“We need more than just words to show that the government respects our Charter and provides equal opportunity for economic and social justice for everyone. We need a government that looks for every opportunity to make fairness and equality central to its business." Elisabeth Ballermann, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer
Ottawa (21 March 2017) — It was on this day in 1960 that police opened fire and killed 69 people, mostly women, at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa. Since the United Nations declared March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Canada has marked the day as a moment of reflection and commitment to racial justice in our own society.
Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects against racism and discrimination, yet these continue
Everyone deserves to live their lives free from discrimination. In Canada, we enshrined this core belief in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have laws protecting people from hate speech, discrimination across society.
Yet, even after establishing these rights, we still witness ongoing hate and discrimination across our country.
Most recently we can point to a number of examples
- A rise in attacks on mosques across the country
- Attacks in public against Muslim women who choose to wear a hijab
- Racial profiling by police and border security
- Continued discrimination in the workforce, with higher unemployment rate for Indigenous and racialized workers, and even when people find work, they earn less than their non-Indigenous or non-racialized counterparts.
Federal government's discrimination against First Nations children in health and education funding a disgrace
One of the ongoing tragedies of discrimination is how the Canadian government provides less health and education funding for First Nations children compared to non-Indigenous children.
As executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Cindy Blackstock successfully challenged the federal government for failing to fund health and education services for First Nations children living on reserves at the same level as those living in other parts of the country.
In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that First Nations children and families living on reserve were discriminated against on the basis of race and ethnic origin, and that they were not receiving child and family services similar to those provided to other Canadian children in Canada and to their families. The Tribunal held that Canada’s discriminatory conduct “incentivizes” the removal of First Nations children from their families and communities — a costly result for the children, their communities, and Canada.
Since the ruling, the Tribunal has expressed dissatisfaction with the federal government’s progress and issued a series of compliance orders.
“The government came out and said they agreed with the ruling, but they never implemented it,” Blackstock said, noting she is in the process of preparing for a noncompliance hearing later this month.
"The Trudeau government has said a lot about reconciliation but we haven't seen a lot of action," says Elisabeth Ballermann, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
Government has role to play in ensuring and promoting fairness and justice
“We believe that human rights and equality are not negotiable,” says Ballermann, “We know that most Canadians feel the same way and we want a government that reflects that belief.”
"We want a government that will stand up to the hate mongers, and the racists who attempt to undermine the fabric of our country,” she said. “We want a government that will end its discriminatory actions and enforce laws that are intended to promote equality."
“We need more than just words to show that the government respects our Charter and provides equal opportunity for economic and social justice for everyone. We need a government that looks for every opportunity to make fairness and equality central to its business," said Ballermann.
"So, as we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we encourage our members and all Canadians to speak up in the face of racism and discrimination, and to pressure our governments to take action where injustices exist."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. ~ NUPGE