The Heroic Actions Of Some In Toronto Can’t Erase Canada’s Shameful Truths
‘We are comparatively free of racial, sectarian or ideological strife’? Absolutely not.
“The Truth Canada Needs To Remember,” by John Ibbitson, was published in the Globe and Mail on April 24 — the day after one of the deadliest acts of terror in recent Canadian history, when a 25-year-old white man in Toronto weaponized a large van he had rented to plow into unsuspecting pedestrians, killing 10 people and critically injuring 15 others. The public is still reeling from the atrocity.
Yet despite the tragedy of the situation, much has also been made of one positive fact: The assailant was taken down without the use of force.
Focusing on the heroism of benevolent bystanders is right. But the officer simply did his job by actually adhering to his training. Moreover, most framings of this incident have failed to address a crucial fact: Lack of force by law enforcement is something rarely afforded Black and Brown people in this country.
In the Globe article, Ibbiston takes this erasure one step further, stating that in Canada, “we are comparatively free of racial, sectarian or ideological strife.” The basic premise of his article is an ode to the so-called tolerance, diversity, and benevolence of Canadian society, and how we are better for it (while touting that we are far better than our American neighbors and to a greater extent, the entire world).
Let me repeat the part which immediately pained me to read: “We are comparatively free of racial, sectarian or ideological strife.”
Ibbitson calls this a “truth.” But the truth is, I have never read such a one-dimensional white-privileged view in my life.
Yes, innocent bystanders heroically showed up to help in trying times. Yes, the officer involved did what he was supposed to by not using excessive use of force against a white man. But this does not make Canada some beacon of freedom.
How do you say that to the countless Black and Indigenous lives that have been ruined by this state?
I have never read such a one-dimensional white-privileged view in my life.
How do you say that to the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people who have been victimized by the residential school system — the last of which didn’t close until the ‘90s?
How do you say that to the families of Indigenous youth like Colten Boushie, Indigenous girls like Tina Fontaine, and Black men like Jermaine Carby, whose lives were taken by white men who were never held accountable for their actions by a broken justice-less system? How do you say that to the countless Black and Brown people — some children even — whose lives have been taken because they were clearly never really free under this white supremacist system?
The lives of these and other victims have been deemed disposable by not only those responsible for their deaths, but a broken system that has declared their deaths somehow their own fault. Even after such tragedies, the Canadian media, investigating officers, and general public took to victim-blaming, evidence-tampering, and spewing racist anti-indigenous and anti-black hatred about these victims, instead of giving their families the dignity of fair and just trials that honored the lives of their loved ones.
Moreover, how do you say Canada is free of racial strife when there is such an alarming rate of Black and Indigenous kids in the crumbling racist foster care system? When there are so many children who have been (and continue to be) victimized as wards of the state when they are supposed to be protected? When there are cases like that of Abdoul Abdi, yet another refugee child failed by a broken racist foster care system?
How do you say that when the so-called “heroic” actions of the police officer don’t extend to people like Abdirahman Abdi, who was mentally ill and shot down like a rabid dog, instead of supported during a mental health episode in which he had harmed no one?
How do you justify such a low bar set that a police officer actually adhering to his training is somehow a heroic revelation? How do you not see that this also proves what racialized people have been protesting since Ferguson: that police are indeed capable of apprehending suspects without shooting and killing them?
How do you explain such a fact to the countless Black, Brown, and Indigenous civilians, like Sammy Yatim, Dale Anthony Chatrie, Duane Christian, or Joey Knapaysweet, whose interactions with police have far too often turned fatal before police properly assessed the situation in which these individuals were deemed suspects?
How do you account for a litany of such staggering facts?
Like this: Black people account for 36.5% of all police-involved civilian fatalities despite representing only 8.3% of Toronto’s overall population. In the 52 instances of police-involved fatalities since 2000, nearly two-thirds (35 of the 52) were killed by being shot, while the remaining died from excessive physical force or medical complications while being restrained during their interactions with Toronto police. And yet, only seven officers have ever faced charges and only one has been convicted for their involvement in the death of a civilian.
In Saskatchewan, of the 16 people who have died in police encounters since 2000, 10 were Indigenous — accounting for 62.5% of all victims, despite Indigenous people representing only 11.7% of Saskatchewan’s population.
Black people account for 36.5% of all police-involved civilian fatalities despite representing only 8.3% of Toronto’s overall population.
And still, I am not done with my questions yet.
How can you say Canada is free from racial strife when it has one of the highest child poverty rates among developed countries, and when the majority of the hundreds of thousands of starving children are Black, Brown, or Indigenous?
How do you say that to the countless Indigenous families that have been devastated by the alarming rate of suicide among Indigenous youth, which our government has failed to adequately address? How do you say that to the dozens of Indigenous communities that have been under boil water advisories for decades without end, without access to basic necessities like clean water on their own land, while their resources are plummeted for white supremacist capitalist gain?
How can you say Canada is free from racial strife when it has one of the highest child poverty rates among developed countries?
How do you say that to the tens of thousands of Black and Brown people locked up in immigration detention centers across the country without basic necessities that are afforded even to incarcerated Canadian criminals — like access to basic medical care, sanitary products, internet, or access to lawyers to help them get out? As a result of Canada’s broken immigration system, hundreds still remain indefinitely held in immigration detentions at remote locations with little to no access to the outside world to even properly appeal their denied asylum applications.
How do you say the country is free to those who have been impacted by Canada’s broken refugee claimant system, which has failed people like Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam over and over again — particularly when the claimants are Black or Brown?
How do you say that to the families of people like Skantha Navaratnam, a Tamil man at the margins of his already marginalized community, who along with other men of color like Kirushna Kanagaratnam were targeted by a serial killer because of their race, and whose lives, disappearances, and eventual murders were dismissed repeatedly, carelessly, and callously by Toronto Police Services?
How do you say that to African-Canadians who only represent 3% of Canada’s population yet account for over 10% of the overall prison population? How do you say that when the Black prison population has grown 69% in the last 30 years despite remaining such a tiny portion of the overall state population? When Black inmates are not only overrepresented in incarceration, but also subject to nearly 15% of all use-of-force incidents, and are more likely to be placed in maximum security institutions despite being at a lower risk of reoffending? (The numbers for Indigenous incarceration statistics are even more abysmal.) How do you say that when Toronto’s Black residents are targeted in 85% of racially motivated hate crimes and 27% of carding incidents?
“Freedom” and what it means to be free seems to only be a basic right guaranteed under the premise of whiteness, on this stolen land. Those of us that fall outside of that scope were never really free — no matter the comparatively small advancements we have managed to carve out thanks to our own determination, mobilization, resistance, and resilience.
Using the instance of an extreme tragedy as fodder to push some kind of “inclusive” and “tolerance” and “diversity” propaganda, when there are thousands of us who have never seen this equity play out in our lived experiences, is disillusioned at best. For those of us facing these very real realities, this is ahistorical, dishonest, and only continuing the cycle of unchanging conditions for the countless racialized people who do not benefit from the alt-reality that privilege and whiteness affords.
We can indeed be grateful to our brave fellow Torontonians who put their safety on the line and helped during the terror attack on Yonge street, and we can speak of their benevolence and strengths. But we must be mindful to do so without blatantly erasing the many racialized and marginalized people who still suffer under this white supremacist patriarchal capitalist system — people are who are in no ways close to being “free.”