Blueprint for Covert Racism: An overview of Canada’s historical and contemporary migration policy
Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Source: Public Service Alliance of Canada
While many white Canadians assume that racism is a problem south of the border, Canada does not have clean hands when it comes to racism. Canada was formed by white men sanctioning the genocide of Indigenous peoples to establish a colonial state, with policies carefully designed and implemented to keep anyone who was not white out. Virtually since Confederation, Canada has exhibited deep rooted and legislated racism in both historical as well as contemporary contexts. This is evident in Canada’s Immigration laws, created to form migration barriers of entry for groups that were deemed undesirable, essentially those who are not white. Deep rooted ideas about who deserves to be in Canada are embedded and determined by both countries of origin as well as the colour of one’s skin. This disproportionately impacts racialized communities especially the Black community in Canada.
Racist migration policies maintained for over a century include, but are not limited to:
Chinese Immigration Act (Chinese Head tax): British Columbia implemented a tax to reduce the number of Chinese immigrants seeking to settle permanently in Canada in 1885 initially set at $50 then increased to $500 in 1903 (equivalent of $15,000 in 2020)
Order-in-council - 1908: only allowed those who travelled a continuous journey to enter Canada so entry would be difficult for Asians and for family reunification to occur.
Hayashi-Lemieux Agreement (Gentlemen’s Agreement) – 1908: required the Japanese government to cap the number of Japanese immigrants to Canada at 400 per year
Order-in-Council – 1910 (Black Exclusion): developed in Edmonton to prevent Africans (Africa or diaspora) from entering Canada, due to the belief that Africans contaminated Canadian identity and their skin colour was ‘unsuitable’ for the Canadian climate
Caribbean Domestic Scheme – 1910: women from Guadeloupe and Jamaica were allowed to serve as domestics but for less than half the pay of white “nannies” (note the terminology used for Black and White women to describe the same occupation) but the program ended due to pearl clutcher’s stereotypes of Black women as promiscuous.
Komagata Maru -1914: Indians (citizens of the British Empire) were denied entry to Canada, forcing them to return to India due to Canadian anti-Indian laws
Pier 21: Immigrants (Black and Asian) were deemed unwanted and ‘unfit’ for the climate
This is paralleled in contemporary migration to Canada with racist immigration policies that are still designed to selectively admit specific groups. Even on a temporary basis, such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers program and the Live-in Caregiver program. After years of redlining and constant mistreatment by the system, racialized communities are further targeted by racist and discriminatory practices due to the deeply entrenched idea that they are only capable of working in service jobs. Racism has and continues to be deeply rooted in urban planning policies such as in Nova Scotia in Africville and redlining in North Preston. In 1969 Africville residents were relocated in the name of “Urban Renewal” and had their homes demolished to make way for “development”, which is still happening in racialized communities. A prime example is Gottingen Street, which is in the process of being gentrified in Halifax in order to be deemed more ‘desirable’, which perpetuates structural racism. Redlining occurs in African Nova Scotian communities, such as North Preston, which has only one bus that goes into Halifax where the three main universities and some community colleges are located. This bus runs every hour only, thus creating accessibility difficulties for students from African Nova Scotian Communities.
It is important to name and acknowledge these systemic racist policies and discourses of racism since they dictate how racialized communities are viewed and treated, especially in Black communities.
Other contemporary examples of Systemic Racism include, but are not limited to:
Satina Rao attacked by Halifax Police in Walmart for shoplifting even though she tried to show her receipt for the items
Carding disproportionately affects Black communities, with Black people making up 8% of the population between 2008-2013, but they are three times more likely to be carded (24%) than their white counterparts
Salary Gap: |Black people earn less than white people for the same job
Health (including Mental Health): the intersection of anti-black racism and ableist oppression and lower accessibility to health services in Black communities
D'Andre Campbell's murder in Peel Region (Brampton)
Afro-Indigenous woman Regis Korchinski-Paquets’ murder and the protests that ensued
Education outcomes: underfunded school districts and school closures in Black communities that sometimes force children to travel further away from home
The penal system: the disproportionate larger number of Black prisoners, even though evidence shows that Black people do not commit more crimes than any other race
The killing of unarmed Black men, women, children, trans and non-binary folxs at the hands of the police, who subsequently face no charges or repercussions
$1.5 million was allocated to help members of the Ontario Black community for COVID-19 ‘recovery’, but health challenges in the Black community go well beyond COVID-19. This is a band aid solution for a much larger systemic issue.
The perpetuation of Anti-Black racist discourses enables Anti-Black behaviours and policies that dehumanize Black people. Canada’s version of racism is usually covert, as even Amy Cooper, a Canadian made headlines when she felt empowered to call the police on Christian Cooper, a Harvard-educated ‘African-American male’ for the crime of asking her to put her dog on a leash in the Bramble in New York. She exercised her white privilege knowing that all she had to do was yell frantically ‘that ‘a Black man was attacking her’, and the police would appear and possibly kill him without question. Shortly after the situation went viral, she said she is “not racist”, when she clearly is. White privilege works in the way that policies, the system and the world is designed to benefit and protect white people over anyone else.
As Canadians, acknowledging that we have our own systemic Anti-Black racism to contend with is a first step, and leaders must make the effort to work with communities of colour to heal. Further, white leaders especially need to work with their white counterparts to ensure that they are educated on the systems of oppression in Canada and learn ways to counter these problems. Those in power need to educate themselves, redefine narratives and work to eradicate systemic Anti-Black racism. It is highly problematic to sit from a place of privilege thinking we are all equal or that any form of Anti-Black racism is another country's problem. Many Canadians pride themselves in how different we are from the US. But it’s worth noting that Anti-Black racism prevails in Canadian society as well. The Black Experience Project interviewed 1500 people who self identified as Black and asked whether or not they thought Canada was better than the US with respect to the treatment of black people. A little over half (55%) of the participants believe that Black people are better off in Canada rather than in the United States. In the comments one respondent explained that the racism in Canada is just as real, only more covert. Leaders in Canada need to listen to diverse voices and effectively contribute to positive systemic changes in the way we view as well as address the plight and trauma associated with being a Black person in Canada.
*The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors