By John Nicola, Chairman and CEO
Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.
– Maya Angelou
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
– Martin Luther King
It is two days before July 1st, 2021 as I write this and there seems to be a groundswell amongst Canadians to not celebrate the day of Confederation. The revelations of hundreds of unmarked graves at the Kamloops and Marieval Residential schools are shining a bright light on a dark part of Canadian history.
I did some research about the Canadian residential school system, and there were 140 created from 1828 until the last one finally closed in 1997. That last school was, in fact, Marieval on the Cowessess nation in Saskatchewan.
Canada is viewed by much of the world as a mosaic of cultures, a place of diversity and inclusion where immigration is valued. In a typical year, we accept 4times as many immigrants and refugees as the United States on a per capita basis. I believe most Canadian citizens and residents see immigration as an important positive step in building a better country and future. But we also have a significant racist and intolerant part of our population that has aggressively increased physical and verbal attacks on virtually every minority in the country.
The deliberate attack of the Afzaal/Salman family in London, Ontario by an anti-Muslim driver resulting in their tragic deaths was horrific. Anti-Asian reported crimes in BC were up over 700% from 2019 to 2020 according to a recent Global news story and BC has the highest per capita reported anti-Asian incidents of any North American jurisdiction. In a statement released in mid-May, B’nai Brith Canada said the number of anti-Semitic assaults recorded so far in May of 2021 “easily surpasses” the total for all of 2020.
Are we as a nation becoming more intolerant? Are we a racist country? I do not think the answers to those questions are easy. I believe Yes and No are both correct.
Canada has many examples of racist behaviour starting with the treatment of Indigenous people. During challenging times, such as we are in now, I find it helpful to remember and reflect on some of those examples.
- In 1914, we refused to allow 352 out of 376 Indian passengers who were traveling on the Komagatu Maru to disembark in Vancouver as immigrants. They were returned to what was then Calcutta and somewhere between 20 and 75 of them were killed by police.
- In 1923, we passed the Chinese Immigration Act barring Chinese from emigrating to Canada. This legislation was not repealed until 1948. Prior to that, we had imposed a “Head” tax on Chinese immigrants from 1885. That date was chosen because we had completed the national railway and presumably did not want more Chinese in the country. The Head tax started at $50 but reached $500 in the early 1900s. That was the equivalent of two years’ salary at that time. The Canadian government has apologized for these laws but done little in the way of reparations.
- In 1942, we interned 90% of Japanese Canadians (21000 people) and sold their homes and assets to pay for their detention. Major-General Kenneth Stuart, one of Canada’s top generals at the time had this to say, “From the army point of view, I cannot see that Japanese Canadians constitute the slightest menace to national security.” Canada had a long history of Anti-Japanese sentiment prior to the war.
- From 1930-1939, approximately 800,000 European Jews applied to emigrate to Canada. We accepted only 4000. One of the last groups to be rejected were 937 Jews on the boat the MS St Louis that had sailed from Hamburg and tried to disembark in Cuba. It was turned away and from every other port in North America. It returned to Germany. Very few survived the war.
Based on these events in our history it would be easy to characterize Canadians as racist. However, I think a more accurate assessment is that we are capable of making mistakes that impact the lives of many and we are also capable of recognizing those errors in judgement when we choose to.
Einstein said this about actions: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
I suggest that what most of us are guilty of is not proactively taking actions that positively endorse our belief in the diversity of people. Diversity of gender, race, and religion. What might we do in terms of taking those positive actions? Consider the following:
- Actively seek to build a highly inclusive workforce. One that not only demonstrates but embraces diversity. As Gandhi said, “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”
- Fund organizations that provide help for those with the greatest needs (as an example 25% of the youth supported by Covenant House in Vancouver are Indigenous even though they represent only 5% of the population).
- Consciously educate our children and grandchildren about racism and intolerance. Nelson Mandela made this observation: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” We may not eliminate hate and intolerance in certain people, but we can make a personal commitment to prevent this cancer from spreading.
In a recent first-person account in the Globe and Mail, a Canadian-born woman of Indian descent shares her recent experience of a racist-fueled verbal attack directed at her in a grocery store, “…what hurt the most, it was the silence of those who stood around us and witnessed the attack.”
Many years ago, I wrote a newsletter about how investors were their own worst enemies (as has been well documented by many behavioural finance studies). I ended that article with this cartoon comment written by Walt Kelly and spoken by the cartoon’s protagonist, Pogo, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”
It seems to me that this could also apply to racism in our country. I am more than certain that most Canadians are tolerant and do not see themselves as racist. But that is not going to be enough to win this particular battle. We will need to get stuck in.
At Nicola Wealth, we are committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion. We are committed to “Sharing the Pie” with our community and actively seek out opportunities to support groups working with the most challenged and underprivileged. But there is more that we as a firm can do. First, we must speak up when we see injustice and intolerance. Second, we must reach out to groups who are marginalized and proactively ask how we can help.
What else might all of us be able to do? One of my sons suggested the following:
We should engage with our community and get to know our neighbours again, on the street, in the grocery store, in the schools. So many Canadians are stuck on their devices and in their homes and the pandemic has made that worse. It’s easy to isolate yourself and your thinking when you live this way (confirmation bias). I think something that has been missing for many people are the small, day-to-day interactions that we used to get with our neighbours who are different from us. I think if we look up more, talk to each other more, and help each other in even the smallest ways we will build stronger communities that are more resilient to fighting racism.
If we get this right, we will have many reasons to celebrate future Canada Days.