Bonjour, madames et mesieurs, c'est un plaisir d'ëtre parmi vous aujourd'hui. It is an honour for me to participate in this event being held in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On behalf of the Board of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, particularly the Honourable Lincoln Alexander who regrets not being able to be here today, I would like to thank your organizing committee, especially Sharon Paris, for offering me the opportunity of speaking on this important occasion.
As you are aware, March 21 was set up to commemorate a group of peaceful demonstrators against apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa who were killed or wounded for taking a stand. Fortunately, in Canada, we are protected by legislation against such possibilities. However, it does not mean that we have arrived. In fact, just this morning, I heard on the CBC that someone in British Columbia who spreads hate via the Internet is planning a conference about freedom of speech. Disseminating hate literature under the banner of freedom of speech is not new; it is just another reminder that we have still a long way to go. Today, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about employment equity. I would also like to tell you about the Foundation, as many of you may not have heard of us.
Let me start by briefly describing the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and what we are doing in the area of employment equity. The Foundation was proclaimed in the fall of 1996, and officially opened its doors last November. The Government of Canada undertook to establish the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 1988, in concluding the Redress Agreement with the National Association of Japanese Canadians. During the Second World War, about 22,000 Canadians of Japanese descent were removed from their homes, their families were separated their homes and properties confiscated and sold, yet none of them was ever charged for being a threat to national security. By this settlement, the Canadian Government condemned the excesses of the past, and reaffirmed the principles of justice and equality for all citizens in Canada.
The Foundation operates at arm's length from the federal government and is a registered charity, with a mandate to work at the forefront of efforts to combat racism and all forms of racial discrimination, by facilitating throughout Canada, the sharing and application of knowledge and expertise to contribute towards the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in our country.
The Foundation has identified employment as one of its top priorities for racial and ethnic minorities. So in our first call for research proposals issued last fall, we asked for research to address systemic racism in employment, including employment equity programs, access to jobs and promotions in the public and private sectors, among others. We hope to share the findings shortly after we receive them next year. The Foundation is also mandated to be a national information base in order to further understanding of the nature of racism, and towards the goal of eliminating racism and racial discrimination. In that light, we hope to learn about successful models so that we can share it with others. We have a website and we are building our information base on race relations; we believe that unless we are aware of the racism in our past, we are doomed to repeat it. We are working to make information available to institutions and the general public.
The general public probably questions the need for employment equity, especially in Ontario, we have witnessed a backlash against employment equity. But has the playing field been leveled? A 1997 econometric study by Robert Swidinsky (University of Guelph) concluded that visible minority workers contend with significant wage and occupational discrimination in their labour market activities. Another study by Pendakur and Pendakur in 1996 found that visible minority males born in Canada were earning, on the average, 9% less income than similarly qualified white males. Among male immigrants, their income penalty was in the range of 15%. Although little differences in incomes were observed between visible and non-visible minority Canadian born women, visible minority immigrant women faced a 7% wage penalty compared to their non-visible minority counterparts. Clearly, not all are equal in the world of employment.
The figures recently released by Statistics Canada tell us that 11.2% of all Canadians identified themselves as members of a visible minoritygroup. In addition, every three out of ten persons in this group were born in Canada. In census metropolitan area of Toronto, visible minorities make up 32% of the population or 1.3 million people, and this is projected to increase to 0ver 40% by the year 2001. These figures are telling us that Canada and the metropolitan areas are becoming increasingly diverse. I believe it is important to take time today to remember and to applaud the fact that Government of Canada has established Employment Equity Act to ensure that our workforce is reflective of our population. However, we cannot be complacent about employment equity, which remains an important means of ending inequality in access to job opportunities for women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, and racial minorities.
Employment equity has been most often linked to numbers: goals and timetables. A 1995 study by John Samuel found that 4.1% of the federal service were visible minorities when 9.1% of the available workforce was visible minorities. However, today I want to explore two common myths about employment equity that fuel the backlash on employment equity.
One is that employment equity lowers the standard or qualification of workers. It is premised on an erroneous assumption that there are no qualified visible minorities, or worse, a racist assumption that they are less intelligent or capable. The truth is that members of visible minorities are subject to greater scrutiny and therefore greater pressure to perform. An analogy can be drawn from the gender equity movement. In the not too distant old days and even possibly today, if a woman had to leave a meeting on time to meet her childcare responsibility, people would think, "she is not very committed to her job". But if a man does the same thing, people would think, " what a responsible family man he is." Gender stereotype has been changing slowly, and we hope that racial stereotypes will soon be a thing of the past.
Another myth is that employment equity is reverse discrimination against the able -bodied white male workers. The facts show that it is the equity groups who have faced discrimination for years, and that pro-active measures are needed to facilitate change. And until all groups catch up, we will need special measures to ensure there is equitable access to jobs, promotions and training. Equality measures does not mean equal treatment, it means putting mechanisms in place to ensure more equitable outcomes. We are not giving preferential treatment to someone in a wheelchair by putting a ramp in, we are simply allowing the person access. So we need special measures sometimes to ensure an equitable outcome.
Legislation can act as a catalyst for change, but reducing systemic racism in the workplace ultimately requires more than legislation. It involves changing the ingrained attitudes of those who believe that a person's skin colour or hair texture are sufficient grounds for differential and inferior treatment. It also involve changing policies and practices in the workplace to keep up with the current realities. In short, it involves you, the people who are in the workplace.
An area that we probably haven't spent enough time looking at is what happen to the racial minorities who have made it into the public service, since we have not had a long history of having significant numbers of visible minority in the pubic service. It would be healthy for employers to take a barometer reading of their work environment. Is there genuine respect for differences? Are jokes or posters with racial overtones tolerated in your workplace? Do employees feel safe to air their concerns or ask questions without fear of reprisals?
Revenue Canada may be one of the few, if not the only, federal departments that are hiring people noticeably these days. However, it would be a poor excuse to say " we can't practise employment equity because we have a hiring freeze." Acting appointments and professional development opportunities are equally important places where employment equity can be practised. I am sure there are many innovative ways you can think of to advance equity in the workplace.
At the dawn of a new millennium, I believe it is incumbent upon us to have a paradigm shift in our thinking about employment equity. It would be fair to say that the majority of administrators and managers view employment equity as another imposition from above, or an administrative burden. However, given the demographic changes in Canada and the shrinking global village, I believe it is time for us to shift gears and ask ourselves a few questions. How can employment equity add value to my workplace? How can we tap into the diverse talent pool and benefit from the richness of diversity? How can my unique cultural perspective and expertise be of contribution to my workplace?
We should be encouraged by the fact that despite the bumpy road still ahead of us, we have come a long way in the past few decades. And Canada continues to be recognized throughout the world as a diverse nation of dedicated, hardworking and fair-minded people. Whether you are a manager, a line employee, or a union representative, you are each an indispensible part of the puzzle to make the workplace what it can be. We can show the world how employment equity can work.
I would like to close by quoting what Nelson Mandela, President of the Republic of South Africa, once commended Canadians by stating: "I salute you for your continuing, tireless campaign to eliminate racism wherever it exists."
This is an important legacy, which we must not take for granted and must continue to uphold together. And I will leave you with that challenge.