Ending anti-Black racism: Sympathy and outrage are not enough

It is time for transformative change to end anti-Black racism in Canada too

by Alex Neve, Secretary General

Over these past 10 days, the names, the pain, the images and the violence associated with anti-Black racism in the United States have been absolutely searing. The pain and violence of racism that Black communities across the country have endured for generations.  Many activists and commentators are pointing to a glimmer of hope and possibility that the resulting waves of anger, outrage, courage and protest can and will unleash the fundamental change that is so necessary.

And it must. Change that is truly transformative. Change that addresses anti-Black racism in all its aspects, not only when it comes to the police but reaches far beyond. Change that dismantles the systems of oppressive white supremacy that are the source of this racism and have been its toxic fuel for centuries. Change that will endure.

Amnesty International’s US section has been actively researching, advocating and campaigning with respect to deadly force, police accountability, racism, and gun violence in the United States for several years.  From Canada, we add our voices to the call for meaningful justice and accountability for the killing of George Floyd, and others whose names we know and those we do not, and for wider law reforms to address rampant racist police violence in the US, including for Congress to adopt the Police Exercising Absolute Care with Everyone (PEACE) Act.

>> Take action and join us in demanding justice for George Floyd

By no means is the ugly and disgraceful reality of anti-Black racism limited to the United States, including the deadly manifestations of that racism by police.  Entrenched racism against Black communities is a human rights crisis in societies and countries around the world, very much including Canada.  Suggestions made over the past week by various current and former Canadian politicians and other public figures, insisting that it is not a concern here, have rightly been roundly rejected. 

The dismal record is clear and irrefutable, including from comprehensive reports in recent years from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Ontario’s Independent Street Checks Review, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the City of Montreal Police Service and numerous United Nations human rights experts and committees.  Amnesty International has supported and reiterated the calls made by grassroots organizations working to confront anti-Black racism across Canada for the recommendations from these reports and reviews to be fully implemented, notably the call for an absolute ban on police carding and racial profiling.

At the same time, there are of course far too many repeated reminders that anti-Indigenous racism permeates Canadian society, most certainly including the country’s policing and justice systems.  That was once again documented, with numerous associated Calls to Justice, in last year’s final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  And it has been catalogued, with numerous, comprehensive and urgent recommendations for reform, in countless other national and provincial commissions, public inquiries and other reviews going back decades.  Recommendations that have been consistently shelved and left to gather dust.

These grave concerns about anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in policing in Canada do not abate in the slightest.  Just in the course of the 10 days since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Canadians have faced the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black and Indigenous woman who plummeted to her death from the 24th floor of a Toronto apartment building in the midst of an encounter with police, and Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman who was shot and killed by police in Edmundston, New Brunswick.  Video of an Inuk man in the Nunavut community of Kinngait being struck and forcefully knocked down by the open door of an RCMP vehicle as it speedily drives at him has rightfully sparked outrage. 

And there have been reminders of many other recent deaths of Black people at the hand of police forces across Canada as well, including D’Andre Campbell, a Black man fatally shot by Peel Police in Brampton, Ontario in April. Investigations are pending in all of these cases.

At rallies and marches, in media interviews and online discussions, activists and groups from the Black community nationwide are drawing these crucial connections and parallels between Canada and the United States.  Amnesty International Canada echoes and lifts up that fundamental concern.  That is why, in reacting to the police killing of George Floyd, we stressed that,

“Anti-Black racism in policing is by no means limited to the United States. It crosses borders around the world, including here in Canada. Amnesty International unequivocally supports frontline groups and activists in communities across the country who work courageously and tirelessly to expose that racism and demand justice for the growing number of Black people who have been wrongly arrested, mistreated or killed by police in towns and cities in all parts of Canada. We continue to call on all governments in Canada to address these grave concerns as a top priority, including by enacting absolute bans on police carding and racial profiling and to ensure disaggregated data on arrests, shootings and killings is kept and made publicly available annually through police board reports.”

We urge you to take action, today, to push for justice for George Floyd and support the call for urgent reforms to address police accountability, deadly force, racism and gun violence in the United States.

We encourage you to learn from and provide active support to groups working to counter anti-Black racism in your own community.

And we will have further resources over the coming days and weeks for specific campaigning and solidarity actions you can take to help pursue justice and to  address anti-Black racism, in policing here in Canada

Photo Credit: Stephen Maturen Images