July 1, 2021
“We give them a ‘shvt’ load of money so what is their problem?” Confronting the ignorant and cynical narrative at the dinner table.
by Andy Kusi-Appiah, QE scholar, 2019-2021
This past month (June 2021) has not gone too well for Canada; Canada my adopted country. Yes! I am a ‘settler’ here, just like any other Canadian who is not Indigenous to this place. From high level resignations from the military, to the murder of a Canadian-Muslim family, and to the discovery of Indigenous mass graves, we are seeing the very tip of what can be described as Canadian history unfolding in slow motion in front of our naked eyes.
What am I ranting about?
In this short article I reflect on Canada’s reconciliation efforts for Indigenous Peoples, as well as efforts at dealing with sexual harassment/misconduct, gender discrimination, racism and discrimination in general in Canada today. After living and teaching in the place called Canada for 3 decades (yes, I am as much a Canadian as my ancestor Matthew DaCosta of blessed memory), I can say without equivocation that the majority of my fellow Canadians (we are settler colonialists, just ask Dr. Zoe Todd) are yet to come to terms with the enormity of the issues of discrimination and racism in the land. Rather, we pride ourselves in the fact that we are not as racist as our sisters and brothers south of our borders. Events of the past month have further exposed the ‘underbelly’ of the Canadian society. We must stop pretending that we are not bigoted, racist and sexist because our ancient and current history indicates otherwise.
Sexual misconduct/gender discrimination in our military?
In recent days, there have been numerous resignations by officers of the Canadian Armed Forces in protest of what they refer to as insidious sexual misconduct/harassment and gender discrimination in the military. One of the most prominent women in the Canadian military resigned citing her disgust at ongoing reports of sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces, and dismayed that it has taken this long for the problem to come to the fore. In tendering her resignation Lt. Col. Eleanor Taylor wrote:
“I am sickened by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct among our key leaders…Unfortunately I am not surprised. I am also certain that the scope of the problem has yet to be exposed. Throughout my career, I have observed insidious and inappropriate use of power for sexual exploitation…Some senior leaders are unwilling…to recognize their behaviour is harmful to both the victim and to the team.”
(Lt-Col. Eleanor Taylor, deputy commander of 36th Brigade Group and a distinguished veteran of combat in Afghanistan).
Canada’s two most senior military leaders – General Jonathan Vance (former chief of staff) and Admiral Art McDonald (General Vance’s replacement) – are under investigation by the military’s National Investigation Service over separate sexual misconduct allegations.
Is it a crime to be Muslim in Canada?
The horrendous attack and murder of a Muslim-Canadian family was clearly a hate crime as they were targeted just because if their faith! Friends gathering for the family’s janazah (a Muslim funeral prayer) said they want to remember the Afzaal family as more than just victims of a heinous hate crime. The well-known family have been model citizens in their community: they were humble, generous and hospitable, caring and empathetic to all stripes of Canadians. Indeed, that family could not even hurt a fly, but their lives were taken away senselessly. As one neighbour testified: “100% of the time, they were smiling. They always had great kind, positive words to share.”
No justice for Abdirahman Adbi!
And then there is the Somali-Canadian man who died after a violent arrest by two Ottawa police officers in 2016. Constable Daniel Montsion was found not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in a judgment rendered by Justice Robert Kelly of the Ontario Court of Justice. Justice Kelly ruled that the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Montsion’s actions caused Abdi’s death. Needless to say, concerned citizens are sad and outraged after the acquittal of Constable Montsion.
Asian discrimination is also rife here!
We are also aware of the long history of anti-Asian discrimination, and the recent spike in said discrimination during the era of COVID-19 pandemic. According to a two-year study co-led by Professor Weiguo Zhang of University of Toronto, anti-Asian discrimination is on the rise in Canada, with reports of discriminatory incidents more than tripling. The study notes that the Canadian-Chinese community was already taking precautions by February 2020, when Canada had just 8 confirmed cases of COVID-19. It included avoiding restaurants and cultural gatherings such as Lunar New Year, wearing facemasks and self-isolating after returning home from trips abroad.
Taking the Indian out of the Indian – a policy of genocide!
But one other history we cannot ignore is the history of impunity meted out to our Indigenous brothers and sisters through what Duncan Campbell Scott, deputy superintendent of the Indian department from 1913 to 1931, proposed as an amendment to the Indian Act:
“I want to get rid of the Indian problem…Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic….”
(Duncan Campbell Scott, 1920)
Between 1925 and 1951, our government (Canadian federal government, that is) forbad Indigenous Peoples from forming their own political groups and banned powwows, sweat lodges and sun dances. The ban was however lifted in 1951 (It was a policy of genocide, it was a policy to eliminate the Indigenous person, the very people who made it possible for the first settlers and subsequent ones like you and I to be able to live and thrive here in the first place). The Indian Act continue to be the basis of all the discriminatory policies and practices governing Indigenous Peoples in Canada today.
The recent unearthing of the remains of 215 children of Indigenous ancestry buried on the premises of the Kamloops Indian Residential school in Kamloops (British Columbia); 751 unmarked graves of mostly Indigenous children at the cemetery of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan; and the announcement on June 30, 2021 of another 182 human remains in unmarked graves at the site of the Old St. Eugene’s Mission Residential school in Cranbrook (British Columbia), is a reminder that there is the need to overhaul our laws and regulations to bring us into the 21st century where all human rights are respected and celebrated. We must be asking ourselves why we are still fighting Indigenous children in our courts today. We must be asking ourselves why the Metis are not fully recognized as a ‘people’ with full rights bestowed on them. We must also be asking ourselves (we colonial settlers that is) why we are still blocking Indigenous protesting for their rights.
We Canadians have our share of the not-too-pleasant treatment of our first Peoples. I do not need to remind us that it was not long ago (1940s) that the government of the now ignominious regime of Apartheid South Africa came to Canada to learn about the Canadian reserve system which they implemented with great ‘success’ (the scars are still with us today) in South Africa (and yes, the so-called ‘Bantustans’ of the Apartheid system in South Africa mimicked the reserve system here in our beloved Canada). The Apartheid regime of South Africa was ‘inspired’ by what it had read about Canada’s Indian Act and its legal classification of ‘status Indians’, and they modeled elements of apartheid after the Canadian system.
There is hope!
In recent years, many Canadians (I am referring to settler colonialists like you and I) have rightly called for the removal of all monuments and/or street names of historical figures who practiced or put in place policies and programs deemed racist or bigoted in the 21st century. For example, there is a campaign going on about the role our first prime minister (Sir John A. Macdonald) played in the establishment of the dreaded Residential school system. Of course there are some settler colonial voices opposed to this, but we are Canadians and we get these colonial objections and where they are coming from (they are coming from a place of ignorance and denial). We know that calling for the removal of those monuments is the right thing to do! Thankfully, there have been other calls for similar sanctions against other historical figures who blindly implemented racist and bigoted policies against the real owners of this land we call Canada (this land is un-ceded territory of the original owners of the land).
What is the solution?
It is not normal to regard Indigenous Peoples, and for that matter any other group of people of non-European descent, as inferior or third class citizens. We must eschew attitudes like: “this is the way it has been done and so we have to accept it that way. After all we give them a ‘shvt’ load of money and they do not even pay taxes’, as some of my fellow settlers, including settlers of African descent, try to convince me about Indigenous People and their relationship to the Crown. All Canadians, regardless of one’s ancestry must be part of the solution. We settler Canadians are as guilty as our neighbours to the south of our borders when it comes to the treatment we have meted out to, and continue to mete out to the ‘other’. We need to take reconciliation seriously as a nation, with implementation of policies aimed at completely eliminating racist and discriminatory practices in our society as our cornerstone.
And so on this 153th Canada day, let us resolve to make bigotry, racism and discrimination a thing of the past. We cannot de-colonize and Indigenize without acknowledging that there is a problem and that we are part of it! We do not need more investigations, we need action because there is enough evidence from our ancient past and even our recent history. We (collectively as a community) need to demand and implement action, tous ensemble!
*AKRASINANA (aka Andy Kusi-Appiah) is an adjunct professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University. His research seeks to provide a clearer understanding of governance mechanisms that shape access to community resources & how the resulting inequities shape livelihoods in marginalized spaces. Community involvement & volunteering have been his passion for a long time. He was president of the Ghana Association of Ottawa (1995-2003) & senior advisor on Diversity issues to the Mayor of Ottawa (2004-2006) where he led many multi-disciplinary teams to solve complex diversity issues in a timely & sensitive manner. Andy was appointed by the Lt. Governor of Ontario in September 2018 as a public member of the Board of Directors of the Ontario College of Social Work and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW).