According to government statistics, only 3 percent of Canada’s population identify as black. Although places like Toronto are known to be especially diverse and receptive to immigrants, it is coming to the fore that Black people and the black community in Canada experience many adverse effects of racism.
One of those inequalities is Black criminalization. A 2011-12 report by Canada’s Correctional Investigator revealed that black inmates are one of the fastest growing sub-population in federal penitentiaries and highlighted “the increasing over-representation of this group.”
It makes sense, then, that Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that the government will officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent, as declared by the United Nations, in an effort to “highlight and celebrate the important contributions people of African descent have made to Canadian society” and to help Canada deal with “the very real and unique challenges that black Canadians face.”
Trudeau was joined by black leaders, including black members of Parliament as well as members of the Federation of Black Canadians and the federal black caucus when he highlighted the need to address both systematic and anti-black racism in Canada.
However, on the eve of Black History Month when Trudeau held the press conference, no questions from the media focused on the initiative or Black lives in Canada. Rather, the press diverted to the #Metoo and global sexual assault movement.
“What we were able to bear witness to today was the fact that the media was more engaged with other issues — not to suggest that they shouldn’t be engaged with other issues — but they were engaged with other issues to the exclusion of the issue that they were there for,” Justice Donald McLeod, an Ontario judge and chair of the Federation of Black Canadians, told HuffPost Canada.
A writer from the Toronto Metro argued, “after the prime minister’s statement, the press were given time to ask questions. Some of the questions were related to a rumor consuming the political establishment and one was about former politicians taking advantage of pot legalization. Not a single question was about Black people. At the event about Black people, no one asked about Black people.”
For many, this silence reveals not only an absence of Black voices in media, via Black journalists, but also, as the chair of Federation of Black Canadians, Donald McLeod, said “a reminder of where [Canada] is”.
The U.N.’s International Decade for People of African Descent spans from 2015 to 2024 and is an initiative to redress the issues the U.N. has identified unfairly affects the 200 million people of African descent living in the Americas and the millions more around the world. These issues include: limited access to quality education, health services, housing, social security, low political participation, discrimination in access to justice, alarmingly high rates of police violence, and racial profiling.
The U.N. has called for national, regional and international cooperation in “relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society”.