Although changes were made to the Ontario schools’ curriculum after the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Committee, recommendations to teach Indigenous histories and acknowledge the cultural genocide of Indigenous populations through colonial practices, along with Canada’s Black histories continue to be much ignored. Earlier this week, Ontario premier Doug Ford stated, “Thank God we’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they’ve had for years”. After a frenzy of media backlash, he quickly U-turned on his comments. The notion that Canada is free from systemic racism is far from the truth. The president of the Ontario Black History Society, Natasha Henry, writes that both Indigenous and Black populations were enslaved in Canada since the early 17th century. By the 1790s, approximately 2,000 Black people were enslaved in the Maritimes, 300 in Lower Canada (Quebec) and 700 in Upper Canada (Ontario). Historical hierarchies along racial lines have had a long-lasting and deeply institutionalized effect. Black students, for example, are more likely to be suspended and treated unfairly at school and Black Torontonians are 20x more likely to be shot by police.
St. James Town is well-known as one of Toronto’s most diverse and multi-cultural neighbourhoods. Yet, in Claiming Space – Racialization in Canadian Cities, Cheryl Teelucksingh highlights how the celebration of ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada has contributed to the obscuring of racism. Without education on Black histories, white privilege is normalised and dangerously rendered invisible whilst simultaneously, Black voices and Black students are dis-empowered.
British Colombia has taken the lead in making a positive change. B.C. education minister, Rob Fleming, has agreed to implement a course on Black history in the curriculum. Similar resources have been created in the UK, not only on Black history but in art, drama, English and geography. Meaningful coverage of Black histories and inclusion of Black authors, poets, and playwrights open up conversations about race, privilege, and power. It is of vital importance that these discussions are had within a safe classroom environment and that Toronto schools follow suit.