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Racism in Canada: Words to tell wrongs

Racism in Canada: Words to tell wrongs

Racism in Canada: Words to tell wrongs

Photo: RCI


(This article was first published in 2021)

Canada is usually referred to as a country of immigration, a country open to difference, a country that embraces multiculturalism. But more and more voices are rising to denounce ordinary or systemic racism and racist incidents, some of them tragic.

Canada is usually referred to as a country of immigration, a country open to difference, a country that embraces multiculturalism. But more and more voices are rising to denounce ordinary or systemic racism and racist incidents, some of them tragic.

We therefore wanted to make the victims of racism heard, to give voice to the words that tell the wrongs.

This dossier brings together a few testimonies from victims of racism in Canada. Testimonials that vividly demonstrate the tragic experiences that can be experienced by those whose skin is not white or whose name comes from ‘elsewhere’, whether they are immigrants or born in Canada.

A black woman of color looking up.

Pamphinette Buisa

Photo: Radio-Canada

Pamphinette Buisa

Victoria, British Columbia

Pamphinette Buisa represents Canadian rugby internationally and at the Olympic Games. Involved in the fight against racism since the tragic death of George Floyd in the United States, the player of Congolese origins has participated in numerous demonstrations and actions in British Columbia. She also tries to use her influence as an athlete to give a voice to those who have been left out. She agreed to share her experience with racism with Radio Canada International:

‘The very, very first time, I was really young, I was in kindergarten. And, you know, when you’re in kindergarten, you’re pretty young and you don’t really have a strong concept of what race or racism really is. You’re just a kid.

We were playing at the playground, and I remember when we were sitting there and there was a little kid, a little white child who was like Why are you black? And then I was like I don’t know.

And then, all of a sudden, she said the N-word. And she was like My mom says this and then said it. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew that it hurt.

As I was growing up, not necessarily understanding what these words that had been described and put on me meant, but seeing how I felt, I think it was quite difficult to understand, to get my head around the weight of these words.

That wasn’t necessarily something I understood, but it was something historically that had been used to weaponize, destroy and damage a lot of people that look like me.

And so for myself, a lot of this concept of race is something that I’ve always been hyper aware of, especially when I was young, moving in different spaces, especially if it was a predominantly white space. At that time, I realized that I was different. I went back home and I was like Mom, this kid called me the N-word. But my parents didn’t seem surprised. They knew.

Then, I remember having a conversation [with my parents], I believe at the age of seven. I remember them telling me: This will be something that you will notice. You’re going to have to work hard. And then things like You can’t be running around all the time because they’re going to see you more than they’re going to see your friends running around. So you’ll be the one to get in trouble, not your friends.

And that was the realization that there is some sort of a double standard. Once again, I didn’t even know where it came from, but it was now the reality that I had to deal with simply because of the colour of my skin.

And, on top of that, being a kid that is a little bit more agitated, being a kid that’s a lot more energetic, I realized that was something now that I had to face and deal with disproportionately from my white counterparts.

With my privilege [as an athlete], the opportunities to travel, to compete at a world stage definitely allows for more opportunities to share the message, allow communication to happen and to hold different things accountable.

It was important for me to better understand the complexities of what it also means to represent Canada. I think, oftentimes, I would move and operate and just kind of had a blind eye because I wasn’t in certain spaces.

The more I was involved in the community just seeing, especially in Victoria, that there are significant issues with how we treat one another, the more I understood what it actually means to represent Canada within the lens of someone that is a citizen of these lands but, also, doesn’t have clean drinking water, for example.

So that is something that I’ve been really trying to push in every space, not just the sporting one: How can we have more conversations where I am not taking up space, but I’m amplifying and uplifting the ones that are around me and aren’t in these spaces?

Vanessa, a woman of color pose with her hand toward her head.

"It’s sad to see that despite the coexistence of several cultures in Quebec, there is still racism at different levels and a certain compliance and acceptance of the situation … it’s depressing", said García.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Vanessa García

Montreal, Quebec

Vanessa Garcia is part of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens since 2006. She has worked her way up through all levels of this prestigious dance company, from corps de ballet to principal dancer. Today, Vanessa is also one of the choreographers of Les Grands Ballets. She was born in Spain and graduated from the Real Conservatorio Profesional de Danza de Madrid.

‘I have just publicly reported a troll who attacked me on social media recently and when I tried to report the account to the platform, they told me they couldn’t do anything about it because the account didn’t infringe the rules? I was stunned by how wrong that was.

It was shocking and at the same time, not so much. I was outraged that in this day and age there are people with that kind of mentality and questionable moral values, it’s quite disappointing.

But at the same time, I wasn’t surprised because this is not the first time I have been a victim of racist insults or discriminatory acts, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time either, unfortunately.

Vanessa Garcia nakaangat ang kanang paa habang nakahawak sa konkretong dingding sa likod ang kanyang mga kamay.Enlarge image (new window)

Vanessa Garcia is part of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens since 2006.

Photo: Radio-Canada

I have another example from the past. It was in the opinion section of a major Montréal daily newspaper back in January 2017.

The author of the text wrote that in order to play a leading role, I had to turn my hair blonde, lighten my skin and that I had everything of a white woman.

After many discussions and difficulties with the newspaper and the people responsible for the publication of these opinion articles, I finally obtained a correction…

But it is something traumatic that has followed me over the years, like having a black cloud hanging over my head.

I have never heard of a black man being accused of whiteface.

Wrongly so! The [author] was trying to denounce a false act of racism when the only racist in the story was him.

This is a clear example of what it is like to be perceived as different from the stated norm, as a weird thing, constantly being judged and used as an object of debate.

I don’t know how I do it, but I always find myself in the eye of the storm, being the object of cultural and racial controversies … even if I have nothing to do with the debate… I hate it!

These events definitely have some kind of impact on my work, the nature of which requires a noticeable presence in the public sphere and on social media. It is very frustrating to be exposed to criticism and sometimes insults, not in order to question my abilities and skills as a professional artist, but rather to judge me on the basis of my physical appearance or my cultural background.

It is frustrating to constantly have to defend and justify myself simply because I am dark-skinned. Many people choose to judge you and alienate you before giving you a chance … that’s the unfortunate truth.

Most white people don’t have to live in constant fear of being assaulted or fight every day for the right to live a normal life in peace.

It’s sad to see that despite the coexistence of several cultures in Quebec, there is still racism at different levels and a certain compliance and acceptance of the situation … it’s depressing.

But at the same time, I know that in other parts of the world, the level of racism, violence and discrimination is even worse, so I thank God that at least here, I am not afraid of being killed just for going out on the street to buy bread or going to work.

Yan-Maverick Quitich est originaire de la communauté atikamekw de Manawan.

Yan-Maverick Quitich is from the Atikamekw community of Manawan.

Photo: Fournie par Yan-Maverick Quitich

Yan-Maverick Quitich

La Tuque, Quebec

‘I am proud to be an Atikamekw from Manawan. A small leader who expresses himself with care, despite the loss of his mother tongue.’

These words full of meaning had lost their meaning for Yan-Maverick Quitich when the young Indigenous man was subjected to racism two years ago. On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, he testifies.

On September 29, 2020, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) tabled its plan to fight racism and discrimination against Indigenous people. Twenty-four hours earlier, Atikamekw Joyce Echaquan died in troubling circumstances at the Joliette Hospital.

The last words she heard were degrading and racist. The filing of the plan was not the result of this death. It had been planned for a long time to remind us that after 400 years of cohabitation, it was time to ‘live better together’.

This is also what the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reminds us every year. It is also what 16-year-old Yan-Maverick Quitich wishes for.

Yan-Maverick was born in an Indigenous community and grew up in a caring family and community. He was still very young when his family moved to La Tuque, in the Mauricie region. Nearly a quarter of the residents of this city of about 11,000 people are Indigenous. Integration was easy. In class, Indigenous and non-Indigenous children formed friendships without any problems.

‘Those were my best years in elementary school,’ he recalls. ‘I made a lot of white friends. ’

The K-word

Yan-Maverick loves field hockey. As a teenager he played recreationally in the Bantam B division. The players were all 13–14 years old. During a game against a team from Trois-Rivières, about 160 km from his home, he suddenly learned what the word racism meant.

He was first insulted by a field hockey coach from the opposing team. ‘Your fucking kawish won’t let go of my player! “Then by parents and youth.

Kawish, the word was introduced. Its origin is unclear, but what it implies is particularly pejorative. It is equivalent to being called a savage.

‘I didn’t expect that,’ says Yan-Maverick, who was not prepared for such an insult. His world suddenly collapsed, as did his certainties. In the days and weeks that followed, he was sad and unmotivated. ‘I started to not want to play field hockey anymore, to deny my Indigenous identity. ’

A trip to the woods with his mother to revitalize himself and talk helped. ‘I developed a thick skin thanks to my mother. ’

And he learned to defend himself: ‘If I feel attacked, I answer with the right words and not with my fists.’

The right words

‘Somewhere in our history, we redskins, we kawish. Atikamekw is my birth name, beyond the forests that surround us. ’

This excerpt from a slam by Yan-Maverick resonated last December during a fundraising show organized in tribute to Joyce Echaquan.

‘My text tells what we have been going through since the first day the white men arrived,’ he explains. ‘In the beginning we all lived in harmony, we were all friends; now, I don’t know what changed, [but] that’s how racism arrived. ’

He wrote L’identité last summer, during a musical week organized by the Lanaudière Native Friendship Centre.

That same summer, he made a name for himself at a demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We saw him again at the Candlelight Tribute for Joyce Echaquan in October. He was always there ‘for my Indigenous brothers and sisters’, he says.

Yan-Maverick agreed to deliver his message loud and clear in front of thousands of people in the hopes of making a difference and showing that an Indigenous person can speak out.

The experience has since been repeated. ‘Some people have invited me to do other shows. I read them my text and everyone was moved. ’

‘I will testify for you, I will tell everything in detail to bring about justice,’ Yan-Maverick said in his slam.

So, Yan-Maverick went back to writing. He is currently working on L’identité – partie 2, ‘I tell the story of how to counteract racism,’ he explains. ‘To never let it get to you and always talk about it to people you trust or to challenge it, but with the right words. ’

The origins of the word ‘kawish’

No one knows the exact origins of the word. The term is particularly used against First Nations in Mauricie and Saguenay.

During a debate in the House of Commons in Ottawa on November 26, 2018, regarding Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for violent offences against Aboriginal women), Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre, Robert Falcon-Ouellette, suggested this hypothesis: ‘an elderly person from Quebec City explained to me the origin of the derogatory term kawish, which is sometimes used in Quebec City to refer to Indigenous people. In fact, the root of the word is awas, which means ‘far away’ in Cree. According to the elderly, the term means ‘to push someone away’ and stems from the sexual advances that non-Indigenous men often make to Indigenous women’.

Other Indigenous people believe that the term was used during the Second World War. It is thought to be a contraction of the words Canadian and Jewish, to reflect the treatment of Indigenous people at that time.

Nakatayo si Li Xixi suot ang sunglass habang makikita sa likod ang isang lawa at bundok.

Li Xixi, director of the Chinese family service of Greater Montréal.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Li Xixi

Montreal, Quebec

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, incidents of discrimination against Chinese and Asians have increased significantly around the world. The city of Montréal in Quebec is no exception.

Li Xixi is director of the Chinese family service of Greater Montréal. In an interview with Radio Canada International, she recounts some of the racism she has experienced personally, but also heard from members of the organization:

‘In April 2020, I accepted an interview with the newspaper La Presse. I talked about some of the particular difficulties faced by the Chinese community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Isang edipisyo sa kalsada ng Chinatown sa Montreal.

Chinatown, Montreal.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Due to language barriers and containment measures, some sick elderly people as well as newcomers didn’t know how to communicate with medical staff and how to get to the hospital, for example. Some people have even called the Chinese service centre in tears begging for help.

Following the publication of this article, I immediately received a hateful email. It was the first time in my life that I received such a message.

In his email, the author directly attacked the Chinese community by writing: The virus came from China. You are in Quebec, not in Communist China. You should learn French.

After that, I posted a text on Facebook that sparked a series of discussions.

I also handed the email in question to the police.

In addition to this email, various incidents of discrimination experienced by members of the Chinese family service came to my attention.

At the end of March 2020, just before the lockdown, in Montréal malls, when Chinese people entered the food markets, they could hear others around them saying, The virus is coming, and then see everyone get up and leave.

At the strawberry farms, when they saw Chinese people, some people would simply say, The virus is here.

At school, some Chinese children are also discriminated against by children of other backgrounds. You can hear children say things like, I can’t be friends with you anymore and I can’t sit with you anymore. .

Since the beginning of 2020, stone lion statues in Montréal’s Chinatown and Buddhist statues in temples have been repeatedly covered with malicious graffiti or damaged.

In the face of this discrimination, we call on the Chinese community to unite, to dare to speak out and to stand up. We also call on the Canadian government to take dedicated measures to resolve this problem.’

Mag-asawa nagpapakuha ng litrato sa harap ng isang istruktura sa Chinatown sa ùmontreal.

Montreal Chinatown.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Zhimei Zhang

Montreal, Quebec

By Zhimei Zhang, Author, Actress. Montreal, Quebec

I have been living in Canada for over 30 years. Personally, I have never been discriminated against because of my skin colour, gender or age, but I have heard and seen such incidents in the news.

Racial discrimination exists in every society in the world.

In contemporary Western societies, racial discrimination has become a very sensitive and even explosive issue.

I have seen and heard heinous incidents of racial discrimination. But I have also seen crimes committed under the banner of fighting racial discrimination.

For example, in the sensational Black Lives Matter movement, a number of criminals have joined the crowd of peaceful protesters to loot, set fires and seek personal gain. Therefore, we must avoid hasty generalizations and make a clear analysis of each situation involving this issue.

In my view, we must not tolerate any personal attacks, degrading or unequal treatment. But at the same time, we should not be overly concerned about certain words, looks or gestures.

For example, I live in an apartment building for seniors. Most of them are francophone and know little about China. Most of them have never been in contact with Chinese people. I am the only resident of Chinese origin there.

Sometimes I feel treated differently. Sometimes I sit alone. It’s because there are too many cultural differences between us and we can’t have a deep conversation. However, I made efforts to learn French, I tried to adapt, and now I have friends in the building.

As immigrants, we will always be faced with the dual issues of accepting our new country and being accepted.

We cannot accept others 100%, nor will we be accepted 100% by others. This is normal and it is not a question of who will transform whom. It is precisely because of these differences that Canada is a tolerant country that allows multiple cultures to coexist and shine together.

Eileen Lao nakatayo sa may pintuan.

"Finally, in all circumstances and from all perspectives, media coverage should remain neutral and factual", said Eileen Lao.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Eileen Lao

British Columbia

Eileen Lao, assistant to MLA Michael Lee for Langara, Vancouver and former director of public affairs for S.U.C.C.E.S.S., the largest immigrant social service agency in British Columbia.

About two years ago, we went to the United States to attend a family wedding and took a Greyhound bus to get there.

At the bus station, we were the only Asians.

The bus was late, so we went to the front desk to get information about the status of the service. Perhaps it was because many people had already asked the same question, but an African American staff member misbehaved with us. This person deliberately mimicked my accent while another staff member next to him started laughing loudly.

On another topic, in late January of this year, a couple from Vancouver travelled to a remote community in Yukon in order to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, i.e. before the vaccine was available to Vancouver residents.

To do this, they falsely claimed to be local workers and were able to get the vaccine at a mobile clinic. Their scheme was quickly discovered by the media.

Even before this shocking news was published in the mainstream press, an account on the Chinese social media ‘WeChat’ was already sharing the story with the catchy title ‘Chinese couple from Vancouver went to Yukon…’.

So, you see, I went through the Anglophone media to check each of the allegations appearing in the WeChat text, and I could not find any words suggesting or stating that the Vancouver couple was ethnically Chinese or of Chinese origin.

Shortly thereafter, the mainstream media revealed that the Vancouver couple was not Chinese and that the man was the President and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation! This revelation prompted the above-mentioned WeChat account to delete its unverified information.

The facts show that discrimination against Asians in Canada is not limited to Caucasians.

It can also come from other people of colour, and even from Asians themselves.

Finally, in all circumstances and from all perspectives, media coverage should remain neutral and factual.

Clelia Rodriguez gamit ang in-ear headset

"Racism will not be eradicated if we don’t find out who is feeding it, who is promoting it", said Rodríguez.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Clelia Rodríguez

Toronto, Ontario

When I came to Canada, the last thing I would have imagined was the way the police would treat us here. For me, that was a surprise. It was a wake-up call. We would always leave school as a group, as there were many new arrivals from El Salvador because of the war. That high school was full of newly arrived Salvadorans, like me. And obviously, collectively, because of all the trauma of the war that we hadn’t even processed psychologically, we tended to seek each other out.

I missed the Salvadoran accent, that black humour that characterizes us. Our humour is very peculiar. So I missed that. That need, that thirst, that sadness perhaps that I felt for not being in El Salvador … we had a tendency to form a group, and we would walk to our homes as a group. The times when we were stopped by the police just for walking in a group are countless, there were too many.

Then in the last year of high school, a Canadian girl who was working precisely on this kind of issue came to us. People today may not understand it, but at that time there were no protests like there are today. At that time it was not like that because we did not yet have our permanent residency. We were on a special refugee visa.

The young Canadian woman was collecting stories. She, with another colleague, came up with the idea of creating a poster in the subway to talk about racism. The poster featured about three Latinos, as in very typical Latinos, I think they exaggerated the look. She called for a rally. Nobody showed up. Obviously, I went because I was already pissed off. I think that’s the best description because when you get to that point, it goes beyond your safety. You reach a point where you think and say: ‘No, this needs taking a risk, this needs to be shut down’.

We developed a project with the police. Their representative arrived. At the time it was like the maximum that could be done: a poster in the Bloor-Yonge subway station. The Toronto Star newspaper did a story on this, and they still have it in their archives. It can be found online.

How can one understand what happened at that time, how can one understand the anger of people like me today? Don’t ask why one is angry. What someone has to do is a research paper on what we had to go through in high school here. Everything starts somewhere.

If one really wants to understand the context of racism here, it is very important that we realize that Canada has historically been a country that has been founded, that works, that operates on the basis of racism. One can no longer use the excuse of saying: ‘I didn’t know such things existed in Canada.’ Now you can even ask Alexa: Alexa, is there racism in Canada? I invite people to ask Alexa, Siri or Google, and see what they answer. If we can’t figure out how we contribute to the constant colonization that goes on in this country every day, then don’t talk to me about racism. It is necessary to carry out a dedicated work to ascertain where we are living. Who was here before us?

The year my daughter was born, in 1993, was the year they closed the last residential school in this country.

Racism will not be eradicated if we don’t find out who is feeding it, who is promoting it. It won’t be eradicated unless we are able to actually raise our voices in our day-to-day activities. It can be at a Starbucks, at the grocery store, any time we raise our voice and say, ‘No, not today.’ It is important to keep up this habit and teach it to the new generations.

Joni Ismael Velazquez regarde au ciel.

"I came to a ferme [farm] to work in the livestock industry, in the milk industry", said Velázquez.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

Joni Velázquez


My name is Joni Ismael Velázquez Gutiérrez. I am Mexican. I came to a ferme [farm] to work in the livestock industry, in the milk industry. There, I can say that I experienced a certain degree of racism and verbal abuse from my employer, because he insulted us, he always scolded us, even if we didn’t do the things ourselves, he always drew our attention with words that were a bit too harsh: ‘Câlisse, Mexican’, ‘Shitty Guatemalan’, ‘You’re not in Mexico, you’re not in Guatemala. You are in Canada.’ There was a time when he didn’t pay us for a month. We were eating rice with salt, me and my companion.

On one occasion, the only time he took me to buy (food in town), on the second month of the pandemic, he took me in the trunk of the car because, he told me, we couldn’t go three in the car. He was over speeding and in the snow. Sometimes I had to walk to cash my check so I could send it to my family, or to buy water, because the water we drank was rusty, it was red.

The facilities in the house were not ideal. The windows were broken. The floor was broken. The front door, when it snowed like now, the snow would get in. The heating was old-fashioned. We had to put wood in a stove to heat the house. It would then become filled with smoke, and when the firewood got wet because of the snow, we could not heat ourselves. So I think it was racism for treating us that way.

When I met him (the employer), he told me ‘I don’t want you to speak English’, because I told him that I spoke English. He said, ‘speak Spanish since I understand a little Spanish, or French’. I told him that I don’t speak French.

I had some friends that I met at the airport. They asked me about a month later: ‘How are you doing?’ I told them: ‘You know, I am not feeling well because sometimes I don’t have enough to eat, I don’t have enough to send money to my family, we are in the cold season, it is cold, we are invaded by rats, the house is broken, the work facilities are terrible, the animals are terrible, sick and injured.’

He told me: ‘I can put you in touch with someone who can help you.’ So they gave me the contact of the IWC [Immigrant Workers Centre] and they thank God, guided me, helped me and came directly to take me out, as if they had kidnapped me at seven o’clock at night and brought me to Montréal.

When I came to Canada, I arrived filled with excitement, with lots of hope. Just like all Latin people who come to work, because that’s why we come: we come to work. As I said, as long as they pay me, I work anywhere. I work twelve hours a day.

I worked seven days a week and I had the feeling that my pay did not arrive on time. It was neither on time nor complete, as sometimes it took a month to pay us. I am still in the fermes [farms]. I like the countryside, I am a rancher, you could say, I don’t have cattle but I consider myself that way because I like cattle.

Right now I am working on a buffalo farm. It is a new experience, it is very nice. The animals are more aggressive, but you have to know how to handle them and be successful in your work.

Personne de dos

For his testimony, Alf Bell preferred that his name be kept confidential.

Photo: iStock

Alf Bell

Toronto, Ontario

Alf Bell is a public relations specialist who lives in the Greater Toronto Area. He came to the Queen City in 2000 as a permanent resident. In this testimony, he chose to keep his name confidential. However, in accordance with our journalistic standards and practices, RCI certifies his identity.

‘One day I walked into a supermarket in Malton, a very diverse neighbourhood in Mississauga. In fact, I think it has the highest concentration of South Asians in Peel Region. I was carrying a sort of student bag, a kind of pouch, hanging from one of my shoulders, with almost nothing in it. I was hungry and was planning to buy some bananas and a yogurt. But when I went to the fruit section, I started to feel that someone was walking behind me in sync…

Well, I thought it was just a coincidence that this young white man, I would say of English-speaking background, stopped a few steps behind me when I did so … but when I went to the dairy area, I saw that he was still behind me. So I asked him why he was following me. A bit surprised, he told me he was working at the place and just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to put something in my bag and take it without paying, like shoplifting, you know!

I asked him why he was biassed, if it was because I looked like an immigrant, and he said no. He said it was because a lot of people who had stolen from that grocery store were using bags like the one I was carrying. I told him that, as far as I knew, it was not against the law to use bags wherever we want in Canada, and that was no reason for him to follow me and harass me.

I also said that I had seen people who didn’t look like immigrants like me in that same supermarket with bags and pouches and that no one was following them… I was not able to talk to the supervisor because I was in a hurry, I was going to miss a bus and I had to leave. In the end, I didn’t buy anything, of course!’

Nakatayo si Francesca habang nakalingo sa isang sulok kung saan makikita ang mga nyebe sa kanyang paligid.

Francisca Mandeya was born in Zimbabwe .

Photo: Radio-Canada

Francisca Mandeya

Iqaluit, Nunavut

Francisca Mandeya was born in Zimbabwe where she witnessed racism in her early years. She then moved to Canada’s Far North – to Iqaluit, Nunavut. There she experienced racism once again:

‘The first time I was called a nigger – and I say it in full, because even children six to eight years old call me that – I was shocked because coming from Africa, no one called me that name and believe me, it was not the last time.

It was shocking that the person that’s saying that to me is the same age as my child. That was the first one, on Thanksgiving Day.

I cried, I didn’t understand why they were aggressive with those words and why they followed me. I didn’t know what they were going to do to me.

So I posted on Facebook and I said, you know, I’m hearing all these words that don’t describe who I am. I am not even black, the dress that I’m wearing is what is black. So why is it insulting me like that? Why is it following me, intimidating me like that.

Une femmeEnlarge image (new window)

Francisca Mandeya.

Photo: Francisca Mandeya

And so I guess at the back of my mind in wanting to make it right that those are some of the experiences that made me want to make a change.

What I have done is to go to my community, reach out to people that don’t look like me here in the city of Iqaluit, in the quest to be accepted, in the quest to tell the world that I’m an equal human being, with equal human rights deserving equal treatment.

I’ve reached out to my community, people that don’t look like me, Pakistani, Inuit, Africans from Jamaica, Caucasians from wherever, we came together.

And I shared a story, the Rainbow story, a story of diversity which we called Canadaversity, and performed it here during Toonik Tyme [an annual celebration of Inuit traditions and return to spring] some three, four years ago.

And we had so much fun! We were locked in an embrace of love after the performance. It was no talking. Everyone felt the love. I didn’t have to know them for so long.

That is my commitment to contribute to society, to try and make life better for all of us.

I don’t claim to have it figured out. I’m still learning about myself. They hated me, the pain is still in me. But I can safely say that I have committed to reducing the darkness in me and to shine the light in me.

And that light is informed by unconditional love.

I am now building a movement of mothers, knowing that as mothers, the lessons we impart to our children have a bearing on life in this world, it can change the world.

So as mothers, you teach truth. No one on this Earth chose to be born the way they look.’

malapitan na larawan ni Mohammed Mahmoud.

Mohammed Mahmoud came to Canada with his family in the early 1990s.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Mohammed Mahmoud

Montreal, Quebec

Mohammed Mahmoud and his daughter Layal, residents of Montréal. Discrimination based on name and skin colour.

Having names such as ‘Mohammed’ or ‘Mahmoud’ may not make life easier in the West. The Syrian-Canadian we spoke to has both.

Mohammed Mahmoud came to Canada with his family in the early 1990s. The family chose to live in Montréal, Quebec’s largest city.

In 2011, Mahmoud applied for a position within the multinational company for which he was working and which is headquartered in Montréal.

The position he was seeking was that of Unit manager, of which Mahmoud was a member. It was assigned to a non-immigrant colleague of Mahmoud’s who had less experience than he did.

The following day, another of Mahmoud’s colleagues, his former manager who had hired him in the company, asked him if he intended to do something ‘to that effect’. Mahmoud replied, ‘To what effect? To the fact that you did not get to be the head of your work unit, his colleague replied. And why didn’t I get the job? Mahmoud asked him. Because of your name: Mohammed Mahmoud, replied his former director.

This event prompted Mahmoud to reflect on his future within the company. He finally decided to leave the company and work elsewhere.

Mahmoud adds that his daughter Layal [not her real name] also experienced discrimination in her new home society.

That was in 1993, the year following the family’s arrival to Montréal. The family had just moved to a working-class neighbourhood mainly populated by French-speaking Quebecers after living in a building near La Fontaine Park where half of the residents were immigrants.

The day after they moved in, Layal, who was seven years old at the time, headed down the street to play with the children. A woman standing on her balcony noticed her and shouted aloud, Go back to your country! There is no work for you here!

About a decade later, following the 9/11 attacks in the United States claimed by the jihadist organization al-Qaeda, a classmate told Layal, If I knew you were an Arab, I would have never sat next to you!

Layal, who was born in the West and doesn’t wear the hijab, has to this day endured what she describes as racist behaviour from some of her Quebec co-workers.

It is her swarthy complexion that indicates that she is an immigrant as well as her family name, Mahmoud, which exposes her to what she considers to be a’ micro-racism ‘that she faces within the Quebec society of which she is a part.

Le centre-ville d'Ottawa

Hassan resides in Ottawa, the federal capital of Canada.

Photo: iStock


Ottawa, Ontario

Racial profiling and discrimination on the basis of skin colour.

There are cars that cause trouble to their owners because of mechanical problems. There are also cars that are very reliable in terms of their mechanics, but cause another kind of trouble to their owners, especially if they are black.

Hassan (not his real name), of African origin, told us about the problems he had driving luxury cars.

Hassan has lived in Ottawa for a quarter of a century and owns a used car store. Prior to that, he lived in Montreal for about four years, but left the Quebec metropolis for the federal capital in search of better economic opportunities.

About 15 years ago, Hassan got into trouble with the police for driving a BMW. The police arrested him and asked him to show the papers proving that he was the owner of the car. He showed his papers and they let him go.

In the following months, police patrols arrested him on two other occasions for the same reason: he was asked to show his papers and those of the car.

When Hassan asked the police officers why he was stopped again to check his papers, they told him that it was ‘a routine check,’ ‘a random check’, or that ‘many BMWs have been stolen lately’, which required more checks on drivers of this German brand.

Hassan was convinced that getting stopped by the police three times in as many months while driving his BMW was more racial profiling than anything else. He went to a police station and voiced his displeasure at what had happened to him, but he heard the same justifications.

Hassan then sold his BMW in order to avoid what he saw as excessive police scrutiny.

Following this experience, Hassan was again arrested by police in a Lexus owned by a friend. The friend had tasked Hassan with selling the car for him.

Again, it was ‘a routine check’. When the officers checked all the papers and verified that Hassan was a used car salesman, they let him go.

As a result of this incident, Hassan decided to no longer drive luxury cars, except when necessary for his work. Even if he could afford them, he didn’t want to get into trouble with the police again.

Hassan also told us about another incident, also in Ottawa, which may well be considered racial discrimination.

He had a car accident with another vehicle about four years ago. The police arrived. The officer took a statement from the driver of the other car, a white woman, but not from Hassan.

When Hassan asked the officer why she did not take his statement along with hers, she replied that the statement of the driver of the other car was sufficient.

Three days later, Hassan was issued a ticket and fined over $400. The police accused him of running a red light, which would have caused the accident with the other driver.

Hassan denied committing the infraction and challenged it in municipal court.

He said that the judge charged the police officer for not taking his statement and only taking one party’s statement, and for giving him a larger fine than he should have received if he had actually run a red light. According to Hassan, the judge quashed the infraction and the fine.