Black Canadians say racism here is just as harmful as in the United States

Black Canadians say racism here is just as harmful as in the United States

MONTREAL — The death of George Floyd in Minnesota following a police intervention has spurred massive protests in both Canada and the United States and societal soul-searching on the need to fight racism on both sides of the border.

But while many Canadian leaders have denounced the death of Floyd, who died in Minneapolis last week after pleading for air while a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck, his death has also prompted some public figures to claim systemic racism doesn’t exist in Canada as it does in the United States.

The Canadian Press asked several black Canadians to share their experiences with racism and their thoughts on systemic discrimination in both countries.

Kenrick McRae

McRae, 49, said Floyd’s experience in the United States hit home with him, because it has echoes of his own experiences with Montreal police.

“What I’ve been seeing (in the United States) is a reflection of what I went through,” he said. ”In my cases, if there were no video recordings, these police here in Montreal would have gotten off.”

In March 2017, McRae was stopped by police who claimed his car’s licence plate light was out. When he argued that the light was working and got out of the car to film the officers, he says, they rushed at him, tried to take his camera, and arrested him and held him in their car for 90 minutes before releasing him without charges.

In a 2019 decision, the police ethics board upheld McRae’s complaint and concluded that the two officers had illegally arrested and detained him during a stop that was “founded on his race.”

McRae, who now keeps several cameras to film his interactions, says this incident is one of dozens over the years in which he’s been stopped and harassed by police without cause.

“I would say in an average of two years (I’ve been stopped) over 25 times,” he said. ”And out of the 25 times, there’s never been a ticket, for anything.”

Omari Newton

Newton, a Vancouver-based actor and writer, says he’s experienced racism both in that city and in Montreal, where he grew up.

He recalled one time when he was pulled over by police when driving home from an intramural basketball game with three black friends and one of their girlfriends, who is white. He said he was initially confused when police started flashing their flashlights and demanding ID.

Eventually, Newton said, the officer leaned in to ask the sole white passenger if she was OK.

“She’s confused. She’s like ‘Yeah, what are you talking about?’ ” he recalled. ”The cop says ‘You’re here on your free will?’ “

He said he then realized what was happening.

“These cops decided that four brothers with a white girl in the middle, clearly, this is like a kidnapping or potential assault situation. There’s no way that these guys are friends,” Newton said.

Newton, 40, said those who deny there is racism in Canada ”don’t know the history of our country’s formation.”

“I’m proud to be Canadian. We’ve come a long way as a nation, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. That doesn’t mean we are a utopia,” he said.

Sharon Nelson

Nelson, who works with Montreal’s Jamaica Association, believes firmly that what happened to Floyd could have happened anywhere, including Canada.

She said most black people, including herself, can tell stories about being followed by sales staff while shopping, being treated differently depending on whether they’re wearing business attire or clothes perceived as “ethnic,” and being told to “go home.”

Nelson, 49, bristles at Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s statement this week that there is no systemic discrimination in Quebec.

“Why is it harder for people of colour to find a decent apartment, or housing or places to live?” she asked.

“Why is it that when racialized people move into certain neighbourhoods, certain people start moving out of that neighbourhood? Those are the questions that those individuals who say there’s no systemic discrimination in Quebec need to ask.”

Lauren Jiles

“As a black and an Indigenous woman, I don’t have the privilege to think of the police force as a helpful resource,” says the burlesque performer known by her stage name Lou Lou la Duchesse de Riere.

“I’ve been pulled over with an ex, and then I was accused of being a prostitute once my band card was taken as an ID. I was 17 years old. I’ve been detained at the border and accused of smuggling cigarettes when I was 18, and I’ve been directly assaulted by police when I was 30.”

She said she regularly has her accomplishments diminished and accredited to some form of affirmative action. “I was accepted to McGill’s law faculty when I was 19, straight out of (junior college) without a bachelor’s degree. It’s really hard. I was told by a lawyer, a potential colleague and employer, that the only reason was because it looked good for the university.”

Jiles, 32, says that while working in clubs, she has been exoticized and targeted as an Indigenous woman and has repeatedly watched as black people are not let in, are kicked out or are given poor service.

“Racism is more in your face in the U.S., and I feel like here (in Canada) it’s insidious and it intrinsically hides into our policies, into our legal system, into all of our infrastructures,” she said.

“We have just as much work to do in our own backyard, and this lie, this narrative that things are so much better here, it’s a form of racism. It’s a form of blindness.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.

Julian McKenzie and Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version referred to a bank card being taken as ID from Lauren Jiles.

racism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council approves second attempt for downtown cannabis retail shop

Firestone Cannabis submitted a new application after their first was denied in August

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Three young Sylvan Lake residents are asking for lights to be added to the walking trail system to make them safer and less scary at night. Photo by @workinonmyfitness72
Young Sylvan Lake residents ask for lights to be added to walking trails

Three young Sylvan Lake residents appeared before Council recently to present their ask

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

A man runs across the Carcross Dunes in Carcross, Yukon, on July 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘No manual or checklist:’ Yukon ditching fall time change this year

The territory decided to adopt year-round daylight time in March

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains makes an announcement regarding vaccine procurement, in Toronto, on Wednesday, Aug., 5, 2020. Despite its status as an artificial intelligence hub, Canada has yet to develop a regulatory regime to deal with issues of privacy, discrimination and accountability to which AI systems are prone, prompting calls for regulation from businesses and experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Canada crawling toward AI regulatory regime, but experts say reform is urgent

5 million images of shoppers collected without consent at Canadian malls

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie "The Name of the Rose" at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

He died peacefully in his sleep overnight in the Bahamas

(Photo submitted)
Rimbey resident avid author despite Parkinson’s

Wins more accolades for her writing

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

(Pixabay photo)
Spoooky, scaaaary: The ultimate Halloween-in-quarantine playlist

All the costumes, trick-or-treating and spooky-season fun is essentialy off the table due to COVID-19

Most Read