The series of recent high profile police murders and assaults on Black, Indigenous and people of colour, along with anti-Islamic terrorism and the horrific confirmation of remains of Indigenous children in unmarked graves on former residential school grounds, have all added to renewed calls for real reconciliation and racial justice in Canada.
Further, the unequal effect of COVID-19 on Indigenous and racialized people is renewing demands for government action to address inequities in employment, housing, health care, criminal justice and income security. The rise of right-wing political nationalism across the globe has also resulted in a rise in violent hate crimes, online hate speech and organized extremist groups.
Unifor recognizes that economic justice is unachievable without real reconciliation and racial justice.
When the working-class divides along racial lines, this weakens worker power and the labour movement as a whole – all while benefiting the interests of employers and those with wealth and power. Racial justice requires all institutions and organizations to implement programs and policies that aim to eliminate systemic racism and discrimination and promote anti-racism and equity in our communities and workplaces. All workers must stand in solidarity with Indigenous people who continue to fight for rights to land, culture, traditional ways of life and self-determination.
Unifor calls on the next federal government to take concrete and meaningful action on reconciliation and racial justice. This includes:
- Acting for truth and reconciliation by fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP);
- Acting on the 231 calls for justice by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and two-spirited (MMIWG2S);
- Fully implementing the 94 Calls to Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015;
- Taking immediate action within the first 100 days of Parliament to end the ongoing boil water advisories in all Indigenous communities and ensuring that all Indigenous communities have access to safe and clean drinking water;
- Directing all federal ministries, agencies and commissions to collect race-based data and make disaggregated data available publicly;
- Providing additional resources to support Canada’s Anti-Racism strategy and Anti-Racism Secretariat, while boosting funding to community groups and organizations doing direct anti-racism work in their communities;
- Channelling resources and strengthen legislation and enforcement to reverse the rise of white supremacist groups, including the spread of online hate.
- Hate crimes against Black, Indigenous and people of colour in Canada increased by 37% in 2020, with the largest increases occurring in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
- A February 2021 report by the Auditor General found 43% of water systems in Indigenous communities still at medium-to-high risk of failing to provide clean water, if not already failing.
- Racialized workers are 21% of Canada’s workforce, but are over-represented in many low-wage industries such as retail, grocery, warehousing and food manufacturing.
- In 2020, the unemployment rate for Indigenous workers was 14.2%, compared to 9.4% for non-Indigenous workers.
Inequalities that harm Indigenous, Black and racialized people are made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Systemic racism and discrimination leads to inequities in employment, health, safety, income security and housing outcomes, resulting in lower quality of life and living standards.
As the virus spread and businesses were forced to shut down, Indigenous and racialized workers experienced higher rates of job loss. Those on the front lines, continuing to work in essential industries, such as health care, transportation, warehousing, logistics and retail, were more likely to contract the illness due to working in close quarters, frequent exposure to the public and less access to the proper personal protective equipment. Large urban centres, such as Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and their surrounding areas, saw infection rates 1.5 times higher in racialized communities versus non-racialized.
Due to gaps in government intervention and support, leaders in Black, Indigenous and racialized communities stepped up to play a pivotal role to break down barriers, prevent the virus’ spread and encourage vaccination. In fact, as of July, Indigenous adults recorded the highest rates of vaccination in the country, most notably among young to middle-aged adults.
Public health advocates decried the lack of race-based data at all levels of government, highlighting how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting Indigenous and racialized people. Notable efforts, including among federal data collectors as well as community leaders during the pandemic, certainly helped. However, the overall lack of race-based data makes it impossible to provide accurate quality-of-life assessments for racialized groups based on factors such as gender, class and immigration status.
The pandemic, and the economic downturn that followed, also brought with it an increase in racism and hate crimes – particularly against East Asian communities. Reports of both verbal and violent physical assaults became commonplace. Much of it spurred by increasing online hate speech and organized extremist groups.
In addition to the effects of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in the U.S. in 2020 sparked global racial justice protests calling for greater action against policy brutality and institutionalized racism. This forced all organizations to examine if and how anti-racism and equity policies were effectively breaking down barriers to full social and economic participation.
The death of Joyce Echaquan revealed the terrifying truth of systemic racism in health care, and the country continues to reckon with its colonial past following the confirmation of thousands of unmarked graves on former residential school sites with human remains – mainly children.
This led to renewed calls across Canada by Indigenous communities and allies on the federal government to take meaningful action on Truth and Reconciliation by fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This includes improving the social and economic conditions of Indigenous Peoples and communities, such as ensuring the immediate funding necessary to build clean water infrastructure in communities that have been deprived of that infrastructure, respecting treaties and land rights, protecting Indigenous cultures and improving access to good employment opportunities for Indigenous workers and youth.