On March 21, 1960, 69 black demonstrators were killed and 180 were wounded by armed white South African police in the Sharpeville Township. More than 700 shots were fired at black demonstrators who were peacefully protesting the country’s discriminatory laws.
Six years later, after facing relentless outrage and pressure from the international labour community and human rights organizations, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism.
In 1988, March 21st was recognized as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in all jurisdictions of Canada.
In light of the origins of this day and the important struggles faced by racialized people every day, it is important to take stock of racial justice in Canada.
While there has been some progress, racism persists in Canadian society. In fact, the past decade has seen an erosion of what few gains had been achieved:
The federal Conservative government has made it difficult to gather reliable data for research by cancelling the mandatory long census. This makes it hard to assess the extent of barriers and racism experience by racialized people.
Racialized and Aboriginal populations continue to be overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Amendments to the Criminal Code imposing minimum mandatory sentences will result in further over-representation of these groups.
The federal government has greatly weakened employment equity protections. Now, fewer employers are covered by the Federal Contractors’ Program and there is less oversight over employment equity in the federal public service.
The government cut and modified services used by marginalized communities, such as changes to citizenship applications and to Employment Insurance processes. Seasonal workers or recently unemployed workers who don’t have a long history of employment now find it harder to qualify for EI benefits. Recent amendments to the program may force these workers to take jobs that pay up to 30 per cent less or risk losing their benefits.
Changes to immigration and refugee laws have made it more difficult for many racialized people to come to, or stay, in Canada. Furthermore, the federal government has given itself the power to detain certain groups of people without any due process.
The federal government has also increased the use of temporary foreign workers in Canada – subjecting these workers to terrible conditions and violations of human rights.
These are but some of the erosions implemented by the Harper government. Another troubling trend is the attack on collective bargaining rights, as demonstrated by the recently-passed Bill C-4.
This March 21, PSAC calls on all its members to stand in solidarity to resist these attacks on equality and human rights.