BSN and BLSAM Panel: Racism and Systemic Discrimination in Canada

The Black Students’ Network and the Black Law Students’ Association of McGill organized a panel discussion with the Faculty of Law as part of Black History Month on February 4. The panel focused on systemic discrimination and racism in the Canadian context. Panelists Philip Howard, Julius Haag, Fabrice Vil, and Shanice Nicole Yarde began by demystifying overused terminology such as “prejudice,” “bias,” “anti-Black,” and “racist” while also clarifying the key differences between institutional, systemic, and social racism. They also debated the usefulness of the term “multiculturalism,” with most panellists asserting that the term is an illusory, all-inclusive word that is used to compensate for the more specific racial problems prevalent in society.

The panel highlighted Canada’s history as a settler-colonial state, unpacking its previous actions supporting anti-Blackness and extracting labour. They focused on “relearning ” these histories to challenge current dominant stories. Panellists explored the idea of anti-racist policies, pointing out how they are mainly governed by white ideologies. They emphasized the need to be more critical of the news, media, and so-called anti-discriminatory policies set by the government. The audience clearly supported the speakers in their claim that acknowledging discrimination in Canada is not enough; reparations must be made in order to effect change. Furthermore, the question of increased representation of Black people in the police forces and the government was brought up, which led to an interesting conflict of opinion among the panellists and the audience. The majority of the attendees believed that increased representation would result in large scale reformations. However, most panellists explained that “getting representation in a prejudiced system is a trap.”

Panellist Phillip Howard went on to dissect our current education systems, and how “McGill [….] could be seen as a product of colonialism.” Fabrice Vil explained how McGill has a “diversity deficit” and argued that the University should engage in more efforts to improve the student body’s diversity. They further stated that contrary to the US, most Canadian universities don’t even have departments for African Studies, and the majority of the ones that do offer a few classes per semester often taught by white/ non-African professors.

It was reiterated that the only way to prevent systemic racism and discrimination is to change the ideology of the system. Terminating hyper-surveillance, carding, and random frisking will only be possible if society recognizes our “honest history” and un-learns the prejudice against Black people in order to re-humanize them on social and institutional levels.

A previous version of this article neglected to mention the Black Law Students’ Association of McGill’s involvement in organizing the event. The Daily regrets the error.