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Almost two-thirds of Canadians believe systemic racism exists in the country: poll

Last Updated Jun 15, 2020 at 10:40 am EDT

More than two-thirds of Canadians believe discrimination is common in the country and another 61 per cent think systemic or institutional racism exists in Canada.

The poll from Abacus Data examined the way Canadians see discrimination and racism, as anti-Black racism protests continue across the globe in response to the death of George Floyd.

In Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, just over 50 per cent think systemic racism exists in Canada, meaning there are barriers or obstacles for people of some races that don’t exist for others. While in Ontario and Alberta, the number was higher at around 65 per cent.

The poll found respondents think Muslims, Black people, Transgender and Indigenous people were most likely to experience discrimination with over 75 per cent of Canadians believing they experience discrimination in society.

When asked if they had racist views, 23 per cent of those polled said they either have “a lot” or “some” racists views. The percentages were lower in Quebec at 13 per cent and the Atlantic provinces at 16 per cent.

The highest percentage was in Alberta at 34 per cent. Ontario respondents were similar to the national average at 25 per cent while of those polled in B.C., 30 per cent had racist views.

Kike Ojo-Thompson, principal consultant for the Kojo Institute, said fact that the majority of Canadians believe they don’t hold racist views is problematic. “How we know we are shifting towards the better is when more Canadians acknowledge their racism and acknowledge that systemic racism is here in Canada. We cannot address what we are not willing to face,” said Ojo-Thompson.

While a total of 27 percent said they act in ways that discriminate against other people of different race than your own, regardless of whether the respondent believed they had racist views, mostly “from time to time.”

“There’s a whole lot of other people who say, ‘I act in ways that are discriminatory. I don’t always know what they are, I don’t always think about them subconsciously’.” said Abacus Data Chairman Bruce Anderson. “And then there’s a whole bunch of other people who do those kind of behaviours who aren’t yet able to or willing to acknowledge they are a part of a system where there is discrimination.”

With asked directly about where Black people experience racism and how often, the majority of respondents believed police treatment was where they experienced the most racism followed by in the job market, the rental housing market, and retail surveillance.

Health services was one of the last instances in which Canadians believed Black people experienced racism.

Toronto Public Health voted this week to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis and data collected across the United States has shown COVID-19 has disproportionately been affecting Black communities.

The Abacus Data survey randomly sampled 1,750 Canadian adults between June 5-10 and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.31 percentage points.

While the majority of respondents acknowledged, to varying degrees, the reality of racial discrimination, associate professor at the University of Waterloo, Kathy Hogarth, says the survey shows there are still Canadians in denial about racism.

“I’m surprised two thirds think there is discrimination in Canada. What happened to the other one third? Where have they lived?” said Hogarth.

Hogarth says changing attitudes starts with awareness. “What are we changing if it doesn’t exist? So it’s that one-third factor that doesn’t see discrimination that has me worried. Because that one-third factor will always be resistant to change.”

A similar poll was conducted back in 2016 and since then, those thinking Black people were likely to experience “a lot of” discrimination increased by nine per cent, Indigenous people by seven per cent, and people of Asian descent increased six per cent. Those thinking Muslims were likely to experience “a lot of” discrimination decreased by nine per cent.

Premier Doug Ford recently came under fire for comments that Canada doesn’t have the “systemic, deep roots” of racism that the U.S. does. He later walked back on those remarks, acknowledging systemic racism exists in Ontario and across the country.

Anti-Black racism protests have been happening around the world, including multiple demonstrations in Toronto, since the death of George Floyd, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for over eight minutes, even after he stopped moving.

Continuing the conversation in the fight to eliminate racism, CityNews invites Canadians to tune into “#EndingRacism: What Will it Take?”, the one-hour prime-time special tonight, hosted by Cityline’s Tracy Moore and Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett. The #EndingRacism discussion begins 7 p.m. local time across Rogers channels, including Citytv, Sportsnet, OMNI, Rogerstv, community stations & Rogers TV and Radio news websites, including this one. Join the discussion by using the hashtag #EndingRacism on Twitter.