O Canada: The reality of anti-Indigenous discrimination

We live in a racist country, and it’s irresponsible to pretend otherwise

Our country continues to fail Indigenous peoples.
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In the weeks leading up to the US election, die-hard Trump supporters took to social media to announce they’d be moving to Canada if the incumbent president wasn’t re-elected. Canadians took offence. We pointed out that Americans whose beliefs aligned with Trump’s wouldn’t find Canada’s strict gun laws and absence of legal restrictions on abortion agreeable. But what we failed to acknowledge—something that’s often glossed over in our conversations denouncing America’s sociopolitical climate—is a systemic failing we do share with the present-day US: Canada is racist, too.
 
Earlier this week, a 2018 security video showing a First Nations woman being knocked unconscious and dragged along the floor by her arms to a cell at a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment in Manitoba made headlines across the country. Genesta Garson, a member of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, was only 19 years old when she was picked up by officers on the suspicion of being drunk. She left the facility far worse off than she arrived: in an ambulance.
 
No formal investigation into the incident was launched, and Garson says she was bullied into withdrawing her complaint against the officers involved after the RCMP repeatedly showed up at her home and place of work.
 
Garson’s experience is one of many instances of violence and discrimination against Indigenous people in Canada committed by the RCMP. This past June, an RCMP officer in Nunavut was caught on camera hitting a 22-year-old Inuk man with the door of a moving truck before arresting him for public intoxication. That same month, CBC News reported that more than 30 cases of alleged mistreatment of and violence against Inuit women by the RCMP were compiled by the Legal Services Board of Nunavut in letters to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP calling for a systemic review of policing in Nunavut.
 
Any Canadian who’s surprised to learn of the RCMP’s abhorrent treatment of Indigenous people shouldn’t be. The branch of law enforcement was created by parliament to assert sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and their lands—the institution is sick at its roots, a foundation built on nearly 150 years of racism and supremacy.
 
Institutionalized discrimination, systemic racism, and police brutality are not issues reserved for our neighbours south of our border. The white-washed rhetoric that claims ‘racism doesn’t exist in Canada’ is not only grossly irresponsible, but dismissive of the realities of Indigenous peoples and First Nations across our country, underserved and harmed by the federal and provincial governments. 
 
Neskantaga, a First Nation in Northern Ontario, has been forced to evacuate most of its people for weeks due to contaminated water. They have been living under the longest-standing boil water advisory in the country, denied the basic human right of clean, safe drinking water.
 
Last month, mobs of non-Indigenous commercial fishermen vandalized two lobster facilities, burning a van and seizing catch, despite Nova Scotia RCMP being on-scene. The attack was part of an ongoing attempt by the fishermen to shut down the Sipekne'katik First Nation’s new lobster fishery operating outside of the commercial fishing season, ignoring the Mi’kmaq peoples’ right under treaty to do so.
 
Contrastingly, the RCMP launched raids against unarmed, peaceful protestors on Wet'suwet'en land in February, enforcing a court injunction meant to end disruption to the Coastal GasLink pipeline’s construction through unceded Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs’ territory against their consent. They dismantled protestor checkpoints and made numerous arrests. 
 
The RCMP spent $9.5 million on enforcing the Coastal Gaslink injunction for the 2019-20 fiscal year—an absurd amount of money spent furthering the interests of the federal government and bulldozing the rights of Wet'suwet'en people.
 
It’s impossible to look at these instances of violence and discrimination against Indigenous people in Canada, only a fraction of what these communities have suffered in just the past few years, and claim that we live in a country that isn’t racist. Anti-Indigenous racism has existed in Canada since its first days, and it pervades our present. And our response to this injustice, as a nation, is inadequate. 
 
Touting Canada as a progressive haven in response to the Trump supporters looking to move here after the US election is a product of unacceptable willful ignorance. It’s our damagingly passive Canadian politeness sweeping the plights of Indigenous peoples through the cracks rather than facing up to the rude, uncomfortable truth that our country is deeply flawed.
 
Instead of being quick to jump to our country’s defense on Twitter, let’s stop putting Canada on a pedestal and cast our judgement inward. We live in a racist country—if discrimination is what those Trump voters are hoping to find here in Canada, they’ll feel right at home.
 
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