COVID-19 has shown us both human and scientific vulnerabilities, as well as the tremendous strength of the human spirit and the determined resolve of our healthcare workers and researchers to beat this virus. People all around the world are touched by this disease. While we in Canada struggle with medical supplies and equipment, people in developing countries stand on a precipice, hoping that science will catch up to the virus before it spreads to them in ways that will be devastating beyond belief. It is a health crisis.
The pandemic has been matched with an economic crisis like we have never seen in our lives. As a Member of Parliament, I have talked to literally hundreds of people who lost their jobs, closed their businesses, missed student loan payments, or have been burdened with costs or debts that they have no idea how they will pay or repay. Governments in Canada and around the world have attempted to soften this economic blow with a whole host of programs, but the needs will continue well into the future. It is an economic crisis.
And, in the midst of all of this, racial discrimination, racial hatred, abuse of power, and white privilege have been exposed in a way that has torn our continent apart. These are not new incidents, but the steady stream of them caught on live video has sparked something that I hope will change our world for the better. A 25-year-old black man, Ahmaud Arbery, out for a run in a residential community in Georgia, gunned down by two white men for no reason other than being black; a white woman, Amy Cooper, embarrassingly born and raised in Canada, threatening a black man, Christian Cooper, pretending to be attacked, naming his race repeatedly, only because he asked her to leash her dog in a part of New York’s Central Park, where leashes are required; and, of course, George Floyd, killed by police officers kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as he pleaded for his life, saying “I can’t breathe.”
Canada is not immune to this as we hear of systemic racism in institutions, organizations, and in our police forces with calls for meaningful and lasting change that will ensure that minority communities, Indigenous Canadians, people of colour, especially black Canadians, can participate fully in every aspect of the cultural, political, and economic life of Canada.
While governments play an important role in making laws that protect those who are vulnerable and punish those who discriminate, it is the whole community that needs to make the lasting change we need.
Canadians have shown their willingness to start this change through acts of public demonstration and gestures of private goodwill. But the road ahead will not be easy. To make room at the table for everyone, we all need to give some space. We need to relearn lessons we were taught as children about fairness and equality, about justice and inclusion. We need to watch the words we say and the gestures we make. We need to open doors to ensure that everyone gets in.
This means we need to question authorities and ensure that those in public office or those in public safety and security, including the police, are truly protecting everyone with mandatory anti-racism training, thorough oversight and constant vigilance. We need to reach out to our neighbours – both in Leaside and beyond – to truly get to know them, learn from them and be changed by them.
These are not easy tasks, but the time for talk is over. It is time that we all owned our personal responsibility in righting generations of wrongs.
Rob Oliphant is Member of Parliament for Don Valley West.