By Barry Ellsworth
Government representatives will fan out across the nation to discuss racism and religious tolerance with citizens, according to reports Wednesday.
The announcement comes on the same date as the annual global International Day for the Elimination of Racism that commemorates the March 21, 1960, deadly attack by police on peaceful demonstrators against apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa, that killed 69 people.
Canada has had its share of racial and religious intolerance involving Islamophobia and Indigenous peoples, a fact acknowledged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Today, we take a hard look at the present and recognize a reality at home that does not always live up to the values we project to the world,” he said in a statement on his website. “Racial discrimination persists in our communities and every day denies friends and neighbors – fellow Canadians – the opportunity and justice they deserve.”
A motion condemning Islamophobia in Canada was passed last year by the federal government but not before acrimonious debate in Parliament.
The province of Quebec also passed a law that forbade face coverings for anyone trying to access public services. The law is widely viewed as targeting the niqab and burka worn by Muslim women. It was put on hold by a judge until guidelines are created by Quebec to allow for religious accommodations.
And an inquiry into as many as 4,000 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the last 30 years is ongoing as critics charge authorities did not properly investigate the cases because the victims are natives.
The nationwide investigation into racism and racial discrimination will be paid for out of a new CAN$23 million fund created to foster multicultural programs.
“We recognize the need to counter all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and we are taking action to address the ongoing challenges and discrimination that still exist in our society,” said Simon Ross, a spokesperson for the heritage minister’s office. “We will also be consulting with Canadians to develop a national strategy to combat racism in Canada.”