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The Senate

Motion to Strike a Special Committee on Systemic Racism--Debate Adjourned

June 22, 2020

Hon. Frances Lankin [ + ]

Pursuant to notice of June 16, 2020, moved:

That a Special Senate Committee on Systemic Racism be appointed to conduct a review of systemic racism in Canada;

That, without limiting its mandate, the committee be authorized: review the extent and scope of anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and systemic racism in federal institutions and agencies; review the federal government’s role in eliminating anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and systemic racism both within federal institutions and agencies and in Canadian society generally; and identify priorities and recommendations for government action to combat anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and systemic racism;

That the committee be composed of 12 members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and that 5 members constitute a quorum;

That the committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records; to hear witnesses; and to publish such papers and evidence from day to day as may be ordered by the committee;

That, notwithstanding any provision of the Rules or usual practices, and taking into account the exceptional circumstances of the current pandemic of COVID-19, the committee have the power to meet by videoconference or teleconference, if technically feasible for any purposes of:

1.the study authorized by this order; organization meeting pursuant to rule 12-13; or

3.electing a chair or deputy chair if there is a vacancy in either of those positions;

That both senators and witnesses be allowed to participate in meetings of this committee by videoconference or teleconference, with such meetings being considered for all purposes to be meetings of the committee in question, and senators taking part in such meetings being considered for all purposes to be present at the meeting;

That, for greater certainty, and without limiting the general authority granted by this order, when the committee meets by videoconference or teleconference:

1.members of the committee participating count towards quorum;

2.priority be given to ensuring that members of the committee are able to participate;

3.such meetings be considered to be occurring in the parliamentary precinct, irrespective of where participants may be; and

4.the committee be directed to approach in camera meetings with all necessary precaution, taking account of the risks to confidentiality inherent in such technologies;

That, when the committee meets by videoconference or teleconference, the provisions of rule 14-7(2) be applied so as to allow recording or broadcasting through any facilities arranged by the Clerk of the Senate, and, if a meeting being broadcast or recorded cannot be broadcast live, the committee be considered to have fulfilled the requirement that a meeting be public by making any available recording publicly available as soon as possible thereafter;

That there be a minimum of 72 hours’ notice for a meeting of the committee by videoconference or teleconference, subject to technical feasibility;

That, the committee be authorized to report from time to time, submit a comprehensive interim report no later than six months after its organization meeting, and submit its final report no later than six months after the tabling or presenting of the comprehensive interim report;

That the committee be permitted to deposit its reports with the Clerk of the Senate if the Senate is not then sitting, with the reports then being deemed to have been tabled or presented in the Senate; and

That the committee retain the powers necessary to publicize its findings for 60 days after submitting its final report.

She said: Honourable senators, I’d like to extend thanks to Senator McPhedran, who forewent speaking on an earlier motion in order to ensure we had time to get to this and I appreciate that very much.

As we meet today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples, I am honoured to move this motion to create a special committee to examine the years of limited action on anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and systemic racism against racialized peoples. My sincere thanks goes to the members of the African senators working group, with input from some Indigenous senators, for all the work that they have done to create these opportunities for the chamber to engage in these critically important issues at a pivotal time in our lives collectively here.

They have brought forward an emergency debate moved by Senator Moodie, a Committee of the Whole moved by Senator Mégie and this initiative from Senator Bernard on behalf of the group to create a special committee. The emergency debate that took place last Thursday was an opportunity for us to speak with and engage with each other about the tragic events that are taking place and to discuss what role the Senate can and must play in taking actions that can be part of the solutions.

The Committee of the Whole, which will take place Thursday, I understand, provides an opportunity for senators to question the ministers about the government’s actions or lack thereof and for the Senate to perform the role of holding the government to account.

The third initiative, this motion for a special committee, is a medium- to longer-term initiative. It is designed to provide an opportunity to examine why, after all of the reports and volumes of recommendations, so many of the recommendations have not been acted upon. The debate on this motion will span a much longer period of time and hopefully allow for many more senators to participate than have been able to attend during the COVID-related restricted numbers in our most recent sittings.

When Senator Bernard reached out to me and asked that I do this, I was hesitant, not because I don’t want to participate in this critical debate and not because I don’t want to put my views on the record. I do very much. But I did not want to leave the impression that I was in any way appropriating leadership of their work or their communities’ voices.

Senator Bernard assured me that discussions had taken place and asked me to carry the introduction of this motion. Senator Moodie echoed this assurance, as did Senator Woo. And so I do so today and it is truly my honour.

There is no question that anti-Indigenous racism exists. There is no question that anti-black racism exists. There is no question that racism against racialized people — Asian, Muslim and others — exists. There is no question, none at all, that systemic racism in our government institutions, our criminal justice system, our health care system, our education system, housing and more exists.

I have sent an email to all of you containing a document prepared by our office, which lists many of the reports over the last number of decades here in Canada that have examined anti-Indigenous racism, anti-black racism and systemic racism, and these are truly just a few of the studies from over many, many years in our Confederation.

I do not have the time available to read all the names of those inquiries into the record, but as I said, I have sent you all an email with that list for your reference. I will simply read the years of the many reports in the last few decades only, so that the listening public gets a sense of how extensive the studies have been.

In dealing, first of all, with Indigenous racism and reports and inquiries looking at that matter, in 1996 there were two reports, and subsequent reports in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015. In 2017, there were two reports. In 2019, there were two reports.

In just my own province of Ontario, reports that have a special focus on racial profiling were published in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1985 and 1989. In 1992, there were five different studies. In 1995, there were two. There was one in 2002. In 2003, there were two studies.

In reports that specifically were looking at anti-black racism, there were two in 2016. In 2017, there were four separate reports. There was one in 2018, two in 2019 and two in 2020.

With respect to broader and more systemic racism, there have been many, many reports over the years as well. I will only highlight a couple that are relevant to the Parliamentary Precinct here and those people who engaged in it. In 2009, a Senate standing committee published a report called In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. In 2018, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a report called Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination Including Islamophobia. And in 2020, this year, Senator Vernon White, Senator Percy Downe and I had the opportunity to participate in the writing of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians report for 2019, which was filed in the House of Commons and the Senate earlier this year. One of the chapters is a baseline study of diversity and inclusion and numbers and statistics and metrics and programs in the security and intelligence community of departments; so Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, to name just a few. It’s notable because it finds some problems in the consistency in the collection of data, consistency in the monitoring, consistency within departments and across departments.

I commend that study to you for your reading. It is the first time a baseline study of this nature has been done with respect to these particular security and intelligence departments. We know that many of those departments have had problems, including lawsuits and including notable cases. So again I commend that to you for your reading.

The purpose of this motion is not to study the question of the existence of racism yet again. There is no question. The purpose of this motion is to create a committee that can examine the volumes of reports and recommendations, and get at the reasons so many have never been followed through with. What is the problem? What are the barriers?

The purpose of this committee is to build upon the voices demanding immediate change and to reignite the fire of action. People are so very tired of inaction. We are part of the Parliament of Canada, and it is our job to push, prod and provoke action from the highest political leadership of our country.

This committee is an opportunity to create a united Senate voice, in solidarity with Indigenous, black and racialized voices calling for real change now.

As cautioned by our colleague Senator McCallum, we must not conflate the issues at the roots of racism against different groups of people. We must understand what their experiences share in common and what the differences are. The committee must sift through the volumes of reports and multiple hundreds of recommendations, and hold all of us to account.

As I have watched with all of you the horrors of treatment and killings of black, Indigenous and Muslim Canadians and Americans, I have been thinking a lot about the people from my life. I have been thinking of Dudley Laws, and his leadership of the Black Action Defense Committee. His voice came to prominence when he called on police to account for a number of shootings of young black men in Toronto in the 1980s. Dudley passed away from cancer in 2011, but his words and actions remain strong within my head and within my heart.

I have been thinking about Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, the first black woman dean of law appointed to a Canadian university, in 1996, and subsequently the first black woman appointed to the Court of Quebec, in 1999. Prior to this, in the early 1990s, she became the Employment Equity Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, when that position was established. Hers was a strong voice speaking truth to power who helped us establish the Anti-Racism Secretariat and actions, only to see all of her efforts shredded with the change in governments; the Employment Equity Act repealed, the Anti-Racism Secretariat dismantled.

I have been thinking about the Youth Challenge Fund, a $50 million-plus partnership between the Ontario government and the United Way of Toronto to bring resources for black youth programming to under-served neighbourhoods in Toronto, following the 2005 “Summer of the Gun.” I have been thinking of the secretariat that supported the YCF, staffed with black community leaders and black youth, and the board to which we recruited “Pinball” Clemons as the chair, and their meaningful efforts to help shape a different future for so many black youth. There was such hope.

Closer to home, I have been thinking of my daughter-in-law, Lily Couchie, a member of the Anishinaabe Nipissing First Nation, which is near to my home. Lily works at the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, leading programs and support of elder Indigenous peoples from across the north of our province. Every day, she comes face to face with people suffering the painful legacy of residential school and the horribly damaging loss of culture, language, family and lands. I think of what she suffered herself from the daily experience of racism growing up. I desperately hope it will be different for my Indigenous great-granddaughter. And I suspect it will. Why? Because she has fair skin and she has blonde hair.

Unless we accomplish the changes so urgently needed, it will be tragically no different for her cousins, though. I think about Rose Désilets, who is part of our Senate office team. Her father was from the Dokis First Nation, also close to the village where I live. My village carries Rose’s dad’s family name of Restoule. Her mother was from Mattagami First Nation, near Gogama. When Rose was born, CAS stole her from her mother’s arms in the hospital. Rose is a child of the Sixties Scoop. Rose grew up in a loving foster home and was adopted by her foster parents, but that didn’t protect her from the long and insidious reach of discrimination. She came home from school one day at the age of about five. Her adoptive mother found her scouring her skin with an eraser. Rose was crying to her mom that she needed to have a bath. Her mother asked why. Rose, from the depths of pain of a child who didn’t yet know what the word racism meant, sobbed, “Because the kids at school say I am dirty, Mom.”

It wasn’t until her mid-teens that she learned she was Indigenous. It wasn’t until her late teens, early 20s, that she began to learn about her culture and customs when she worked at the Native Friendship Centre in Val-d’Or. So much time, so many traditions, and the love of family stolen from her and so many others.

As I have been thinking of many other people, I have also been thinking of all the opportunities over the years to make the changes needed to eradicate the scourge of racism. I have been thinking about how we who are white — I point to myself — have failed our brothers and sisters of colour. In these later years of my working life, I think about how I will bring the relative privileges that have shaped my life — because of the colour of my skin — to bear on being part of the solutions. I think about how I can and will follow the leadership of my Indigenous, black, Asian and Muslim colleagues in the Senate of Canada, and the voices of so many united in protest in the streets of Canada, the US of A, and around the world. I am an ally, and I commit to those colleagues, and to the young people who are struggling to build a different future, that I can be counted on to follow your leadership, to stand by your side and to raise my voice with yours.

I’m thinking of one more person, a young man I met in Toronto when I was with United Way. His name was Junior. He fled a wartorn part of the Congo as a child after witnessing the slaughter of his family. When I met him, he was so desperately happy and grateful to be here in this country, to be a Canadian and to have largely grown up here, with the opportunity to dream of a future, he told me. He told me his father always told him to dream, and to dream big dreams, for small ones have no magic.

Colleagues, can we, together, bring every effort to bear, every tool we have, including this committee, every opportunity we can seize, to contribute to the truly big dreams that we are hearing from hundreds of thousands of young people around the world today? In my opinion, we owe them no less. Thank you very much.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of the motion to strike a special committee on systemic racism. I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, Senator Bernard for encouraging us to undertake this important initiative, and Senator Lankin for introducing the motion on her behalf. I also thank every one of you who spoke on the matter of racism this last week. Your words were deeply impactful and inspired me to share my voice this evening.

When we are vulnerable, when we can share part of our narratives, that is when we can do great work together. Every story, every experience was an eye-opener. As I listened though, I also felt frustration. The debate was important and educational, but I think we can all agree we need to see action. This special committee will be one step toward that.

There is no question that systemic racism exists in Canada, in our economy, in our prisons, in our health care, in our schools and learning institutions. We know this, but why are we still here?

As has happened all too often, we have had a light shone on us. We are again uncomfortable with what we see. But we need to feel uncomfortable. As a white Canadian, I have to admit I am somewhat uncomfortable speaking today. Like many of us who have never had to worry about the colour of our skin, I wonder what it is that I can add to the national discussion and action we must have.

I cannot demonstrate the pain felt by racialized Canadians. In my past, I have had glimpses of what it feels like to be invisible, to be targeted, to understand discrimination as it relates to my gender, but not race. I don’t know what that deeply feels like.

When I first heard the term “white privilege,” I also felt uncomfortable. It was hard for me to accept that by virtue of my race, I had advantages over others where I hadn’t seen them before.

Like all of you, we know the hours we’ve put in to get where we need to go. We know we have sacrificed. We know the bumps in the road we have encountered and even some tragedies along the way.

“White privilege” is a term that is difficult to hear. It is upsetting to be racialized, to be identified as “white” because, quite frankly, I’m not used to it. Therein lies some of the privilege — to be completely unfamiliar with being viewed through the lens of racialization or dealing with the burdens that come with it.

It is that realization — accepting that white privilege exists and coming to terms with it. That is why these conversations are so important, and why we all need to keep them going and strong.

Moreover, it was hard for me to accept that by virtue of who I am, by what I look like, I have likely unwittingly contributed to a system that is inherently tilted against my friends and colleagues.

This was even harder to accept as a former education superintendent, where we did our best to implement policies to combat conscious and unconscious racial bias. We hired equity and inclusion officers that advocated for the needs of black, Indigenous and Asian students. We worked with authors and book publishers to ensure these issues were included in the materials used by our young students. We worked closely with all levels of community services to serve these students the best we knew how.

But while these and other approaches are needed and useful, it’s clear to me now that we were merely treating the symptoms of an underlying system that was and is still broken.

I have been called a racist, and it was both a deeply troubling and an incredibly enlightening experience.

It came after years of working with high school students, their families, community partners, leading restorative justice circles to deal with conflict, racism, drugs and violent incidents. I thought I had seen most of it.

I became a principal of an elementary school, and in the first month, after witnessing a fight resulting in injuries between some Grade 3 boys, I met their parents. As I met with the third student and his father, and before I could start the conversation, the father picked up his son, looked me straight into the eye and said, “This fight never happened. You are a racist.” He removed his son and walked out.

That was a shocking and very informing moment for me. “Not me,” I thought, “I’m not racist.” In time, I got to know this family well. I came to realize the frustration they felt, dealing day in and day out with varying degrees of systemic racism.

As a principal of their school, I was representing this system. For so long I was keeping a lookout for overt racist acts, but those problems run so much deeper than that, and they still do today. If you want to be an ally and if you want to confront systemic racism, simply not being a racist is not good enough.

If we go about our work knowing these things, knowing that the deck is stacked against such a large swath of Canadians, but do nothing to try to change that, we are complicit in its perpetuation.

This and other experiences are part of my narrative. They have taught me many things, including the importance of empathy, listening while moving to common ground and, most importantly, that we must meet people where they are.

I learned through working with our Indigenous populations and consulting with them, that supporting and understanding must be done in their communities — on their land, in their homes, where we experience their lives and traditions — before we can try to improve what we think is change. This proposed special committee can be a vehicle for that, as we set out to create that change.

Colleagues, when I came to this chamber, it was with a few, admittedly broad, goals in mind: to help make our country better, healthier, more hopeful and more connected.

To do that, we have to confront the reality that Canada has an urgent racist problem, and we need to put in the work to begin to dismantle a system that has seen racialized Canadians be very disadvantaged. This will not happen overnight, of course. It will take constant vigilance to see that any successes from this project remain.

However, it cannot go one more generation. It just cannot. We have to start doing the work now and seize this moment, this momentum, to put in motion reforms that won’t peter out when the next event happens, and when society gets distracted by something else.

We need to look at changing fundamental structures, seeing if undertakings, like a universal basic income, can somehow contribute to levelling things, even slightly.

We need to look at revisiting mandatory minimum penalties or criminal record reform as potential avenues of change.

We need to listen to the work of groups in this chamber, like the Parliamentary Black Caucus and the Indigenous senators working group. We need to strike this special committee to keep the conversation and action moving.

The worst result of all this is if we take our eye off the ball for one second, for one day, and if we come to this chamber sometime down the road to deliver platitudes and words when tragedy yet again shines a light on systemic racism in this country. This is the way to do our longer-term work.

In hearing many of you speak these last few days, I trust and deeply hope this cannot and will not be the case. I look forward to giving everything I have to putting in the work needed, and it’s in the work with all of you to help create the change that is needed. Thank you, meegwetch.

Hon. Kim Pate [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise to speak in support of Motion No. 54, introduced by Senator Bernard and Senator Lankin and supported by our black and Indigenous colleagues and other racialized members of this and the other place, to appoint a special committee of the Senate to conduct a review of systemic racism in Canada.

These past weeks, with many in the streets risking their health and well-being to demand change, with too many others living and dying as a result of the health and racial and economic inequalities that COVID-19 has laid bare, we joined together in this place to commit to meaningful, concrete action, to do our part to create an anti-racist Canada.

As Senator Bernard and Senator Lankin and the members of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, and so many others of you have made glaringly clear, we do not need more recommendations that will sit unimplemented in the fine print of our Senate Hansard while injustices persist. We have the benefit of countless reports, as Senator Lankin pointed out to us: studies, commissions, inquiries and recommendations by exemplary experts, phenomenal thinkers and inspirational leaders, calling out systemic racism and calling on us to do better.

As Senator Francis so powerfully reminded us this week, we have to be allies. To be allies, we must do the work of learning, gaining understanding and taking action, no matter how uncomfortable and daunting, because failing to act is no longer an option.

This special committee will have the challenging but very necessary task of building on the comprehensive body of knowledge that is already available to us, by developing a plan for the implementation of long overdue federal government measures, and for the ongoing oversight of this implementation by the Senate. The job is, in short, to blaze a trail for senators to work together toward equality.

Where do we start?

How about, for example, the implementation of the decarceration call of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? We must eliminate the mass incarceration of racialized groups, one of the many travesties in the ongoing legacy of colonialism and racist policies in Canada. Last week’s statement from the Parliamentary Black Caucus likewise calls on us to address the overrepresentation of black and Indigenous peoples in prisons.

Between 1980 and 2020, the proportion of Indigenous peoples in federal prisons increased from 10 to 30%. Meaningful action is imperative.

One suggestion is that we reduce the representation of those who are racialized in federal prisons by 5% per year. This would mean working to ensure each year that at least 15 Indigenous women, 177 Indigenous men and 63 black prisoners be released. Using conservative estimates, such a measure would save approximately $10 million per year. That is $10 million that could instead be invested in health, including mental health, trauma-informed and addition services, housing, education and other vital supports for those released, as well as many other members of the community, especially those who are most marginalized.

Honourable senators, prisoners are among those most vulnerable in this pandemic. Despite international calls for depopulating prisons, and in the face of advice from prison-based medical professionals to release as many people from the prisons as possible, Canada not only neglected to do so, but Correctional Service Canada locked down prisons and relegated most prisoners to conditions of isolation and confinement that have been deemed unlawful by Canadian and international law.

This time last year, we were debating whether to accept the government’s rejection of our amendments to Bill C-83 regarding solitary confinement. The Senate amendments would have provided important oversight and accountability mechanisms as well as greater impetus for, and expansion of the use of, available release options to help decease the numbers of Indigenous and black prisoners, as well as those with mental health issues. Particularly in this moment, I trust we will not repeat mistakes of the past.

Consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and social determinants of health, we must reverse and remedy the trends that have created this national shame: our racism, our inadequate health services, our lack of affordable housing and the abuse of invasive and disruptive state powers that we have provided to those who police or otherwise control the lives of those who are most marginalized, from social services to child welfare and health providers, to police and prison authorities. These are all our problems, and yet most of us here in this place do not bear the burden of the consequences of our collective inaction.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to allow trial judges to depart from mandatory minimum penalties and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences. This call was echoed by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and reiterated by the Parliamentary Black Caucus last week.

Department of Justice research in 2018 and the final report of the expert panel on sentencing reform recommended the Minister of Justice engage in broad-based sentencing reforms, including the type of exemption clause that Bill S-208 introduces. The Supreme Court has also recommended such steps in light of the growing number of mandatory minimum penalties that have been found unconstitutional.

Mandatory minimum penalties prohibit judges from considering the context in which a crime has occurred. The result is that increasing numbers of the most marginalized people are imprisoned without any examination of the role of racism, sexism, poverty, intergenerational trauma and abuse in the circumstances that give rise to their behaviour or the harm done. Mandatory minimum penalties ignore the role of historical and systemic bias in the mass incarceration of Indigenous and black peoples.

Honourable colleagues, Bill S-208 would allow judges to examine such circumstances when sentencing. I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that we turn this bill into law.

Another Call for Justice from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was that the federal government review and reform the law with respect to sexualized and intimate partner violence by utilizing and incorporating the perspectives of feminists and Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

In 2018, the federal government failed to do this when they rejected the Senate amendments to Bill C-51. These amendments aimed to protect victims of sexual assault from judges who misunderstand the true meaning of capacity to consent, as they often do. Such amendments would have gone a long way to addressing this issue. The government committed to doing more. Now is the time for them to adopt the changes called for by women advocates and women survivors of misogynist violence.

The Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also underscored the grave shortcomings laid bare during this pandemic of current health, social and economic safety nets in this country and called for the establishment of a guaranteed annual livable income. Such an initiative could be one vital component of a more comprehensive strategy to address many of the issues highlighted in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report.

Honourable senators, a guaranteed livable income could also help to address one of the Calls to Action that was put forth by the Parliamentary Black Caucus regarding economic measures to assist businesses owned and operated by black Canadians. A guaranteed livable income could help provide people the resources and safety net needed to innovate and launch new enterprises. Resources are also needed for those who are struggling without access to paid employment as well as those who are in insecure work situations.

We must also listen to Black Lives Matter organizers as they call for the end to racist, anti-refugee, anti-black, Islamophobic exclusion of migrants and refugees and immigration detention, as well as the demilitarization of police and allocation of resources to community and community-based and directed social, economic, health and educational supports and the provision of immigration support and security for migrant workers.

Honourable colleagues, we must also look inwards and address the racism and sexism that runs rampant in this institution. For too long, the Senate has played a role in approving legislation that has had detrimental impacts on the lives of Indigenous and black peoples in Canada.

We have a responsibility to do right by Canadians, which includes an obligation to adopt a feminist and critical race lens when studying and creating legislation. We must take our own responsibility when we have failed to do so in the past and commit to no longer passing bills that are likely to disproportionately and negatively target the health, safety and well-being of black and Indigenous peoples.

For instance, we could pass Bill S-214 to remedy the failures of Bill C-93 and alleviate the barriers associated with having a criminal record related to cannabis, a matter that disproportionately affects black and Indigenous peoples. We could also insist on the legally binding funding framework that was absent when we passed Bill C-92. Such a framework could have ensured that services for Indigenous children and families would be properly funded. We must also adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Too many pieces of legislation that reinforce racism and sexism have made their way through this chamber. Now, in addition to listening to the issues that black and Indigenous peoples face, we must demonstrate our learning by acting to create and pass legislation that shows that we have heard.

Furthermore, the Parliamentary Black Caucus addresses the need to transform our Public Service. I absolutely agree and think we must transform Parliament, including staffing here and in the other place.

On Friday, June 19, Fregine Sheehy, former parliamentary intern and current member of our office, was awarded the Hales and Hurley prize for her paper called “Where are all the Racialized Staffers?” As a component of her work with the Parliamentary Internship Programme in 2018-19, Fregine sought to understand why staffers working in backbench MP Ottawa offices seemed to be predominantly white. She found that while they play a significant role in Canada’s parliamentary democracy, there is virtually no information regarding the racial makeup of staff, nor the hiring policies that MPs must follow in their Ottawa offices except that such policies mostly do not exist.

She argues that systemic racism is deep-rooted on Parliament Hill. Therefore the Hill is both a space that is not easily accessible and an environment in which racialized and Indigenous peoples might not feel welcome.

If we hope to eradicate racism and sexism here, mandatory anti-racism and unconscious bias training is a necessity for MPs, senators and all who work in and around both chambers. So, too, is race-based data regarding who is working in MPs’ and senators’ offices. Without such information, how can we officially know who is helping to shape Canadian policy and legislation?

Honourable colleagues, as we modernize our institution, enacting anti-racist policies and practices could help ensure that we are fulfilling the obligation we have toward all Canadians.

I will quote a Gangalu elder, whose words were first shared with me by a proud Chinese-Canadian woman who was then isolated in a segregation cell in a federal penitentiary and who is currently in long-term care as a result of dementia and Parkinson’s. That is another problematic area of concern highlighted during this pandemic, but I digress.

When I asked what I should do and promised to act, she said, “Okay,” and then quoted Lilla Watson:

If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Colleagues, eradicating racism is the responsibility of every single one of us, so let’s waste no more time on empty promises. Let’s demonstrate our commitment with concrete action.

Meegwetch. Thank you.

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