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

Manny’s Motel demolition underway. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
Manny’s Motel demolition underway

The property has been vacant since the fire that destroyed most of the structure Jan.14, 2020.

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
City and County of Wetaskiwin reporting active cases

Both the City of Wetaskiwin and County of Wetaskiwin have active cases.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read