OTTAWA — While the federal budget presented a vision for confronting crises at home and abroad, advocates for racial justice were looking for a specific guarantee: a concrete promise to tackle hate and systemic racism in Canada.
It also came as Black and Indigenous people continue to face overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, and as crimes motivated by hate are on the rise.
And it arrived on the heels of the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” which saw racist and extremist symbols openly displayed in the capital’s downtown core.
Here’s where Ottawa has promised action — and where advocates say it missed the mark.
The budget’s central pledge to address racism and hate facing religious minorities and Black and racialized Canadians is a promise to spend $85 million over four years to launch a new Anti-Racism Strategy and a National Action Plan on Combatting Hate.
The funding fulfils commitments made during last year’s summits to fold hate targeting religious minorities into Canada’s anti-racism strategies.
Building on that commitment is $11.2 million over the next two years to fund the existing role of Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, and to launch a new position: a Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia.
The latter role — which was previously announced by the federal government but did not have a dollar figure attached — was a key recommendation from Canada’s Muslim community last summer.
Now that the position is properly funded, whoever fills it can now work on challenging systemic racism and eliminating Islamophobia in Canada, said Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network said he was “grateful” that Ottawa included such commitments in this year’s budget given the need to rein in spending at a time of global instability.
“Our hope is that in the next budget, as the need increases, so will funding,” Farber said.
But for Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate, $85 million isn’t meeting the moment.
“White supremacy is literally a raging fire across the country and the government decides to invest what are essentially pennies into fighting hate in this country,” said Khan, who wants to see extra money to develop a nationwide public education campaign on hate.
Supporting Black Canadians
While Ottawa’s funding to combat hate also confronts anti-Black racism, the budget introduced specific initiatives to address systemic barriers facing Black Canadians.
It extends the pre-existing Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative by flowing $50 million over two years to Black-serving community organizations. It also offers up $40.9 million over five years, with $9.7 million ongoing, to federal granting councils to create scholarships and fellowships for Black student researchers.
A third pledge is providing $3.7 million over four years to begin developing and implementing a Black-led mental health fund for Black federal public servants.
Aspects of that funding are “deeply concerning,” said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, the spokesperson for a proposed class-action lawsuit launched by a group of Black federal public servants alleging years of discrimination by the federal government.
“We’re talking about around $900,000 per year. That amount is completely insufficient to create this plan and to implement it, and workers can’t wait four years,” said Thompson, who says many Black federal employees experience serious mental health concerns.
“It gives the impression that there isn’t genuine urgency on the part of the government to address this issue, but … we’re happy to see something allocated towards it,” he said.
Criminal justice reform
One gap in Thursday’s budget was any meaningful action toward implementing criminal justice reform, said Jonathan Rudin, program director at the Toronto-based Aboriginal Legal Services.
The Liberals reintroduced their criminal justice reform bill late last year, which the government has touted as a way to address the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people in Canada’s justice system.
A senior government official told the Star that inside government, there has been an acknowledgment that the bill’s identical predecessor — which died on the order paper before the election — didn’t go far enough because it lacked elements such as pre-charge diversion or more community restorative justice measures.
The budget itself proposes $60 million to increase how much Ottawa contributes to criminal legal aid services, arguing that the extra support will ensure overrepresented groups receive fairer hearings.
But Rudin believes that funding fails to address the root problems inherent in the justice system, and said it would have been “nice” to see money to implement the current bill, which partly proposes to remove mandatory minimum sentences on drug offences.
“That would show that they actually are intending to move forward with this and that it’s actually going to happen,” he said.
With a file from Tonda MacCharles
Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel