Racism Watch Canada

This article is part of the meta-post Racism Rampant or how Jamie won Big Brother Australia. This article covers some racism issues.

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After reading, commenting and experiencing some disturbing facts on racism, I’ve decided to permanently monitor racism in Canada. Legendary Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson has been the subject of racial taunts by youths in a “drive by racial slurs” in Mississauga. This is the second incident in a few short weeks. The one before involved Mr Francis Pitia, a Sudanese refugee.

Most Canadian cities are so multi-hued, ethnically diverse and tolerant of differences that it’s easy to conclude that racism is no longer an issue in our society. But that would be wrong, as a couple of disturbing incidents plainly illustrate.

One involved legendary Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson and his family. Mr. Peterson, who turns 81 in two weeks, has been the subject of racial taunts and other obscenities hurled by a bunch of mindless yahoos driving past his home in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Mississauga, Ont. Mr. Peterson is no stranger to racism, having toured the Deep South decades ago in an era when black people faced open discrimination. “We went through some pretty harrowing experiences with bigoted sheriffs coming by our hotel rooms and threatening us. And so it was a pleasure at that time to come home, because we never experienced any of this kind of thing at home,” he said. “But I’m very sorry to see this is still continuing in a country that I’m very proud of.”

The other incident involved extreme physical as well as emotional violence. Francis Pitia, a disabled Sudanese refugee, was set upon by a group of at least seven thugs, all of them white and believed to be in their 20s, outside a park in Kitchener, Ont. They screamed racial epithets at Mr. Pitia and two other Sudanese men, before beating him unconscious, using his own crutch to inflict more damage. The attack on Mr. Pitia seems to have been provoked solely by racial hatred. The 33-year-old is no stranger to suffering. He had polio as a child, had to flee his home in southern Sudan to escape war and survived seven years in a refugee camp before coming to Canada. He says he bears no ill will toward his attackers, even though they bore plenty of it toward him.

Both cases serve as a stark reminder that despite the huge strides made over the past few decades, there are still people in our society who harbour hatred for others based on their skin colour, ethnic background or religious beliefs. Intolerance is not limited to the young hoodlums whose preferred prey is the elderly, the infirm and others who are in no position to fight back. Nor is it defined by social class or level of income. Take the case of wealthy Hollywood movie star Mel Gibson, who let loose a stream of anti-Semitic invective while being arrested on a drunk-driving charge in Los Angeles on Friday. “I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested and said things I do not believe to be true and which are despicable,” Mr. Gibson said subsequently in an attempt at damage control.

Kitchener police have made one arrest in the beating of Mr. Pitia and expect more. The people who have been harassing Mr. Peterson and his family should also face criminal charges. But as the good people of Kitchener have shown, the best response is for the community as a whole to come together and make it clear that there is no room for bigotry and intolerance in their midst.

It would be easy to dismiss what has happened to Mr. Peterson and Mr. Pitia as isolated incidents perpetrated by lowlifes on the margins of society and leave it to the police to deal with them. But racism is a problem for us all.

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Previous: Racism rampant or how Jamie won Big Brother Australia

Next: The Unwisdom of Crowds, Introduction

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