Racism? You can’t argue with the facts

ANGELA FERRANTE February 7 1977

Racism? You can’t argue with the facts

ANGELA FERRANTE February 7 1977

Racism? You can’t argue with the facts


The group of about 100 demonstrators seemed oblivious to the blowing snow and bitter cold late last month as they marched sombrely through Toronto’s crowded Chinatown toward City Hall. As startled Saturday afternoon shoppers looked on, they chanted: “Death to racists. Self defense is the only way.” After two years of humiliation and silent frustration, the city’s 90,000-member East Indian community had finally burst into anger. Their homes had been vandalized, their temples desecrated, their children pummeled in schoolyards. But, reticent and passive by nature, they had kept their complaints to themselves until New Year’s eve when there were two separate assaults on East Indians in the subway, followed by another attack a few days later. Suggested a turbaned Sikh (see cover): “We should seek out the attackers and break their legs.” But nearby, reflecting the gulf that separates the East Indians from white Canadians, a bystander in a tuque retorted: “We should load them all up in trucks and ship them back home.”

Somewhere between these two extremes Canada’s largest city was trying to cope with the most overt outbreak of racism since the battles involving whites and Vancouver’s 16,000-member Sikh community three years ago. Just one month ago, an NBC program describing Toronto as a racial “time bomb” was dismissed by Mayor David Crombie as “irresponsible journalism.” The subway attacks were the work of “thugs and hoodlums,” said Metro chairman Paul Godfrey. But as East Indians came forward with detailed stories of discrimination and assaults often ignored by police, Godfrey was forced to act. He named Walter Pitman, head of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, as a one-man task force to study the extent of racism in the city. For the East Indians, the admission .hat a problem exists was taken as partial vindication for their decision to come into the open with their grievances.

Toronto’s is not an isolated case of racial tension. Individual acts of violence have been increasing elsewhere, most of them directed at East Indians, the newest wave of immigrants. “We have a racist history— one victim after another,” says Dr. Bruce McLeod, an Ontario human rights commissioner. “The East Indians are just new.” Not surprisingly, the bigotry has grown into violence in the three centres where most of the country’s 200,000 East Indians have settled—Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Last fall in Calgary, within a six-week period, there were more

erty damage including beatings, smashed windows, eggs thrown at cars, disruption of religious ceremonies. Cars in the Alberta city sported bumper stickers proclaiming, KEEP CANADA GREEN. PAINT A PAKE There have been several fights at the CanadianPacific workshop, where 200 of 1,000 workers are East Indians. The worst occurred in October on a CP work train stationed 85 miles southeast of Edmonton. An obscenity painted on one of two sleeping cars occupied by East Indian workers sparked a four-hour melee during which about 60 men fought it out with three-footlong hammer handles. Two men required hospital treatment and two others, one white, one East Indian, were charged with trespassing and assault. CP rushed buses to the scene to bringthe East Indians back to Calgary.

Sociologists say the reasons for the recent wave of tension are relatively straightforward. Canadians are seeing a visible change in the racial makeup of their society* at a time when fears about

*Between 1966 and 1973 the percentage of Europeans in the total number of immigrants coming to Canada dropped from 76% to 39% (and is still dropping) while Asians increased from 6% to 23%. As of September 30, 1976, a total of395,102 A sians (including Orientals) had entered Canada since the War.

unemployment tend to make them more inflexible. Says Dr. Anthony Richmond, a sociologist at Toronto’s York University: “Everytime we have prolonged economic insecurity, the less educated unemployed youth feel thoroughly rejected in our own society and in competition for jobs with newcomers.” The East Indians, who came from Africa, Malaysia, the West Indies. India, Pakistan and, increasingly, from England to escape similar discrimination, became the perfect “scapegoats” for these fears. They are the most “different” culturally of the new visible minorities. They are usually slight in build and. unlike the blacks, many refuse to fight back for religious reasons. They appear even more threatening to Canadians because they tend to be professionals and technicians, relatively well off, capable of competing in the marketplace for good jobs. (One Ugandan couple, for example, was able to pay two million dollars cash for an antique store in Toronto.) A study of East Indians who arrived in Canada in 1969 found that after three years the average East Indian family had increased its income by 69% (to $9,056). Dr. Reginald Bibby, a sociologist

at the University of Lethbridge, says Canadians tend to be irked by this economic tenacity and at the same time find the East Indian saris and turbans a blatant challenge to their own way of life. A survey he did of 2,000 Canadians showed 80% want immigrants to assimilate unobtrusively. The tension, he says, is caused by a “clash of cultural traits.”

The clash was first felt in Vancouver three years ago with widespread vandalism and attacks against the “rag-heads” and “carpet riders”—local red-neck epithets for the Sikh community. Since then an enlightened police program involving a special liaison squad working with the East Indians has largely defused the violence although, says Inspector Doug McLeod, “the prejudice is still there.”

Most other Canadian cities have so far escaped open violence, but East Indian leaders believe this is because their small communities do not yet attract attention. They worry about a future spill-over of racism as their numbers grow. In Montreal, East Indians are forming an association to protect themselves in the event that violence spreads (“United we can do something for ourselves,” says community worker Guiñar Irani) and in Winnipeg a “defense” group has already been set up from among the 5,000-member East Indian community.

Although East Indians in Toronto say they have been victims of subtle racism since they began arriving in Canada, it wasn’t until a year ago that white bigotry started erupting into brutal physical attacks. Shamshudin Kanji, a 49-year-old Tanzanian immigrant going home after a prayer meeting by subway, was pushed off the platform onto the tracks by two young men while a third shouted “Push the Paki.” The terrified immigrant suffered fractured knees, spent four months in hospital and still walks with crutches. Since then the attacks, mostly by drunken youths, have continued at a rate of about one a week. East Indians are spat upon, jostled and kicked but most don’t bother to report the incidents. Says Ranvir Sharda, editor of India Digest and a member of the Canadian Council For Racial Harmony, “Ninety percent of the people don’t dare complain. They just turn away.”

In inner-city Toronto schools, where fewer than half the students now list English as their mother tongue, ethnic diversity is deteriorating into division and conflict. After two stabbing incidents involving black and white students last summer, a study commissioned by the Toronto Board of Education criticized teachers in one ethnic area for ignoring racial slurs and not taking action when students showed up with knives and chains. The study was shelved as being “too shallow” in its analysis. But another report revealed that many teachers and principals were resisting multicultural programs—such as Chinese, Italian and Greek classes—designed to help immigrant children make

the transition to life in Canada. One principal said: “Canada should come first and the other nationality second, otherwise they shouldn’t have come here.”

A survey of 255 Ontario students, most between the ages of 12 and 15, showed that the majority held bigoted attitudes—especially against East Indians. Researchers said students talked of “Paki-busting” as a new pastime, and of “extermination.” They concluded: “The situation of East Indians . . . not least the situation of young students, demands emergency action.” Despite the schoolyard harassment, the bitterest complaints among non-whites have been reserved for Toronto’s police department. As long ago as September, 1975, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association warned of impending trouble when it collected five affidavits from non-whites accusing police of neglecting to protect them against racial attacks. Black Canadians continually complain of being stopped on the downtown Yonge Street strip and asked for passports as part of a police campaign to keep black pimps and prostitutes from United States border centres out of the city. Ontario human rights commissioner Dr. Bruce McLeod one night witnessed a white man beating a black man for no apparent reason. Although he reported the assailant’s car license number to the police, no action was taken. After four months of delays and many telephone calls, the man was brought to trial but was given an absolute discharge. Says McLeod : “I’m sure that if I hadn’t been a commissioner nothing would have been done.” Adds Clayton Ruby, a noted civil rights lawyer: “There is a segment of the population that has begun to feel that violent racism is acceptable or that they can get away with it. The police are not providing adequate protection.” Lack of confidence in the police is leading many East Indians to talk of defending themselves. A militant East Indian Defense committee threatens to fight “sticks with sticks and arms with arms.” Says Sharda: “East Indians religiously are

taught to be very patient. But a patient man can be the worst of men if moved.” Many families, like that of 36-year-old Toronto insurance agent, Lloyd Allahar, go out only in groups. His wife was continually harassed by a 12-year-old boy in their apartment building who taunted her with: “I scalp Indians.” Jagdish Bhaudaria, a 36year-old law student who has been attacked several times and received threatening telephone calls, has bought “quite a few” high-powered, semi-automatic 303 rifles and has taught his wife how to use them. Talk of retaliation, however, is generally frowned on by the majority of East Indians.

Distressing as it is for Canada’s most recent immigrants, the underlying bigotry in Canadian society comes as no surprise in the context of Canada’s record in dealing with non-Christian, non-European settlers. In 1887, for example, a mob outside Vancouver drove Chinese coolies from a mining camp over a 25-foot cliff into the Pacific and then proceeded to clear out the city’s Chinatown. In 1914 a boat-load of Sikhs who arrived in Vancouver planning to become settlers were prevented from landing by a series of regulations barring entry of Asians. Throughout the Depression years Ottawa was deluged with petitions asking that immigrants, particularly Jewish immigrants, be kept out. During the Second World War, about 20,000 Japanese Canadians were interned (Italians

and Germans were left alone) and millions of dollars of property confiscated. Very little of it was ever returned.

“Things are not getting better,” concludes Alan Borovoy, head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “But we have to avoid the twin risks of exaggeration and minimization. It’s not a situation that warrants hysteria or apathy. We have to act now to shore up institutions that deal with this problem.” Fortunately, there are signs across the country that civic leaders, school officials and police heads are moving in that direction. Anti-racist hot lines are springing up to provide help for victims of racist attacks. The Alberta Human Rights Commission is planning a special grade lO social studies unit on racism and immigration in 15 schools as well as an inter-agency committee to improve relations among the teachers, schools and immigrants. In Nova Scotia, home of half of Canada’s blacks, the confrontations of eight years ago, which paralleled the American civil rights movement, were ended in part because of various programs to bring blacks and whites together to talk.

In Toronto, civic institutions are beginning to show flexibility in their hiring practices. The transport commission allows

Sikhs to wear turbans instead of regular hats and the fire department, which just a year ago had only two non-whites out of a staff of 1,200, mostly because of archaic hiring practices, now advertises in the nonwhite press. After the recent spate of subway attacks, police and school board heads met with East Indian leaders to listen to complaints. Ontario’s human rights code will soon be overhauled to eliminate loopholes. So far though, despite repeated recommendations, there are no moves to set up an independent agency to review citizen’s complaints against police. Police now review themselves.

The federal government is also moving to eliminate discrimination within its own ranks. After years of delay, a human rights bill is now before parliament that will set up a commission to act as watchdog over federal bodies, Crown corporations, agencies and companies that fall under its purview. (The provincial governments already have similar commissions.) But one clause that would make broadcast hate messages, even over the telephone, a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, may face opposition from civil libertarians who fear freedom of speech will suffer.* Says Borovoy: “By trying to get some people they run the risk with others as well. It’s not a reasonable risk to run.”

The reduction in the number of immigrants entering the country (down 23% last

*In Toronto, a “White Power” telephone number dispenses weekly taped messages such as: “God is a racist. The seventh commandment means no races mix. Had God wanted coffee-colored mongrels he would have made us that way. ”

year) and the prospect of annual limits envisioned in the new immigration act will probably ease the pressure, but ultimately the present tensions will end only when Canadians begin to accept the ever-changing nature of their society. “There will always be a level of racism and that we have to live with,” says Clayton Ruby. Sociologist Richmond is more hopeful. “People under 30 are much more accepting and tolerant today than those over 50 and as they get older they are not getting more bigoted.” For Toronto’s East Indians, however, the most hopeful gesture of support came from 62-year-old Jim Carson, an investigator with the provincial Ombudsman’s office. Rushing home New Year’s eve, he entered a subway car to find several youths harassing two brown-skinned men. When Carson tried to prevent the two passengers from being attacked the youths turned on him, kicked him, cut his leg, broke his nose and eventually threw him onto the platform. Said Carson, a short and compact war veteran. “I’ve never seen so much hatred in anyone’s eyes. If I thought my beloved country was to be inherited by hooligans like this I’d be brokenhearted.” Other passengers looked on while Carson was beaten, and the youths were never caught. The city’s Shromani Sikh Society presented Carson with a gift sword, their highest honor. ANGELA FERRANTE