Motion to Strike a Special Committee on Systemic Racism

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Monday, June 22, 2020 – Debate Adjourned

Hon. Frances Lankin, pursuant to notice of June 16, 2020, moved:

That a Special Senate Committee on Systemic Racism be appointed to conduct a review of systemic racism in Canada;

That, without limiting its mandate, the committee be authorized:

  1. to review the extent and scope of anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and systemic racism in federal institutions and agencies;
  2. to review the federal government’s role in eliminating anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and systemic racism both within federal institutions and agencies and in Canadian society generally; and
  3. to identify priorities and recommendations for government action to combat anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and systemic racism;

That the committee be composed of 12 members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and that 5 members constitute a quorum;

That the committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records; to hear witnesses; and to publish such papers and evidence from day to day as may be ordered by the committee;

That, notwithstanding any provision of the Rules or usual practices, and taking into account the exceptional circumstances of the current pandemic of COVID-19, the committee have the power to meet by videoconference or teleconference, if technically feasible for any purposes of:

  1. the study authorized by this order;
  2. an organization meeting pursuant to rule 12-13; or
  3. electing a chair or deputy chair if there is a vacancy in either of those positions;

That both senators and witnesses be allowed to participate in meetings of this committee by videoconference or teleconference, with such meetings being considered for all purposes to be meetings of the committee in question, and senators taking part in such meetings being considered for all purposes to be present at the meeting;

That, for greater certainty, and without limiting the general authority granted by this order, when the committee meets by videoconference or teleconference:

  1. members of the committee participating count towards quorum;
  2. priority be given to ensuring that members of the committee are able to participate;
  3. such meetings be considered to be occurring in the parliamentary precinct, irrespective of where participants may be; and
  4. the committee be directed to approach in camera meetings with all necessary precaution, taking account of the risks to confidentiality inherent in such technologies;

That, when the committee meets by videoconference or teleconference, the provisions of rule 14-7(2) be applied so as to allow recording or broadcasting through any facilities arranged by the Clerk of the Senate, and, if a meeting being broadcast or recorded cannot be broadcast live, the committee be considered to have fulfilled the requirement that a meeting be public by making any available recording publicly available as soon as possible thereafter;

That there be a minimum of 72 hours’ notice for a meeting of the committee by videoconference or teleconference, subject to technical feasibility;

That, the committee be authorized to report from time to time, submit a comprehensive interim report no later than six months after its organization meeting, and submit its final report no later than six months after the tabling or presenting of the comprehensive interim report;

That the committee be permitted to deposit its reports with the Clerk of the Senate if the Senate is not then sitting, with the reports then being deemed to have been tabled or presented in the Senate; and

That the committee retain the powers necessary to publicize its findings for 60 days after submitting its final report.

She said: Honourable senators, I’d like to extend thanks to Senator McPhedran, who forewent speaking on an earlier motion in order to ensure we had time to get to this and I appreciate that very much.

As we meet today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples, I am honoured to move this motion to create a special committee to examine the years of limited action on anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and systemic racism against racialized peoples. My sincere thanks goes to the members of the African senators working group, with input from some Indigenous senators, for all the work that they have done to create these opportunities for the chamber to engage in these critically important issues at a pivotal time in our lives collectively here.

They have brought forward an emergency debate moved by Senator Moodie, a Committee of the Whole moved by Senator Mégie and this initiative from Senator Bernard on behalf of the group to create a special committee. The emergency debate that took place last Thursday was an opportunity for us to speak with and engage with each other about the tragic events that are taking place and to discuss what role the Senate can and must play in taking actions that can be part of the solutions.

The Committee of the Whole, which will take place Thursday, I understand, provides an opportunity for senators to question the ministers about the government’s actions or lack thereof and for the Senate to perform the role of holding the government to account.

The third initiative, this motion for a special committee, is a medium- to longer-term initiative. It is designed to provide an opportunity to examine why, after all of the reports and volumes of recommendations, so many of the recommendations have not been acted upon. The debate on this motion will span a much longer period of time and hopefully allow for many more senators to participate than have been able to attend during the COVID-related restricted numbers in our most recent sittings.

When Senator Bernard reached out to me and asked that I do this, I was hesitant, not because I don’t want to participate in this critical debate and not because I don’t want to put my views on the record. I do very much. But I did not want to leave the impression that I was in any way appropriating leadership of their work or their communities’ voices.

Senator Bernard assured me that discussions had taken place and asked me to carry the introduction of this motion. Senator Moodie echoed this assurance, as did Senator Woo. And so I do so today and it is truly my honour.

There is no question that anti-Indigenous racism exists. There is no question that anti-black racism exists. There is no question that racism against racialized people — Asian, Muslim and others — exists. There is no question, none at all, that systemic racism in our government institutions, our criminal justice system, our health care system, our education system, housing and more exists.

I have sent an email to all of you containing a document prepared by our office, which lists many of the reports over the last number of decades here in Canada that have examined anti-Indigenous racism, anti-black racism and systemic racism, and these are truly just a few of the studies from over many, many years in our Confederation.

I do not have the time available to read all the names of those inquiries into the record, but as I said, I have sent you all an email with that list for your reference. I will simply read the years of the many reports in the last few decades only, so that the listening public gets a sense of how extensive the studies have been.

In dealing, first of all, with Indigenous racism and reports and inquiries looking at that matter, in 1996 there were two reports, and subsequent reports in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015. In 2017, there were two reports. In 2019, there were two reports.

In just my own province of Ontario, reports that have a special focus on racial profiling were published in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1985 and 1989. In 1992, there were five different studies. In 1995, there were two. There was one in 2002. In 2003, there were two studies.

In reports that specifically were looking at anti-black racism, there were two in 2016. In 2017, there were four separate reports. There was one in 2018, two in 2019 and two in April 2020.

With respect to broader and more systemic racism, there have been many, many reports over the years as well. I will only highlight a couple that are relevant to the Parliamentary Precinct here and those people who engaged in it. In 2009, a Senate standing committee published a report called In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. In 2018, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a report called Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination Including Islamophobia. And in 2020, this year, Senator Vernon White, Senator Percy Mockler and I had the opportunity to participate in the writing of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians report for 2019, which was filed in the House of Commons and the Senate earlier this year. One of the chapters is a baseline study of diversity and inclusion and numbers and statistics and metrics and programs in the security and intelligence community of departments; so Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, to name just a few. It’s notable because it finds some problems in the consistency in the collection of data, consistency in the monitoring, consistency within departments and across departments.

I commend that study to you for your reading. It is the first time a baseline study of this nature has been done with respect to these particular security and intelligence departments. We know that many of those departments have had problems, including lawsuits and including notable cases. So again I commend that to you for your reading.

The purpose of this motion is not to study the question of the existence of racism yet again. There is no question. The purpose of this motion is to create a committee that can examine the volumes of reports and recommendations, and get at the reasons so many have never been followed through with. What is the problem? What are the barriers?

The purpose of this committee is to build upon the voices demanding immediate change and to reignite the fire of action. People are so very tired of inaction. We are part of the Parliament of Canada, and it is our job to push, prod and provoke action from the highest political leadership of our country.

This committee is an opportunity to create a united Senate voice, in solidarity with Indigenous, black and racialized voices calling for real change now.

As cautioned by our colleague Senator McCallum, we must not conflate the issues at the roots of racism against different groups of people. We must understand what their experiences share in common and what the differences are. The committee must sift through the volumes of reports and multiple hundreds of recommendations, and hold all of us to account.

As I have watched with all of you the horrors of treatment and killings of black, Indigenous and Muslim Canadians and Americans, I have been thinking a lot about the people from my life. I have been thinking of Dudley Laws, and his leadership of the Black Action Defense Committee. His voice came to prominence when he called on police to account for a number of shootings of young black men in Toronto in the 1980s. Dudley passed away from cancer in 2011, but his words and actions remain strong within my head and within my heart.

I have been thinking about Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, the first black woman dean of law appointed to a Canadian university, in 1996, and subsequently the first black woman appointed to the Court of Quebec, in 1999. Prior to this, in the early 1990s, she became the Employment Equity Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, when that position was established. Hers was a strong voice speaking truth to power who helped us establish the Anti-Racism Secretariat and actions, only to see all of her efforts shredded with the change in governments; the Employment Equity Act repealed, the Anti-Racism Secretariat dismantled.

I have been thinking about the Youth Challenge Fund, a $50 million-plus partnership between the Ontario government and the United Way of Toronto to bring resources for black youth programming to under-served neighbourhoods in Toronto, following the 2005 “Summer of the Gun.” I have been thinking of the secretariat that supported the YCF, staffed with black community leaders and black youth, and the board to which we recruited “Pinball” Clemons as the chair, and their meaningful efforts to help shape a different future for so many black youth. There was such hope.

Closer to home, I have been thinking of my daughter-in-law, Lily Couchie, a member of the Anishinaabe Nipissing First Nation, which is near to my home. Lily works at the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, leading programs and support of elder Indigenous peoples from across the north of our province. Every day, she comes face to face with people suffering the painful legacy of residential school and the horribly damaging loss of culture, language, family and lands. I think of what she suffered herself from the daily experience of racism growing up. I desperately hope it will be different for my Indigenous great-granddaughter. And I suspect it will. Why? Because she has fair skin and she has blonde hair.

Unless we accomplish the changes so urgently needed, it will be tragically no different for her cousins, though. I think about Rose Désilets, who is part of our Senate office team. Her father was from the Dokis First Nation, also close to the village where I live. My village carries Rose’s dad’s family name of Restoule. Her mother was from Mattagami First Nation, near Gogama. When Rose was born, CAS stole her from her mother’s arms in the hospital. Rose is a child of the Sixties Scoop. Rose grew up in a loving foster home and was adopted by her foster parents, but that didn’t protect her from the long and insidious reach of discrimination. She came home from school one day at the age of about five. Her adoptive mother found her scouring her skin with an eraser. Rose was crying to her mom that she needed to have a bath. Her mother asked why. Rose, from the depths of pain of a child who didn’t yet know what the word racism meant, sobbed, “Because the kids at school say I am dirty, Mom.”

It wasn’t until her mid-teens that she learned she was Indigenous. It wasn’t until her late teens, early 20s, that she began to learn about her culture and customs when she worked at the Native Friendship Centre in Val-d’Or. So much time, so many traditions, and the love of family stolen from her and so many others.

As I have been thinking of many other people, I have also been thinking of all the opportunities over the years to make the changes needed to eradicate the scourge of racism. I have been thinking about how we who are white — I point to myself — have failed our brothers and sisters of colour. In these later years of my working life, I think about how I will bring the relative privileges that have shaped my life — because of the colour of my skin — to bear on being part of the solutions. I think about how I can and will follow the leadership of my Indigenous, black, Asian and Muslim colleagues in the Senate of Canada, and the voices of so many united in protest in the streets of Canada, the US of A, and around the world. I am an ally, and I commit to those colleagues, and to the young people who are struggling to build a different future, that I can be counted on to follow your leadership, to stand by your side and to raise my voice with yours.

I’m thinking of one more person, a young man I met in Toronto when I was with United Way. His name was Junior. He fled a wartorn part of the Congo as a child after witnessing the slaughter of his family. When I met him, he was so desperately happy and grateful to be here in this country, to be a Canadian and to have largely grown up here, with the opportunity to dream of a future, he told me. He told me his father always told him to dream, and to dream big dreams, for small ones have no magic.

Colleagues, can we, together, bring every effort to bear, every tool we have, including this committee, every opportunity we can seize, to contribute to the truly big dreams that we are hearing from hundreds of thousands of young people around the world today? In my opinion, we owe them no less. Thank you very much.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of the motion to strike a special committee on systemic racism. I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, Senator Bernard for encouraging us to undertake this important initiative, and Senator Lankin for introducing the motion on her behalf. I also thank every one of you who spoke on the matter of racism this last week. Your words were deeply impactful and inspired me to share my voice this evening.

When we are vulnerable, when we can share part of our narratives, that is when we can do great work together. Every story, every experience was an eye-opener. As I listened though, I also felt frustration. The debate was important and educational, but I think we can all agree we need to see action. This special committee will be one step toward that.

There is no question that systemic racism exists in Canada, in our economy, in our prisons, in our health care, in our schools and learning institutions. We know this, but why are we still here?

As has happened all too often, we have had a light shone on us. We are again uncomfortable with what we see. But we need to feel uncomfortable. As a white Canadian, I have to admit I am somewhat uncomfortable speaking today. Like many of us who have never had to worry about the colour of our skin, I wonder what it is that I can add to the national discussion and action we must have.

I cannot demonstrate the pain felt by racialized Canadians. In my past, I have had glimpses of what it feels like to be invisible, to be targeted, to understand discrimination as it relates to my gender, but not race. I don’t know what that deeply feels like.

When I first heard the term “white privilege,” I also felt uncomfortable. It was hard for me to accept that by virtue of my race, I had advantages over others where I hadn’t seen them before.

Like all of you, we know the hours we’ve put in to get where we need to go. We know we have sacrificed. We know the bumps in the road we have encountered and even some tragedies along the way.

“White privilege” is a term that is difficult to hear. It is upsetting to be racialized, to be identified as “white” because, quite frankly, I’m not used to it. Therein lies some of the privilege — to be completely unfamiliar with being viewed through the lens of racialization or dealing with the burdens that come with it.

It is that realization — accepting that white privilege exists and coming to terms with it. That is why these conversations are so important, and why we all need to keep them going and strong.

Moreover, it was hard for me to accept that by virtue of who I am, by what I look like, I have likely unwittingly contributed to a system that is inherently tilted against my friends and colleagues.

This was even harder to accept as a former education superintendent, where we did our best to implement policies to combat conscious and unconscious racial bias. We hired equity and inclusion officers that advocated for the needs of black, Indigenous and Asian students. We worked with authors and book publishers to ensure these issues were included in the materials used by our young students. We worked closely with all levels of community services to serve these students the best we knew how.

But while these and other approaches are needed and useful, it’s clear to me now that we were merely treating the symptoms of an underlying system that was and is still broken.

I have been called a racist, and it was both a deeply troubling and an incredibly enlightening experience.

It came after years of working with high school students, their families, community partners, leading restorative justice circles to deal with conflict, racism, drugs and violent incidents. I thought I had seen most of it.

I became a principal of an elementary school, and in the first month, after witnessing a fight resulting in injuries between some Grade 3 boys, I met their parents. As I met with the third student and his father, and before I could start the conversation, the father picked up his son, looked me straight into the eye and said, “This fight never happened. You are a racist.” He removed his son and walked out.

That was a shocking and very informing moment for me. “Not me,” I thought, “I’m not racist.” In time, I got to know this family well. I came to realize the frustration they felt, dealing day in and day out with varying degrees of systemic racism.

As a principal of their school, I was representing this system. For so long I was keeping a lookout for overt racist acts, but those problems run so much deeper than that, and they still do today. If you want to be an ally and if you want to confront systemic racism, simply not being a racist is not good enough.

If we go about our work knowing these things, knowing that the deck is stacked against such a large swath of Canadians, but do nothing to try to change that, we are complicit in its perpetuation.

This and other experiences are part of my narrative. They have taught me many things, including the importance of empathy, listening while moving to common ground and, most importantly, that we must meet people where they are.

I learned through working with our Indigenous populations and consulting with them, that supporting and understanding must be done in their communities — on their land, in their homes, where we experience their lives and traditions — before we can try to improve what we think is change. This proposed special committee can be a vehicle for that, as we set out to create that change.

Colleagues, when I came to this chamber, it was with a few, admittedly broad, goals in mind: to help make our country better, healthier, more hopeful and more connected.

To do that, we have to confront the reality that Canada has an urgent racist problem, and we need to put in the work to begin to dismantle a system that has seen racialized Canadians be very disadvantaged. This will not happen overnight, of course. It will take constant vigilance to see that any successes from this project remain.

However, it cannot go one more generation. It just cannot. We have to start doing the work now and seize this moment, this momentum, to put in motion reforms that won’t peter out when the next event happens, and when society gets distracted by something else.

We need to look at changing fundamental structures, seeing if undertakings, like a universal basic income, can somehow contribute to levelling things, even slightly.

We need to look at revisiting mandatory minimum penalties or criminal record reform as potential avenues of change.

We need to listen to the work of groups in this chamber, like the Parliamentary Black Caucus and the Indigenous senators working group. We need to strike this special committee to keep the conversation and action moving.

The worst result of all this is if we take our eye off the ball for one second, for one day, and if we come to this chamber sometime down the road to deliver platitudes and words when tragedy yet again shines a light on systemic racism in this country. This is the way to do our longer-term work.

In hearing many of you speak these last few days, I trust and deeply hope this cannot and will not be the case. I look forward to giving everything I have to putting in the work needed, and it’s in the work with all of you to help create the change that is needed. Thank you, meegwetch.

Hon. Kim Pate: Honourable senators, I rise to speak in support of Motion No. 54, introduced by Senator Bernard and Senator Lankin and supported by our black and Indigenous colleagues and other racialized members of this and the other place, to appoint a special committee of the Senate to conduct a review of systemic racism in Canada.

These past weeks, with many in the streets risking their health and well-being to demand change, with too many others living and dying as a result of the health and racial and economic inequalities that COVID-19 has laid bare, we joined together in this place to commit to meaningful, concrete action, to do our part to create an anti-racist Canada.

As Senator Bernard and Senator Lankin and the members of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, and so many others of you have made glaringly clear, we do not need more recommendations that will sit unimplemented in the fine print of our Senate Hansard while injustices persist. We have the benefit of countless reports, as Senator Lankin pointed out to us: studies, commissions, inquiries and recommendations by exemplary experts, phenomenal thinkers and inspirational leaders, calling out systemic racism and calling on us to do better.

As Senator Francis so powerfully reminded us this week, we have to be allies. To be allies, we must do the work of learning, gaining understanding and taking action, no matter how uncomfortable and daunting, because failing to act is no longer an option.

This special committee will have the challenging but very necessary task of building on the comprehensive body of knowledge that is already available to us, by developing a plan for the implementation of long overdue federal government measures, and for the ongoing oversight of this implementation by the Senate. The job is, in short, to blaze a trail for senators to work together toward equality.

Where do we start?

How about, for example, the implementation of the decarceration call of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? We must eliminate the mass incarceration of racialized groups, one of the many travesties in the ongoing legacy of colonialism and racist policies in Canada. Last week’s statement from the Parliamentary Black Caucus likewise calls on us to address the overrepresentation of black and Indigenous peoples in prisons.

Between 1980 and 2020, the proportion of Indigenous peoples in federal prisons increased from 10 to 30%. Meaningful action is imperative.

One suggestion is that we reduce the representation of those who are racialized in federal prisons by 5% per year. This would mean working to ensure each year that at least 15 Indigenous women, 177 Indigenous men and 63 black prisoners be released. Using conservative estimates, such a measure would save approximately $10 million per year. That is $10 million that could instead be invested in health, including mental health, trauma-informed and addition services, housing, education and other vital supports for those released, as well as many other members of the community, especially those who are most marginalized.

Honourable senators, prisoners are among those most vulnerable in this pandemic. Despite international calls for depopulating prisons, and in the face of advice from prison-based medical professionals to release as many people from the prisons as possible, Canada not only neglected to do so, but Correctional Service Canada locked down prisons and relegated most prisoners to conditions of isolation and confinement that have been deemed unlawful by Canadian and international law.

This time last year, we were debating whether to accept the government’s rejection of our amendments to Bill C-83 regarding solitary confinement. The Senate amendments would have provided important oversight and accountability mechanisms as well as greater impetus for, and expansion of the use of, available release options to help decease the numbers of Indigenous and black prisoners, as well as those with mental health issues. Particularly in this moment, I trust we will not repeat mistakes of the past.

Consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and social determinants of health, we must reverse and remedy the trends that have created this national shame: our racism, our inadequate health services, our lack of affordable housing and the abuse of invasive and disruptive state powers that we have provided to those who police or otherwise control the lives of those who are most marginalized, from social services to child welfare and health providers, to police and prison authorities. These are all our problems, and yet most of us here in this place do not bear the burden of the consequences of our collective inaction.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to allow trial judges to depart from mandatory minimum penalties and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences. This call was echoed by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and reiterated by the Parliamentary Black Caucus last week.

Department of Justice research in 2018 and the final report of the expert panel on sentencing reform recommended the Minister of Justice engage in broad-based sentencing reforms, including the type of exemption clause that Bill S-208 introduces. The Supreme Court has also recommended such steps in light of the growing number of mandatory minimum penalties that have been found unconstitutional.

Mandatory minimum penalties prohibit judges from considering the context in which a crime has occurred. The result is that increasing numbers of the most marginalized people are imprisoned without any examination of the role of racism, sexism, poverty, intergenerational trauma and abuse in the circumstances that give rise to their behaviour or the harm done. Mandatory minimum penalties ignore the role of historical and systemic bias in the mass incarceration of Indigenous and black peoples.

Honourable colleagues, Bill S-208 would allow judges to examine such circumstances when sentencing. I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that we turn this bill into law.

Another Call for Justice from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was that the federal government review and reform the law with respect to sexualized and intimate partner violence by utilizing and incorporating the perspectives of feminists and Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

In 2018, the federal government failed to do this when they rejected the Senate amendments to Bill C-51. These amendments aimed to protect victims of sexual assault from judges who misunderstand the true meaning of capacity to consent, as they often do. Such amendments would have gone a long way to addressing this issue. The government committed to doing more. Now is the time for them to adopt the changes called for by women advocates and women survivors of misogynist violence.

The Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also underscored the grave shortcomings laid bare during this pandemic of current health, social and economic safety nets in this country and called for the establishment of a guaranteed annual livable income. Such an initiative could be one vital component of a more comprehensive strategy to address many of the issues highlighted in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report.

Honourable senators, a guaranteed livable income could also help to address one of the Calls to Action that was put forth by the Parliamentary Black Caucus regarding economic measures to assist businesses owned and operated by black Canadians. A guaranteed livable income could help provide people the resources and safety net needed to innovate and launch new enterprises. Resources are also needed for those who are struggling without access to paid employment as well as those who are in insecure work situations.

We must also listen to Black Lives Matter organizers as they call for the end to racist, anti-refugee, anti-black, Islamophobic exclusion of migrants and refugees and immigration detention, as well as the demilitarization of police and allocation of resources to community and community-based and directed social, economic, health and educational supports and the provision of immigration support and security for migrant workers.

Honourable colleagues, we must also look inwards and address the racism and sexism that runs rampant in this institution. For too long, the Senate has played a role in approving legislation that has had detrimental impacts on the lives of Indigenous and black peoples in Canada.

We have a responsibility to do right by Canadians, which includes an obligation to adopt a feminist and critical race lens when studying and creating legislation. We must take our own responsibility when we have failed to do so in the past and commit to no longer passing bills that are likely to disproportionately and negatively target the health, safety and well-being of black and Indigenous peoples.

For instance, we could pass Bill S-214 to remedy the failures of Bill C-93 and alleviate the barriers associated with having a criminal record related to cannabis, a matter that disproportionately affects black and Indigenous peoples. We could also insist on the legally binding funding framework that was absent when we passed Bill C-92. Such a framework could have ensured that services for Indigenous children and families would be properly funded. We must also adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Too many pieces of legislation that reinforce racism and sexism have made their way through this chamber. Now, in addition to listening to the issues that black and Indigenous peoples face, we must demonstrate our learning by acting to create and pass legislation that shows that we have heard.

Furthermore, the Parliamentary Black Caucus addresses the need to transform our Public Service. I absolutely agree and think we must transform Parliament, including staffing here and in the other place.

On Friday, June 19, Fregine Sheehy, former parliamentary intern and current member of our office, was awarded the Hales and Hurley prize for her paper called “Where are all the Racialized Staffers?” As a component of her work with the Parliamentary Internship Programme in 2018-19, Fregine sought to understand why staffers working in backbench MP Ottawa offices seemed to be predominantly white. She found that while they play a significant role in Canada’s parliamentary democracy, there is virtually no information regarding the racial makeup of staff, nor the hiring policies that MPs must follow in their Ottawa offices except that such policies mostly do not exist.

She argues that systemic racism is deep-rooted on Parliament Hill. Therefore the Hill is both a space that is not easily accessible and an environment in which racialized and Indigenous peoples might not feel welcome.

If we hope to eradicate racism and sexism here, mandatory anti-racism and unconscious bias training is a necessity for MPs, senators and all who work in and around both chambers. So, too, is race-based data regarding who is working in MPs’ and senators’ offices. Without such information, how can we officially know who is helping to shape Canadian policy and legislation?

Honourable colleagues, as we modernize our institution, enacting anti-racist policies and practices could help ensure that we are fulfilling the obligation we have toward all Canadians.

I will quote a Gangalu elder, whose words were first shared with me by a proud Chinese-Canadian woman who was then isolated in a segregation cell in a federal penitentiary and who is currently in long-term care as a result of dementia and Parkinson’s. That is another problematic area of concern highlighted during this pandemic, but I digress.

When I asked what I should do and promised to act, she said, “Okay,” and then quoted Lilla Watson:

If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Colleagues, eradicating racism is the responsibility of every single one of us, so let’s waste no more time on empty promises. Let’s demonstrate our commitment with concrete action.

Meegwetch. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020 – Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Lankin, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Pate:

That a Special Senate Committee on Systemic Racism be appointed to conduct a review of systemic racism in Canada;

That, without limiting its mandate, the committee be authorized:

  1. to review the extent and scope of anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and systemic racism in federal institutions and agencies;
  2. to review the federal government’s role in eliminating anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and systemic racism both within federal institutions and agencies and in Canadian society generally; and
  3. to identify priorities and recommendations for government action to combat anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and systemic racism;

That the committee be composed of 12 members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and that 5 members constitute a quorum;

That the committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records; to hear witnesses; and to publish such papers and evidence from day to day as may be ordered by the committee;

That, notwithstanding any provision of the Rules or usual practices, and taking into account the exceptional circumstances of the current pandemic of COVID-19, the committee have the power to meet by videoconference or teleconference, if technically feasible for any purposes of:

  1. the study authorized by this order;
  2. an organization meeting pursuant to rule 12-13; or
  3. electing a chair or deputy chair if there is a vacancy in either of those positions;

That both senators and witnesses be allowed to participate in meetings of this committee by videoconference or teleconference, with such meetings being considered for all purposes to be meetings of the committee in question, and senators taking part in such meetings being considered for all purposes to be present at the meeting;

That, for greater certainty, and without limiting the general authority granted by this order, when the committee meets by videoconference or teleconference:

  1. members of the committee participating count towards quorum;
  2. priority be given to ensuring that members of the committee are able to participate;
  3. such meetings be considered to be occurring in the parliamentary precinct, irrespective of where participants may be; and
  4. the committee be directed to approach in camera meetings with all necessary precaution, taking account of the risks to confidentiality inherent in such technologies;

That, when the committee meets by videoconference or teleconference, the provisions of rule 14-7(2) be applied so as to allow recording or broadcasting through any facilities arranged by the Clerk of the Senate, and, if a meeting being broadcast or recorded cannot be broadcast live, the committee be considered to have fulfilled the requirement that a meeting be public by making any available recording publicly available as soon as possible thereafter;

That there be a minimum of 72 hours’ notice for a meeting of the committee by videoconference or teleconference, subject to technical feasibility;

That, the committee be authorized to report from time to time, submit a comprehensive interim report no later than six months after its organization meeting, and submit its final report no later than six months after the tabling or presenting of the comprehensive interim report;

That the committee be permitted to deposit its reports with the Clerk of the Senate if the Senate is not then sitting, with the reports then being deemed to have been tabled or presented in the Senate; and

That the committee retain the powers necessary to publicize its findings for 60 days after submitting its final report.

Hon. Donna Dasko: Senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Bernard’s motion, as presented to us by Senator Lankin, to establish a special committee to study anti-black and anti-Indigenous systemic racism in Canada.

Systemic racism is pervasive in this country. I have listened with concern as so many of our colleagues have relayed their experiences with racism over the past several days and weeks, for example, Senator Moodie’s portrayal of life as a black person in Canada; Senator Omidvar’s account of double standards right here in the Senate; Senator Anderson’s account of living as an Indigenous Canadian and raising Indigenous children in a world where racism is a daily lived experience.

I appreciate the advice of the Cree elders that Senator LaBoucane-Benson shared with us last week. That anger, if properly directed, is a great gift.

I thank my colleagues for sharing their experiences and perspectives with the chamber. While this is a difficult topic, I am grateful for the opportunity to listen and to continue to expand my understanding of how racism manifests itself through our society.

What can or should those of us from non-racialized backgrounds do to fight systemic racism? Last week, our colleague, Senator Brian Francis, said publicly:

Indigenous, Black, and other racialized people cannot be expected to continually do the emotional labour of educating the wider public on the impact of systemic racism.

He went on to point out that non-racialized people must identify our privilege and the benefits that we have accrued at the expense of others. We must also do the work. I take that as a call to action for all of us and for all Canadians of goodwill.

I have spent my entire career in the research business, and research will play a vital role as we go forward. I note, especially over the past few weeks, expressions of opinion from some people wondering if systemic racism even exists or what it means, and expressions coming from those both with privilege, as well as from members of the general public.

Let me begin by putting some data, some facts, to the phenomenon of racism to add to the perspectives that we have heard.

According to the 2016 census, for example, black Canadians earn significantly less than non-racialized Canadians, regardless of how long their families have been in Canada. First-generation black Canadians earn about $13,000 less annually than immigrants who are not members of visible minorities, and third-generation black Canadians still earn $16,000 less than third-generation non-visible minorities. Black Canadians are nearly twice as likely as non-visible minorities to experience low incomes and to have higher unemployment levels.

These are just some examples of what systemic racism looks like in Canada, but these dynamics take root long before people enter the workforce. I was particularly struck by the results of a StatCan General Social Survey conducted in 2016, which found that fully 94% of black Canadian youth between the ages of 18 to 25 aspired to obtain a university degree, but only 60% thought that they would actually achieve it. In comparison, 82% of all other youth aspired to a university education, and almost all of them, 79%, felt they would achieve it.

Senators, research is often impersonal and detached, yet this finding speaks to me in particular about how racism can snuff out, block and stifle the aspirations of many motivated young people, just as Senator Moodie so poignantly described in the chamber last week.

Here are some other research findings that speak to systemic racism: Three years ago, my former colleagues at the Environics Institute launched the Black Experience Project in collaboration with Toronto community organizations, to identify issues in Toronto’s black community, which is Canada’s largest black community. Among their research findings from the large survey of the community are as follows: Two thirds of Toronto’s black residents reported experiencing unfair treatment because they are black. Here are a few examples: 59% said that others expected their work to be inferior; 56% reported being treated rudely; 54% reported being observed or followed while in a public place, all because they are black. That was the reason that they gave.

Experiences with police services were just as bleak. Over half of black Torontonians reported that they had been stopped in a public place by police, and among young men aged 25 to 44, the figure was 79%. Thirty-eight per cent of black Torontonians had been harassed or treated rudely by police. Among young black men, that figure was 60%.

Another international survey conducted for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 2019 found more of the same. The majority of black Canadians across the country, 54%, and over half, 53%, of Indigenous people have personally experienced discrimination due to their race or ethnicity from time to time or, in fact, regularly. Such experience is also shared and reported by significant numbers of South Asians, Chinese and those of other racialized groups.

The COVID crisis has only served to increase the discrimination toward Canadians of Chinese background. A survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute last week and reported yesterday in the media, found that half of the respondents of Chinese background have been called names or insulted, and 43% report being threatened or intimidated with reasons associated with the pandemic.

These kinds of research findings, and others, speak clearly to the existence of racism in this country.

After quoting to you all these research findings, you might want to reach the conclusion that there is plenty of race-based data to answer all the questions we might have about racism in this country. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In their detailed recommendations on actions to be taken to fight racism, the Parliamentary Black Caucus identified serious data gaps and called on the federal government to immediately lead in the collection and stewardship of disaggregated data, race-based data on police intervention and public sector employment, and the racialization of poverty. To quote the Parliamentary Black Caucus, with respect to those missing numbers, “It is hard to change what one cannot measure.”

I support their calls to action. The collection of disaggregated data in many more areas of society is an important step toward developing inclusive social and economic policies.

I want to say that there is actually some good news on this front. Statistics Canada has beefed up its collection of race-based data considerably, with more changes to come. The census, of course, has collected disaggregated race data for many years, as have the annual General Social Surveys and other surveys conducted by StatsCan. An upcoming GSS will look at social identities and discrimination with disaggregated data, and a new division of Statistics Canada called the Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics will be a hub for intersectional analysis.

It is vital that we collect data on gender, disabilities, ethnic origins, immigrant status, language and socio-economic measures to understand how racism intersects with other statuses. Beginning this summer, the mighty monthly Labour Force Survey is, in fact, going to add race-based measures, after 75 years, to all the measures of wages, labour force activity and all of the other statuses that are already collected in the Labour Force Survey.

I would say that Statistics Canada is definitely working on this area, but they still have more work to do. They still have to collect and disaggregate more of their data. That might be some of the good news, but for now the not-so-good news.

The COVID crisis in particular has exposed a serious lack of race-based data in public health, and we have heard the call for more of this data so frequently over these past three months. Much of this missing data, which is the so-called “admin data,” is the responsibility of the provinces — most, but not all. Most of the provinces have been very reluctant to collect this data, for whatever reasons they may have. This reluctance carries over into other areas, into education, social services and policing data.

This continued laissez-faire attitude with these sectors is to the detriment of all of us. We must work to change this situation, and I believe that the special committee especially will help keep up the pressure. As we have seen over the past few months, putting pressure on these organizations, the provinces and others to collect the data has actually resulted in some promises on their part to do so. We learned that we have to keep up the pressure, otherwise it’s going to go away; they won’t make the changes. Therefore, this committee is going to be very helpful for us to keep up the pressure in this area and others.

Colleagues, in conclusion, I support the motion introduced by Senator Lankin on behalf of Senator Bernard to establish a special committee on systemic anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism in Canada. This committee, I believe, is the best way to tackle many issues, not just issues related to data but many others that have been identified by black parliamentarians in their statement on anti-black racism and identified as well by our colleagues here in the chamber.

I look forward to studying the work of the special committee as it moves toward action to end systemic racism in its many forms in this country. Thank you.

Senator Martin: I would like to take the adjournment of the debate.

The Hon. the Speaker: I believe we have another senator who wishes to join the debate first.

Hon. Mary Coyle: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Motion No. 54, Senator Bernard and Senator Lankin’s motion to strike a Senate special committee on racism. I’m honoured to be doing this on the traditional unceded territories of the Algonquin Nation.

The Parliamentary Black Caucus issued a powerfully important statement last week which outline concrete actions it is asking government to undertake. Unfortunately, when Senator Mégie asked for permission for that statement to be tabled in the Senate last week, although clearly supported by the strong voices of the majority of our colleagues, permission was denied. I know many of us found that refusal to be both disappointing and disrespectful.

Our colleagues in the Senate Indigenous working group have come out in support of their Senate colleagues of African descent — Senators Bernard, Mégie, Moodie, Ravalia and Jaffer — who have been working hard as members of the Parliamentary Black Caucus and have come forward with this important motion. This effort to create a special committee, combined with the powerful emergency debate last week and the Committee of the Whole on racism planned for later this week are concrete actions our colleagues have spearheaded to guide and direct us to more actions leading to the results we all want to see.

So why do I and why should we all support this motion to strike this special committee to conduct a review of systemic racism in Canada, and identify priorities and recommendations for government action to combat anti-Indigenous racism, anti-black racism and systemic racism?

The first and obvious reason is that our colleagues with lived experience and expertise are asking us to. We should demonstrate our trust in them and we should follow their lead, just as we should follow the lead of their peers in the broader Canadian society.

Honourable colleagues, three years ago this month, having just completed some really tough cancer treatments, I was attending a Living Beyond Cancer session. Boy, that was a different time. One of the wise resource people at the session was a chaplain named David Maginley. He gave us two challenges. The first one was to make sure we were living the life we had worked so hard to have. And the second, which is the relevant point for this discussion, was to not waste the crisis.

Honourable colleagues, the crises caused by colonialism, discrimination, exploitation and the related racism have been with us for centuries. In fact, our mainstream society has been benefiting from these crises. Our country was built on these crises.

We have the Indian Act; land dispossession of the original peoples of this territory; disenfranchisement; we have thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. We have the impacts of residential schools. We had racially segregated schools. We moved African Nova Scotians around with no respect for their tenancy rights. We relocated Inuit people to unfamiliar lands and left them to die. We have Indigenous people and Canadians of African descent populating our prisons in disproportionately high numbers. We have them targeted by police and some even killed or have died during wellness checks.

We have a whole variety of uneven social and economic outcomes for Indigenous people and Canadians of African descent. We had crises in Canada long before George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police and before Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi and Regis Korchinski-Paquet lost their lives and the recent mass Black Lives Matter protests brought millions of people out in their communities across Canada, in the U.S. and around the world.

But this current crisis intersecting with the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19 is a moment we should not waste. Our colleagues calling for the establishment of the Senate special committee on racism are telling us that the time is now. These recent crises have brought about a tipping point in collective consciousness, and we need to act before this moment is squandered.

In her Speech from the Throne opening this Forty-third Parliament, Governor General Julie Payette said:

.. . whether we are from here or chose to come and live here, we share the same desire. We wish to live freely and in peace and harmony. This quest is a bedrock of our nation and informs almost everything we do.

Your role in the democratic process is a privilege and a responsibility.

.. . we serve every single Canadian. Canadians of all genders, faiths, languages, customs or skin colours.

If we put our brains and smarts and altruistic capabilities together, we can do a lot of good. We can help improve the lives of people in our communities, diminish the gaps and inequities here and elsewhere . . ..

Colleagues, as senators, we have a responsibility to ensure that all people in Canada have opportunities to share in both shaping our country and enjoying the bounty that many of us take for granted. In order to achieve this, we must understand once and for all and find effective ways to fulfill the promise implicit in the statements black lives matter, Indigenous lives matter. We must listen. We must follow. We must insist on action, and we must hold ourselves and others accountable.

Senator Lankin and others have pointed out the abundance of excellent studies and reports that exist that are overflowing with well-formulated recommendations, calls to action, calls to justice, which have still not been brought into action. These will be central resources for the Senate special committee.

Our colleague Senator Mary Jane McCallum advised us in her letter dated June 18 that, “It is change, real change that we need. I do not feel that the racism faced by Indigenous peoples and the racism faced by the black community should be considered under one catch-all umbrella. Approaching racism with a pan-minority approach will only cause further pain.”

By the same token, it will be important to differentiate within each group as well. We know that from the Indigenous Languages Act we passed last year. While it was a positive step forward, it did not recognize the highly differentiated reality of the Inuit and their Inuktut language.

We know that the realities of African Nova Scotians living in the three historic rural settlements in my part of Nova Scotia live vastly different lives from the realities of the largely black immigrant populations of Montreal or Toronto. We must differentiate.

Ibram Kendi, Guggenheim fellow and founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University and author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, turns this conversation on the origins of racism and its remedies on their heads. He says:

Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, not the other way around.

Well, not everyone will agree with Mr. Kendi. I believe it isn’t either/or. Our colleague Senator Murray Sinclair, former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has been quoted as saying, “Education has gotten us into this mess, and education will get us out.”

However, Ibram Kendi goes on to say:

The goal is to identify inequalities, identify the policies that create and maintain those inequalities and propose correctives . . ..

He mentions six areas for those: criminal justice, education, economics, health, environment and politics. Kendi’s book makes the case that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate but rather self-interest, particularly economic, political and cultural. While Ibram Kendi is largely speaking about the foundations of anti-black racism in the U.S., there are certainly some relevant comparisons in Canada worthy of examining.

On a related point but with a rather different twist, let’s consider the story of a river. Picture the river, folks. Picture yourself standing on the edge of the Ottawa River out behind our old historic chamber on Parliament Hill. All of a sudden, a flailing, drowning child goes floating by. Without thinking, you jump in the river, pull the child to shore, and before you can recover, another child is in distress and comes floating by and you dive in and rescue her. Another child comes floating by and another and another. Eventually, hopefully, a wise person will ask, “Who keeps chucking these kids in the river?” And they will head upstream to find out.

This is a simple illustration employed by the Upstream institute for a healthy society, which recently joined forces with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In the case of Canada, we need to ask ourselves whose babies are drowning in the river. They’re not my little pink-and-white middle-class ones. Why are those babies there and in such large numbers? Finally, what are we doing about it?

As we strike this special Senate committee on systemic racism, let’s make sure we don’t continue to suffer from what the institute calls downstream thinking. Rather, let’s help the mainstream look upstream. While we can’t ignore the downstream where we find far too many of our fellow racialized Canadians, let’s ask the committee to look at what urgent, smart policies and investments — remember Senator Omidvar made the important point about following the money — can be put in place upstream.

Honourable colleagues, as we allow ourselves to start to look past this pandemic lockdown period, our Prime Minister, other societal leaders and many Canadians are talking about building back better, building back greener and building back fairer.

Racism, with its many deadly manifestations in our society, is a national shame and can no longer be tolerated if we truly want to build Canada back better and fairer. Black Canadians, Indigenous peoples and other racialized Canadians are telling us they are tired of the status quo. They are tired of carrying the burden. They have had enough. Haven’t we as parliamentarians all had enough too?

Striking the Special Senate Committee on Systemic Racism with a robust mandate and populated with our capable colleagues is an important action I hope we can all get behind.

Moses Coady, the namesake of the institute I used to work at once said, “In a democracy people don’t sit in the economic and social bleachers; they all play the game.”

Honourable colleagues, let’s support the motion of Senator Lankin and Senator Bernard. Let’s make sure that once and for all we have everyone engaged in our democracy and benefiting fairly from it, no matter what colour their skin is or who their ancestors were. Let’s exercise our privilege and responsibility. Let’s not let more drowning babies continue to float downstream. Honourable senators, let’s not waste this crisis. Colleagues, let’s do the right thing. Thank you. Welalioq.

(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)

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