Charges of systemic racism are not backed up by the data. In fact, the data shows the opposite
The idea that systemic discrimination is widespread in Canadian society guides federal government policy.
The Prime Minister’s 2021 mandate letters to his cabinet ministers instructed them to address “profound systemic inequities and disparities” in our “core institutions.” Other government documents and strategies speak of “systemic racism and discrimination” or institutional policies that exercise “discriminatory control” over minorities.
However, if federal policy is set and public money is spent on the premise that Canada is a systemically racist society, then it is worth testing if this is true.
The federal government defines systemic or institutional racism as consisting 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.”
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So, if systemic racism were widespread in Canada, we would expect to see white people, because of their discriminatory power and systemic advantages, consistently at the top of the ladder economically and socially, with racial minorities below them. But the data show no such thing.
Last year, Statistics Canada published data based on the 2016 Census showing the average weekly earnings of Canadian-born men and women from 10 visible minority groups (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Southeast Asian, Filipino, South Asian, Arab or West Asian, Latin American, black, or “Other visible minorities”) versus their white counterparts. Among men, four of the 10 minority groups had average weekly earnings higher than the white population; among women, it was seven of 10. How can that be if Canada’s institutions systemically disadvantage minorities?
Digging deeper into the data, Canadian-born Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and South Asian men and women, on average, had much higher earnings than their white counterparts. Black men, on average, earned 21 percent less than white men, but black women only four percent less than white women. Filipino men earned 16 percent less than white men, but Filipino women 13 percent more than white women.
So the data either tell us that systemic racism negatively affects Filipino men but somehow has the reverse effect on Filipino women or – as is more likely the case – that many factors other than race and discrimination determine economic outcomes. As the great American economist Thomas Sowell explained in one of his books, it is a fallacy that “various groups would be equally successful in the absence of biased treatment by others.” There is just no reason to think it would be so.
What we see in income statistics we see in other data, too. South Asians account for only 7.3 percent of the working-age population in Canada but make up 12.4 percent of engineers, 12.5 percent of doctors, and 19.0 percent of computing professionals. Canadians of Chinese, Korean, West Asian, and Arab backgrounds are similarly overrepresented in these professional occupations. Latin American Canadians are overrepresented among engineers, but underrepresented among doctors.
As with the income statistics, we might conclude from the data on representation in professional occupations that Canadian society systemically disfavours Latin Americans when it comes to the medical profession and systemically favours them when it comes to engineering – or, again, that race and discrimination are poor explanations for disparities in outcomes and that many other factors are at play.
Another example of the flimsiness of the claim that Canada is systemically racist: in its “Equity Accountability Report Card” in 2021, the Peel District School Board posited that “our education system is a colonial structure that was constructed to favour whiteness and white Eurocentric norms. As a result, systemic discrimination creates unequal and disparate outcomes for students based on their identities.”
But then look at the report’s data: white students in grade six are less likely than average to be graded as proficient in math, according to standardized tests. When compared to the average of all students, white students are also more likely to accumulate fewer than 16 credits by grade 10 and more likely not to graduate. If the school system was set up to favour “whiteness,” the evidence for this is not there.
Such data does not mean there is no discrimination and no racism in society between individuals. It is, however, evidence that Canada is not systemically racist in the sense the federal government describes. The widespread racism of the kind that existed before the mid-20th century, in which the policies or rules of Canadian institutions systemically discriminated against minorities, simply no longer exists today.
Federal government policy and federal spending priorities should be changed to reflect this fact.
Matthew Lau is a senior fellow at the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy and author of Systemic racism claims in Canada: A fact-based analysis.
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