William Hall, who was born in Nova Scotia in 1827, served with the Royal Navy, where he was seconded to the Naval Brigade during the Indian Mutiny. William Hall became the first Canadian, and the first person of African ancestry, to receive the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration in the British Empire.
This recognition of an outstanding Black Canadian was long overdue. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone in this country is equal before the law. It prohibits discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour or religion.
The Canadian Human Rights Act stipulates that every individual should have an equal opportunity to make the life he or she is able and wishes to have, again without fear of discrimination. The Canadian Citizenship Act says all Canadians are entitled to the same rights, powers and privileges.
Despite all this, and despite the many important contributions of blacks and other visible minorities to this country, we still face discrimination and race hatred. Most of the time, this racism is subtle, systemic and insidious. Yet occasionally, like the cross burning in Hants County, it is overt, deliberate and all that more disturbing.
For example, in recent years we have learned of Asian-Canadian anglers assaulted while fishing on Lake Simcoe, 80 kilometres north of Toronto. They were pushed into the lake, their gear destroyed and windshields smashed. In Quebec, we heard about a young girl prevented from playing soccer because she wears a hijab. And even today, anti-Semitic events continue to occur in Canada, from rocks thrown through synagogue windows to toppled gravestones.
The reality is that racism has been a part of Canada’s past and it is a part of our present. And it remains a problem—one that is largely invisible, hugely underestimated and wholly pervasive. Many Canadians deny that fact. They are wrong.
Martin Jacques, a white journalist, believes that most whites “are peculiarly and uniquely insensitive to race and racism.
... Even when well-meaning, they remain strangely ignorant.” As he also believes, “Wishing (racism) wasn’t true, denying it is true, will never change the reality. We can only understand—and tackle racism—if we are honest about it. And when it comes to race—more than any other issue—honesty is in desperately short supply.”
So, let’s be honest and challenge the lie that racism is not an issue anymore in Canada. Let’s face the fact that deliberate acts of racial hatred are more than simply symbolic. They are symptomatic of a disease that continues to infect Canada. Let’s take all necessary steps to end racism now—from promoting wider education and greater public awareness, to enacting stronger laws with tougher punishment for racist acts. After all, isn’t it high time that we did?