Canada’s Federal Anti-Racism Strategy: An Overview

(Disponible en français : Aperçu de la stratégie fédérale canadienne de lutte contre le racisme)

In many countries around the globe, including Canada, recent movements to recognize and address racial injustices and discrimination have led to increased examination of government efforts to combat racism. This HillNote provides an overview of the federal government’s anti-racism strategy and some anti-racism efforts by other levels of government in Canada.

Canada’s First Federal Anti-Racism Action Plan

In 2005, the federal government established the first coordinated federal approach to combat racism in Canada, entitled Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism (2005-2010). This five-year plan was led by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

In 2010, the Evaluation of Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism identified limitations in the plan’s design and delivery and found challenges in measuring the plan’s overall impact. While some anti-racism initiatives continued at the federal level, the federal government did not renew or replace the action plan until 2019.

The Creation of Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022

In June 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (committee) launched a study of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada. Three of the 30 recommendations in the committee’s report tabled in February 2018 concerned Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism and called on the Government of Canada to:

(1) update and reinstate the previous Canadian Action Plan Against Racism and broaden it to include religious discrimination;

(2) create a directorate at the Department of Canadian Heritage which will develop, implement and monitor this National Action Plan; and

(3) have measurable targets, deadlines and reporting mechanisms in the Plan, dedicate resources to the Plan, and implement adequate monitoring.

In its response to the committee report, the Government of Canada agreed that it “needs to take an active role in addressing systemic racism and religious discrimination” and described recent efforts and plans to do so, including “support for community engagement on a new anti-racism approach that reflects the need to update [Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism].”

From October 2018 to March 2019, the Government of Canada consulted Canadians, especially those with lived experiences of racism and discrimination, to gather input to inform the development of a new anti-racism strategy. The input is summarized in the Department of Canadian Heritage’s What we heard — Informing Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy.

An Overview of Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022

Canada’s federal anti-racism strategy, Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022, was launched in June 2019.

The strategy acknowledges the need for the Government of Canada to combat “racism and discrimination that is anti-Indigenous, Islamophobic, antisemitic, anti-Black, or homophobic.” The strategy identifies key terms, including:

  • Racism: any individual action, or institutional practice which treats people differently because of their colour or ethnicity. This distinction is often used to justify discrimination.
  • Systemic or institutional racism: consists of patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized persons. These appear neutral on the surface but, nevertheless, have an exclusionary impact on racialized persons.

The strategy contains the following new investments:

  • $4.6 million to establish a new Anti-Racism Secretariat within the Department of Canadian Heritage, to lead a whole-of-government approach to address racism.
  • $30 million for community-based projects, in the form of a newly launched Anti-Racism Action Program. The program funds local, regional and national initiatives that address barriers to employment, social participation and justice for Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and religious minority communities. The Anti-Racism Action Program also has community-led digital and civic literacy programming to address online disinformation and hate.
  • $0.9 million to support Public Safety Canada’s efforts to develop a national framework and evidence-based guidelines to better respond to hate crimes, hate incidents and hate speech.
  • $3.3 million for a national public education and awareness campaign that aims to increase public awareness and understanding across Canada of the historical roots of racism and its impacts on Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and religious minority communities.
  • $6.2 million to increase “reliable, usable and comparable data and evidence regarding racism and discrimination,” including support for Statistics Canada and its Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics.
  • Additional funding to be provided to the Community Support, Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Initiatives Program.

The results of the strategy are to be reported “to Canadians on a yearly basis.” No report has been released as of 10 November 2020.

In October 2020, the Government of Canada announced more details about Anti-Racism Action Program funding.

Some civil society organizations have spoken in favour of elements of the strategy. For example, the National Council of Canadian Muslims expressed support for the strategy’s commitment to fund efforts to combat online hate in June 2019, but also suggested that other elements of the strategy need ongoing work informed by consultations. In October 2020 the organization published an open letter to the Prime Minister, co-signed by 25 community, human rights and other non-governmental organizations, calling for the federal government “to establish a national action plan on dismantling white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that threaten Canadians who are Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, or Sikh, amongst other communities.”

Other organizations have criticized what they see as a lack of tangible targets in the strategy. For instance, Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change, a network of community organizations, said the strategy “while highlighting $45 million of various existing, redirected, and new federal funding under the banner of anti-racism, fails to specifically outline [its] concrete timelines, actions, and goals.”

The Speech from the Throne delivered on 23 September 2020 pledged to “redouble” the Government of Canada’s efforts to address systemic racism through a variety of new measures.

Recent Anti-Racism Activities at the Parliamentary Level

Recent parliamentary initiatives to address racism include:

  • On 16 June 2020, the Parliamentary Black Caucus published a statement calling for Canadian governments to take specific anti-racist actions.
  • On 18 June 2020, the Senate of Canada held an emergency debate on racism.
  • On 23 June 2020, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security launched a study of Systemic Racism in Policing in Canada.
  • On 25 June 2020, the Senate of Canada was resolved into a Committee of the Whole to discuss the federal government’s role in combatting racism.

Anti-Racism Strategies and Efforts at Other Levels of Government in Canada

Several provincial governments have developed anti-racism strategies, projects and other actions. For example:

At the local level, some municipalities have their own anti-racism initiatives. For instance:

Additional Resources:

Department of Canadian Heritage, Anti-Racism Resources.

Robyn Maynard, Policing Black lives: state violence in Canada from slavery to the present, Fernwood Publishing: Halifax, 2017.

University of Waterloo, Anti-Racism Resources.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to Canada, 16 August 2017.

Authors: Laura Munn-Rivard and Laura Hatt, Library of Parliament

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