Canadians across the country have been risking COVID-19 infection to attend large public demonstrations aimed at standing in solidarity with our American friends who are coming out into the streets to gather across our nation in the wake of yet another Black person whose death was livestreamed on social media—killed while being taken into custody by a veteran police in Minneapolis. Many (okay, mostly white) Canadians have been expressing gratitude online that they live in Canada, privately (and not so privately) congratulating themselves for living in a much more enlightened society than that of our neighbours to the south. This is dead wrong.
Black Lives Matter is often countered, even by otherwise decent and upstanding people with caring hearts, with the phrase “all lives matter.” If there was a phrase that neatly encapsulates the concept of “white privilege” that phrase would certainly be among the front runners. All lives do matter, of course they do, but all lives don’t risk incarceration, violence, injury and death each time they walk out their door solely due to the pigment of their skin—it’s Black lives.
If the reader’s first reaction to that statement is that such claims are an overreaction, an exaggeration, or something that is only true in America or perhaps large urban areas of our own nation, this writer can confidently predict the colour of your skin.
The time has arrived, sorely overdue as it is, that we as a nation of all colours, creeds and races accept that Canada was founded upon fundamentally (and at the time entirely unabashed) racist values. We must accept that truth—our nation was founded in racism. This isn’t someone else’s “truth”—it’s ours, and we should own it. This also isn’t some kind of wishy-washy left wing big or small L liberal assertion—it’s a plain and demonstratable fact of life, or more appropriately facts of death.
Those facts are written plainly for anyone to see who dares to glance at the unvarnished data, they are written in the blood of two Indigenous people, Jason Collins and teenager Eishia Hudson, killed by police in Winnipeg for relatively minor situations. They are written in the blood of D’Andre Campbell, a Black man with a history of mental issues who had called the police for assistance. These are just two examples of people you probably have never even heard of although they died very recently—they weren’t white.
Our jails are disproportionately filled with people of colour—by a vast margin. If you can hold the belief our jails have so many persons of colour within their walls because of some predisposition to crime that can be traced to a surfeit of melanin in those prisoners’ skins—well aren’t you all 1867.
We must accept that we live in a country whose base institutions were formed in a crucible of racism and that our institutions are systemically tainted by that racism.
That is the starting point of the only viable route forward to a more just and civil society.
Travelling down that road isn’t going to be an easy journey—it will go against many well established and strongly held belief systems.
Among the “unthinkable” concepts currently being brought forward is that of “defunding the police” services. This isn’t as outlandish a concept as might be taken at first glance.
Today’s cop on the beat is being called upon to perform tasks and services that they are neither properly equipped nor trained for. Armed police officers should not be the first response to a mental health crisis, but they are—because we have no one else to turn to when it comes to dealing with such crises.
Instead of constantly increasing resources allocated to the police services during a time of steadily reducing crime, we should be reallocating those resources to the services our society needs.
The gun (or even a taser) should not be our first resort. To be clear, we will still need police officers, that isn’t at all the point of “defunding the police,” but we should not be sending our police officers to deal with the vast majority of calls they currently must attend.
Many of our systems will need to be dismantled and reassembled into something very much different than their current form. It will not be easy—but this is a revolution that can and must take place. No Canadian should ever have to fear walking out of their front door because of the colour of their skin.