Diversity, our weakness?
Reported by Sarah-Joyce Battersby
Reported on Thursday, April 21, 2011
Updated on Thursday, April 21, 2011
Mary Wright, who belongs to a Toronto anti-poverty group and a green space collective, speaks on the issues surrounding racial poverty.
Contributed by Nick Kozak
Toronto’s official motto—”Diversity Our Strength”—might speak to the strength of this mega-city project, a combination of seven different municipalities in one of the world’s most culturally diverse metropolises, but according to the people who gathered in room 1 and 2 of the Scarborough Civic Centre on April 14, there’s still a lot of work to do.
Activists from the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians and the Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change Coalition united to host a community forum addressing racism’s insidious role in poverty rates in Toronto.
“I think there is a climate in Canada where acknowledging racism somehow makes Canada seem like less of a country. So politicians shy away, in their speeches and in their policy, from recognizing that racism is leading to certain communities facing higher poverty,” said panellist Neethan Shan.
“We’re not saying we are victims forever, but we are saying if there are historic disadvantages they must be acknowledged. That’s the only way to acknowledge where the deficiencies are and improve.”
The United Way attempted to acknowledge where the deficiencies are in a study of poverty rates by postal code. The results are startling: while the number of non-minority families classified as “poor” fell by 28% between 1980 and 2000, the number of minority families classified as the same rose by 361%.
“Poverty is a systemic, structural problem that needs systemic, structural solutions,” said Avvy Go of the Colour of Poverty campaign, and another panel speaker at the forum. Go and her fellow panellists laid out systems and structures that make it exceptionally difficult for racialized communities to not just make ends meet, but establish themselves, engage as citizens, and advance through the ranks of power and influence.
There are big issues that require legislative intervention, like lack of transit services to the outer suburbs (it took me two hours to get to the meeting from my place in the west end, which many downtown residents don’t consider part of downtown) and a lack of provincial-level legislation enforcing employment equity in hiring practices. But some obstacles, like language barriers, require more innovative solutions.
For Milan Nadarajah, not speaking English meant not being able to read and understand his workers’ rights. Even people who have lived in Canada all their lives have trouble sorting out when overtime kicks in and whether they are obligated to work on public holidays. Nadarajah moved to Canada from his native Sri Lanka in 2002, and soon ran into trouble collecting wages from his employer. Nadarajah heard about the Workers’ Action Centre from a friend who had been helped by them, so he got in touch himself.
Panellist Marie Clarke Walker admitted that she, along with many people in the inner suburbs, bought into candidate Rob Ford’s “cost-cutting propaganda” during the election. But she warned the audience of what she sees as the potentially most damaging development of the new administration’s policies for “people like her”: the silencing of community input into City activities. Clarke Walker points to the gutting of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation board and the potential scaling-back, and in some cases shutting-down, of citizen participation on advisory committees like the Aboriginal Affairs Committee and the Tenant Defence Subcommittee as particularly alarming.
“That is the only recourse…people advocating on behalf of themselves,” said Clarke Walker.
“Someone who spends three or four hours commuting, they don’t have the time, they can’t skip dinner to come out to a community meeting.” Organizers get it. But still, she says, “I know we don’t have the time to do one more thing. But we have to.”
Posted by CIReport.ca
on Apr 29, 2011 | 0 comments