The provincial government has introduced the Anti-Racism Act, 2017, which provides for various measures to address systemic racism in Ontario.
In February 2016, the government of Ontario formed an anti-racism directorate. Headed by Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau, the directorate aims to “address racism in all its forms.” Premier Kathleen Wynne pointed to police carding and the Syrian refugee debate as signs that Ontario needed an office with the anti-racism mandate.
The anti-racism directorate unveiled its first plan, “A Better Way Forward”, on March 7th. The Anti-Racism Act is meant as the first step in carrying out the plan to tackle systemic racism in Ontario, particularly racism against indigenous and Black Canadians.
While the Act does not define systemic racism, its preamble states:
“Systemic racism is a persistent reality in Ontario, preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity.
Systemic racism is often caused by policies, practices and procedures that appear neutral but have the effect of disadvantaging racialized groups. It can be perpetuated by a failure to identify and monitor racial disparities and inequities and to take remedial action.”
If the Anti-Racism Act is passed and comes into force, the government of Ontario will be required to do the following things:
- Maintain an anti-racism strategy that aims to eliminate systemic racism and advance racial equality, including targets and indicators to measure the strategy’s effectiveness;
- Review the anti-racism strategy at least every five years, consulting with members and representatives of groups most adversely impacted by systemic racism, including indigenous and black communities; and
- Establish data standards that provide for collection, use, and management of information to identify and monitor systemic racism.
Additionally, the Act allows the Lieutenant Governor to require or authorize public sector organizations to collect personal information for the purpose of eliminating systemic racism and advance racial equality.
In other words, the meat of the Anti-Racism bill is all about data collection. The law does not make major changes to the status quo, nor does it impose obligations on ordinary Ontarians to tackle systemic racism or take measures to advance racial quality in their daily lives. Still, despite the law’s modest ambitions, the fact that it comes on the heels of the furor over the anti-Islamophobia motion may set it up for controversy.