa on Tuesday at its grounds to play a recital that celebrated Russia’s greatest classical composers. In April, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra had cancelled Lisitsa’s performances over her comments on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Not content with snubbing Ottawa, she is now taking her music right to ground zero. She is booked to play a concert this month in Donetsk, part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian forces that have been fighting the Ukraine government for more than a year.

Ibi Gábori is an 87 year old Hungarian Canadian survivor of Auschwitz, who shared her experiences of the Holocaust at the 2015 conference of the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada held at the University of Ottawa last week. Gábori’s talk formed part of a special panel on the Holocaust. She spoke about growing up in poverty in the eastern Hungarian town of Miskolc and how her parents simply could not fathom that Jews in Hungary might be in any real danger. Christopher Adam, the Ottawa-based founding editor of the Hungarian Free Press, as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap Hungarian-language paper, recorded her talk. It is worth a watch, lest we forget.


With that, have a great weekend and don’t forget to look up the next edition of NCM NewsFeed every Friday!

Publisher’s Note: This NewsFeed was compiled with input from our Newsroom Editors and regular columnist, Andrew Griffith. We welcome your feedback.

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By Gerald V. Paul Canadian Human Rights Commission Interim Chief Commissioner Ruth Goba says “the OHRC is seeking leave to intervene as a friend of the court in the “Neptune…

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In this exclusive sit-down interview with New Canadian Media reporter Abbas Somji, Toronto Mayor John Tory addresses visible minority representation on city council, the carding controversy and improving settlement services. 

(Media Credit: Absolute Mediaworks/Abbas Somji)


by Abbas Somji (@AbbasSomji) in Toronto

John Tory walks into his expansive office, which looks directly out onto Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. He says visitors (and even media) entering City Hall through the iconic rotunda’s main entrance sometimes look up and spot him through the clear window, hunched over his desk, scanning one of many reports scattered across it.

“They shoot pictures of me in the window and say, ‘Well, there he is. He’s at his desk,’” says Tory, quoting a television broadcaster. “They call it the ‘MayorCam,’” he adds, matter-of-factly.

It’s been half-a-year since Tory took office as Mayor of Toronto.

These days, he says he averages 15-hour days, spent partly at the office, and partly meeting residents, business owners, schools and community groups, all across Toronto – including in so-called “Ford Country”.

“I would think if you put on a map everywhere I’ve been in the six months – first of all, it’d be a lot of dots on the map, but secondly, those dots would be all over the city.”

“I know [settlement agencies] have been the subject of debate and sometimes cutbacks,” says Tory, admitting there’s a need for more programs, particularly those that assist new arrivals and their children get acquainted with the school system in Canada.

It’s the sort of insight he says he needs in order to learn about the concerns facing Toronto residents, especially in the case of newcomers. Issues surrounding integration often take precedence in these discussions – shoestring budgets mean recent immigrants have fewer resources available in adjusting to life in Canada.

“I know [settlement agencies] have been the subject of debate and sometimes cutbacks,” says Tory, admitting there’s a need for more programs, particularly those that assist new arrivals and their children get acquainted with the school system in Canada.

“People sometimes complain there’s too many of those programs. Wrong. There isn’t enough of that kind of initiative to help people to adjust themselves faster and better.”

Why City Council Doesn’t Look Like the City

There’s also the concern some community-related issues may get overlooked, simply because there isn’t anyone representing those groups in council. Tory is one of 39 White members of Toronto city council. Only six councillors who serve the GTA come from visible minority communities – a poor reflection of the city’s cultural make-up of the city, especially as more than half of its residents were born outside Canada.

[T]he more the city council, the police service, the fire service, the different boards, the business community are representative of the population as a whole, the more legitimate they will be in being able to carry out their responsibilities and the more they will understand themselves about the challenges facing newcomers.”

“You can’t just snap your fingers and say, ‘Lo and behold, the city council will look different,’” says Tory, determined to make progress on recruitment efforts.

“We’ve got to encourage more of that to happen because the more the city council, the police service, the fire service, the different boards, the business community are representative of the population as a whole, the more legitimate they will be in being able to carry out their responsibilities and the more they will understand themselves about the challenges facing newcomers.”

Tory says he led and initiated a program called “School for Civics” as part of Civic Action, geared specifically to people from visible minority community groups. The goal was to put them in a room with people from all parties, who could answer questions about what it was like to run a campaign, and to help them get comfortable with the idea of running for public office.

Tory says, “Even people who have been here for generations are afraid of running for office because they think, ‘Well, I don’t know about this,’ and ‘How will I be treated?’ and ‘Where will I get volunteers?’”

He says participants walked away with a fresh take on civic engagement.

“Even that provided a little bit of comfort to people who were feeling a little bit like, ‘I just came here 10 years ago and I really don’t know the political system here very well,’” Tory says.

The Carding Controversy

The mayor’s performance is being scrutinized now more than before, over the way he handles some contentious issues. The subject of “carding” – or random “street checks” police use to collect information about those who are stopped and questioned – has drawn the ire of many a resident, prompting public outcry from a number of visible minority communities.

I take it as my responsibility, because I always said during the election, [carding] would be a policy that was in need of continuous reform, because as you add more and more people from more and more places and as policing changed over time and you learned more things, that you had to keep reforming it and improving it.”

Tory says carding started off as “a well-intentioned policy” to help foster a good relationship between police and communities.

He says he thinks the policy “unintentionally” impacted a disproportionate number of young Black and Brown men, while aiming for it to be “bias-free policing.”

“I accept the fact that a lot of people are dissatisfied, especially in the Black community, with that policy,” says Tory.

“And so, I take it as my responsibility, because I always said during the election, this would be a policy that was in need of continuous reform, because as you add more and more people from more and more places and as policing changed over time and you learned more things, that you had to keep reforming it and improving it.”

Tory says he’s committed to working on the issue with Toronto’s new police chief, Mark Saunders, in coming up with reforms that better serve the community.

Toronto, A Beacon of Hope

Tory is effusive in the role immigrants have played in Toronto’s evolution to what it is today – so much so that he’s dedicated a day in their honour. Festivities for the first-ever “Toronto Newcomer Day” kicked off on May 29 at Nathan Phillips Square, celebrating all that new immigrants have done to enrich the cultural fabric of the city.

“I think it also reminds us that [when] we invite all these newcomers to come – this is an area we haven’t done so well – that we have an obligation to make sure they get better settled here and have easier access.”

Tory says Torontonians have a long-standing history of embracing newcomers, an acceptance that dates back to the Underground Railroad, which brought enslaved African-Americans in the U.S. to freedom in Canada, as well as in the 1960s when the country took a strong stance against apartheid in South Africa.

“[Toronto] probably became a beacon of hope for the world,” says Tory. “We learned so much from each other and it brought this vibrancy to the city.”

Still, he insists there’s much work to be done.

“I think it also reminds us that [when] we invite all these newcomers to come – this is an area we haven’t done so well – that we have an obligation to make sure they get better settled here and have easier access,” says Tory.

“I think we owe it to people to do a better job than we have been doing at that.”


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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While the province of Ontario prepares to welcome Latin American participants and spectators to the Pan Am & Parapan American Games next year, its capital, Toronto, has successfully lured entrepreneurs from Latin America, who see opportunities...

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by Shan Qiao (@dmaomao) in Toronto

Toronto showed off its diverse colours by holding its inaugural Newcomer Day at Nathan Phillips Square on Friday. Of the 2.8 million people living in Toronto, half of them were born outside of Canada and hail from 188 countries all over the world. A photo essay by Shan Qiao ...

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by Mark A. Cadiz (@markacadiz) in Toronto

Many Canadians boast about their country’s diversity. There is a sense of pride attached to it. Yet, when it comes to the foundation of Canada’s democracy, proportionate representation fails miserably.

From municipal levels straight up the parliamentary halls of Ottawa, the demographic remains largely the same — middle-aged, white males.

A study by macro economist, Kai L. Chan titled “Canada’s governing class: Who rules the country?”, reveals that as of September 2014 there were, “relative to the makeup of the [country’s] population, 107 ‘extra’ white males in Parliament, 64 ‘missing’ white females and 45 ‘missing’ minorities.”

 

“The numbers are the numbers . . . and the under-representation is relative to the general population,” Chan says. “I am not surprised by the findings, but it was interesting to note that women and minorities are equally under-represented relative to their levels in the population.”

Chan, a government and public policy professional who moved from China to Toronto when he was four years old, conducted the study to highlight the political issues he felt were important to address in the western world.

As he states in his study, since Parliament is the highest policymaking and political governing body, it is also the final decision maker when it comes to issues that affect minorities. He believes those decisions are at a high risk of being uninformed and may not be reflective of the general population.

“As a racial minority and as an immigrant woman I come to the table with different experiences. “As a racial minority and as an immigrant woman I come to the table with different experiences.” - Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto city councillor

The country’s political parties will have to do better than just skin colour. They need to attract people with real life experiences and thoughts reflective of the populations they’re supposed to represent. Politicians need to be qualified and be able to push for change, he explains.

In the 2011 National Household Survey more than 200 ethnic origins were reported living in the country revealing that about one out of five people in Canada is a visible minority; in Ontario, it’s one in four.

Fresh Perspectives

In Toronto, the country’s largest city, where half the population is foreign born, out of the 45 city councillors that serve the GTA, only six are from visible minority backgrounds. City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, representing Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale, is one of them.

Wong-Tam, an immigrant and a member of the LGBT community, arrived in Canada when she was four years old. In 2010, with the odds already stacked against her as the only racialized woman at Toronto City Hall, she also became the first ever gay woman elected to public office in Ontario, a few years before Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne took office.

“As a racial minority and as an immigrant woman I come to the table with different experiences,” Wong-Tam says. “I come from a working class family where my parents worked in hotels and factories, and English is not my first language.”

“Since we are not doing anything actively to fix it we are probably a generation away from it at least. The change will just happen as the younger generation, who is colour blind or gender blind, start to be the elites.” - Bruce Hicks, York University professor

Wong-Tam, with her petite stature, is not in a conventional sense what you might imagine a political leader to be. Yet, she serves the second most populous ward in Toronto, considered to be a major employment zone and tax base. “From the city’s perspective this is where the wealth is created,” she says.

Statistically speaking, Wong-Tam faced tremendous hurdles to win her seat. Based on her minority statuses, she traditionally would be seen as a weak candidate — a person unable to gather a large number of votes. But she’s come out on top, twice, as she was re-elected in the last city election in 2014.

Time to Get On Board

At the time of Chan’s research (September 2014), Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) had the highest number of racialized MPs, while the Liberals and Conservatives trailed behind. As of this year the NDP is still on top with 14 visible minority MPs representing 13.6 per cent of the party’s caucus. The Conservatives have 12 representing 7.2 per cent and the Liberal Party have just two members, representing 5.9 per cent.

In total there are 49 parliamentarians of visible minority background (including First Nations), but since minorities represent 23.3 per cent of the population they should be holding somewhere around 93 seats instead.

“Historically there is a belief that if you choose someone from an ethnic minority group you risk alienating other ethnic minority groups . . . therefore they (political parties) are hesitant, but it just doesn’t work that way.” - Bruce Hicks, York University professor

Political scientist and Concordia/York University professor Bruce M. Hicks is well versed on the low count of visible minorities in Ottawa. He says no political party has really put diversity onto its radar even though it’s clear they’ve fallen way behind.

“Since we are not doing anything actively to fix it we are probably a generation away from it at least,” Hicks says. “The change will just happen as the younger generation, who is colour blind or gender blind, start to be the elites.”

And it’s getting better, at least for women, Hicks says. On one hand more and more women are starting to hold political positions, but on the other there has only been a slight shift forward for visible minorities. Over the years parties have acknowledged the gender gap and made efforts to improve it, that can’t be said for visible minorities. “No party is going out and recruiting actively, there are no programs in place for them,” Hicks says.

“Historically there is a belief that if you choose someone from an ethnic minority group you risk alienating other ethnic minority groups . . . therefore they (political parties) are hesitant, but it just doesn’t work that way,” he continues.

Deeper Social Issues

After she was first elected as city councillor, Wong-Tam unexpectedly received calls from the LGBT community from across the city and parts of southern Ontario voicing challenges and concerns, essentially looking for her help.

At the same time residents of the Chinese-Canadian community from other parts of Toronto like North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough have also turned to Wong-Tam instead of their local councillor, because they think she will have a better understanding of their issues.

“They (Chinese-Canadian community) specifically want to work with me . . . This is a real condition and a real set of circumstances that I do my job in,” she says. “I don’t believe other councillors are being called from across the city on these issues where residents don’t feel their councillors will understand.”

There are many good councillors, she adds, but she thinks they will have to go above and beyond of what they normally do in order to connect with the minority groups they serve in their wards.

Her experiences as a councillor are warning signs at the municipal level that should be taken seriously as they may be applicable at all levels of government.

“How odd would it be for a society in which the majority population is from one group while the ruling class is from another? This is what transpires in colonialism and certain dictatorships.” - Kai Chan, macro economist

Wong-Tam has tried to address some issues informally assigned to her by residents outside her ward, but there is only so much one person can do.

“Actually I think it’s wrong for me to be given this additional work, simply because I happen to be racial minority, an immigrant and a woman of colour,” she said.

In the last census (2011) nearly 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a member of the visible minority population (not including First Nations people). That number has definitely grown since then.

“I think it’s really important that we have members of city council and elected officials reflect the populations they serve,” Wong-Tam adds. “And it’s not possible if the majority of the elected officials don’t look like the people riding public transit.”

Chan agrees, saying it is absolutely paramount that the governing body reflect the diversity of a country, or its legitimacy is threatened.

“How odd would it be for a society in which the majority population is from one group while the ruling class is from another?” Chan asks. “This is what transpires in colonialism and certain dictatorships. If a democracy yields such anomalies, I suspect that it’s a reflection of deeper social issues.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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