Speaking to Americans last week, in the midst of protests and civil unrest across the United States, Barack Obama said in a nationally broadcast town hall, “I’ve heard some people say, ‘You have a pandemic, then you have these protests; this reminds us of the sixties, and the chaos, the discord and distrust across the country.’ I know enough about that history to say there is something different.”
And he’s right. There is something is different.
Around the world, hundreds of thou-sands of people have been galvanized by the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minnesota, killed by a police ofﬁcer while three others stood by and did nothing. The video of Floyd, pinned on the ground and unable to breathe, went viral. Thousands
of people have taken to the streets in the United States and globally to show their support for the Black community and to protest against anti-Black systemic racism.
Here in Canada, where anti-Black racism is still an undeniable reality, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the power to actually make a difference, with both massive public support and most of Parliament behind him on this issue. As numerous current and former MPs and Senators have been telling The Hill Times over this past week, it’s time for change and it’s time to go beyond piecemeal reforms.
Former Nova Scotia Conservative Sena-tor Donald Oliver, the ﬁrst African Canadian appointed to the Senate in 1990, has been studying racism and the lack of diversity in the federal bureaucracy for decades. In The Hill Times this week, he offers a number of suggestions on how the prime minister can begin to help stop systemic anti-Black racism in Canada. “The job now for public policy-makers looking for solutions is to dig deeply into the very core of systemic racism, analyze it, and produce detailed, comprehensive, and professional recommendations for change that must be acted upon by government immediately,” he writes.
Mr. Oliver recommends appointing eminent and qualified Black Canadians to senior positions on boards, commissions, and Crown corporations. He says Canada also needs more Black judges, more Black chiefs of staff in government ministerial ofﬁces and more Black deputy and associate deputy ministers in the federal civil service. A federal government Department of Diversity headed by a Black deputy minister should be created.
Mr. Oliver also suggests the prime minister establish a commission of inquiry under the Inquiries Act, chaired by an eminent Black Canadian judge, “to examine all socio-economic issues, call evidence and hear from those impacted by racism in the communities across Canada, and report back to Parliament with specific recommendations in each area designed to eradicate or substantially limit the reach and inﬂuence of anti-Black systemic racism in Canada.”
In light of the apparent higher CO-VID-19 incidence among non-Whites in Canada, Mr. Oliver says the prime minister should order Statistics Canada to collect comprehensive, race-based data on COVID-19 from every province and territory in Canada, preferably on a daily basis and retroactively to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March.
The citizens of Canada, and its Parliamentarians, expect the prime minister to take some action to end anti-Black racism. These suggestions are a start. The time for that action is right now. Silence is not an option.