Mt. A. hears about slavery, racism and making Black Lives Matter

Robyn Maynard

About 250 Mount Allison students, professors and university staff listened Thursday night as author Robyn Maynard spoke about how, after more than 400 years, racism still prevails in Canada in spite of the country’s self-image as a beacon of tolerance, diversity, equality and human rights.

“Canadians are trained, in fact, to identify anti-Black racism as something that only occurs in another place, the United States, or in another time, the past,” Maynard said.

“I mean that very literally when I say ‘trained’ in terms of schooling and media continually passing on this message.”

Maynard, who is the author of the 2017 bookPolicing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, said blacks still suffer from the dehumanizing effects of the slavery that was widely practised in what is now Canada for more than 200 years.

“Many widely held beliefs around blackness forged under slavery, that black people are pathological, more animal than human, less sentient and able to feel pain, dangerously criminal, these have very much carried forward to the present day and continue to inform many of the ways that black people continue to be treated in this society,” Maynard said.

The title of her talk, which was part of the Mount Allison President’s Speakers Series, was: “Making Black Lives Matter in Canada: Reflections on Race, Gender and Social Justice.”

Institutional racism

Maynard argued that Canada’s public institutions — including the police, prison and immigration systems, schools, and child welfare agencies — treat blacks as though their lives matter less than the lives of others.

“In the criminal justice system, for example, a study just came out from the Ontario Human Rights Commission showing that black people are 20 times more likely to be killed by the police than their white counterparts,” she said. “In Montreal since 1987, black people were 15 per cent of deaths at the hands of the police even though we are eight per cent of the population there.”

Maynard added that such racism extends to the child welfare system.

“Black youth are disproportionately pulled from their homes and placed in state care,” she said, referring to recent figures from Ontario.

Racial profiling

“Has anybody here heard about carding?” Maynard asked her Mt. A. audience. A number of hands went up showing that many were aware of the numbers of black people routinely stopped by police.

She mentioned reports from several cities across the country where racial profiling has become an issue.

Maynard said police surveillance of blacks stretches all the way back to advertisements for “fugitive slaves” offering rewards for the capture and return of those guilty of the crime of “self theft” in seeking to free themselves from bondage.

“Black people moving freely in public space were seen as suspect, were seen as possibly criminals, possibly escaped criminals, which created a kind of intensive scrutiny that has been part of the fabric of the place we now call Canada for centuries,” she said.

Blacks in jail

Maynard added that the abolition of slavery didn’t free black people from past practices and white suspicion.

“In 1868, you have John A. Macdonald who justified actually the need to maintain the death penalty in Canada because of, I quote: ‘The frequency of rape committed by Negroes’ who, he argued, were ‘prone to felonious assaults on white women.'”

Maynard referred to recent statistics showing the over-representation of indigenous and black people in Canadian jails.

The figures show that in federal prisons, for example, black people are over-represented by more than 300 per cent in relation to their population, while indigenous people are over-represented by almost 500 per cent.

Maynard said migrants — who are often black — seeking asylum in Canada are also subject to indefinite detention, some for years.

“According to figures released by the CBSA, the Canada Border Services Agency, just in 2006-2007, more than six thousand migrants were detained, over 400 of them for longer than three months including 162 minors,” she said.

“We often talk rightly about the incarceration of migrant children in the United States without thinking about those realities as they persist in this country,” she added.

Racial segregation

Maynard mentioned segregation in Canadian schools, neighbourhoods and even cemeteries.

“Whenever I’m giving a talk about this, I generally ask people if they learned about, for example, segregated schooling in the United States and the civil rights movement,” she said.

Robyn Maynard autographs her book for Mt. A. President Jean-Paul Boudreau

She added that while most Canadians know about American segregation, few have learned, for example, about segregated schools in Canada. The last one in Ontario closed in 1965, while in Nova Scotia the last segregated school closed in 1983.

In today’s schools, she said, black students face more severe disciplinary measures than their white counterparts. In Toronto, for example, almost half of the students expelled from schools between 2011 and 2016 were black, while only 10 per cent were white.

Maynard said segregation was also practised in at least one orphanage, the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

Before it closed in the 1980s, the segregated orphanage received a government subsidy of $27 per day, per child while other orphanages in Nova Scotia received $55 per day.

Maynard pointed to other racist practices affecting black children.

“In the 1940s, children of what was called ‘Negroid blood’ were deemed non-adoptable and in the 1950s, Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society had children of what was called ‘Negroid appearance’…put right into institutions instead of foster care.”

Recognizing racism

Maynard suggested that in Canada, the word “racist” has become a kind of insult.

“People want to say, ‘I’m not racist’ because that’s a bad thing to be,” she said, adding that it would be more helpful if people recognized that racism is structural, embedded in institutions and that it continues to exist in Canada.

“It’s easy to say ‘I’m not a racist,” she said.

“Instead say, ‘What am I going to do about it?'”

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3 Responses to Mt. A. hears about slavery, racism and making Black Lives Matter

  1. Louis says:

    “She added that while most Canadians know about American segregation, few have learned, for example, about segregated schools in Canada. The last one in Ontario closed in 1965, while in Nova Scotia the last segregated school closed in 1983.”

    Funny thing is, such ideas are back, and this time, they come from self-appointed “representatives” of the black community. For (a somewhat Toronto-centric) example:

    Extremist outfits like BLM and other self-appointed “representatives” of the black (or other) communities seem to me to create more divisions than they solve actual problems. A case in point of this would be their recent – successful – attempt to ban the police from the Toronto Pride Parade. Rather, that the police *want* to be at the Parade should be viewed as a model to move things forward for other communities, I would say. The gay community has clearly won the battle for mainstream acceptance, and that’s a good thing. It’s one *fewer* division in society. Fewer divisions is what I want, not more of them.

    What can I say? I’m against segregation in all its forms. I have a dream that one day, people will be judged not by the colour of their skin (or other similar attributes), but by the content of their character.

  2. Rima Azar says:

    Thank for this article. I am somehow saddened by this invitation to a lecturer who, at least to my eyes as a citizen, reflects a form of intellectual and social unease (or even decadence?) in our society…

    Here are a few links I discovered whilst educating myself on our speaker:

    Article, U of T Press:

    Talk at an Anarchist bookfair in Montreal:

    A debate on CBC after the sad (+ absurd) boycott of Robert Le Page’s “Slav” at the Montreal Jazz Festival because of a so-called “cultural appropriateness”. I wrote *sad* because this boycott kills artistic creativity. I added *absurd* because it ironically discourages empathy, solidarity/unity, and even love in our world:

    To cite the wise words of one of my friends from another province (who will recognize herself if she reads this comment), I feel like saying after watching the CBC link above: Ms. Maynard, luckily the tragic black slavery you are talking about is history now. Why are you insisting on taking us back to the past and enslaving us in it? Can’t we be more constructive in our approach to addressing our current social problems or any of our ongoing forms of racism or injustices, if ever systemic, that is in all cases? And what about all the new forms of slavery such as women trafficking or youth trafficking for sex or those Syrian refugee kids forced by their parents or other adults to beg on the streets of Beirut (Lebanon) or ISIS awful practices, etc.? These are a few examples of contemporary slavery issues. Don’t they deserve your advocacy too?

    Oh another question, my colleague Dr. David Thomas is a champion of the advocacy for Palestinians. Excluding his book on Bombardier that I am not fond of (same Publisher as yours, mind you), I have always saluted his excellent academic work and compassion. In the name of cultural appropriateness or whatever you would call it, do you think I should not think highly of my colleague’s work because he is a white Caucasian and not a Native of the Palestinian land :)?

    Seriously, I would like to comment about Ms. “Maynard arguing that Canada’s public institutions — including the police, prison and immigration systems, schools, and child welfare agencies — treat blacks as though their lives matter less than the lives of others”. I have clinical experiences in Québec as a developmental psychologist (“psychoéducatrice”). I have never ever observed any institutionalized racism in any of the youth centres, hospitals, foster homes or emergency family crisis I was involved in. I have lived in Toronto for four years and, more recently, I have been involved in the foster care system in New Brunswick. We have opened our home to kids from all horizons. Some of them had a black skin and did not know what the word “diversity” means. I told one of them: “it is like when you look different from the outside but you are the same like everyone deep inside (look at my features or curly hair)”. Ms. Maynard, I have NEVER ever observed any racist gesture or comment from any social worker, police officer, teacher, or therapist I have had the honour to work with here in NB! I have witnessed a system and a town (ours) who went out of its way to be welcoming to the youth in so many ways, you cannot imagine. I am still grateful…

    I have also seen Canadians in nearby Amherst (NS) and in Sackville (NB) go out of their ways to welcome Syrians refugees. I acted as a translator for some. So, I have visited hospitals, police stations, schools, health clinics, etc. Again, I have never encountered any racism. I have met and seen police officers protecting fellow Lebanese newly arrived women in admirable ways. I am writing all this and I am not defending our police forces just to defend them. I am just saying that we should not amalgamate: Some cases can be due to an abusive behaviour (ie. racism or other issues). Other cases can be sad tragic mistakes whilst on the duty. What is the solution Ms. Maynard? No police presence in dangerous areas like what happens in other countries (Lebanon is one of them). Sometimes the Lebanese army is afraid of going in. Is this the solution?

    In addition, I took the time to educate myself on the “Black Lives Matters-Toronto”, although I admit that I am naturally allergic to movements that are non-inclusive, tribal, or extremist by essence. I believe they can easily defeat their so-called purpose of justice to the people they pretend to speak for. I have sadly seen such movements elsewhere (i.e., Lebanon). I have all the reasons to worry that, if we continue down this path, Canada will end up being divided into tribes, at least in our collective minds, to begin with. Imagine what happens if each social group decides to have a movement like this one, pretending to speak in the name of this group? Why should we reduce ourselves to a single aspect of our identities? It seems to me that we are much richer than that as human beings… We are not just black or white or of Middle-Eastern descent or Jewish or Muslim or Christian or whatever. Plus, our identities keep on evolving, let’s not forget. MOST importantly, we are all Canadians. Those of us who are Canadians by choice, we left troubled places to precisely avoid movements like yours…

    This being said, I would not be fair if I do not also add that I searched for and listened to one of your interviews on “Radio-Canada”. I enjoyed it. I also found that you made more sense to me that the description of the content of your book. Bravo for speaking the language of Molière!

    Regardless of this unfavourable comment, I hope you have enjoyed your time at Mount Allison University in our Sweet Little Sackville. Have safe travels.

  3. amanova says:

    For those who are wondering, “what can I do about it?” I’d like to suggest the “Me and White Supremacy” Workbook by Layla F Saad, available for free from
    “a first-of-its-kind personal anti-racism tool for people holding white privilege to begin to examine and dismantle their complicity in the oppressive system of white supremacy.”

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