‘Dramatic’ decline in Canadians who say discrimination against Black and Chinese communities is not a problem here

There has been a “dramatic” decline in the proportion of Canadians who say that discrimination against Black and Chinese communities is no longer a problem in Canada, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by the Environics Institute alongside Vancity, Century Initiative and the University of Ottawa, is based on research conducted over the course of two public opinion surveys, which were completed in August and September. The first survey was conducted online, and gauged the opinions of 3,008 Canadians. The second survey was based on telephone interviews with 2,000 Canadians, and is accurate within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

The surveys have found that there is little divide on the issue of racism in Canada: the views of those that identify as white and those who are racialized have both shifted in the same direction.

The proportion of Canadians who said that discrimination against Chinese-Canadians is no longer an issue has fallen by just over half. In 2019, 63 per cent of Canadians said it was no longer a problem. In 2020, only 31 per cent agreed that discrimination against Chinese-Canadians was no longer a problem.

Similar trends emerged for how Canadians perceive racism against Black communities: Fewer than half as many — 20 per cent — say it is no longer an issue in Canada than in 2019, when 47 per cent said racism against Black Canadians was no longer an issue.

While many Canadians disagreed discrimination against Indigenous communities was no longer a problem last year, the proportion of people that strongly disagreed grew from 29 per cent in 2019 to 43 per cent this year.

The proportion of Canadians that “agree that it is more difficult for non-white people to be successful in Canadian society” has also grown from 2019, the study found.

There has been a decline over the last decade in confidence in local police and the RCMP, the study survey showed, with 73 per cent of Canadians saying they have a lot or some confidence in police. Meanwhile, 64 say the same about the RCMP. In 2010, 88 per cent expressed confidence in local police, and 84 per cent expressed confidence in the RCMP.

Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute, told the Star that typically, opinions change gradually. This year, though, there are clear, sharp changes in the way Canadians view race and policing.

“In the report, we call (the shift) dramatic — and I don’t think we’re exaggerating,” Parkin said. “That’s a dramatic change in a short period of time.”

The major changes in public perception suggest “that something grabbed the public’s attention and led them to think about these issues in a different way from which they’ve been thinking about them before,” he said.

The report cites the wide public discussion around police brutality, anti-Black racism protests and the publicity of racist behaviour towards Chinese-Canadians in the wake of COVID-19 as the likely trigger for the shift.

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The report “certainly shows a more openness to the idea of systemic racism,” Parkin said.

The shift in thinking shows “we’re moving forward,” said Marva Wisdom, a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “I think that is a good thing. So I am very, very hopeful.”

The survey matches up with what those on the ground doing anti-racism work are experiencing and hearing, she said. However, Wisdom said she’s feeling cautious about the results.

There is “vigilance that has to go along with this,” she said. “It’s critical, and it’s important and while I’m hopeful, I also recognize that we have to build in sustainability in the work that we’re doing.”

Public perception “has never been like this before, the response has never been this consistently positive,” Wisdom said.

“People are working to read books and finding out how they can learn about systemic racism. And, I cannot understate how important that is for our country, our communities, and for especially Black and Indigenous populations going forward.”

Jenna Moon
Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon

TORONTO STAR