Although explored in several places with varying levels of accuracy and sophistication, in this post, I want to offer an alternative space and discourse on Ontario`s `Bill 67, Racial Equity in the Education System Act, 2022`.
As an Ontario certified and experienced teacher, I moved abroad some 20 years ago partially as then Premier Mike Harris was politicizing playgrounds with assertions that teachers were the playground bully. Any of us long enough in the profession will recall these dark days. I have lived in Japan and worked in international schools for the past 20 years and want to explore the current Bill in light of my experience and training.
I that the current Bill continues in the Harris vein and, rather than tackle the central issues it purports to address, it falls far short, opting for political showmanship rather than offering teachers and students a viable platform to address issues such as racism and more widely, prejudice.
I believe Bill C-67 harkens back to a time in the late 1960s when `paternalistic` thinking of the state led to the disastrous White Paper Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969. This paper and the current Bill share similar DNA in that, without a large body of evidence and limited consultation and heavy handed approach is offered, when in reality it may not be the most viable way forward for Ontario and its pluralistic society. Indeed, many of the lessons learned from the failure of the White paper appear to have been forgotten.
Bill C-67 of legislation is poorly conceived and a shameful indicator of what happens when a lack of leadership and educational know-how is used to wallpaper issues that need addressing in a constructive rather than populist manner. Ontario and its residents deserve far better. Its teachers and students, should be given more respect.
Setting The Stage
Firstly, to clean up some of the misinformation currently circulating on the internet, this is a Provincial Bill and is thus not connected to the Federal Government of Trudeau. Education is a provincial responsibility; however, it must align with the Charter of Rights and Freedom, which itself may be undermined by the current government and its application of the notwithstanding clause.
Secondly, while some claim this as an Anti-white piece of legislation, as I will explore, it is far too poorly constructed to constitute such a stance.
Thirdly, Canada and its Charter are cognisant of international pieces of legislation, specifically in this case, the UN`s Declaration of the Rights of a Child, which guarantees, among others, the following:
The right to equality, without distinction on account of race, religion or national origin; The right to a name and a nationality; the right to protection against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation and finally he right to be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, and universal brotherhood.
Without too more deep reading it is possible to see how the current bill, by enforcing racial, and geographical mandated grouping of children is at great odds with the UN`s DRC to say nothing of the politicisation of children. In a single swath the Bill manages, in the name of so-called anti-racism, to counterfeit the spirit of the UN and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Catch-all Phrases and Ignorance
Under section 15.2, the Charter guarantees that `(2) Section (1) does not preclude any law, programme or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.` The keyword here for enacting the goals of the Charter is that all such government action aimed addressing injustice should ameliorate the injustice, something which the current Bill does do. Potentially it seeks the opposite. By forcing (or placing) students to identify as either one of the groups mentioned or unspoken the Bill treads on dangereous grounds of pidgeon-holing complex individuals into narrow identity bands. Within a Canadian context, where students may be multi-racial and multi-ethic, to say nothing of those who believe they are more that their socially constructed identifiers the Bill should serve as a warning for all Canadians and not those living in Ontario. Who is deciding who belongs and who is not? When has sharp divisions around external identifiers ever serve humanity well? Indeed are they not the root of the current issues which we are trying to overcome and address?
It is also not inconceivable that for First Nations and other indigenous groups, the gains made around band membership under the Federal Bill C-31 could be lost if they and their teachers are found to have contravened sections of the Bill such as those addressing `racial disturbances`. For example, if a group of indigenous students decides to hold a walkout to protest the poor water supply on their reserve, will they be deemed opposing on racial grounds and thus need re-education? If they seek more action from the Federal government to move on addressing long-standing land claim issues and students are educated about this in class, will they and their teacher be in Breach of the current Bill? What if a University student group marches on Ottawa supporting indigenous rights?
Where Bill C-67 reveals its deep-rooted ignorance is in the classification of Ontario citizens. It uses the term `racial` to encompass many groups that appear to have little in common other than being grouped and needing special attention.
Firstly the term `indigenous people` is used, yet it is not clarified to whom this relates? Are these the indigenous people of Canada? If so, what of indigenous people who have migrated to Canada, such as Pacific Islanders, Tutsui, or Hakka, to name but a few? Do Scandinavian immigrants of Sammi culture fall under this canopy? Have the writers of this Bill lived outside of Canada? If so, they may have missed the reality that many other places have indigenous people, some of whom have emigrated to Ontario.
Worryingly, under the Charter, Canada`s Indigenous people have been guaranteed special status. I have searched but could not verify if the current Bill was part of a consultation process with them? Or, as it seems, was it once again, something imposed upon them by those who think they have a right to speak on their behalf? We need a clear explanation if, once again, our indigenous people have been spoken for rather than spoken with.
Another myopia of the Bill as it currently stands is its conceptualisation of `anti-racism`. As it states:` “anti-racism” means the policy of opposing racism, including anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia`. However, the notion of race is a highly contentious phrase and a socially constructed grouping which the current bill accepts: `“racism” means the use of socially constructed ideas of race to justify or support, whether consciously or subconsciously, the notion that one race is superior to another.` As I read this section, I was reminded of award-winning Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie poignantly noting she did not know she was `black` until she arrived in America. Indeed, what it means to be `black` from a global perspective is by no means uniform, nor would it be uniform, I suspect, among Canada's multilayered, multi-national and diverse population. For example, Caribbean nations and societies tend to discuss colourism rather than the binary of black/white, something also seen in Brazil. Does Ontario have a consistent experience of blackness?
Of course, the term anti-racism is also made to include anti-Asian. Asia is a geographical identifier, not a race. Asia is multiracial. Using its definition, those Russians from Asia (yes, most of geographic Russia lies in Asia and is the largest country in terms of geographic size there) fall under the anti-Asia group. So for those who challenge this as anti-white legislation, only reveal their ignorance of geography.
A potentially diabolical situation is created through such sloppiness for social science teachers. How will they teach and explore the situation in Kashmir or Palestine without falling foul of Sections 1, 17 and 19? Will deep and complex issues which face us globally be shied away from by teachers and students for fear of needing re-training?
Will this Bill encourage competent people to enter a profession already experiencing a shortage?
Of course, China's international schools' section and that of Saudi Arabia are booming, so well-qualified Ontario teachers could go there to escape the potential pit of falling afoul of authorities. Or they could just move to another province.
Not Researched Based
The most significant shortcoming of this Bill is that it is just not aligned with the research into `anti-racist` training and policies. Simply exposing `others` to each other and punishing teachers has a long history of failure and, in some cases, has even reinforced racial stereotypes (see the studies of Sigelman and Tuch, 1979; Fiske and Glick, 2008; Levy and Green, 2009). Time and time again, studies confirm that Bills such as this one, no matter how well-intended, fail to deliver and may do more harm than good (Hughes, 2019).
We know that starting from an educational programme that places the student as an individual and teaches them frameworks of anti-prejudicial thinking ground in developing meta-cognition and complex problem solving DOES reduce prejudicial actions and thinking. Developing this ability to think with complexity must be part of all areas of knowledge, not just social studies and languages. There are several proven frameworks that, rather than being divisive and punitive, as the current Bill is, seek to include and develop the skills and mindsets for living in a pluralistic society.
While such programmes are positive and relatively easy to implement, they do not attract public attention or click-bath; thus, in the hands of a self-serving member of parliament, they may fail to get them that cushy job or re-election. The results of such student growth would take a generation or so to become visible at the polls - not so helpful for someone standing for re-election in the next few months. There again, is this not what leadership is supposed to do? Build for the future.
Most importantly the evidence is clear, such strategies work for students. There again, where they consulted by those who constructed this Bill? Who did have a seat at the table as it was being drafted?
In conclusion, this Bill, which may have its heart in the proper place, has addressed important issues very, very poorly. The Bill needs severe re-working, development and a sincere, long-term commitment to addressing the crucial issue of prejudice in our society. While some researchers suggest we are hardwired for in-group vs. out-group thinking, this does not mean we cannot use our sophisticated brain and its ability to use reason over emotion. After all, we do this daily!
While retraining may be helpful by using frameworks focused on cognitive growth rather than reactive, reductionist punishment Ontario can continue to set the standard for a purposeful and cohesive pluralistic society where all are welcome.
Having lived overseas, my personal experience and one supported by PISA suggest Canada is already a leader in global mindedness and intercultural competencies. Regarding such matters the world often looks to Canada for it has avoided (not perfectly) a number of the racial and ethnic pitfalls and violence that has ravaged so many other places, including my native country.
Perhaps the greatest incentive to focus on such meta-cognition and dispositions developments is that the skills learned will be transferable to other issues such as the environment, refugees, resource management and personal well being. Agile thinking and acting are more sustainable, productive and powerful than a citizenship cowed into submission by a government unwilling to do the hard work necessary to lead and address important issues constructively.
Adopting models for cognitive growth require a mature and reasoned commitment; one which will keep Ontario and its citizens as leaders and cooperators within the field rather than confused, naval gazing individuals stumbling backwards toward mediocrity.
Ontario, you can do better than this poorly constructed and articulated Bill. Please do so.
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan