For more than 150 years, Canadians have congratulated themselves
on their country's tradition of racial equality. While their cousins
to the south were undergoing the agonies of a bloody civil war
followed by more than a century of oppression and strife, Canada
regarded itself as an asylum for runaway slaves then as a paragon of
racial peace and justice.
But a recently published book, "Towards Freedom: The African-
Canadian Experience," by Ken Alexander and Avis Glaze shows the
picture isn't quite so rosy as many Canadians like to think.
The book points out that:
Slavery was banned in parts of the United States 47 years before
the 1833 British Emancipation Act outlawed it in Canada.
Nova Scotia operated segregated schools in the 1960s.
Of the roughly 50,000 escaped slaves who reached Canada by the
Underground Railroad during the early 1800s, two-thirds returned to
the United States after the Civil War, drawn back by family ties or
the opportunities of reconstruction, but also driven by Canadian
When Canada recruited Americans to settle its western prairies
around the turn of the century and blacks from Oklahoma joined the
migration, their arrival sparked a racist reaction across Canada and
resulting regulations effectively barred black immigration for a
The policy changed in the 1960s after black civic leaders, noting
the hypocrisy of Canada's strong opposition to South African
apartheid, petitioned to open the door to Africans and West Indians.
Examples of recent difficulties:
In Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, 17 blacks have been killed by
police in the last 15 years.
In Nova Scotia, where black freemen who migrated to Canada after
the American Revolution founded Canada's oldest black community,
racial brawls have broken out in the high schools this year.
In Colingwood, Ont., where pride in their history has moved
blacks to oppose changing the name of Negro Creek Road, a black
church has been defaced with racist graffiti.
In Ontario, a recent study by the provincial government of the
criminal justice system found that young black men in Toronto had
been stopped by police at twice the rate of their white counterparts
and that young blacks suspects were released on bail at half the
rate of whites.
Even added together, these events may not equal the anguish of an
American race riot. But black Canadians argue they are serious
matters treated with insufficient seriousness.
"The black community has no allies right now," says Sheldon
Taylor, professor of African-Canadian history at York University
near Toronto. "When a police officer shoots a young black person,
there is no court that will convict him.
"Then there is the embarrassment factor. We do not want to admit
even today that there are problems. We do not want our American
neighbors to know."
The embarrassment factor was evident over the summer in the
national furor that erupted when Sports Illustrated magazine quoted
a black Canadian sprinter, Donovan Bailey, as saying Canada was as
racist as the United States. Bailey later said he was misquoted
about the comparison, but stuck by his contention that racism
flourishes in Canada.
Canada has no official figure for the number of blacks, because
until the census being conducted this year the government had never
asked its residents about their race. …