'Really frustrating': Racialized people feel ignored in federal election campaign
TORONTO -- Given recent racist attacks in the country and racism hurled at campaigning candidates, racialized people living in Canada say they're concerned that systemic racism hasn't been at the forefront of any of the party leaders' messages.
Some almost 8 million Indigenous, Black and people of colour living in Canada, making up 22 per cent of Canada’s population, are wondering why there hasn't been more focus on racism and issues of race during the election campaign.
"I'm a woman of colour every day of my life, I don't get to turn that off," Samanta Krishnapillai, founder, executive director and editor-in-chief of On Canada Project, an Instagram account that shares information targeted towards Canada’s millennial and Generation Z populations, told CTV News.
She said she had hoped that systemic racism in Canada would be more central to all of the candidates' campaigns.
"I think that is really frustrating to see," she said.
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For Krishnapillai, she feels as though the issues that impact people of colour haven't been seen as crucial during the election campaign.
"The fact that there are party leaders that are able to just move on from this subject and not constantly have it as part of what they're talking about kind of sucks … It's not like our experiences aren't as important," she said.
Not only is Krishnapillai not seeing these important conversations about race, she’s also not seeing the issues of young Canadians reflected in the election campaigns.
“People keep saying, ‘young people don't vote.’ What are you doing to get me to come vote? What are you talking about to get me to care, to get people like me to care?” she said. “It's just been a really lackluster election.”
And she’s not willing to accept the answer that it’s “just politics.”
“Why is that what we accept as politics, if you know that you can do better, why aren't you? You shouldn't have to wait until someone dies or bodies are recovered to do it,” Krishnapillai said.
When Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister in 2015, Krishnapillai said she was excited. She saw a feminist leader who was going to make change, but she sees things differently now.
“I think he's capable of greatness, but I also feel like, it just feels so performative and it doesn't feel genuine,” she said.
That's especially true, she said, after the death of George Floyd in the U.S. kicked off protests across Canada last year in response to police violence against Black and Indigenous people here. This year, meanwhile, thousands of unmarked graves at former residential schools were brought to light, and a family in London, Ont. was killed because – according to police – they were walking while Muslim.
"It really could have been, it could have been my mother," Sarah Barzak, executive director of the London School of Racialized Leaders, told CTV News.
Barzak said that she experienced racism in Canada since she was a child, with other kids telling her: "'go back to your country,' – like, I heard that a lot as a child."
She said she is disappointed that while politicians turned out to a memorial for the family killed in London in June, they have since gone silent on Islamophobia in the country, and systemic racism in general.
"They came, they took the mic, they took all their photo ops, and then they left," she said.
The candidates have spoken about diversity in Canada, but Barzak said just talking about it isn’t enough.
“I don't think it's enough to just say things like ‘diversity is our strength’, when hate crimes are clearly on the rise and there just isn't enough funding and enough push back,” she said.
And some forms of racism she says have gone unmentioned by the candidates on the campaign trail.
“I haven't heard any of the leaders discuss anti-Asian racism, and that has also been on the rise in relation to COVID and xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment,” Barzak said.
After a tumultuous 18 months in which marginalized and racialized communities were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barzak said it is time for the candidates to address these issues.
“Every marginalized community has really gone through the gutters, especially under this pandemic and I don't think there are excuses anymore,” she said. “I think even just acknowledging it is the bare minimum.”
Barzak said she is disappointed that issues of race haven’t been central to the candidates’ election campaigns, and she doesn’t think she’s alone in this feeling.
“I look at leadership and I'm just shaking my head,” said Barzak. “This isn't leadership, this is failure to me, and I think this is failure to a lot of people across the country.”
“This is systemic neglect,” she added.
Some voters were hoping for more, especially after politicians took a knee with protestors last summer.
“I definitely wish that after the year and a half that we all witnessed, you know, Black issues would be centred a little bit more anti-Blackness and issues particular to the Black community would have been discussed a little bit more,” Danièle-Jocelyne Otou, director of communication and strategic engagement of Apathy is Boring, an organization that aims to get younger Canadians involved in politics and Canadian and global issues told CTV News.
At the English-language leaders debate, where not a single Black person was invited to ask the candidates a question, issues that impact Black Canadians were left unaddressed. The anti-Asian hate that has been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic began was also not a topic of discussion.
“I wish that Black voices would have been amplified and highlighted throughout the debate as well. I would have loved to hear from some Asian folks about the last year that they've had and the issues that they would like to see moving forward,” she added.
Sometimes leaders do the bare minimum to engage voters, especially younger ones, and Otou says that's not enough.
"There's this assumption that all you have to do is one little TikTok meme and you'll get the youth vote without taking into account, again, youth interests over the last year and a half have drastically changed and they're paying more attention than ever to Canadian politics," she said.
Indigenous voters are also feeling left behind, as the federal party leaders have largely ignored the continuing discoveries of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools.
The chief of Serpent River First Nation in Ontario had hoped to see the candidates present real solutions to healing these historical wounds.
"Canada needs to have truth before we can have reconciliation," said Chief Brent Bissaillion. "We still haven't gotten to that truth."
Bissaillion said he feels that issues impacting First Nations, Metis and Inuit in Canada haven’t been central to the parties’ campaigns.
“So it does get swept under the rug, and I feel that a lot of the issues that pertain to indigenous people pertain to a lot of other minorities and marginalized folks, and it is kind of disappointing that it's gone to the wayside during this campaign,” he said.
With more and more unmarked graves being discovered in the country, Bissaillion reflects on other moments that seemed like a reckoning in Canada.
“We've had several reckonings this country continually has reckonings every few years. And we continue to be in the same spot. Everything is symbolic,” he said.
Bissaillion said he would like to hear more about what steps the parties will take to follow through on various promises, and issues that impact First Nations, Metis and Inuit in Canada.
“I’d really like to hear from all parties on how we're going to start returning land back to our community so that we can take stewardship,” he said.
Krishnapillai, Barzak, Otou and Bissaillion will participate in CTV's Voters' Viewpoint panel with CTV’s Your Morning host Anne Marie Mediwake as part of CTV News' special election coverage. Join the Voters’ Viewpoint conversation online on CTVNews.ca, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.