Ontario setting up anti-racism panel 10 years after passing legislation
The directorate will be headed by Michael Coteau, minister of culture, tourism and sport.
Feb. 16, 2016
By Rob Ferguson
Debate over the acceptance of Syrian refugees and controversy over “carding” by police have prompted Ontario to set up a long-awaited anti-racism directorate.
The move comes 10 years after the legislature passed a bill to pave the way for an office to better track and ease racial bias in everything from schools to the justice system and the workplace.
Problems include school children being streamed into lower-level non-academic programs, lower high school graduation and higher poverty and unemployment rates for racialized minorities.
“The focus on issues of racism has sharpened in the last year, whether it’s the carding debate, whether it’s the Syrian refugees,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who along with community groups has been pushing the government to follow through on the 2006 legislation, said the move has been “a long time coming” since the previous Progressive Conservative government axed Ontario’s anti-racism secretariat in the mid-1990s.
Wynne appointed Culture, Tourism and Sport Minister Michael Coteau to head the body, which does not yet have a staff or budget but will be similar to the Ontario Women’s Directorate.
Coteau, who is black, said he’s familiar with the challenges visible minorities face, including racial slurs and entrenched attitudes.
“I’ve been carded, asked for identification out of the blue just walking down the street when I was a school board trustee, so it wasn’t too long ago,” he told the Star.
He wants to gather data to pinpoint where problems are in various segments of society, along the lines of how the Toronto District School Board tracks graduation rates by race so help can be targeted.
“I just want to figure out how to remove the barriers,” Coteau said, noting few corporate directors are visible minorities. “Sometimes the system, in order to improve itself, has to admit there are parts that are broken.”
The directorate will boost public education and have a voice in the development and evaluation of government policies, programs and services, Wynne said.
She wants all government actions viewed through a “wide anti-racist lens” that will “confront prejudices and bring down barriers” so that all Ontario residents can live up to their full potential and boost the economy.
Wynne singled out aboriginal youth as the fastest growing group in this province.
“If we don’t make sure that those young people have every opportunity that every other child in the province has, then we’re not doing the economy a service,” she said.
The directorate also won applause from Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who said “I just hope that they pursue it with more vigour than they did in 2006,” the Ontario Federation of Labour and other groups such as the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians.
OFL president Chris Buckley raised concerns about the lack of a budget and said the directorate will need “proper funding” to do its job.