Anti-Black racism is prevalent and ubiquitous throughout Canadian society and history. While anti-Black racism is most often associated with the United States, Blacks in Canada have always faced similar struggles and injustices since the beginning of colonization in the early 1600s. Throughout Canadian history, Blacks have been subject to slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, police killings, targeted laws, deportation, and many other forms of overt and covert racism and restrictions. Anti-Black racism occurs in many different forms. Most commonly in Canada, it occurs through structural and propaganda-based means. Over time, these ideologies and values have become embedded into Canadian culture and society in ways that are much more concealed, and harder to reverse. In Policing Black Lives (Maynard, 2017), Robyn Maynard, a Black feminist writer and activist, explores the deep-rooted racist history that Blacks have experienced in Canada.
Structural anti-Black racism has been so pervasive in Canada, that even the UN has affirmed inequities across different areas including income, housing, access to education, healthcare, application of drug laws, and more. In order to understand modern structural racism, however, it is important to explore its foundations. The first documented slave in Canada was Olivier Le Jeune, a Black Canadian in 1628. For over 200 years, slavery was practised on approximately 4000 Black and Indigenous peoples by primarily White politicians, businessmen, and other citizens (Maynard, 2017). Because of Canada’s cold climate and limited geography for plantations, there were fewer slaves in Canada than in the United States. Despite this, slavery was still widespread, and conditions for slaves were still brutal and inhumane. Additionally, because of the limited populations of slaves, escape was even more difficult. In exchange for fighting in war and promises of land, British elites offered liberation to slaves. Centuries later, most slaves (and their ancestors) have still never received any of the lands that they had fought for and were promised. Following slavery, further structural racism occurred through segregation, targeted laws and restrictions. Segregation was implemented in most aspects of daily living. Blacks were segregated in schools, denied property sales, faced “sundown laws” as curfews, jobs were restricted, paid less, and Black women could only work as domestics (Maynard, 2017). Laws such as the Act of Union in 1840, and Common Schools Act in 1850 unfairly affected members of Black communities. As Blacks transitioned out of formal slavery, their identities remained under attack as they were considered legally and biologically inferior. Blacks were subject to the “White Gaze” (Fanon, 1952/1986). They went from being seen as “slaves”, to being identified as “black”, different, and criminalized. Less than 40 years ago, in 1983, the last segregated school was closed in Canada. Structural anti-Black racism from the Canadian government has also unfairly affected Black migrants travelling to Canada. In 1896, the Canadian government hired immigration agents to prevent Black migrants from entering the country, while simultaneously allowing Europeans to enter and travel more freely. The corruption was so deep that the government paid medical examiners to reject Blacks on a medical basis. (Maynard, 2017) Later, in the 1970s, Canada deported almost 1500 Haitians back to their country. Many of these Haitians, however, came to Canada as a result of the Canadian government interfering with their politics and destabilizing their country. Canada’s influences crossed borders as it supported the Duvalier dictatorship, and later helped to overthrow Aristide in 2004. Haiti was improving during the Aristide government (partially as a result of investments in social programs), and fleeing to Canada and other neighbouring countries had decreased. Recently, in July 2019, Trump ended protections from deportation for Haitians living in the US, which resulted in many of them attempting to come to Canada. Following Trump’s announcement, around 5500 Haitians crossed the border into Canada. As a result of the “Safe Third Country” agreement, an agreement that manages the flow of refugees in the United States and Canada, there is no safe path for citizenship for Haitians entering from the United States. As a result, approximately half of Haitians who entered Canada during this time were also deported. This was coupled with serious propaganda from the Canadian government to impede Haitians from entering in the first place. Thus, the Canadian government not only caused problems and destabilized Haiti, but they also prevented its refugees from seeking asylum in Canada.
Black communities have played an integral role in developing Canadian society and culture. Despite this, their contributions and experiences have largely been written out of Canadian history and continues to be ignored and disregarded in schools and by the state. Canada puts itself forth as a multicultural, tolerant, diverse, and benevolent society, and yet it has a deeply rooted racist history that it fails to acknowledge. Since the beginning of colonization, Canada has maintained an outward reputation of being racially tolerant, helping Blacks escape from the US through the Underground Railroad, and that it is a welcoming place for immigrants, refugees, and people from all backgrounds. Critical to the foundation of the country, however, has been white supremacist ideals, and propaganda-based anti-Black racism. Propaganda-based anti-Black racism is the misinformation and promotion of racist ideologies and biases that people are taught to believe about Blacks. Most commonly, this is performed by state-run-media and schools. As Blacks began trying to escape from slavery, their identities started to become associated with criminality and shamefulness. Following slavery, Black men started being depicted as dangerous rapists, particularly against White women, and people who ought to be feared. Due to propaganda in the media and culture, Black women were humiliated and seen as sexually shameful and undeserving. The Canadian government put out additional propaganda suggesting that Blacks are unable to manage and endure Canada’s cold climate. In recent years, Anti-Black racist propaganda has been distinctly harmful against Haitian refugees as the Canadian government has been promoting the idea that the nation should belong to Whites. While attempting to maintain the facade that Canada is an open and welcoming country, the Trudeau government took no responsibility for its wrongdoings, advertised a campaign to prevent Haitians from entering, placed responsibility on them, and still deported many of those who arrived. In script, they will claim to support you, but in practice, they oppress and reject you.
Canadian culture has been equally effected overtime by anti-Black racist injustices. Within the past 100 years, there has been an active presence of the Klu Klux Klan, with a gathering in the Western Wing in 1920 involving over 25,000 members (Maynard, 2017). The Pride Parade has slowly lost its roots in solidarity with Black freedom and history, and continues to be overrun with corporate sponsorships, police attendees, and increasingly White focused.
Canada has kept its anti-Black racist history well-hidden as it continues to promote ideas of diversity and racial tolerance. It fails to acknowledge its racism in schools, state media, and fails to collect statistics so that people can better understand these conditions. From slavery and segregation to modern-day police brutality, Canada’s structural and propaganda-based racism has deep effects that are incalculable. Canadian culture is a concoction of all of the stories, histories, and establishments over time. Whether positive or negative, it is important to acknowledge both.
Maynard, R. (2017). Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present. Fernwood Publishing.
Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skin, White Masks (C. L. Markmann, Trans.). Pluto Press. (Original work published 1952).