Ifill: Ottawa lacks an actual plan for tackling anti-Black racism

    Mar 26, 2018

    A recent panel discussion on anti-black racism at city hall was chock full of platitudes but lacked both credibility and serious prescriptions for tackling the racism black people experience in Ottawa.

    Last year, the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) and Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP) published a report on the prevalence of anti-black racism in the city’s public institutions. It detailed two major concerns: the need to recognize anti-black racism and assign institutional accountability in addressing it; and the need for effective civic engagement of Ottawa’s black community members.The recent panel, convened in response, was comprised of senior officials from the Ottawa police, the City of Ottawa, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, and the Coalition of Community Health, Resource Centres, presenting their prescriptions to respond to the recommendations.

    Unfortunately, they did very little to demonstrate that they understood the concerns detailed in the report.

    While there were platitudes and prescriptive language, the panel presented little in terms of policy to counter the belief that the city’s institutions are inadequately addressing anti-black racism.

    All panelists admitted to anti-black discrimination within their ranks and within Ottawa. Hooray! But this is not proof of recognition and accountability. The optics rendered their statements perfunctory: The panel discussing discrimination and diversity in an anti-black context was completely devoid of any black people. Claiming to champion diversity while simultaneously illustrating the lack of it renders their positions on anti-black racism almost invalid, especially when facing a racialized crowd.

    The tabled solutions, presented to an increasingly frustrated audience, lacked a fundamental understanding of how their own organizations work, much less how they keep black people from being promoted into the sort of position that would give them the opportunity to be one of the senior officials on the panel.

    Most of the proposed solutions centred on diversity training, hiring more diverse staff (the city will be holding its first-ever diversity job fair) and data collection. Some may say this is a start, but it does not get to the heart of representation in the workplace. The issues are not just hiring, but mentoring, promotion and processes of recourse for anyone facing discrimination – especially if the perpetrator is in a higher position.

    In fact, there were zero accountability measures for senior-level officials or executives who discriminate.

    One man detailed his struggle with his federal government employers: After filing a grievance over racial discrimination in his department in which he questioned why junior white employees were consistently being promoted above him despite years of solid work, he was subsequently harassed by his senior management and eventually asked to leave his workplace.

    These are the struggles that black Canadians face daily, yet the panel provided no accountability measures for such instances.

    What we didn’t hear, points out Sharon Nyangweso, a communications and gender impact consultant, were the benchmarks, goals and indicators established for these initiatives and whether they were available to the public in an accessible way. More importantly, what kind of accountability measures are in place for recommendations or initiatives that aren’t fully implemented? Will there be funding implications?

    We have far to go, indeed.

    One positive step forward on this otherwise inert march towards inaction was Jennifer Adams from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, officially apologizing on behalf of the board for the inaction of school staff to the racist bullying of Winston Karam, whose family won a court settlement in which the court’s decision “concluded the school officials were lacking credibility.”

    Unfortunately, the takeaway from this town hall was still that senior bureaucrats for Ottawa’s institutions lack the credibility to provide solutions to eliminating anti-black racism in this city.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Ottawa-based Bad+Bitchy Podcast.