michael-coteau

Bill 114 is in many respects a legislative formalization that enshrines work that began in February 2016. As opposed to introducing something new, it took existing anti-racism measures and formalized them so that future governments cannot as easily dismantle them. Therefore, in assessing the contents of Bill 114, the Anti-Racism Act, we need to look at recent developments on anti-racism in Ontario, most specifically the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate.

When an institution or set of institutions working together creates or maintains racial inequity, it is called systemic racism. The cause is often hidden institutional biases in policies, practices and processes that privilege or disadvantage people based on race.

This year the Ontario government has approved $4 million to develop an Indigenous-informed anti-racism strategy and other anti-racism programs. There was a request for bids for the Youth-Leading-Youth anti-racism strategy, which opened in May 2017. Once this program is developed, there will be a request for bids to deliver the program. The anticipated timeline for this bidding process is fall 2017.

The Anti-Racism Directorate was established in part as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Specifically, Call to Action 57 reads,

We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

Ontario has indicated that its strategy to tackle systemic racism is rooted in partnerships with racialized groups, and Chiefs of Ontario has been asked to participate in the development of Ontario’s anti-racism efforts, including the development of Bill 114.

Ontario Commitments:

Ontario announced the creation of the Anti-Racism Directorate in February 2016. Michael Coteau was appointed as the Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, a position that he still fills. The Directorate was created to address all kinds of racism in all of its forms, but had a specific focus on eliminating systemic racism against Indigenous peoples and racialized groups. Between July and December, the Anti-Racism Directorate hosted ten community meetings across Ontario to determine how to address racism in the province.

In March 2016, Ontario released its strategic plan to combat racism and to serve as a guide for the directorate. A Better Way Forward, Ontario’s 3 Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan is the framework the province of Ontario is using to eliminate systemic racism. The goal of this strategy is to insure that institutions delivering public programs, policies and services are free of systemic racism.

The following May, Ontario released The Journey Together, which built on the commitments to end systemic racism in the province. It specifically committed to an “Indigenous-Informed Anti-Racism Strategy.” In the commitment, the province stated,

“The strategy will support Indigenous-led approaches to engage youth in dialogue about racism, stereotypes and respectful engagement. In addition Ontario will develop an Indigenous public education and awareness campaign that will be aligned with the broader province-wide multi-year anti-racism public education and awareness strategy.”

The focal point of this initiative is it will be Indigenous-led and youth-focused.

Many of the recommendations of the Inquest into the deaths of Seven First Nations Youth in Thunder Bay (June 2016) also supported the development and mission of the directorate. Specifically, recommendation 127 put forward the need for Indigenous communities to take the lead in development of “an Indigenous-informed Anti-Racism public education and awareness campaign.” Secondly, in recommendation 139 the inquest supported recommendation 57 of the TRC Calls to Action, quoted above.

Anti Racism Directorate.JPG

On September 23, 2016, the Premier released the Mandate Letter for the Anti-Racism Directorate, which outlined both the basic principle and specific duties held by the directorate. The mandate as detailed in this letter is “to work to address racism in all its forms, with a focus on systemic racism, and ensure that everyone in Ontario has the opportunity to fulfill their potential and participate equally in society.” The specific measures to achieve this are to:

  • Develop a cross-government approach to combat systemic racism
  • Provide anti-racism leadership and expertise on systemic issues, working with Ontario Government, OHRC, and community and business organizations
  • Increase public education and awareness of racism

The strategy itself is rooted in four pillars, outlined in the following infographic provided by the Anti-Racism Directorate to Chiefs of Ontario.

Anti-Racism Act, 2017

The Anti-Racism Act itself was passed on June 1, 2017. Principally, it became the legislative basis for the already-in-existence Anti-Racism Directorate. By putting this directorate into law as opposed to policy, it became more secure and stable so that the directorate can pursue its long-term vision without fear of elimination or marginalization with government change.

The specific programs and strategies that were enshrined in the legislation included recognition of “A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan” as the province’s guiding strategy, and continued the operation of the directorate.

The Act also included significant reporting and review mechanisms. Most significantly is a review of the strategy at least every five years. This review would solicit views from both the public and appropriate Ministers, and would result in the strategy being either amended, replaced, or continued. As part of this review, consultation with Indigenous and other racialized communities was included in the legislation. The Minister can amend the strategy, but not the targets or indicators.

Full text of the Bill can be found here.