“Policies that Perpetuate Systemic Racism” is a 10-month-long project funded by Canada Race Relations Foundation through the Anti-Racism Fund that explores the negative impact of three legislations in Canada: Quebec’s Bill 21, the formerly titled “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”, and Canada Child Benefit immigration status contingency. The project is divided into three phases: research, public awareness, and political advocacy. Through this, we aim to bring change in the way these policies are perceived by the general public and by political representatives.
Bill 21 is a provincial policy in Quebec that impacts not only religious minorities in Quebec but also causes
harm to religious minorities and racialized communities across the country by legitimizing racist and hateful behavior towards those communities impacted by the Bill.
The second policy of target in this project will be the formerly titled “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”. This act, proposed in 2014, was passed by 2017 and changed the “Immigration and Refugee Act”, “Criminal Code” and “Marriage Act” to criminalize forced marriages and polygamy. Advocates who have worked with victims of forced marriage have been very critical of the law as a barrier to these victims. Victims from immigrant and racialized communities are much less likely to come forward with their complaints of forced marriage if there is the criminalization of their families involved.
Evidence from legal clinics indicates that victims are in greater danger of forced marriage as a result of this policy as they are even less likely to report their families for fear of criminalization. The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic wrote about this in the International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies in 2021. They write “While originally touted as an opportunity to enhance protection for girls and women against the “foreign” horrors of polygamy, early and forced marriage, and “honor”-based killings, Bill S-7 instead fanned the flames of xenophobia on a mass level, failed to protect women, and, in fact, created a higher risk of harms for women who are victims of gender- or family-based violence”.
The third policy targeted through this project is the contingency of Canada Child Benefit on the immigration status of the parents. The preclusion of refugee claimants and those without immigration status (non-tourists) from receiving Canada Child Benefit for their children harm families that are Asian, South Asian, Arab, Hispanic, and Black. It is critical to understand this preclusion as a barrier to racialized communities and perpetuates poverty in these communities. The report titled “Every Child Counts” says eligibility requirements for the Canada Child Benefit are discriminatory. It estimates that as many as 3,000 families are ineligible because they await refugee status or have had temporary resident status in Canada for fewer than 18 months. Among them are parents who are working and paying taxes.
Lived experience and community data show that this exacerbates child poverty for those who are already marginalized. It is harmful for children in these circumstances and it is argued that the CCB should be given to all children in Canada regardless of their parent’s immigration status.
While the three policies may seem to target different populations, the way they impact racialized individuals and communities greatly overlaps. By restricting religious freedoms, income benefits, and support options for survivors of gender-based violence, these policies delineate who is considered a true Canadian and who has the right to enjoy the same privileges as others. As a result, they foster a sense of exclusion, isolation, and discrimination within racialized communities.
We hope to influence public opinion through public awareness, through the use of storytelling and emotions, and by bringing attention to the systemic racism these policies uphold. Our goal for the campaigns is for aspects of the three policies that are racist or harmful to racialized/religious minority communities be removed completely or replaced with policies that are not harmful to these communities.
Change in public perspectives: Increased knowledge about harmful impacts of target policies on racialized/religious minority communities. Ideally, decreasing public support for the target policies. Polls (online) and surveys of the public who have been exposed to or participating in our campaigns will measure this outcome.
Change in perspectives of political representatives: Through public awareness and media influence,
We anticipate that: politicians and policy leaders who are unaware of the negative impacts of these policies will have a better understanding of it; and/or politicians and policy leaders who did not have the political will/community pressure to deliver change will feel strongly about supporting marginalized communities and commit to changing the three target policies.
Engagements: outcomes will be for online engagements, media engagements, and offline engagements. We anticipate 50,000+ people to be engaged online. This will be done through public awareness and media campaigns.
The Canada Child Benefit is a tax-free monthly payment available to low-income families with a child or children under the age of 18. This benefit was introduced in 2016, replacing the Universal Child Care Benefit and Canada Child Tax Benefit. The eligibility criteria for this benefit is limited to Canadian citizens, permanent residents, protected persons, individuals registered under the Indian Act, or temporary foreign workers who have resided in Canada for at least the previous 18 months (1.5 years). Inherently, it excludes thousands of families already living in poverty with precarious status including refugee claimants, asylum seekers,
This also compels women with precarious status in abusive conditions to stay with their partner who may have status. Furthermore, this discrimination based on immigration status contradicts Canada’s obligations under UN Conventions on Contradicts Canada’s obligations under UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child which states that all children have the right to equal opportunity without discrimination on parents’ status. It creates a second-class status for children whose parents have precarious status, perpetuating cycles of poverty and racism.
Bill 21 is a law in Quebec that came into effect on March 28th, 2019. The legislation is officially known as the “Act respecting the laicity of the state” and restricts public servants from wearing religious symbols or clothing while on the job. This includes restrictions on hijab, keffiyeh, dastar, kara, crosses, etc. The law has served as a critical concern for Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, and other religious populations in Quebec as it impedes religious freedom. It has further led to an increase in violence, instances of discrimination, and hate crimes especially against visible Muslims and Sikhs in both Quebec and other parts of Canada. Studies have found that Muslim women who wear hijab have been more susceptible to hate crimes.
Furthermore, this law has led to a mass exodus of highly skilled and educated groups of people from Quebec on the basis of their religious practices.
The “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” was initially introduced in 2015 by the former conservative government led by Stephen Harper. This Act passed in 2017, amended the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code to address polygamy and forced marriage. The bill prohibits permanent residents or foreign nationals who practice polygamy (having multiple spouses at the same time) from entering the country. The bill also criminalizes “forced marriage”.
This Act reinforces cultural racism by portraying gender-based violence as an issue that is unique to immigrant communities rather than a problem within Canadian society. It also stereotypes immigrant communities, particularly South Asians and Muslims. Gender-based violence is a complex issue that requires nuanced and comprehensive solutions, including education, awareness, and adequate support for survivors. This Act, by altering three different laws, however, criminalized instances of gender-based violence, making it more challenging for survivors to seek help. Unfortunately, instances of gender-based violence continue to be a significant concern, and this act has not resulted in any significant positive outcomes.
The Act also established a hotline for reporting instances of forced marriage, honor killing, or polygamy. However, this hotline has faced significant criticism due to the stigma, cultural racism, and stereotypes it perpetuates. Some individuals have reported being wrongly targeted based on their race, with the hotline having recorded an estimated 1000 calls.
As part of our primary research phase, we are conducting a survey to understand the negative impact of these policies and also collecting stories of individuals who may have been impacted by these policies. Help us with this aspect of our project by filling out the survey or spreading the word.