Canada’s race problem? It’s even worse than
America’s. For a country so self-satisfied with its image
of progressive tolerance, how is this not a
By Scott Gilmore, January 22, 2015
racial mess in the United States looks pretty
grim and is painful to watch. We can be forgiven
for being quietly thankful for Canada’s more
inclusive society, which has avoided dramas like
that in Ferguson, Mo. We are not the only ones
to think this. In the recently released Social
Progress Index, Canada is ranked second amongst
all nations for its tolerance and inclusion.
Unfortunately, the truth is we have a far worse
race problem than the United States. We just
can’t see it very easily.
Terry Glavin, recently writing in the Ottawa
Citizen, mocked the idea that the United States
could learn from Canada’s example when it comes
to racial harmony. To illustrate his point, he
compared the conditions of the African-American
community to Canada’s First Nations. If you
judge a society by how it treats its most
disadvantaged, Glavin found us wanting. Consider
the accompanying table. By almost every
measurable indicator, the Aboriginal population
in Canada is treated worse and lives with more
hardship than the African-American population.
All these facts tell us one thing: Canada has a
race problem, too.
How are we not choking on these numbers? For a
country so self-satisfied with its image of
progressive tolerance, how is this not a
national crisis? Why are governments not falling
on this issue?
Possibly it is because our Fergusons are hidden
deep in the bush, accessible only by chartered
float plane: 49 per cent of First Nations
members live on remote reserves. Those who do
live in urban centres are mostly confined to a
few cities in the Prairies. Fewer than 40,000
live in Toronto, not even one per cent of the
total population of the Greater Toronto Area.
Our racial problems are literally over the
horizon, out of sight and out of mind.
Or it could be because we simply do not see the
forest for trees. We are distracted by the
stories of corrupt band councils, or flooded
reserves, or another missing Aboriginal woman.
Some of us wring our hands, and a handful of
activists protest. There are a couple of unread
op-eds, and maybe a Twitter hashtag will skip
around for a few days. But nothing changes. Yes,
we admit there is a governance problem on the
reserves. We might agree that “something” should
be done about the missing and murdered women. In
Ottawa a few policy wonks write fretful memos on
land claims and pipelines. But collectively, we
don’t say it out loud: “Canada has a race
If we don’t have a race problem then what do we
blame? Our justice system, unable to even
convene Aboriginal juries? Band administrators,
like those in Attawapiskat, who defraud their
own people? Our health care system that fails to
provide Aboriginal communities with health
outcomes on par with El Salvador? Politicians
too craven to admit the reserve system has
failed? Elders like Chief Ava Hill, cynically
willing to let a child die this week from
treatable cancer in order to promote Aboriginal
rights? Aboriginal people themselves for not
throwing out the leaders who serve them so
poorly? Police forces too timid to grasp the
nettle and confront unbridled criminality like
the organized drug-smuggling gangs in Akwesasne?
Federal bureaucrats for constructing a
$7-billion welfare system that doesn’t work? The
school system for only graduating 42 per cent of
reserve students? Aboriginal men, who have
pushed their community’s murder rate past
Somalia’s? The media for not sufﬁciently or
persistently reporting on these facts?
Or: us? For not paying attention. For believing
our own hype about inclusion. For looking down
our noses at America and ignorantly thinking,
“That would never happen here.” For not
acknowledging Canada has a race problem.
We do and it is bad. And it is not just with the
Aboriginal peoples. For new immigrants and the
black community the numbers are not as stark,
but they tell a depressingly similar story.
If we want to fix this, the first step is to
admit something is wrong. Start by saying it to
yourself, but say it out loud: “Canada has a