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Ottawa sets up secretariat to root out racism in federal institutions, programs

OTTAWA – The federal government is setting up a secretariat to root out systemic racism and discrimination within federal institutions, programs and services.

The secretariat is part of a $45-million federal anti-racism effort, which also includes funding for programs run by community groups on things like job-skills training, youth mentorships, legal services and protections against hate speech.

The effort will also include a national public awareness and education campaign.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who announced the initiative Tuesday in Toronto, said every day in this country, people still face racism, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-black racism.

“It’s often subtle, sometimes invisible,” he said in the text of a speech delivered at a centre devoted to helping those living in poverty or with mental illness.

“But its effects are always very real and completely unacceptable. I’m talking about the inequalities embedded in our society, like who’s called for a job interview, who’s encouraged to aim for university and who’s not, or who gets carded (by police) on their way home from school.”

Those inequalities are apparently embedded in the federal government as well.

Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes has argued that black Canadians are passed over for senior jobs in the federal civil service. And she’s noted that a black person has never achieved the rank of deputy minister in the entire history of Canada’s federal government.

The former Liberal MP introduced a private member’s bill last week which would require the Canadian Human Rights Commission to report annually on what progress, if any, the federal civil service has made in promoting visible minorities to senior positions. However, the bill will never be passed since the House of Commons has adjourned for the summer and subsequent federal election. Chavannes, who is not seeking re-election, will not be around to reintroduce it after the election.

Rodriguez said the anti-racism secretariat will tackle “systemic racism in all the ways it manifests itself in our laws, programs and services.”

“Our government recognizes that we are in a unique position to address racism in our institutions and society. This national anti-racism strategy is an essential first step in building a more inclusive country, where all Canadians can participate equally.”

Last fall, Rodriguez was criticized for saying the term “systemic racism” is “not part of my vocabulary.” Talking about consultations that were being held on the anti-racism strategy, he told the Globe and Mail that “Canada is not a racist society, wherever one lives.”

He quickly backed off that assertion, however, telling the Commons days later that “throughout history and even today, there are people in communities who experience systemic racism, oppression, discrimination, preventing them from fully participating in our society.”

The Canadian Press

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