People living in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are more likely to see race relations as worsening, a new national survey suggests, which is in contrast to a brighter picture painted across the rest of the country.
But advocates say the rosy results overall imply Canadians believe the state of discrimination and racism might be better off than it actually is.
"Some of the stuff that's going on in Winnipeg, and in Manitoba more broadly, is a really good example of what's sometimes called the 'racism without racists' or 'colour-blind racism'," said Dr. Marcia Anderson, a Cree-Anishinaabe physician and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.
That means individuals avoid explicitly identifying the group they are talking about, she said, which tends to draw a brighter picture than the reality.
Compared to other provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have the highest Indigenous populations per capita, as well as what the survey identified as a widening gap when it comes to perceived racial relations.
At the heart of it all sits Winnipeg, dubbed ground zero for a continuing conversation in Canada on Indigenous discrimination, and where Mayor Brian Bowman has created an advisory circle to improve the state of racism in the city.
Anderson, a former member of the Indigenous advisory circle, said while good things are happening in Winnipeg in spite of current circumstances, they're not always being amplified across society.
"I do think that there are different conversations and deliberate attempts to try to disrupt and change discourses," she said. "But I think any of us would be hard-pressed to point to meaningful structural changes that are actually creating more equality of opportunity."
Instead, she said, some communities are taking the struggle for solutions into their own hands, pointing to grassroots initiatives in Winnipeg, like the Bear Clan Patrol, Meet Me at the Bell Tower and the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre.
1st study of its kind
The survey suggests that while Canada's history of tensions tied to racial and ethnic differences are generally perceived as still happening today, Canadians, as a whole, are overall optimistic.
Seventy-one per cent of survey respondents indicated race relations were "generally good" when it comes to how well people from different races get along, with just 17 per cent indicating the situation is "generally bad."
Those figures differed in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where about 60 per cent of respondents said relations were "generally good" and another 31 per cent said they were "generally bad."
And nearly two-thirds of Canadians (64 per cent) said things were "generally good" when it came to equal opportunity for success for racial groups, though that figure was again lower in the two Prairie provinces, at 55 per cent.
The public opinion poll — entitled Race Relations in Canada in 2019 — was conducted by Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
The survey aims to fill a gap in research about the current situation, and how relations between racial groups have evolved over time. The researchers behind the survey claim it's the first of its kind.
Public opinion appears to be divided on whether the state of race relations has improved or worsened over the past decade. About one-third (32 per cent) of Canadians say relations have improved in the last 10 years, with one-quarter (24 per cent) saying they have worsened. The plurality (39 per cent) say things have stayed about the same.
Compared to the rest of Canada, residents in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were more likely to perceive the situation as getting worse, with 31 per cent responding as such.
The results also say people who identify as Indigenous or black were most likely to report experiencing racial discrimination. And Indigenous people were noticeably less likely to see race relations as "good" or having improved.
Better in Canada?
The survey also examines beliefs about race relations in Canada compared to those in the United States, with 67 per cent of respondents saying things are "generally better" here.
Canadians will often "look down their noses at Americans" when it comes to racism, said Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, a Winnipeg psychologist who specializes in diversity and inclusion.
But counter to the survey's narrative, he is among the advocates who assert Canada has its own problems when it comes to race. "But we're not talking about them," said Abdulrehman. "And I'd say we're one step behind."
The online survey of 3,111 adult Canadians was conducted between April 17 to May 6 and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada's population based on the most recent census data.
Researchers collected oversamples from the country's four largest racial groups — Chinese, black, South Asian and Indigenous, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis people — to ensure sufficient representation of each group for analysis.
Out of those four groups, Indigenous populations are most likely to be perceived as experiencing frequent discrimination in society today, the survey said, particularly by people living in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
That's largely what drove the creation of Ikwe Safe Rides, a group that offers rides to women and families around Winnipeg as an alternative to taxis. It began as a ride-sharing service on Facebook in 2016 when a group of Indigenous women raised issues around experiences of being frightened to take a cab.
"I had hoped that just by existing and offering an alternative that the taxi industry might respond by becoming more safe feeling to Indigenous women and their families, or all women and their families," said group co-director Christine Brouzes.
According to the survey's executive summary, respondents across various populations and racial groups indicated prejudice and actions of individuals — as opposed to the country's laws and institutions — are the more likely source of tensions.
Yet most Canadians recognize people of colour are systemically treated less fairly due to ongoing discrimination and unfair treatment, it said.
Watch Tyrel Genaille's story of experiencing racism: