Where is the evidence that Canada is systemically racist?

White men earn less income than four of 11 visible minorities, white women less than seven of 11. It’s hard to see discrimination in that

Matthew Lau, Financial Post, November 3, 2023

The idea that systemic discrimination is widespread in Canada 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, including strategy papers, speak of “systemic racism and discrimination” or institutional policies that exercise “discriminatory control” over minorities. If federal policy is set and public money spent according to the premise that Canada is a systemically racist society, it is important to test whether that premise 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.” If systemic racism were widespread in Canada, we would expect to see white people, having discriminatory power and systemic advantages, to be 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, seven of 10 did. How can that be if Canada’s institutions systemically disadvantage minorities?

On average, Canadian-born Chinese, Korean, Japanese and South Asian men and women had much higher earnings than their white counterparts. On average, Black men earned 21 per cent less than white men, Black women only four per cent less than white women. Filipino men earned 16 per cent less than white men, Filipino women 13 per cent more than white women.

So the data tell us either that systemic racism negatively affects Filipino men but somehow has the reverse effect on Filipino women, or — as seems more likely — that many factors other than race and discrimination determine economic outcomes. As the great American economist Thomas Sowell explained in his 2019 book, Discrimination and Disparities, 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 that would be so.

What we see in income statistics we see in other data, too. South Asians account for only 7.3 per cent of the working-age population in Canada but make up 12.4 per cent of engineers, 12.5 per cent of doctors and 19.0 per cent of computing professionals. Canadians of Chinese, Korean, West Asian and Arab backgrounds are similarly “over-represented” in these professional occupations. Latin American Canadians are over-represented among engineers but under-represented 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 but systemically favours them when it comes to engineering. Either that or, again, race and discrimination are poor explanations for disparities in outcomes, many other factors also being in play.

Another example of the flimsiness of claims 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 less likely to accumulate 16 or more credits by grade 10 or to graduate. If the school system is set up to favour “whiteness,” the evidence for that is missing.

Such data does not mean there is no discrimination or racism in society between individuals. It is, however, evidence that Canada is not systemically racist in the way the federal government describes. The widespread racism that existed before the mid-20th century, in which the policies or rules of Canadian institutions did systemically discriminate against various minorities, simply no longer exists. Federal government policy and spending priorities should be changed to reflect this fact.

Matthew Lau is a senior fellow at the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy, which this week published his Systemic racism claims in Canada: A fact-based analysis.”

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