OFL Statement on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – March 21, 2016

 

OFL STATEMENT
March 10, 2016

Racism and Islamophobia are Barriers to an Equal Society:

OFL Statement on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – March 21, 2016

By every measure, Ontario has the fastest growing rates of poverty and inequality out of every province in Canada, but the effects of this epidemic are not evenly felt across society. Racialized people in Canada – regardless of whether they are multi-generation Canadians, new immigrants, or Canada’s first peoples – earn substantially less, face higher rates of violence, are more likely to live in poverty, and are vastly over-represented in Canada’s growing precarious workforce.

“Ontario’s economy and our society are still defined by Canada’s colonial past and a legacy of racism, prejudice and discrimination that continue to prevent the full and equal participation of all racialized people,” said OFL President Chris Buckley. “While Canada is opening its borders to tens of thousands of new immigrants and refugees each year, we must start to confront a rising undercurrent of racism and Islamophobia that too often sabotages the success of new Canadians from the moment of their arrival.”

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21st. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the day in 1966 and called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

To mark March 21, 2016, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is calling on Canadians to challenge individual, systemic and cultural racism in all its forms. While the OFL has applauded the Ontario government’s recent decision to create an Anti-Racism Directorate, it is also calling for immediate action to eliminate poverty, end employment precarity and close the wage gap that disproportionately affect racialized communities and prevent the advancement of every worker.

“Poverty and precariousness continue to plague Ontario’s racialized, immigrant and Indigenous peoples and they drive a wedge between communities,” Ahmad Gaied, OFL Executive Vice-President. “Meaningful strides towards ending racism and inequality will not happen unless every Ontarian can fully participate in our society and our economy. To give racialized workers the economic tools to success, Ontario must invest in social programs, increase the minimum wage, raise employment standards and make it easier for workers to join a union.”

Recent reports demonstrate an alarming trend in Ontario and across Canada: poverty, precariousness and inequality are on the rise and their impact is being most severely felt by workers of colour, their families and their communities. Racialized workers continue to earn only $0.81 for every dollar earned by their non-racialized counterparts and these wages drop dramatically to $0.46 for Aboriginal workers.

The unemployment rate for recent immigrants is more than double that of Canadian-born workers, and those who are fortunate enough to find work are twice as likely to be working for minimum wage. As a result, racialized families – whether new or established – are two to four times as likely to live below the low-income cut-off and over 18 percent of Aboriginal Ontarians are living in poverty.

Yet, out of these desperate circumstances, inspiring courage and tenacity has led to an upsurge in grass roots activism within each of these communities that has demanded social and economic change. Long-ignored land claims disputes, a history of cultural genocide and the grinding poverty on reservations have led to the growth of the “Idle No More” movement for Indigenous justice; racially motivated ‘carding’ and police shootings have spurred a “Black Lives Matter” movement across North America; and recently, the racist backlash against Muslim people has inspired a “Stronger Together” movement of Muslims and allies to challenge Islamophobia in Canada.

“The Muslim population is the fastest growing religious community in Canada. It is an overwhelmingly racialized population that is driving growth in this country, but it is not sharing in the country’s prosperity,” said Gaied, who is the Federation’s first officer from the Muslim community. “Muslim Canadians are seeing our struggles as fundamentally tied to those of the Black community, the Indigenous community and every racialized or marginalized group that is struggling for equality in Canada. Challenging racism is about much more than speaking out against prejudice and discrimination when we witness it, it is about standing together across diverse communities to confront the systemic barriers to equal opportunity.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour.

For further information:

Joel Duff, OFL Communications Director: 416-707-0349 (cell) or jduff@ofl.ca

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