TORONTO – Premier Doug Ford has backtracked on his comments that Canada doesn’t have the same “systemic, deep roots” of racism as the United States, acknowledging that Ontario has a history of racism stretching back decades.
Ford made the comments Thursday as he announced the creation of a council on equality of opportunity – a new advisory group that will provide advice to the government on how young people can overcome social and economic barriers.
The premier also said his comments from earlier this week were misunderstood and “spun out of context”, stressing that he sees systemic racism in the north Toronto community he represents in the legislature.
“We have our own history of racism here in Ontario and it’s been going on for decades,” he said. “You can go back 60 or 70 years and I know people right now are feeling pain out there. I see it.”
On Monday, Ford was asked to comment on the anti-racism protests in cities across the U.S. that were sparked by the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The premier said the difference between the two countries is that in Canada, people for the most part get along, working and shopping together.
“Thank God we’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they’ve had for years,” he said at the time, adding that the distinction between the two countries is “night and day.”
His comments drew immediate criticism from both politicians and social media users.
“Of course there’s systemic racism in Ontario, there’s systemic racism across this country,” Ford said the following day in the legislature.
Ford stressed on Thursday that society must address the problem of racism by starting to work with young people.
“We must acknowledge the pain that we see and we must acknowledge where it’s coming from,” he said. “I can tell you these issues are deeply rooted and they stem from a history of racism and abuse.”
The government also said it is allocating $1.5 million to organizations that support black families and youth. The funding will be provided on an urgent basis to meet the needs in the community during the pandemic, the province said.
The leader of the provincial NDP black caucus, Laura Mae Lindo, called the funding “paltry” and a “slap in the face”.
“Just this week, Doug Ford denied systemic racism even existed in Canada,” she said in a statement. “This announcement is even more evidence that Mr. Ford doesn’t take addressing the cancer of systemic racism seriously.”
Liberal legislators Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau called on the premier to restore funding his government cut to the province’s Anti-Racism Directorate and Black Youth Action Plan.
“If he says talk is cheap, then he should keep undoing his cuts,” the legislators said in a statement.
© 2020 The Canadian Press