International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
by Lorene Oikawa,
Chair, JCCA Human Rights Committee
March 21st is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day was proclaimed by the United Nations in remembrance of 69 unarmed black men, women and children who were killed and over 180 who were injured on that day in 1960. Police opened fire on the peaceful gathering, and many were shot in the back as they were trying to leave. This deadly example of racism took place at an anti-apartheid demonstration in Sharpeville, a black township in South Africa.
We have made huge strides in the last 55 years, but when we hear the daily news it sometimes seems we are falling back and losing what was achieved by those who suffered so much.
Targeting people based on ethnicity was what happened to Japanese Canadians during the Second World War and we said “never again,” and yet we hear the fear mongering again. We see the comments about “foreigners” as troublemakers. It was wrong when the approximately 22,000 law abiding Canadians of Japanese ancestry, most of them Canadian-born, were incarcerated, and it’s wrong now.
What is particularly troubling is to see the Canadian government immersed in these racially divisive actions. In February, two national Muslim organizations expressed their concern over the prime minister’s comments linking mosques with terrorism, when addressing questions about the government’s anti-terrorism Bill C51.
Bill C51 is a 62 page omnibus bill amending 13 separate acts and gives sweeping powers to the government with no increase in oversight. Under the bill, anyone who interferes with infrastructure or economic stability is considered a threat to the security of the country. The broad wording of this massive bill would allow the government to spy, arrest, detain anyone challenging its economic, environmental, and social policies. According to this bill, one wonders if the Sharpeville protestors challenging the apartheid “pass laws” would be considered terrorists.
Failing to heed the results of two federal commissions of inquiry about uncontrolled information sharing, the government bill also allows the relaxing of information sharing. Last time Arab Canadians were targeted, and Canadian Maher Arar paid the terrible price of wrongful imprisonment and torture in Syria.
We do not have to choose between security and our rights. This is the same false argument that was used to imprison innocent children, women, and men, because they looked like the ones who bombed Pearl Harbor.
Racism and discrimination is not limited to the decisions and policies of governments and organizations, it can also be found in our workplaces, media, schools, and universities.
Earlier this year we were shocked to hear about a New Brunswick university professor’s comments attacking Asians and immigrants including his statement that Vancouver was a “beautiful British city” until the Asians came in “too fast, too quick.” As a fourth generation British Columbian whose family came from Japan in the 1800s and 1906 I would say that he has conveniently forgotten all the Asians who have made important contributions for a number of generations, and indigenous peoples who were here before any of us.
On March 21, we can speak up for inclusion. We must also use the opportunity every day to support diversity in our communities, and challenge racism when we hear or see it. Do not accept intolerance whether comments from a co-worker, friends or family, bad policies and behaviour by those in power, and racist statements in media. We all benefit from a thriving, inclusive society.