Critical Race Theory: The Case For Evaluating What We “Know” and How We Teach

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February 21, 2023 Critical Race Theory: The Case For Evaluating What We “Know” and How We Teach
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February 21, 2023

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

Critical Race Theory: The Case for Evaluating What We "Know" and How We Teach

Chairman: Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada

Nancy Simms, M.A. ADR, Candidate Ed.D. Higher Education and Policy. OISE, University of Toronto

Distinguished Guest Speakers
Kearie Daniel, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Parents of Black Children
Joshua Sealy-Harrington, Assistant Professor and Counsel, Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Toronto Metropolitan University and Power Law
Craig Wellington, Executive Director & CEO, Black Opportunity Fund
Stuart Whittingham, Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, Miller Thomson

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau; literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon. Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. I'm delighted to be here with you and our speakers today. Thank you for your participation and support. Our role at the Empire Club is to inspire thought leadership and learning. As a trusted forum for conversations that matter, we provide a platform for the professionals of our community to profile their expertise. We hope to spark meaningful connections and productive dialogue by having you, our incredible colleagues and peers, help us sustain and grow our nation's diverse wealth of knowledge. Welcome, my name is Sal Rabbani, and I’m the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada.

To formally begin this afternoon, I want to acknowledge that we're gathering on the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. We encourage everyone to learn more about the traditional territory on which you work and live.

The Empire Club of Canada is a not-for-profit organization, and I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the club, and make these events possible and complimentary for our online viewers to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsor, Miller Thomson; and thank you to our season sponsors, Bruce Power, Hydro One, and TELUS.

If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We invite questions from the audience by accessing the Q&A function under the video player.

During today's program, I want to recognize that the Empire Club has evolved over the years and strives to ensure it reflects diversity in its topics, speakers, and governance structures. The Empire Club believes that public dialogue has immense power to connect people to ideas and each other. Our panellists today will speak to their expertise on Critical Race Theory, a decades-old academic approach typically found in postgraduate studies. They will give us insight to how we may advance our critical thinking skills about race and its role in Canadian society. I welcome you to support open dialogue as the cornerstone of an informed and healthy society by submitting your questions and inquiries throughout the discussion.

It is now my pleasure to invite Stuart Whittingham, Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Miller Thomson, for opening remarks. Stuart, welcome.

Opening Remarks by Stuart Whittingham, Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, Miller Thomson
Many thanks, Sal. My name is Stuart Whittingham, and I'm the director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Miller Thomson, a national business law firm with approximately 525 lawyers working from 10 offices across Canada. The firm offers a complete range of business law and advocacy services. On behalf of Miller Thomson, I welcome all of today's virtual attendees, and future on demand viewers, to today's important discussion on, “Critical Race Theory: The Case for Evaluating What We Know and How We Teach.” Miller Thomson is proud to support today's conversation.

As Sal mentioned, the Empire Club of Canada provides a forum for speakers to engage, debate, and educate, advancing dialogue on issues of importance to Canadians. Today's discussion is one of those important dialogues that I suspect may cause us to pause and to reflect and to learn. With today's discussion, the Empire Club of Canada marks Black History Month, a time to celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation we know today. It is also an opportunity to learn about the experiences of Black Canadians, and the vital role that this community has played throughout our history. But a month is not enough: I encourage everyone to celebrate Black excellence today, and every day.

I'm honoured to introduce today's moderator, Nancy Simms. Nancy is a thought leader in the field of human rights, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and has done significant work in the areas of violence against women and children, racial equity, adult basic literacy, human resources, and human rights. Currently, Nancy is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, where she teaches Critical Race Theory; and at Humber College, where she teaches and the Transformative Equity Inclusion and Belonging Leadership Certificate Program. Nancy believes that education is one of the bridges to equity, and her quest is to leave the world in better shape than she entered it. Please welcome Nancy and our esteemed panel for today's important conversation. Thank you.

Nancy Simms M.A. ADR, Candidate Ed.D. Higher Education and Policy. OISE, University of Toronto
Thank you, Stuart. Good afternoon, and welcome to the panel discussion on, “Critical Race Theory: The Case for Evaluating What We Know and How We Teach.” I appreciate you all for being here today. First, allow me to acknowledge Black History 365. Black people have been contributing to the building of Canada for centuries, and we’ll continue to do so.

With all the recent publicity around Critical Race Theory—for short CRT—this topic is timely. Our goal over the next 45 minutes or so is to share some of the thinking about Critical Race Theory in Canada, and its application. What exactly is this thing called Critical Race Theory? And over the next 45 minutes, I will share a few points on CRT, and then I'll turn to the panel with a number of questions. This will be followed with a Q&A period from the audience, and the final question to the panellists. We have a distinguished panel, and they will share with you today much about Critical Race Theory; a fulsome bio is posted on the website.

And so, I will now introduce to you Joshua Sealy-Harrington. Joshua is an assistant professor at Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Metropolitan Toronto University, and counsel at Power Law. Next, Kearie Daniel. Kearie is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Parents of Black children. And our third panellist is Craig Wellington. Craig is the Executive Director and CEO of the Black Opportunity Fund.

To start the conversation, I want to share a few thoughts on CRT. Critical Race Theory is about the interrogation of race, racism, and power, and their embeddedness in individual, institutional, and structural systems. CRT has its roots in the US in and around the 1970’s and has been present in Canada since the 1980s. Though CRT originally focused on law, it has branched out into several other disciplines, including education.

Without much ado, my first question is to Joshua to kick us off. So, hi, Joshua. What are the key principles of Critical Race Theory, and how can these principles contribute to dismantling racism in Canada?

Joshua Sealy-Harrington, Assistant Professor & Counsel, Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Toronto Metropolitan University, Power Law
I want to begin by thanking the Empire Club for hosting this panel—while also noting that there is some irony in discussing Critical Race Theory at an organization named after empire, itself an idea rooted in white supremacy, as I'm sure the Empire Club is itself aware of. Let's take the opportunity of this panel to reflect on first, where we've come from in terms of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous European settler colonialism, and second, where Critical Race scholars might advocate we should be going next.

Now, what are the key principles of Critical Race Theory? There's a lot of caricatures of Critical Race Theory in the right-wing, and even mainstream media. So, I'm glad we're starting here with some definitions. Indeed, the mere fact of hosting this panel in 2023 has triggered conservative opposition by the Canada Strong and Free Network, just as McGill Law School’s posting for a single Critical Race Theory scholar in 2020 triggered conservative opposition by a co-founder of the Runnymede Society. And just as my daring to teach a single Critical Race Theory course in Canada triggered conservative opposition by slate of ventures at the Law Society of Ontario, who are campaigning to remove Critical Race Theory from the legal profession.

Critical Race Theory is in one sense about analyzing racial patterns in law and society. And three supposed freedom organizations, desperate to suppress even just conversations about race, let alone doing anything about racial inequality, should tell you something about what freedom—or perhaps more accurately, whose freedom—these organizations have in mind.

Critical Race Theory is no monolith, and it has no dogmatic axioms, but it is characterized by scholars and activists interested in Black freedom, in Indigenous freedom, in Palestinian freedom; in freedom for the unhoused, freezing to death in a city that won't even divert .07 percent of its stratospheric police budget to open warming centres in the middle of winter; in freedom for exploited migrant labourers, who literally die while working in manufactured conditions of precarity on Ontario farms; in freedom for trans youth, who currently occupy the epicentre of burgeoning fascism in North America.

Still, what principles do Critical Race scholars tend to coalesce around? Some of these principles are simply facts. Critical Race scholars, for example, will describe race as a social construction, rather than as a biological trait. But to call this a principle that Critical Race scholars happen to advance would be misleading. The social character of race is a near universal consensus held by all of the relevant academic disciplines, geneticists, sociologists, anthropologists, biologists, et cetera. So, one could call this a principle of Critical Race Theory, but it's perhaps more accurately understood as a principle of reality, an understanding of race generated through rigorous scholarship, and cognizant of how a biological conception of race was at the foundation of the Holocaust and child slavery.

But Critical Race scholars also agree—perhaps somewhat more controversially—that race matters. This, too, however, is a fairly modest principle, which can make one wonder where all the conservative opposition to Critical Race Theory really comes from. I think, objectively speaking, that it is a relatively modest proposition to think that race is an important subject of inquiry in a settler colonial state, where pervasive racial inequalities are well-documented by uncontested evidence. Anti-Indigenous mass incarceration, anti-Black police violence, anti-Palestinian censorship, these are well documented phenomenon. Simply observing and talking about them is not—as conservatives like to say—making everything about race. Rather, it is acknowledging the salience of race in our everyday lives. So, race is a relevant social phenomenon. That's what all of the controversy seems to be about, and that Critical Race scholars analyze.

Now, how does Critical Race Theory help us to dismantle racism in Canada? First, Critical Race Theory helps us name racism. Is racist for police to conduct random stops, when those stops disproportionately target Black and Brown men? Is it racist for the Canadian State to exclude racialized migrant farm workers from basic employment standards? Is it racist for the Toronto District School Board to suppress Palestinian solidarity? If we are committed to anti-racism—which I hope most of us are—then we have to be able to name the racism we are acting in opposition to. Critical Race Theory, alongside Indigenous and other legal theories, help us in this process of naming.

Second, Critical Race Theory helps us to challenge racism. CRT is interested in many things, but one of its principal interests is the ways in which legal institutions have been used to entrench white supremacy across North America. How, for example, we have a constitutional commitment under the Charter to racial equality, yet pervasive racial inequality across various public institutions, including prisons, policing, health, housing and education. How we have a constitutional right to an impartial jury, and yet, when an Indigenous victim is involved, routine all-white juries who exonerate their white killers. How the leading case on judicial bias in Canada is about a Black woman judge acknowledging racial bias in policing, in Halifax, of all places.

These racial patterns are no accident. They are structured by legal power, which is facially race-neutral, but in effect, deeply race-biased. I do think that political struggle is primarily won in the streets rather than in the courtroom, as we recently saw with education workers striking against poverty wages in Ontario. But Critical Race scholars do tend to believe that attention to the legal system is an important part of the political struggle for racial justice. So, making our institutions less racist. That is also why Critical Race Theory is, unfortunately, controversial to conservatives—and even liberals—invested in maintaining those institutions. Conservatives like to claim that Critical Race Theory is taking over all of our cultural and political institutions. But the illusion of that takeover in the midst of increasing material racial inequality is, ironically, precisely what Critical Race scholars would name and challenge. Critical Race scholars—or at least those I consider myself aligned with—actively critique the current moment in which identity politics is being co-opted by powerful institutions to resist structural change. Perhaps that critique is precisely why so many want to see us silenced. Thank you.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so very much, Joshua. The next question is for Kearie. Kearie, CRT calls for our involvement in activism to build a better world. And so, how have you used Critical Race Theory in your advocacy in relation to the elimination of anti-Black racism towards Black children?

Kearie Daniel, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Parents of Black Children
Thank you, Nancy. Joshua, I just want to say thank you for your response to the first question, and the fulsome nature that you provided, and just anchoring this conversation. So, Parents of Black Children is an advocacy organization, we work to support Black families across Canada, primarily in Ontario. We go where we are needed. And we are structured, we are founded, we are anchored in Critical Race Theory, and anti-oppression. And we use Critical Race Theory in everything we do. We acknowledge that the experiences of our children, the experiences of our family, as they come up against systems like the justice system, the education system, the child welfare system, are not neutral experiences. And we communicate that to our parents very clearly. It's something that we have to demystify, almost, for our families who are expecting a neutral experience, but that's not, that is not the case. And so, that's anchored and Critical Race Theory and in the work that we do. It's, you know, we know that the way in which systems impacts our families contribute to the harm that we see for our families.

And so, when we're advocating, we're going in looking for accountability. And we're, we're looking for a resolution to what our parents are experiencing. We've created resources that support families, we have a toolkit called A Simple Request, where we encourage educators to examine their pedagogy, to examine the way in which they are, their classrooms exist for Black students, and really give them a roadmap into how to facilitate an experience for Black students that is more equitable. And so, that simple request book has gone out to educators across the province, and it is anchored in Critical Race Theory. And we call that out at the very beginning, we explain what it is. So, this idea that there, you know, we, Critical Race Theory is not in our schools, or we don't want it to be part of our education system, it is. It is in the work that we do every day.

We are part of a Student and Family Advocate program where there are 17 advocacy organizations across this province that are supporting Black families who are navigating racial violence in the education system, and adjacent systems. And all of us are working from the same framework. We are working with the understanding that there is nothing wrong with our communities. For too long, there has been this focus, this laser focus, on Black people as inherently broken; that there is something we need to fix about Blackness and Black people. But Critical Race Theory forces us to look at the system, to look at the structure. And that's the approach that we take when we enter into a system like the education system, or the child welfare system. We are looking for accountability, and Critical Race Theory forces systems to think about how they are accountable for the harm that they are causing our children.

So, we see all sorts of racial violence with our kids. We have a child welfare system where there is gross overrepresentation of our Black families, destroying our Black families and our Black communities. We have Black children who are waking up in the morning unable to see because of the racism that they are experiencing, their body is shut down, and they are experiencing adverse physiological effects because of the racism that they are experiencing. And is not because of something inherently wrong with them; that is a systemic issue. And so, when we go in, as an advocacy organization, looking for accountability, we're doing it on the basis that there is something wrong with the system, and we need to address what's wrong with the system. So, that's always the approach that we take. That's how we utilize Critical Race Theory in the work that we do every day.

And, you know, for us, the accountability piece is really what's going to drive change. We talked about Critical Race Theory coming out of the US, and law schools and looking to Critical Race Theory as a way to explain racism. And, you know, we actually utilize the law as well—I agree with Joshua when he says that much of the systemic change that we need to see, we need to see it, it needs to, it's like street justice that we need. We need to be out in the streets advocating for the change. But we also utilize the law at Parents of Black children, and we encourage our families to sue education systems, child welfare systems, where they are being impacted. And I think that's a, that's an important aspect of the work that we do as well, because it forces the system to be accountable to change. That's the only way that we're going to have a different conversation in 20 years, instead of the same conversation over and over again.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so very much, Kearie. That was a lot said, and we'll have some time after Craig speaks to do some unpacking of that. So, the third question is for Craig. Craig, CRT acknowledges that racism is systemic. In your work, as an EDI consultant with organizations, what practical steps can be taken to integrate Critical Race Theory into institutional policies and their outcomes for Black people?

Craig Wellington, Executive Director & CEO, Black Opportunity Fund
Thank you, thank you for the question, Nancy. And thank you, Joshua and Kearie, for the setup and the clarity that you've brought to the discussion with your words. And again, thank you to the Empire Club for facilitating this discussion and being open for self-critique. I think one of the key things that I find in terms of, in particular, the work that I've done in terms of DEI systemic racism training in Canada and the US, is there is a, the most critical need is to provide a framework for context, and to educate policymakers and those in position of power of Canada's direct role and a responsibility in setting up systems and structures that are inherently designed to maintain a status quo of racial hierarchy, with Black, racialized, and Indigenous people at the bottom rungs of the ladder. Because if you have—because that understanding determines the urgency and the impetus for action. So, if you feel that disparate socio-economic outcomes for Black and Indigenous peoples across the board today are due to the actions of someone else, then any steps you take towards achieving equity have less urgency, because what you perceive it as is a benevolent act, by you, to fix a problem created by someone else for which you have no responsibility, or a problem created by the victims themselves. But if you acknowledge that systems, policies, and structures, have been set up deliberately in Canada, which have directly contributed to the racial inequities inherent today, then there is more urgency for direct action.

So, the central premise of the arguments against CRT is that systemic and structural racism either does not exist in Canada—and you'll still hear people deny that slavery existed in Canada, or that slavery was, you know, it wasn't as significant as it is in the US, because, you know, we push the Underground Railroad to the forefront of our national narrative, and the story of two hundred years of African enslavement here, is covered up. So, the Underground Railroad makes Americans look bad, and makes us feel good about ourselves, reinforces our view of Canadian exceptionalism, that we were the safe place for Africans who fled America through the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. But we don't talk about the narrative that the 1700’s, Canadian enslaved Africans escaped to Vermont, Michigan, Ohio, and New York for freedom. We don't talk about the fact that in the early 20th century, the Canadian Department of Immigration actually tried to dissuade Black Americans from immigrating to Canada, that doctors were paid by our government to turn back Black migrants at the border, mandated that the doctors inflict invasive examinations as a deterrence from entering Canada. The government sent doctors to Oklahoma and Kansas to spread propaganda to Black Americans around unlivable weather conditions of Canada, telling Black men their daughters would be vulnerable to rape and exploitation in Canada. These are deliberately done, while at the same time courting white European settlers with promise of free land and tax dollars.

So, these are—the social economic conditions that we're seeing today are not happenstance. They were done for a reason; they were done deliberately. And when we have an understanding of that, again, the impetus from change is more urgent. And the danger of the thinking of this post-racial narrative, or non-racial narrative that Canada has long held, is that if you believe that behavioural modification by Black and Indigenous people, for example, is the central issue to solve racial disparities, then logical, you feel that government is wasting taxpayers’ money, and is just throwing money to fund programs to fund, you know, resources to irresponsible people, and create dependencies that are fueling irresponsible behaviour. And that is the narrative we hear that we need to dismantle.

So, if we understand that Canada's role in creating the systems that were inherently racist, it impacts how we respond. So, we need to have the same deliberate, sustained response to dismantling racist structures, as was put into building them in the first place. And we also need to acknowledge that equity is not a zero-sum game; it's not pi. Someone else getting equity does not mean I have less. So, it is additive. And wherever any segment of our society is prevented from achieving to their full potential, it erodes the potential of Canada as a whole.

So, my experience coming to Canada as an immigrant. At 19 years old, I sued Square One Shopping Mall, and its security company, for racial harassment—at a time when that was, I think, the largest shopping mall in Ontario. I had no agency; I was in the country for four years; I had no money; and I was too stupid to realize that some recent immigrant with no money can't sue a multi-billion-dollar corporation and win. So, because I was so naïve, I just did it, and won. And that's, essentially, how I paid for my undergrad degree. But then, took it further. And with the help of Alvin Curling, who was an MPP at that time, Black MPP, we went out and said there is an issue here with the way the Trespass to Property Act is being used to target Black youth in shopping malls across Ontario. And then we took that to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who commissioned a study led by Raj Anand—who later became the head of the Ontario Human Rights Committee—that identified that this was exactly the case, and as a result of that, the Trespass to Property Act was changed.

But understanding that, you know, again, that approach to recognizing that this was not an isolated individual incident. That there was something there in a system, and a policy, and a legal framework, that is driven inherently by systemic racism is what's critical. So, once we have that kind of understanding, it again really enforces and drives the impetus, the impetus for change.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so very much, Craig, you've said so much. And I hope we get a chance to go a little deeper in that. In the interest of time, I'm going to invite the panellists who might have questions for each other, or recommend, to address them at this time. So, we have a bit of time that we can do some conversations among the panellists.

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
I can start if no one else....

Nancy Simms
Thank you, Joshua. Please, go ahead.

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
I want to pose a question to Kearie about the—I’m curious about your advising on legal claims with people that you work with, when legal institutions are often so much more effectively leveraged by kind of powerful and more high-income interests. I also use legal institutions at times, and do think they're an important part of advocacy. But I also see them as presenting somewhat of a dilemma, because of the ways in which they're a relatively elite space of organizing and dispute resolution. So, I'd just love to hear more about how you go about doing that advising, and what your kind of thoughts are, reflections are on it.

Kearie Daniel
Thank you. We take the approach that we need creative lawyers. And you're right, you know, we're working within a system and within a framework that is inherently racist. And you know, the legal system is no different. But we feel, as an organization, that it is important for our families to be able to utilize the law—which is their right—in order to ensure that their children are being treated equitably. So, we were looking at the Los Angeles Police Force, and part of why they were forced to change—and people can argue that, you know, not enough change has happened within that police department—but part of why they were forced to change is because there was so many lawsuits at one point that insurers were not wanting to further insure the police department because of the number of lawsuits. And so, we've looked at that approach. When we think about our school boards, it is without—categorically, across this province, and across this country, our Black children are being harmed when they go into the education system. We have had educators who call us who say, “I'm seeing something, I'm seeing racism perpetuated against a Black child or Black student. It's horrible, but I can't step in, because if I say something, I'm going, there's going to be repercussions for me, or I want to advance within my career, and I'm afraid that won't happen for me if I step in.” We get those phone calls.

As a result of that, we've launched on our website and anonymous reporting tool, so that we can see what's going on, and educators can report into us without fear. But we see that, and we see it in the sheer volume of calls. We've had children who are physically harmed, physical abuse, some—a child who lost their fingers out in Hamilton. And there's neglect there with the education system, and there is no accountability. And the only way we can force accountability is through legal action.

Oftentimes, we, you know, there's pushback from school boards—someone mentioned systems who are not even acknowledging that there is systemic racism or anti-Black racism. And we do come up against that. And so, we have to utilize the legal system to get some justice for our families. We have a law firm, a lawyer that we work with, where they're looking at creative ways to challenge the system. We're looking at it, you know, almost as personal injury, in many cases, because it is a personal injury. But you're right in saying that the case law around racism, and anti-Black racism in particular, is limited, but we're pushing our challenging it. And it's the same thing for child welfare.

You know, this week alone, we have a mother tomorrow who is likely going to lose her parental rights. This woman has never harmed her child, she has never physically harmed a child, she's never emotionally harmed her children. But she is caught up, she has a single parent who was caught up in the child welfare system. And it is so insidious, she is going to lose her parental rights tomorrow. That's one parent. We actually have to in the same situation this month. And, and through really no fault of their own. And, and these are systemic issues. And so, for us, when the system works the way it works, the only the only pathway left is the legal option. And we choose to go down that option.

It's, it's not easy. I always say we have enough cases for a class-action lawsuit. But finding a law firm and lawyers who are prepared to go down that route and take on these cases is challenging. But we have over 300 families. We have put in a request to the Ontario Human Rights Commission to launch an inquiry into the experiences of Black children in the education system. A fulsome inquiry. They have refused. And their response is, you know, we've done an inquiry on policing, we've done an inquiry on suspensions. And all of that is true, but they've never done a fulsome inquiry. For decades, our families have been navigating the education system. We've never had a fulsome inquiry by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. And we've asked for that.

And so, you know, these are all, these are all challenges. And so, for us, if we're not going to get the inquiry, then who do we have to sue in order to get justice for our families, in order to change the system so our kids can go to go to school and have a peaceful educational experience.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so very much, Kearie. I wonder, though, whether or not one organization calling for changes in the system is sufficient, and how do we get your story out so that there are more organizations? Because I do know that the Ontario Human Rights Commission will respond to pressure, but that pressure has to be much larger than one or two individuals. Thank you so much for that. I wonder if there were any other questions, or any further comments before we move on to the questions from the audience?

Craig Wellington
Yes, I mean, and I'd like to throw this one Josh’s way, too, to look at. I mean, we're looking at—so, the Black Canadian Justice Strategy, which is mandated by the Justice Minister, and it just announced the steering group and Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is on that, and so on. And you mentioned, Nancy, about the collective advocacy. So, our group, on the Black Opportunity Fund. So, within our—we have a Justice Working Group, which represents a number of organizations right across Canada working in this space, who wrote a letter advocating to government on some key issues, and to ensure that the voices of communities across Canada are represented. Oftentimes, these become very Ontario-centric issues, and we don't recognize that, you know, Black is not a monolith, and Black Canada is not a monolith.

But in terms of one of the, one of the precedents, the Gladue Principles of Indigenous justice, of how First Nations peoples involved in the criminal justice system have the opportunity for during presentence reports, to have the factoring of intergenerational trauma, of systemic racism, read into the reports. That is not something now that is widely done or acknowledged for Black Canadians involved in the justice system. And, you know, that is something that we've talked about, potentially, that the Black Canadians Justice Strategy could advocate for. Now, the challenge is, of course, is within the various—you're talking about various jurisdictions, you have things within the justice system that are under the remit of federal, then there are those provincial, and policing is municipal. But what are your thoughts on that, of having that kind of something embedded into the presentencing reports that would take into account intergenerational trauma for Black accused?

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
Yeah, this is a great question. And this was, this was the topic of the Isaac Moot this year, which is Critical Race Theory for law schools across Canada, which I've prepared for the last four years. So, it's a topic often on my mind. I think that systemic racism should inform sentencing. The Supreme Court, actually, just a couple of weeks ago in Hills, seems to tacitly approve of that idea, which I think is a welcome approval. But I think we also need to be careful with the State's tactics that are meant to resist greater forms of structural change. So, do I think we need more contextualized sentencing? Yes. I think, more importantly, we also need less criminal punishment.

You know, when I talked earlier about how Toronto City Council is unwilling to divert .07 percent of police funding to warming centres, right—not even housing, just centres that prevent people from freezing to death in Toronto—that tells you something about the city's budgetary priorities, and the relationship between those priorities and white supremacy. Ultimately, if we want to talk about criminal punishment and criminal conduct within society, we, our budgetary priorities are entirely obsessed with forms of after-the-fact punishment, and entirely disinterested in forms of proactive investment, support, and care, which could actually do something about various forms of racial inequity in society.

You know, the United States is one of the most carceral and punitive societies in the world and has very high rates of criminality. I would suggest that these are related. That when you remove resources, and care, and support from communities, and funnel all of that money into punishment, that you're actually exacerbating the problem rather than that, rather than addressing it.


Nancy Simms
Thank you so very much. So, moving right along, there are some questions from the audience, and I'll throw them out to the panel. The first question is, what strategy would you propose Canada takes to include CRT in schools, either formally or informally? What age is appropriate? And is it necessary to label this kind of education as CRT? So, there are about three questions here. I'm going to repeat them. What strategy would you propose Canada takes to include CRT in schools, either formally or informally? That's the first question. So....

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
I think this is best for Kearie to lead.

Kearie Daniel
I can start, sure. So, you know—so I'll answer the first question first, which is around strategies. And I mentioned Parents of Black Children, and our booklet, A Simple Request. And one of the challenges, if we're talking federally, is that education is a provincial mandate. And so, you know, our booklet, A Simple Request, which is, it is anchored in Critical Race Theory—we say it right at the very beginning of the booklet, and we explain what it is—but it's a step-by-step guide to illustrate to teachers how to decolonize their classroom, how to create a classroom environment, a school environment that is more conducive to Black, to Black students. And we took that toolkit, we actually borrowed the idea from that toolkit from an Indigenous toolkit that was created for Indigenous families within the education system. And so, it's the same, exactly the same model.

So, if we're looking for a framework in which we can roll out, I think it's just a matter of providing the information to educators that they need, in order to facilitate classroom experiences that are that are more conducive to, you know, for Indigenous and Black learners.

But there is also accountability. So, it is not just—we can't just expect that all educators are going to say yes, I'm going to change, you know, my, the way my curriculum looks for this for this class, or I'm going to change my, the way in which I teach this class. There has to be accountability that is, that is attached to that. In Ontario, one of the areas of accountability that is critical for us at Parents of Black Children—and other organizations as well—is that, when there is an instance of anti-Black racism, when we do see instances of discrimination and racism, that those instances are reported to the Ontario College of Teachers. Right now, in the legislation, it says they should be reported. It is not mandated. But we are asking for it to be mandated. And I will add that the change in that legislation only came in 2020. So, before 2021, it wasn't, you didn't have to report racial discrimination. It wasn't even mentioned as a thing in the Ontario College of Teachers Act. It is now, but it is still not mandated. So, that's one area.

I think there was a question about how, what was the—why do we have to label it CRT? You know, I would pose the question back. What's wrong with labelling it CRT? Why are we so afraid of this name, this title, Critical Race Theory. I would pose that question back to do some self-reflexive, and reflective practices, to think about why we're so afraid of this idea of Critical Race Theory.

The Durham Catholic District School Board, just last year, inexplicably decided that they would be, they didn't want to have anything to do with Critical Race Theory. And so, they removed their anti-racism policy from the school board. It made absolutely zero sense. They've subsequently had to put it back, but it made no sense. How do you, why is this idea of examining the systemic, you know, abuses of a system—particularly as it pertains to Black people, or racialized people, or people who have been traditionally left out of the system—why is that, you know, called into question, and why do we have to change the language? So, you know, I wouldn’t even answer that. I would just say, I would put it back on that, on the person who's asking the question to say, why are we afraid of that language? There's nothing wrong with calling it. Just like there's nothing wrong with saying, you know, this system is racist. What we're experiencing is racism.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so much, Kearie. I’m going to move on to another question. How would you suggest an organization counter arguments that Critical Race Theory makes white people feel bad, and makes racialized people feel like victims? I’m gonna repeat that. How would you suggest an organization counter arguments that Critical Race Theory makes white people feel bad, and makes racialized people feel like victims? Craig, I wonder if you would take that one?

Craig Wellington
Yeah, it's a very interesting one, because that is the, one of the strongest arguments, right? Stop talking about racism because you're guilting white Canadians. At the end of the day, what we're talking about is Canadian history. So, if we're going to teach Canadian history, then we need to teach it all, and we need to teach it in context, as opposed to the filtered version that we have. So, the filtered version that we have—which embeds racial hierarchies—makes people who are not seen, and not valued, feel uncomfortable. So, why are we okay with that. Right? So, what we need to do, as I said, we need to be able to, we need to be able to talk about just real conversations.

So, and there's a misconception by talking about race, and you've acknowledged systemic racism, it means you're paralyzed by it, you know, there's, “oh, you're always playing the race card, and you're using it as an excuse not to take responsibility for your own progress.” And that's absolutely not the case. It is a reality. Right? CRT suggests racism, systemic racism, is embedded in our systems. It's a reality, just like the weather. So, if the weather report calls for rain, I'm not going to avoid going to work or to my appointments, but I'm going to take some steps to mitigate getting wet. So, if you ignore the weather report, pretend it isn't going to rain—despite all of the data—then you're going to get wet. Right? And some places we know it rains more than others. And it's the same with systemic and structural racism. All we're doing is acknowledging a reality.

So, we're way past the point of needing to explain that it exists. We're past that point. Even though we spend so much time—and this is the, this is the baggage that Black people face, is having to explain racism when it's obvious. And it's just this additional baggage that we get. So, we're way past that point, and we just have to buttress ourselves with context, so we can mitigate the impacts of racism, in the same way we mitigate the impacts of weather and getting wet. It's a reality.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so much, Craig. In the light of that question, there's one more I think we can get here, which is, there is much denial of systemic racism—some will say we have no systemic racism. Could you provide some examples of contemporary systemic racism? Is it always intended, or can it be unintended? Joshua, I wonder if you want to start us off with that response.

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
Yeah, no, I'm happy to. On the point of definition, systemic racism right now is kind of seen as this new idea that Critical Race Theory is infusing in society, as opposed to being a legal concept recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 80’s. So, it's actually not that new. And when various conservative and public actors describe it as new, I'd say that's primarily a strategic tactic of obfuscation. As to whether or not intent is needed, the legal definition of systemic racism is all about the ways in which normalized practices can perpetuate systemic racial inequality.

So, yes, one of the components of it are that it doesn't need to be intended, or obviously intended, for things to be systemically racist. And in fact, this is a very important innovation in the context—not recent but old innovation in the context—of making legible forms of racial inequality, because advocates of racial domination have shifted. It used to be that laws were just overtly racist in Canada and the United States. Now they are coded as neutral, but continue to do very similar—if not identical—practices of racial domination. So, this is why systemic racism is an important concept, and why overt intent is not something that's required to legally—or I'd say politically—analyze it.

In terms of examples of systemic racism, there are many. Ninety-eight percent of women incarcerated in, I believe it's Manitoba, are Indigenous. How, right> Like, what a spectacular statistic of inequality and disparity. And you don't only have to look at Indigenous women—though, they're a great example of increasing and horrific inequality within public institutions—but like I said earlier in my remarks, if you look at disciplinary rates in K to 12 education and young Black students, if you look at policing, if you look at prisons, if you look at our exploitation of migrant labour, there are many, many, myriad examples of ways in which the Canadian State continues to practice forms of racial domination. And so, I think there are, you know, there are countless sites that you can look at to see Canada's persistent complicity in racial inequality.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so very much. Did you want to add something to that, Craig?

Craig Wellington
Yeah, I mean, as Josh said, the numbers are there. I mean, Ontario Human Rights Commission study of Toronto Police two years ago showed that Black Toronto residents are 20 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. And we know that Black people are three times more likely to be charged with drug possession than white people, even though Black and white people have the exact same drug or drug use rates. So, there's, there's countless examples of these.

And, you know, we just have to, we can either think that all of these things are accidental and happenstance, or we look at what is the causality. And as Josh said, intent is not the issue when we're looking at systemic racism; we look at impact. Was harm done? So, whether it was intended or not is irrelevant. If harm was done, how do we repair it? How do we look for recompense? Because if it's so embedded in the system, then you don't need overt racist acts for there to be impact. Right? So, so we're looking at impact, again, not causality, not intent.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so much, Craig. The final question for the session, I'd like us to look on us looking at it on a forward way. What are some actions that can be taken to advance CRT in our ongoing work as educators, lawyers, advocates, and consultants? We have about three to four minutes on this one. So, Kearie, thank you.

Kearie Daniel
I think, you know, we spend a lot of, we spend a lot of time pontificating about CRT, and you know, the merits of CRT. But I think everyone, whatever their role is, really needs to examine how they're, what policies are at work, and how the policies within their place of work are disproportionately impacting Black, racialized, Indigenous people, and what that what that looks like. And I think, if you kind of flip it and think about the way in which you work, and the rules that kind of govern, you know, your particular system in that way, it forces you to drive for change. So, asking different questions, I think, is how we can move forward. And really looking at the policies, our legislation, our procedures, who they're impacting most disparately and disproportionately, is really how we need to move forward.

Nancy Simms
Did you want to add a word or two?

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
Yeah. You know, to know where to go, we have to understand where we came from. So, you know, consider the introductory remarks to this panel, a description of Canada as compassionate and a great nation, despite the grave racial inequalities we've been discussing throughout this panel. We’re watching celebrated clips of Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan—who are notorious racists—who presided over racial genocide and oppression. Canada often identifies as a kind of racial paradise, like Craig said, an idyllic end to the Underground Railroad. But this mythology is central to Canada's particular project of deploying ideas like multiculturalism as a shield from scrutiny for its complicity in racial domination, both here and abroad, and both in the past, and most importantly, in the present. So, in terms of where we go, I think we need to go away from institutions of punishment that actively maintain white supremacy, policing, prisons, borders, and towards new institutions and communities of care and support, schools, health, youth centres, employment.

We start, for example, with housing the unhoused, rather than evicting them from parks; passing policies in Canada that support low income communities, rather than corporate developers; and understanding that we start, like we have done today, with actually talking about and challenging racial inequality, rather than suppressing the mere discussion of it, or calling such discussion biased or liberal.

Nancy Simms
Thank you so much, Joshua. Let me close by reiterating two pieces of information that the panellists offered this afternoon. And I'll start out first by saying Critical Race Theory does offer us a framework to assist in understanding the persistence of racism in Canada. And certainly, today we heard some ways in which we can start dismantling it. In particular, particularly, to be looking closely at our policies, and how they're perpetuating violence against not only Black people, but other racialized groups and Indigenous peoples.

The next thing I heard that I thought was important was as we debate about Critical Race Theory, it's important that those critiques that are coming forward, that's grounded in evidence. And so, what I heard Joshua reminding us, is the various narratives, the myths, the lies, that are used to what I call build as the fort for continued systemic racism throughout Canada. But we never, ever have enough time for these types of conversations, and we barely touched the surface of it.

I'm going to call on everyone to join me in thanking Craig Wellington, Kearie Daniel, and Joshua Sealy-Harrington, for sharing some time with us this afternoon, with a very blunt, clear, and articulate discussion around Critical Race Theory. Again, thank you all for joining us. Over to you, Sal.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. Thank you, Nancy. And thanks again to our sponsor, Miller Thomson. Thank you to our panellists, and everyone joining us today. As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on demand on our website. A recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered will receive an email with the link. Thanks again for joining us today. This meeting is now adjourned.

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Critical Race Theory: The Case For Evaluating What We “Know” and How We Teach

February 21, 2023 Critical Race Theory: The Case For Evaluating What We “Know” and How We Teach