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A Great Deal of Systemic Racism


Disclaimer This blog is exclusively done as a practicum requirement. Any information, views, and opinions that may be covered on this blog were not intended to offend or discredit any organizations. This blog is simply wanted to give information with a focus on systemic racism experienced by many minority groups.

Introduction To better understand systemic racism, it is crucial that we must first need to know how it is being defined. According to the Government of Canada’s (2019) Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022, systemic or institutional racism “consists of patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized persons. These appear neutral on the surface but, nevertheless, have an exclusionary impact on racialized persons” (“Terminology”, para. 14). Many minority groups in Canada and Indigenous people are often on the receiving end of this selective system. Recognizing its existence and detrimental impact to the marginalized and vulnerable groups is crucial in appealing for change to the system. Accessing basic services is one area where I felt that systemic racism is more prevalent. Lack of accessibility to basic services is faced by many Indigenous communities across Canada.This includes the absence of safe potable water (Chambers, 2017, p. 293),mold-infested homes of on-reserves communities which causes critical health issues (Optis et. al, 2012, p. 16),and poor health services in many remote communities (Minore et al., 2004, p. 360). There are also some being experienced by many immigrants who are in constant struggle to begin a new and better life in Canada due to restrictions being imposed under certain legislation and policies. As a Social Services Worker student, I believe that discussing and opening these issues could help manifest change.

Water Scarcity

One of the long-standing predicaments of Indigenous communities in Canada is the lack of potable water. According to Boyd (2011), in 2010, out of roughly 615 of Indigenous communities across Canada, 49 of them “have high-risk drinking water system and more than 100 face ongoing water advisories” (p. 84) which comprised of 12% to 13%of mostly remote reserves (Chambers, 2017, p. 290). This is often attributed to high risks of serious diseases and illnesses which could lead to possible deaths(p. 290). The gravity of this crisis has not been given recognition until the highly publicized “Walkerton Tragedy” happened in May 2000.

Walkerton is a town in northwest Toronto which made headlines in May 2000 when half of its population fell ill and seven died. These individuals were mostly children and elder people (Chambers, 2017, p. 293). It was later identified that the tragic event was due to E. coli bacteria which contaminated the town’s water system and had caused severe diarrhea (p. 293). The public become outraged of the incident and held protests to call for a formal inquiry from the government (p. 293). The Walkerton Inquiry then set out headed by Justice Dennis O’Connor (Chambers, 2017, p. 293). The inquiry was not only able to trace the source of the town’s E. coli outbreak, but also revealed a crucial systemic problem (p. 294) with regards to the government’s effort in addressing the lack of proper water system in many Indigenous communities.The government’s took swift action in resolving the Walkerton crisis.They improved certain water management protocols, and implemented new regulations and legislation, such as Safe Drinking Water Act to enhance the province’s overall water system structure(p. 294). Unfortunately, many on-reserves Indigenous communities who had crisis for the longer period of times were treated differently. This is evident in how Indigenous communities are continually fighting for access to safe drinking water, and were constantly given water advisories these days. To name a few of these communities, they include the Kashecewan First Nation in James Bay Ontario, where an E. coli outbreak happened in 2005, the Neskantaga First Nations located in the north of Thunder Bay, which was put on water-boil advisories since 1999 (and its water system was shutdown in 2004 when a chemical believed to be carcinogenic was found in the community’s water system). Meanwhile, KitiganZibi in Quebec was advised not to drink their water since 1999 and was even featured in CBC documentary due to severe hair loss experienced by its people,from the effects of toxic heavy metal found on its water source. Next, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in McMurray, Alberta where Doctors have discovered many autoimmune illnesses, diabetes, cancers, hypertension, and renal malfunction suffered by the people were related to its water source.Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation of Yukon got their source of water mostly from wells and it was discovered that those are contaminated with E. coli bacteria in 2005. Yellow Quill First Nation in Northeastern Saskatchewan was under boil-water advisories from 1995-2004(p. 300). Pikangkingum First Nation was heavily struck, as it was identified to have been facing various issues aside from the lack of safe, potable water including a high rate of suicide, dilapidated housing conditions, overcrowding, and insufficient electrical supply (p. 300). Despite the fact that the province of Ontario has been doing aggressive changes to their water management system in their municipalities, Indigenous communities are not covered under these changes. This is because as it is stipulated in the British North America Act (BNA Act) of 1867, all Indigenous lands are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. This means that despite the many improvements gained from the Walkerton Tragedy in various municipalities, its implementation could not be adopted to these suffering Indigenous communities due to jurisdictional responsibility issue. The municipalities nor the provincial government are obligated to assist these communities. The federal government, on the other hand, have promised and even passed on several acts to improve the water system problem of these communities, but most of those were not sustainable enough to provide permanent relief and funding provided to the communities are not sufficient enough to support those programs.

Lack of medical workforce

Another significant predicament confronted by many rural Indigenous communities is the lack of a medical workforce such as in the Shibogama First Nation in Ontario (Minore et al., 2004, p. 360). Shibogama First Nations Council along with Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch conducted a collaborative inquiry about the effect of inadequate medical workers in the community (p. 360-361). This group made an inquiry to gather necessary confirmations that there is an existing detrimental impact to the health system among rural Indigenous communities. It was found out during the study that due to the geographical location of the reserves, medical workers such as nurses and physicians could not visit the area frequently, and medical staff turnover is high which resulted in varying medical assessments (p. 361). It is through the Health Canada’s Transfer Initiative that “enables First Nations to take control of federally funded” programs (p. 362). However, the communities still dependent on the “regional system of services that are the shared responsibility of federal and provincial governments” (p. 362). Dealing with the same plight Many Indigenous peoples living off-reserves are facing the same plight as those living on reserves. According to Sibbald (2002), there were 800,000 Aboriginal peoples living off-reserve lands and 230,000 living on-reserves across Canada (p. 912). But most of the programs and funding from the federal government were targeted towards those living on reserves (p. 912). A study conducted in 2000/01 by the Canadian Community Health Survey presented that those Indigenous peoples living off-reserves are “more likely to have chronic health conditions and long-term restrictions on their activity levels than their non-Aboriginal counterparts” (p. 912). It was also found out that part of the problem was due to unequal distribution of federal funding and often the government doesn’t “accept responsibility for off-reserve native people” (p. 912).

Mold-infested homes

Another pervasive pressing issue that Indigenous communities are facing with which has created media attention was the mold infestation in many Indigenous dwellings. In one of northern Ontario’s “isolated reserve,” the Cat Lake First Nation “has declared a state of emergency” when the severe mold infestation in their houses wherein one member of their community had died due to “respiratory” illness (Mercer, 2019, para. 1-2). Aside from that, during the visit of Sol Mamakwa, the member of the provincial parliament for Kiiwetinoong, in the community, observed that “skin ailments” among children were also visible in the community (para. 13). United Nations (UN) has already actively entered into the investigation by making a special report on the housing conditions of Aboriginal communities “around the world” which are apparently upsetting (Farooqui, 2019, para. 1-4). The UN acknowledged that the apparent “inadequate housing” could also result in “negative health outcomes” (para. 4). Thus, the UN was hoping that the government of Canada will act soon to its call for adequate housing for Indigenous communities (para. 14). Employment discrimination

Immigrants also face various dilemmas as part of the systemic racism or discrimination. One of which is the struggle of skilled immigrants on finding a decent job upon their arrival in Canada. A study was conducted by Oreopoulos (2011) to determine why immigrants are struggling to enter into the labor market in Canada when in fact some of the Immigration vital requirements to be admitted as immigrant in the country are based on level of education, work experience from country of origin, and language assessment under its point system program (148-149). Despite how stringent the immigration procedures and requirements that every immigrant need to go through before coming to Canada and the country’s claim of skilled worker shortage, it is peculiar how these immigrants could not practice nor applied for work appropriated for their profession. According to an experimental research study conducted by Oreopoulos (2011), they were able to identify three main explanations to this low labor integration among immigrants (p. 167). One is that employers tend to consider applicants with English sounding names based on the mock resumes the researchers submitted to numerous employers – regardless of which school the applicants attended to or level of education they may have had (p. 167). Secondly, Canadian employers’ value Canadian experience more than Canadian education when shortlisting applicants (p. 167). Lastly, “employers discriminate substantially by name” (p. 167). Overall, it was found out that Canadian employers’ value more the language proficiency based on the applicant’s name rather than its attained educational status and number of work experience especially if it’s earned outside Canada. This hidden discrimination should be given a serious attention by the government of Canada. As being suggested by Oreopoulos (2011), if skilled immigrants could not practice their profession here in Canada for the reason that they are discriminated based on their language proficiency, the Immigration should change its immigration requirement and put more weight on the language proficiency result rather than the level of education aspect. Canadian employers should also be informed profoundly on the new immigrant’s employment capacity through conferences and forums, which the Canadian government should initiate themselves to address this employment issue among immigrants.

Conclusion Many Canadian Indigenous communities which have been living on or off-reserves alike were seemingly in incessant fight for the provision of essential basic services. The denial of these services caused many detrimental adversities to them such as mold-infested dwellings, lack of potable water, inadequate medical workforce in remote Indigenous communities and predicaments of off-reserves natives. These have been few of the many recurrent issues and concerns of these communities which the government seems to have just fixed passively. Its responses to the said problems usually were not concrete enough to provide permanent and effective solutions no matter how evident and pressing the issues were. Thus, these many Indigenous communities, up to these days, are still continually trying to ask the government to address their predicament properly and still in constant fight for their basic rights. And to be fair, the government has been moving towards changing and improving the quality of water in on-reserves communities across Canada now in coordination with the First Nations communities. Yet this would still remain to be a long feat for the government. To a Social Services Worker student’s point of view, the minority groups here in Canada and Indigenous people should be given equal rights and opportunities by the government. The need to change relevant policies and regulations is very apparent based on the plight experiencing by these people. Canada should, therefore, seriously take action and show to the world and its people that this country is indeed value multiculturalism and equality.


Reference Boyd, D. R. No taps, no toilets: First Nations and the Constitutional right to water in Canada. McGill Law Journal, 57(1), 81-134. Chambers, L. (2017). Boil-water advisories and federal (in)action: The politics of potable water in Pikangikum First Nation. Journal of Canadian Studies, 51(2), 289–310. Government of Canada. (2019, July 17). Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022. Mercer, G. (2019, March 8). ‘Beggars in our land’: Canada’s First Nation housing crisis. The Guardian. Minore, B., Boone, M., Katt. M., Kinch, P., & Birch, S. (2004). Addressing the realities of health care in Northern Aboriginal communities through participatory action research. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 18(4), 360-368. Retrieved from Optis, M., Shaw, K., Stephenson, P., & Wild, P. (2012). Mold growth in on-reserve homes in Canada: The need for research, education, policy, and funding. Journal of Environmental Health, 74(6), 14-21. Retrieved from Oreopoulos, P. (2011). Why do skilled immigrants struggle in the labor market? A field experiment with thirteen thousand resumes. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 3, 148-17. Sibbald, B. (2002). Off-reserve Aboriginal people face daunting health problems: StatsCan. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 167(8), 912. Retrieved from

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