Last week, the government of Ontario passed the Anti-Racism Act, 2017. This piece of legislation creates a legal framework for the Anti-Racism Directorate. The Anti-Racism Directorate was created in February 2016 and is a government agency with the mandate to address and eliminate systemic racism through policy work, research, public education, community collaboration and sustainable governance. The Anti-Racism Act, 2017 also mandates the continuation of multi-year anti-racism strategies, a review of those strategies every five years, and race-based data collection tools.
The passing of this Act marks several decades of work from community agencies and grassroots activists who have not only mobilized to end racism, but also have participated in countless consultations with multiple levels of government to create a legal framework that would allow a path forward for tackling systemic injustices that impact Ontarians in public life; at work, on the streets, in their families, in schools, in healthcare facilities, and in the courts, to name a few.
Though METRAC acknowledges that there is still so much work to be done to ensure policy positions translate to better practices, it is important to recognize this important step forward in ending racism in our province. The public acknowledgment that racism is systemic, and not a one-off deeply held belief by some individuals, is very significant progress.
“A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan” was released as a lead-in to the passing of the Act, and describes systemic racism like this:
Systemic racism occurs when an institution or set of institutions working together creates or maintains racial inequity. This can be unintentional, and doesn’t necessarily mean that people within an organization are racist.
It is often caused by hidden institutional biases in policies, practices and processes that privilege or disadvantage people based on race. It can be the result of doing things the way they’ve always been done, without considering how they impact particular groups differently. (p.10)
Such a powerful and clear definition of systemic racism offers up the challenge of self-scrutiny for every institution to examine its own role in maintaining or not maintaining situations of inequities for racialized Ontarians. This marks an opportune moment to engage in real and transformative work with institutions that have kept their heads in the sand for far too long.
It is also an opportune moment to delve into the complexities of racism. We must support, highlight and prioritize the experience of those most likely to experience racism and criminalization because of their skin colour: Black communities, Indigenous communities, youth, women, Trans communities, gender-non-conforming folks, LGBTQ2SS+ communities, persons experiencing homelessness and poverty, persons with disabilities (visible or non-visible), newcomers, refugees and Muslim women.
Here at METRAC, we will continue to engage in anti-racism initiatives as we always have, both at the grassroots level and at the policy level. We are looking forward to the opportunities this new Act will bring, while remembering the important work past leaders have done to get us to this point. We will pursue our mission of creating a safer world for all.