The provincial government has announced the formation of an anti-racism council aimed at helping young people overcome social and economic barriers.
The Premier’s Council on Equality of Opportunity will be led by Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s Advocate for Community Opportunities, and will have 20 members including youth between the ages of 18 to 29.
“It starts with giving every young person from every community, from every neighbourhood the tools to succeed. The opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Premier Doug Ford.
“The council will bring together experts in young people with lived experiences from different backgrounds and walks of life, young people from marginalized communities, together they will tackle the barriers our young people face when it comes to education, skills training and employment,” added Ford.
An immediate fund of $1.5 million will also be allocated to support Black communities and address the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19.
The leader of the provincial NDP Black caucus, Laura Mae Lindo, called the funding “paltry” and a “slap in the face”.
“Just this week, Doug Ford denied systemic racism even existed in Canada,” she said in a statement. “This announcement is even more evidence that Mr. Ford doesn’t take addressing the cancer of systemic racism seriously.”
Liberal legislators Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau called on the premier to restore funding his government cut to the province’s Anti-Racism Directorate and Black Youth Action Plan.
“If he says talk is cheap, then he should keep undoing his cuts,” the legislators said in a statement.
The council will be immediately working to identify strategies to support vulnerable and marginalized youth in recovering from the effects of COVID-19.
“A diverse group of leaders, experts and youth members who will offer the insights to our government that we need to make the impact that communities demand and deserve,” said Jivani. “Through this council, we will work towards a more just and more fair society.”
“We have a clear policy agenda here,” said Jivani, adding this initiative will be different from past governments, this will connect economic and social issues, “it won’t be just talk.”
Watch: Jivani describes the state of relations between police and the Black community
Jivani, who spoke Wednesday at the Premier’s daily conference, also addressed the protests against police brutality and the death of George Floyd in the United States.
“Black communities in our province … are saddened and outraged by what has transpired in the United States,” he said. “In part because of what is happening south of the border is also drawing attention to racism and racial inequalities within our own nation. This pain has not gone unnoticed. I see it, I hear it and I feel it.”
“Many families, including many Black families, have been forgotten by governments for too long. We understand our responsibility is more than just to talk, but is also to act,” said Jivani.
“Our efforts are not over, nor are they complete. We recognize more action must be taken.”
When Ford was asked if the formation of the council was a reaction to the protests in the United States, he said the council has been in the works for months.
Jivani added in order for this council to be effective, it will require months of efforts and engagement with the community and with important voices on matters of inequality.
“The timing is a reflection of the fact that these issues don’t just exist when everyone is paying attention. The reality is that the problems of inequality in our province have existed for decades,” said Jivani.
Ford today further walked back his statement that Canada doesn’t have the “systemic, deep roots” of racism that the United States does.
He acknowledged a history of racism in Ontario that stretches back decades – although he also suggested his comments were spun out of context.