Nava Strategy

Anti-Black Racism & Canada: A Critical Analysis

Anti-Black racism remains a pervasive issue in Canada, challenging the nation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Despite Canada’s reputation as a multicultural and tolerant society, systemic barriers and discriminatory practices continue to disproportionately affect Black communities. This article explores the current landscape of anti-Black racism in Canada, highlighting its historical roots, contemporary manifestations, and the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to combat it.

To understand the persistence of anti-Black racism in Canada, it’s essential to acknowledge its historical foundations. Black Canadians have faced centuries of oppression, including slavery, segregation, and systemic discrimination. The legacy of colonialism, alongside the transatlantic slave trade, has left a profound impact on the socio-economic status and cultural identity of Black communities across the country (Henry & Tator, 2009). Policies such as the “head tax” on Caribbean immigrants and discriminatory housing practices have further marginalized Black Canadians, contributing to enduring inequalities (Henry & Tator, 2009; Noh et al., 2019). Today, the Neighborhood Investment Areas (NIAs), formerly Neighborhood Priority Areas (NPAs), based on socioeconomic indicators in Toronto are majority racialized communities, indicating social inequities that persist.

Foster, Park, and McCague, 2021, from York University discuss employment barriers, where nearly half (47%) of Black Canadians reported unfair treatment because of their race or ethnicity in the last twelve months by an employer. In education, DasGupta, et al, in a 2020 BCG study, reported Black students are 4 times more likely to get expelled – owing to both individual and systemic issues, specific, for example, to the Safer Schools Act Ontario, which aimed to address bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools. However, students, families and communities have voiced the systemic racism in its enforcement. The Act disproportionately targets racialized and marginalized youth, leading to discriminatory outcomes. Concerns include over-policing and harsher punishment for certain groups. As well, the Act does not address root causes of discrimination, like systemic racism in education. Overall, while the Act aims for safer schools, addressing concerns of systemic racism is crucial for creating truly equitable and inclusive learning environments. These are but a few of the systemic outcomes of oppression.

Historical Manifestations

History in Canada is not too long ago when it comes to oppression, the reverberations of which can be felt to this day. Further, many do not know of the persistent displacement of Black Canadians. From Africville, Halifax, to Willowgrove, Stouffville,

Africville, a historic African Canadian community in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was established in the early 19th century by Black refugees and former slaves seeking refuge and land ownership. Despite its vibrant culture and contributions to Halifax’s economy, Africville faced systemic neglect and discrimination from municipal authorities, while paying taxes, were not  lacking basic services, sewage and city services and enduring marginalization. In the 1960s, the City of Halifax forcibly relocated residents, demolishing homes and structures under the guise of urban renewal. The demolition, widely condemned as racial discrimination, led to the dissolution of Africville, with residents displaced and their heritage destroyed. Efforts to seek redress and preserve Africville’s memory continue, including the establishment of a museum and commemorative initiatives, highlighting the ongoing struggle against racism and historical injustice.

Willowgrove, Stouffville was a historic Black settlement located in Stouffville, Ontario. Established by formerly enslaved individuals in the 19th century, it grew into a thriving community with schools, churches, and farms. However, as urbanization encroached on the area, many residents were forced to sell their land, leading to the gradual decline of Willowgrove as a distinct Black settlement.

Hogan’s Alley, Toronto, was a vibrant Black community located in the downtown area of Toronto. Similar to Africville, it was a hub of Black culture, with residents establishing businesses, churches, and social institutions. However, in the mid-20th century, urban renewal projects and highway construction led to the demolition of Hogan’s Alley, displacing its residents and erasing much of its history. These are but a few examples.

Contemporary Manifestations

Despite progress in civil rights legislation and diversity initiatives, anti-Black racism persists in various forms within Canadian society. Black Canadians continue to face disproportionate rates of poverty, unemployment, and involvement in the criminal justice system (Henry & Tator, 2009; Noh et al., 2019). Racial profiling by law enforcement, barriers to access healthcare and education, and limited representation in positions of power underscore the systemic nature of anti-Black racism (Noh et al., 2019; Henry & Tator, 2009). The recent 2021 provincial race-based data collection and dissemination underscores the disparities in policing and other public sector institutions and the immense work still left to be done. Research has existed, from studies such as “Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada” (Wortley, 2002) that highlight disparities in police stops, arrests, and use of lethal force based on race, with Black and Indigenous individuals facing heightened scrutiny and harsher treatment.

While Wortley’s research, and many others such as Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, documents how discriminatory practices erode trust in law enforcement, which exacerbate feelings of alienation and injustice, and perpetuate cycles of poverty and marginalization among racialized groups, the issue persists decades later. The “Report of the Independent Street Checks Review” (2019) in Ontario underscores the detrimental effects of racial profiling on community-police relations and calls for systemic reforms to address racial biases.

In 2023, a class action lawsuit was filed (Griffin, 2023) against the Toronto police for their ongoing practice of “carding,” which disproportionately harms Black and Indigenous communities. The plaintiff, Ayaan Farah, a Somali-Canadian with no criminal record, was unfairly targeted and suffered consequences such as losing her security clearance and facing accusations of association with criminal elements, after being carded. Farah was “sitting in public” in 2011 when she was detained by Toronto police officers who allegedly recorded her personal information without providing a reason. The lawsuit alleges widespread harm, including privacy violations and damage to mental and physical well-being. Despite being officially discontinued, carding persists, disproportionately impacting marginalized groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these disparities, with Black communities experiencing higher rates of infection, economic hardship, and inadequate access to healthcare resources (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2020). Moreover, incidents of racial violence and hate crimes targeting Black individuals have heightened concerns about safety and belonging within Canadian society (Government of Canada, 2021). The chronic and material implications on all facets of life is real for those experiencing the impacts of racism. In many instances, how are individuals to report it and see its resolution?

Challenges and Resistance

Dismantling anti-Black racism requires a multifaceted approach at its structural, institutional, and interpersonal dimensions. However, efforts to combat racism are often hindered by denialism, complacency, and resistance to change (Noh et al., 2019). Moreover, the model minority myth and the perpetuation of stereotypes further marginalize Black voices and experiences, hindering solidarity among racialized groups (Hage & al Haidary, 2020) and across. Despite this, Black communities and allies have mobilized to challenge systemic injustices and advocate for meaningful change. Grassroots organizations, social movements, and academic research play a crucial role in raising awareness, amplifying marginalized voices, and pressuring policymakers to enact anti-racist policies (Hage & al Haidary, 2020; Noh et al., 2019). We have seen this as increased accountability measures, including marginalized voices in solutions, transparency of information, data collection and resource allocation.

Recommendations for Action

To effectively address anti-Black racism – policymakers, institutions, and individuals must commit to concrete actions, and evaluations, which promote equity, justice, and inclusion. And not just on paper. Engagement, buy-in, support and leadership are all necessary ingredients.

Policies & Legislation

Implementing anti-racist policies and legislation (or amendments) that address systemic inequalities and discrimination within key sectors such as healthcare, education, and criminal justice. This must be done in a prompt manner, without bureaucratic delays.

  • In healthcare, policies can be implemented to address racial disparities in access to care and health outcomes. Tools such as mandatory cultural competency training, transparent client feedback, the development of guidelines for equitable healthcare delivery can be utilized. As well metrics for eliminating prior negligence or cases of racism must be targets for healthcare professionals to meet and be incentivized through positive cultural changes, and the development of guidelines for equitable healthcare delivery can be utilized.
  • In education, anti-racist curriculum frameworks and policies can be developed to promote diversity, inclusivity, and the accurate portrayal of diverse histories and cultures. Tools such as anti-bias training for educators and the incorporation of Indigenous perspectives into the curriculum can be employed.
  • In criminal justice, reforms can be enacted to address racial profiling, over-representation of Black and Indigenous peoples in the justice system, and discriminatory sentencing practices. Tools such as mandatory anti-racism training for law enforcement personnel and the implementation of alternative sentencing programs can be utilized. As well sentencing reform through addressing racial disparities in sentencing by reducing mandatory minimum sentences and increasing the use of alternative sentencing programs.

Community-Led Initiatives

Investing in community-led initiatives and resources that support the socio-economic advancement of Black Canadians, including access to affordable housing, healthcare, and education.

  • Investing in affordable housing initiatives led by Black community organizations can provide stable housing options for Black Canadians facing housing insecurity. Tools such as community land trusts and government subsidies for affordable housing projects can be utilized.
  • Investing in healthcare clinics or programs specifically tailored to address the healthcare needs of Black communities can improve access to quality healthcare services. Tools such as grants or funding opportunities for community health organizations can be employed.
  • Supporting scholarship programs and initiatives aimed at increasing access to higher education for Black youth can help address disparities in educational attainment. Tools such as mentorship programs and financial aid tailored to Black students can be beneficial. However, addressing the disparities within the elementary schools and high schools are necessary pre-requisites.
  • Investing in youth spaces and initiatives aimed at full cultural and psycho-social development of young adults in ways that they desire – not just adult-led spaces. Mentorship, resources, and trusted adults are all necessary for positive advancements.

Improve Diversity & Inclusion

Enhancing diversity and inclusion efforts within organizations by evaluating the effectiveness of prior initiatives, requesting feedback from customers, clients or community members and championing against power and privilege dynamics and dominator culture are all necessary. By promoting representation, providing anti-racism training, and fostering inclusive workplace cultures, improvements can be made, but they must be measured and made priorities seamlessly into teams and strategic plans.

  • Creating policies and procedures to address workplace discrimination and harassment can foster inclusive workplace cultures. Tools such as anonymous reporting systems for discrimination complaints and regular diversity audits can be utilized.
  • Amplifying Black voices and experiences in public discourse, media representation, and educational curricula to challenge stereotypes and promote empathy and understanding.
  • Engaging in genuine allyship and solidarity across racial and ethnic lines to dismantle intersecting forms of oppression and build collective resistance against racism, through power and decision sharing, and actively transforming gaps in the institutions even when it feels uncomfortable.
  • Building coalitions and alliances with Indigenous, racialized, and marginalized communities to advocate for systemic change and challenge intersecting forms of oppression. Tools such as coalition-building initiatives, allyship workshops, and anti-oppression training can be employed.
  • Supporting grassroots movements and organizations led by Black activists working towards racial justice and equity. Tools such as fundraising campaigns, volunteering opportunities, and advocacy efforts can be utilized.

Enhancing diversity and inclusion efforts within organizations

To create a more successful and equitable workplace there must be leadership commitment, a diverse workforce through hiring, an inclusive workplace, and measuring progress.

  • Implementing diversity quotas or targets for hiring and promotion can promote representation of Black employees within organizations. Tools such as diversity training programs for staff and leadership and the establishment of employee resource groups can be employed. Tools such as diversity training programs for staff and leadership and the establishment of employee resource groups can be employed. However, as we have previously reported, diversity quotas are not standalone solutions.
  • Creating policies and procedures to address workplace discrimination and harassment can foster inclusive workplace cultures. Tools such as anonymous reporting systems for discrimination complaints and regular diversity audits can be utilized.
  • Foster psychological safety in the workplace to encourage employees to speak up and share ideas without fear of retaliation. Celebrate diversity and recognize the unique contributions of a diverse workforce. Commit to continuous learning and improvement of D&I practices, understanding that it’s an ongoing journey.

Does Training Work

Often cited solutions are cultural competency training and bias training – but do they work? There is research that supports and refutes the intended outcomes, which vary greatly. However, there are ineffective approaches. Generic training does not address the unique needs and cultural context of groups, for example in law enforcement it is often noted that despite training the data overall has not shown a significant improvement in negative police interactions. Further, training that relies on stereotypes or generalizations about cultures can be offensive and perpetuate biases. The attitudinal changes must be connected to the behavioural changes and measured. Trainer expertise is also fundamental – being culturally competent and experts in adult learning principles are necessary

Providing information about differences without developing practical skills won’t lead to lasting change, therefore knowledge acquisition alone is not the solution. Change or training programs without opportunities for practice, application, and ongoing support are unlikely to have a lasting impact.

In 2024, anti-Black racism remains a pressing concern in Canada, with profound implications for the well-being and dignity of Black communities. Addressing systemic inequalities and discrimination requires sustained commitment and collective action from all sectors of society. By confronting racism, shifting cultural norms and ideologies, and addressing the power dynamics in institutions – in all its forms and centering the voices and experiences of those most impacted, we can move closer to the ideals of genuine equity and justice for all.

This is not just simply about hiring a diverse workforce; it’s about creating a culture where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their best work and have choices, opportunities and empowerment to navigate life daily with ease and liberation.


  1. DasGupta, N., Shandal, V., Shadd, D., Segal, A., & CivicAction, I. C. W. (2023, October 11). The pervasive reality of Anti-Black racism in Canada. BCG Global.
  2. Foster, L., Park, S., McCague, H., F. (2021). Black Canadian National Survey Interim Report 2021, York University.
  3. Government of Canada. (2021). Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022. Retrieved from
  4. Griffin, T. (2023, August 17). Class-action lawsuit proposed over Toronto police practice of “carding.” CBC.
  5. Hage, G., & al Haidary, A. (2020). Anti-Blackness and the Question of Palestine in Canada. Race & Class, 61(4), 3-22.
  6. Henry, F., & Tator, C. (2009). The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society. Nelson Education.
  7. Noh, S., Kaspar, V., & Wickramasinghe, M. (2019). Structural Barriers in Accessing Mental Health Services for Black Canadians: A Systematic Review. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 6(5), 923-937.
  8. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2020). Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Outbreak Update. Retrieved from
  9. Wortley, S. (2002). Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada. University of Toronto Press.


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