Blaming the Past to Exonerate the Present

The 121-page report, Final Report of the Minister of National Defence Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination with a Focus on Anti-Indigenous and Anti-Black Racism, LGBTQ2+ Prejudice, Gender Bias, and White Supremacy, purports to deal with racism in the Canadian military.

It is comprised of three parts: Systemic Racism and Discrimination in the Defence Team: Origins and Current Reality; Envisioning a Diverse and Equitable Defence Team; and Areas of Opportunity and Recommendations. It includes an Executive Summary, a Preamble -- It's Time to Be Uncomfortable, concluding comments and several appendixes.

The report confirms and documents that the military does not reflect the composition of Canada "with regards to gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation," and says that "inequality in representation persists in every corner" of the military from recruitment and retention to career progression. It says that any progress made in the past is "in danger of reversal" and "seriously hampered by systemic discrimination."

"Systemic Racism"

The 21-page section entitled Systemic Racism and Discrimination in the Defence Team: Origins and Current Reality attributes discrimination in the military to Canada's colonial roots. This doesn't mean the rule of the British empire-builders but that "the system was created by European settlers." It says, "the systemic and cultural racism that is institutionalized in regulations, norms, and common worldviews in the Defence Team is a direct consequence of Canada's colonial past and the associated treatment of Indigenous, Black and racialized people."

Using the Oxford definition of colonialism, the report says: "'the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically,' is the root of inequality within Canada." 

It is all presented as a "policy," not as a form of rule from which the policies flow. Once the issue is a bad policy, then the idea is that it can be replaced with a good policy while, in fact, the racist rule carries on. It says: "The colonization of the land we now call Canada by both the French and the British saw the forced removal, genocide and attempted assimilation of Indigenous Peoples. The non-consensual establishment of Canada as a British colony furthered the control and economic exploitation of the country through slavery and forced labour. Historical and continuous racist and discriminatory actions towards segments of Canada's population have led to internalized racism and prejudice that continue to shape biases and practices in Canada and within the Defence Team."

All of it is historical fraud because who decided all of this and who it serves is kept completely hidden. This attempt to impose historical fraud is exposed by its failure to recognize the colonial legacy in the present. It also fails to recognize that it is a structure imposed on the society itself, rather than the presumably inherent behaviour of some members of the military and racist Canadians who are entitled and privileged compared to what has been done and is being done to the Indigenous peoples and what is suffered by Blacks.

This is to say nothing about the impact of the Canadian state's current foreign policy, which is enemy-oriented. This policy divides the world on the basis of those who follow the so-called civilized democratic "west" -- led by the U.S. -- and all others, within which some are more vilified, such as Russia, China, Cuba and any other country that does not submit to the norms and institutions of the "west."

In this regard, the section of the Report on "anti-Islamic racism" talks about a rise in attacks since 9/11 without so much as mentioning the U.S.-led targeting and criminalization of Muslims as part of the war on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.

Far from it, the Report presents the fraud that measures have been taken to negate the colonial racist past. It states:

"Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system. Colonialism and intersecting systems such as patriarchy, heteronormativity and ableism constitute the root causes of inequality within Canada. Throughout Canada's history, the existence of systemic and cultural racism has been enshrined in regulations, norms, and standard practices.

"Canada has recognized, and continues to acknowledge, its history of racial discrimination by introducing Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, as well as the repealing of discriminatory policies and practices."

All of this begs the questions which must be taken up by Canadian working people, women, youth and all those who have been turned into the categories of "racialized communities," "Blacks" and other racist-based divisions and assaults on their right to be who they say they are. Did the Charter of Rights and Freedoms indeed mark a break with the past? Is the Canadian Multiculturalism Act a break with racism, or is it a modernized declaration that the Canadian polity is made up of "two founding nations" and "others"? Does it abandon or introduce racist terminology that maintains the underlying concepts of Eurocentric superiority?

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also marks the 30th Anniversary of the Charlottetown Accord. That was the last time that the Canadian ruling elite dared to open the Constitution to the scrutiny of the people and "allowed" them to have a say on amendments to the Constitution which would have enshrined the tiered-citizenship concept of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act into the Constitution. It is time to revisit all these issues.

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 5 - May 21, 2022

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