Major Canadian universities call for unity against racism amid demonstrations


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Most of Canada’s major universities are condemning anti-black violence and xenophobia in North America in response to the ongoing demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality.

“The University of Toronto shares the profound concerns that have arisen in response to recent events in the United States and here in Toronto,” says University of Toronto (U of T) president Meric Gertler, in one of dozens of statements from the leaders of Canada’s largest post-secondary institutions.

“On behalf of the U of T community, let me repeat in the strongest terms possible our condemnation of anti-Black racism and discrimination.”

Demonstrations have continued in Canada and the U.S. since May 25, when George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and the other three officers involved have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

Canadian universities also recognize their students are not immune to incidents of profiling and racial injustice.

A video emerged last summer from the University of Ottawa (U of O) showing a young black student being followed and arrested by campus security. Jamal Boyce was detained after he was told by security he was trespassing. He identified himself as a U of O student but was not carrying his student ID.

Boyce says the incident, in which he was handcuffed for two hours until Ottawa police arrived and released him without charge, was a clear act of racial profiling.

An independent investigation commissioned by U of O president Jacques Frémont says race played a role in the incident.

“It also concludes that the university’s outdated operational procedures and inadequate training was a second factor in the incident. I accept this report and its findings,” said Frémont.

U of T has a long history of being accused of discrimination and racism, which the school says it is trying to correct.

U of T history professor Michael Marrus resigned his position in 2017 after making a comment to a black graduate student referencing slavery. Nearly 200 students and faculty signed a petition demanding he be removed.

“For many of our members who have seen, heard of or experienced racism at Massey College, this latest incident will come as no surprise,” said CUPE 3902, a union representing U of T educators.

A 2019 report by Universities Canada says while the percentage of women in senior leadership positions is now almost proportionate to that of men, racialized people represent only eight per cent of senior leaders and 21 per cent of full-time faculty.

In his June 1 statement, UBC president Santa J. Ono outlined measures UBC will take to fight racial injustice, such as ensuring the Inclusion Action Plan has adequate resources, meeting with the Black Caucus and the Asian Canadian Community Engagement Group, and assuring public safety officers and other figures of authority are “adequately trained to eliminate any unconscious or implicit bias.”

“We must work together to dismantle the tools of oppression and white supremacy that remain prevalent and entrenched in our everyday systems,” says Ono.

This comes after a June 2, 2019 incident in which black graduate student Shelby McPhee was illegally detained by RCMP at a UBC event called the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences. Two other members, who are white, asked McPhee to produce proof he was a registered attendee before harassing and photographing him, incorrectly accusing him of stealing a laptop, and contacting campus police and the RCMP.

An open letter from the Black Canadian Students Association said a representative from the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences arrived and “spoke to the two accusers first and only spoke to McPhee after police confirmed he had been fully exonerated.”

Late last year, President Alan Shepard of the University of Western Ontario assembled an anti-racism working group after a professor’s use of the N-word in lecture was widely condemned by major student groups.

While the initiative was lauded by student associations, Chizoba Oriuwa, a black UWO student, became the focus of anonymous hate speech sent to her university email after she shared her experience.

Other Canadian universities are organizing events in response to the recent demonstrations in Canada and the United States.

University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur announced in his June 2 statement the university will be hosting training sessions led by Kike Ojo-Thompson from the Kojo Institute, for leaders to reflect on pledges regarding anti-racism and equity.

“I said on April 2 – in the face of racist remarks made by individuals in our own community – that the University of Waterloo condemns racism in all its forms,” says Hamdullahpur.

More events around diversity and inclusion will be held at the university throughout June.

University resources for students: 

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