Examining Racism and Inequality in Canada

As protests and calls for action have arisen following the murder of George Floyd and other disproportionate levels of police brutality against Black Americans, the reverberations have been felt internationally. Different societies have begun examining their own issues of discrimination, police brutality, and racial and ethnic inequality.

Canada has also felt this call for action as issues of systemic racism and inequality persist for visible minorities and Indigenous Canadians throughout the country. Statistics from the 2016 Canadian Census paints a less than favourable picture of Canada regarding its issues of visible minority-based income inequality.

  • 25% lower total incomes for Indigenous Canadians compared to non-indigenous Canadians
  • 26% lower total incomes for visible minorities compared to non-visible minorities

Recent immigrants, the majority of which are visible minorities, fare even worse with a total income that is 37% lower than that of Canadians born here. When comparing the data of the 2016 Census to that of 2006, little improvement for these groups is shown, with marginal improvements of 2% for Indigenous Canadians and recent immigrants and a small widening of 1% for visible minorities.

Anti-Racism Strategy and Policy in Canada

With issues of inequality and discrimination towards racialized peoples being magnified in recent weeks, discussions of anti-racism policy have become focal point in the minds of the Canadian public.

Canada, in fact, has both an Anti-Racism Action Program (ARAP) and, more recently, an Anti-Racism strategy known as “Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022.” These two initiatives work closely together with numerous communities, branches of government, departments, and organizations.

Some of the general principles and goals of these two anti-racism initiatives are as follows:

  • Demonstrate federal leadership in addressing systemic racism and discrimination within federal institutions and in public policy, programs and services
  • Establish an anti-racism secretariat to coordinate federal action and engage with minority communities and indigenous communities
  • Empower communities by funding projects at the local community level
  • Build awareness and educate the public on the historical roots of racism in Canada and the impact that is continues to have today
  • Promote intercultural and interfaith understanding and foster equitable opportunities to participate fully in Canadian society
  • Increase the availability and accessibility of data, evidence and community insights regarding the disparities experienced by Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, and religious minorities.

Anti-Racism Regarding Immigration to Canada

Racism is a matter that affects all racialized Canadians, but also exhibits itself in some unique ways in Canadian immigration policy. The following are only some of the systemic issues that disproportionately impact immigrants economically and in obtaining permanent residence:

  • A landing fee of $975 required to obtain permanent residency. This fee disproportionately affects immigrants from lower income countries where many of these immigrants are visible minorities.
  • Stricter identification requirements for obtaining permanent residency. This negatively impacts immigrants and refugees that come from an environment where they may not have, or have lost such official documents.
  • The invalidation of professional qualifications held by many immigrants in other countries, making it difficult for them to enter the labour market. This in turn leads to higher rates of unemployment and underemployment among immigrants to Canada, particularly racialized Canadians.
  • Recent immigrants to Canada receive lower wages as a result of having less seniority within their place of work, compared to their non-immigrant counterparts.

Much of the racial inequality existing in Canada could be addressed by making changes to current immigration and employment law and policy, which by design, inadvertently places visible minority immigrants to Canada at a disadvantage.

The Former Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, has in particular been quite vocal in recent weeks in suggesting anti-racism policy ideas that could be implemented by the Federal Government to address issues of systemic racism in Canada.

Many of Hussen’s suggestions, such as collecting more data on inequalities and barriers facing minority groups, as well as to provide a platform where racial minorities can share their voices, fall in line with the goals and aims of Canada’s Anti-Racism strategy, as laid out above.

Hussen has, however, made some good recommendations that could be implemented more immediately, while policy change recommendations from Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy materialize.

One of these policies is to implement a name-blind hiring practice for federal government jobs. This would remove some potential racial or religious bias from the hiring process as the names of government job applicants would be hidden.

This policy could be a good first step in tackling the high rates of unemployment and underemployment amongst visible and religious minority Canadians, many of whom are immigrants. This change in the hiring process could also lead to better representation of minority groups in the federal government, which can in turn, lead to future progress in achieving the goal of eliminating systemic racism in Canada.

It is too soon to see what results will come of Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy or Hussen’s suggestions. However, the discussions happening publicly, and through government financed anti-racism engagement sessions, are a first step towards properly assessing what legislative changes need to be made to advance the goal of eliminating discrimination and inequality amongst all minority groups, including immigrants.