Black Lives Matter: Amnesty Canada (ES) Statement on Anti-Black Racism

The history, events and choices that led to the 8 minutes and 46 seconds it took on May 25, 2020 for one police officer, aided and abetted by three of his fellow officers, to kill George Floyd, is a long complex one. While this tragedy occurred in the US and the context, scale and scope of anti-Black racism differs accordingly, we recognize and acknowledge that similar incidents have and continue to occur here and that Canada has its own underlying history of anti-Black racism. Reconciliation with that history must begin with truth, even if hearing it is painful.  Racism and the systems that uphold it are, for the most part, very much out in the open.  Equality does not live in a statement or a gesture. Reconciliation is not an event; it is a journey. 

It is certainly a journey we face throughout Amnesty International, including the English Branch here in Canada. And while some elements of that journey have been done well, in other ways we have faltered. Intentions cannot create true equality and we continue to look both inward and outward to determine the work that needs to be done, in the short term and the long term. It is impact, not intention that matters at the end of the day. It also requires us to look at how we arrived where we are and to own the circumstances we find ourselves in today. Whether or not we have been the perpetrators of the actions and structures that continue to perpetuate racism in our country and in our organizations, we are the caretakers of those structures and are required to look closely at how they came into being and the role we must now play in dismantling them.

As part of this, we must continue to work with grassroots allies and partners to better understand how and where the expertise, knowledge and resources Amnesty International brings can add the most value and be welcomed, while we continue our essential journey of learning and making significant internal changes to address both systemic and other forms of oppression. AI Canada will focus its contribution to addressing anti-Black racism where organizations and individual partners with the greatest expertise and history of anti-Black racism work believe we can add value. That is why we are establishing an external Reference Group to advise us as we continue to develop goals and activities for the long-term, grounded in tremendous respect for those who have been doing the hardest and most emotionally intensive work to expose and address racism in Canada for years or even decades.

We will continue to provide updates on our progress on our website and through our publications and social media. In the meantime, some of highlights of this work have included:

As many of you already know, Amnesty Canada (ES) engaged Anti-Oppression Consultant Yamikani Msosa in 2018  to help conduct staff surveys focused on understanding staff demographics and providing opportunities for staff to share experiences of oppression and other behaviours that undermine the emotional and psychological safety of a workplace. The surveys and resulting work began in January 2019.

An ad hoc Anti-Oppression Advisory Committee was created to support  the Board, staff, and consultants to develop and begin to implement an action plan to ensure that there is a big picture framework and a comprehensive plan with clear deliverables and timelines. The Action Plan is tailored to our issues and needs but draws significantly from similar work at AIUSA and on the requirement of the Amnesty Movement for a section-level Gender and Diversity Action Plan, as well as on the plan to improve staff well-being at the International Secretariat (IS).

Activities undertaken to date have included: attention to all human resources and interpersonal issues; anti-oppression training and externally facilitated conversations; assessments and deeper training for all managers; increased attention to internal practices that support inclusivity; improved hiring practices to include lived experience and professional expertise in anti-oppression as core competencies; and analysis of white saviour narrative in external communications.

While many of these activities continue, as they must, additional priorities have been added for 2020. These include an emphasis in the Secretary General recruitment process on lived experience and a background in racial justice and social justice work; more rigorous requirements for staff and managers to continue to learn and self-reflect on core anti-oppression concepts and demonstrate resultant changes in behaviour and work; clearer expectations of workplace behaviours grounded in co-created values; additional emphasis on improving the outcomes of performance management and conflict resolution efforts; and ensuring that anti-racism is a clear focus within staff training and discussions.

For some time there has also been interest in implementing an Anti-Oppression survey for members and volunteer leaders. Such a survey is currently being developed.  It is intended to inform how the Action Plan should be expanded to address issues of oppression and discrimination within our membership base as the previous survey and current plan are focused on the staff level

A broader Anti-Oppression Committee is now also envisaged, comprised of Board members, staff, volunteers, and youth members whose mandate is to oversee and address issues that relate to anti-oppression within our organization. It is our hope that this standing committee will allow us to maintain momentum and oversight in all the anti-oppression work we complete as an organization.

The Board intends to provide an update to members quarterly and hold a session at the 2021 AGM dedicated to reporting on this plan.

We  know that despite all the energy and focus on this internal work, the anti-oppression action plan we’ve developed needs to be updated to incorporate even more focus on dismantling systemic racism and the individual work and learning required to make this a reality.

Our commitment to you is that we will report back to membership with a clear plan for incorporating a focus on anti-Black racism into our broader anti-oppression work. We aim to do so by mid-October.

As we undertake this work, we want to echo and support the following commitments and acknowledgements made by the International Board in their June statement to sections: 

  • we commit to real, mature, and progressive engagement with the call of the US activist and writer Angela Davis to become not just a non-racist organization, but an anti-racist organization;
  • we recognize the difference between anti-racism work which is about addressing racial inequity, and what is often called “diversity and inclusion” work which may be more about human variation decontextualized from analysis of power and privilege;
  • we treat anti-Black racism as a distinct phenomenon that all non-Black people may participate in and benefit from;
  • we prioritize the safety and wellbeing of Black and other racialized people in our efforts, protect them from backlash, and treat them with care and sensitivity, recognizing frustration, anger, grief, exhaustion and other such reactions to racism as valid;
  • we recognize that our individual commitments to human rights do not prevent us from perpetuating racism;
  • we recognize the intersection of racism with other forms of discrimination and xenophobia such as sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism;  
  • we recognize that learning and accountability are ongoing individual and group processes and will not be achieved through one-time measures;
  • we learn the lessons of past unsuccessful efforts and do not make commitments unless we have a plan for meeting them;
  • we ensure assessment and accountability are embedded into our practices; and
  • we recognize and draw on the knowledge of those with relevant lived experience in the organization without unduly burdening them.

Dismantling systemic racism is a long, hard road that focuses not only on the systems we live and work within, but also the racism and white supremacy that is deeply rooted within many of us as individuals. As an organization, we have already started down this path, but know we still have a long way to go. While COVID-19 and the financial challenges at the IS will make this journey even more challenging, the Board and our staff are committed to the work of becoming an anti-racist organization and engaging with these issues.

As a Board, we will not only continue to prioritize and fund this work for the organization, but also commit to doing the work as individuals to learn, grow, and change our own behaviours as we begin to dismantle our own biases and the systemic racism that lives within us.

We will inevitably make mistakes along the way and ask that you continue to challenge us to be better as an organization for our members, staff, volunteers, and the rights holders we are here to support. To quote acclaimed researcher and author of How to be an Antiracist, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, “The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities.  We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next.  What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what – not who – we are.”

We thank you for your ongoing support and hope you will join us in this journey. Several anti-racism resources and materials are available here and you can read the statement from the International Board of Amnesty on racism and Black Lives Matter here.

As always, if you have any comments, questions or concerns, please reach out to the Board at

In solidarity,

The Amnesty International Canada (English Branch) Board