Councillor calls for new body to target anti-black racism

An Ottawa city councillor is urging the capital to follow Toronto's lead by establishing a secretariat specifically targeting anti-black racism.

Coun. Rawlson King's suggestion comes two weeks after the racist message "N--gers, out!" was spray-painted on a black family's garage door.

In response, King is calling for both an anti-black racism secretariat at city hall and a dedicated hate crime unit within the Ottawa Police Service.

King said he himself was called the N-word in the Cyrville neighbourhood a couple of years ago.

"I think that this type of racism, especially with what's emerging with ... right-wing radical extremism throughout the industrialized world, has to be actually addressed. It has to be addressed in substantive ways, and I think that a secretariat does that, and a hate unit does that," King told CBC in a recent interview.

Anthony Morgan, a lawyer and a member of Toronto's relatively new secretariat called the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, agreed with King that creating those specific groups is a good idea.

Kristy Nease/CBC

'Collectively unprepared'

Toronto's secretariat supports the city's 44 departments to implement 22 recommendations and 80 actions made in an anti-black racism action plan, which acknowledges that racism still exists.

"We live in a country that has done may positive things around ... multiculturalism and inclusion in ways that, across the world, we're not seeing. However, that at some point has made us feel a bit complacent, and so there are really difficult conversations that we haven't embedded within our everyday language and thinking about how we relate to each other," Morgan said.

"Sometimes we act like racism is not a phenomenon, and so when there are such overt expressions like this, we find ourselves collectively unprepared to simply acknowledge that, yes, this is racism, and ... anti-black racism in particular, and here are the ways in which we can move together as a community to respond to it."

Here were the goals for the Toronto secretariat's first year, which passed in April:

  • Shift the city's culture to better understand and actively address anti-black racism in city practices, policies, hiring and retention strategies, and services.
  • Prioritize investments for high-quality programs and opportunities to support equitable outcomes for black children and youth.
  • Use city supports to connect the leadership capacity, talents and skills of diverse black Torontonians to contribute to the success of the city through civic and business leadership, and decision-making.
  • Prioritize city efforts to improve the quality and effectiveness of the customer service experience by black residents.

To respond to an incident like the racist graffiti in Ottawa, Morgan said the secretariat would talk to police after their preliminary investigation to make sure the family was safe and cared for.

"We might help them [police] support the family to acknowledge what happened, identify supports within the community, and continue to facilitate ongoing engagement and support for not just that family, but also the community more broadly," Morgan said.