The only way that the United States can take back its streets and its dignity is by making sure that Donald Trump is thrashed in the November presidential election. Even then, the damage done to America may be irreparable.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 8, 2020.
OTTAWA—Stockwell Day made a costly mistake last week. On a television panel he denied that systemic racism exists in Canada.
Day was quickly the subject of a social media groundswell that ended up costing him a board position at Telus and his strategic counsel job at McMillan LLP.
Day paid dearly for his mistake. But there are many Canadians who believe what he said. “Canada is not a racist country and most Canadians are not racist and our system, which always needs to be improved, is not systemically racist.”
I daresay millions share the viewpoint expressed by Day.
Most of them are not in the public domain so we don’t hear their perspectives. Even when the evidence is irrefutable, they simply don’t want to stare truth in the face.
I have known Stockwell Day for years, and he is basically a decent, fair-minded individual. However, by making the statement he did on television, he unwittingly aligned himself with those who are currently using race as a wedge issue in the next American election.
The facts on systemic racism in Canada are clear.
The last census demonstrated a clear and present racial difference in how employees are paid.
On average, second-generation Black Canadians were paid 28 per cent less than their white counterparts. The average pay of racialized and Indigenous workers was 30 per cent less than the earnings of their white colleagues.
On a personal level, that meant an average loss of income of $14,000 compared to Caucasian Canadians of the same age and education background.
We see the same wage discrimination against women.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, women aged 25 to 54 earned an average of 13.3 per cent less than their male colleagues for doing equivalent work.
Looking at what is going on south of the border, it is easy to see why Canadians could believe that our situation is not as grim.
But to completely ignore the reality of pay rates, disproportionate incarceration rates and all the other evidence in Canada is to turn your back on the truth.
But Canada is not facing the horrendous situation of a national leader who is doing his best to stoke the flames of racism for personal base electoral ends.
Trump is banking on the fact that the silent majority in the United States actually supports his view. There are millions who back his inflammatory approach, although it appears as though the combination of COVID-19, unemployment, and civil unrest are taking their toll.
Recent polling shows that Trump has the support of only one-third of Americans for his bellicose response to the death of George Floyd.
Cracks are also appearing in his Republican wall of support, with Senator Lisa Murkowski saying she may not support him as the party standard bearer. Murkowski, the second most senior Republican woman in the Senate, spoke out in support of the comments of former defence secretary Jim Mattis criticizing Trump’s “false conflict” between the Armed Forces and ordinary citizens.
Murkowski echoed Mattis’ viewpoint, saying, “I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.”
Former U.S. president George W. Bush called on his countrymen to “examine our tragic failures.”
But the current president seems oblivious to all critics, doubling down on his view that multiple peaceful protests across the country were organized by thugs.
In Canada, Day immediately recognized his error and tweeted that “I ask forgiveness for wrongly equating my experiences to theirs. I commit to them my unending efforts to fight racism in all its forms.”
That statement was quite an about turn from his refusal to recognize systemic racism only a few short hours earlier.
Systemic racism is alive and well in Canada and, unfortunately, supported by millions of Canadians who blindly believe there is no problem.
By recognizing his mistake, Day has a chance to do something about it.
In the case of the Trumpian racism of the American president, the whole country is undermined by his deliberate attempt to stoke the flames of racial hatred.
The only way that the United States can take back its streets and its dignity is by making sure that Trump is thrashed in the November presidential election.
Even then, the damage done to America may be irreparable.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.