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Beyond multiculturalism: revisioning a model of pandemic anti-racism education in post-Covid-19 Canada

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Abstract

Canada was the first country in the world to establish multiculturalism as its official policy for the governance of diversity. Canadian multiculturalism has gained much popularity in political and public discourses in the past 50 years, and it has also received no less criticism as to its effectiveness in addressing issues of racism. There have also been ambiguities over the meaning and intention of multiculturalism, leading to divergent understandings of multiculturalism as an ideal of inclusion and equity, on the one hand, and a mere political rhetoric, on the other. On the occasion of celebrating the 50 th anniversary of Canada’s official multiculturalism policy, this article re-visits Canada’s multiculturalism by reviewing its history and ethos and critically examining its actual effects as manifested during the Covid-19 pandemic in Canada. The rise of anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism, and anti-Indigenous racism incidents in the pandemic reveals that multiculturalism has in effect, sustained a racist and unequal society of Canada with racism entrenched in its history and ingrained in every aspect of its social structure. Multiculturalism tolerates cultural difference but does not challenge an unjust society premised on white supremacy. The anti-racism movement mobilized by racialized communities in Canada indicates that multiculturalism has failed to respond to racialized communities’ pressing demand for social change and action for social justice. The article concludes with a proposed alternative framework to multiculturalism, that is, pandemic anti-racism education model, to centre the issue of race and racism in an action-oriented, inclusive, and empowering approach toward a future of a just society.
Vol.:(0123456789)
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology
(2022) 6:1
https://doi.org/10.1186/s41257-021-00060-7
ORIGINAL PAPER
Beyond multiculturalism: revisioning amodel ofpandemic
anti-racism education inpost-Covid-19 Canada
LingLei1 · ShibaoGuo1
Received: 9 December 2021 / Accepted: 26 December 2021 /
© The Author(s) 2022
Abstract
Canada was the first country in the world to establish multiculturalism as its offi-
cial policy for the governance of diversity. Canadian multiculturalism has gained
much popularity in political and public discourses in the past 50 years, and it has
also received no less criticism as to its effectiveness in addressing issues of racism.
There have also been ambiguities over the meaning and intention of multicultural-
ism, leading to divergent understandings of multiculturalism as an ideal of inclusion
and equity, on the one hand, and a mere political rhetoric, on the other. On the occa-
sion of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Canada’s official multiculturalism policy,
this article re-visits Canada’s multiculturalism by reviewing its history and ethos and
critically examining its actual effects as manifested during the Covid-19 pandemic in
Canada. The rise of anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism, and anti-Indigenous rac-
ism incidents in the pandemic reveals that multiculturalism has in effect, sustained
a racist and unequal society of Canada with racism entrenched in its history and
ingrained in every aspect of its social structure. Multiculturalism tolerates cultural
difference but does not challenge an unjust society premised on white supremacy.
The anti-racism movement mobilized by racialized communities in Canada indi-
cates that multiculturalism has failed to respond to racialized communities’ pressing
demand for social change and action for social justice. The article concludes with a
proposed alternative framework to multiculturalism, that is, pandemic anti-racism
education model, to centre the issue of race and racism in an action-oriented, inclu-
sive, and empowering approach toward a future of a just society.
International Journal of
Anthropology and Ethnology
Open Access
* Shibao Guo
guos@ucalgary.ca
Ling Lei
ling.lei@ucalgary.ca
1 Werklund School ofEducation, University ofCalgary, 2500 University Dr NW, Calgary,
ABT2N1N4, Canada
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 2 of 22
Keywords Multiculturalism· Racism· Covid-19· Pandemic anti-racism education·
Critical race theory
Introduction
The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the official multiculturalism policy
in Canada. Fifty years ago, Canada was the first country in the world to estab-
lish multiculturalism as its official policy for the governance of diversity in 1971.
The past 50 years have witnessed its appeal and popularity in political and pub-
lic discourses, and in terms of the amount of government and civil organization
programs. Its success can be reflected by the international acclaim Canada has
received through enacting a governance model for other immigration countries,
by the positive boost to Canada’s ambitious immigration levels plan, as well
as by the fostering of a collective diversity-tolerant mindset with Canadians
(Fleras 2018). However, despite its perceived success and strength as opposed
to the outright Eurocentric and racist policy in its preceding period, its ability to
withstand the challenges of the current times after 50 years of implementation
remains unclear. In retrospect, there has never been a lack of critique and con-
troversies over the meaning of Canadian multiculturalism and its actual effects
over the course of its existence. Meanwhile, the new realities of massive trans-
national migration, and social fluidity and changes have led to the questioning
of multiculturalism’s continued legitimacy (Grzymala-Kazlowska and Phillimore
2018). Particularly, the many incidents of racial discrimination triggered by the
Covid-19 pandemic have further exposed the historical process of racialization
and deeply entrenched racial ideology masked by Canada’s official framework of
multiculturalism (Guo and Guo 2021). It seems clear that Canada’s multicultural-
ism policy is now at a critical crossroad if it is committed toward social equality
and inclusion (Fleras 2019).
On the occasion of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Canada’s official mul-
ticulturalism policy, it is necessary to revisit multiculturalism at the crossroad of
pandemic racism during Covid-19 in Canada. It seems there is an urgent need
to engage in critical deep reflections on the rhetoric of Canadian exceptionalism
presenting the country as a culturally diverse and inclusive nation. The article is
organized into five parts. It first presents an overview of the history and ethos
of the multiculturalism policy. Next, it discusses the research methodology which
draws on critical discourse analysis. Then, it critically reviews challenges to mul-
ticulturalism as they are manifested during Covid-19, including anti-Asian racism,
anti-Black racism, and anti-Indigenous racism. The fourth section illustrates anti-
racism movement across Canada as grassroot actions to fight against racism. The
paper concludes with a suggested framework that centres on pandemic anti-racism
in taking us beyond multiculturalism.
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 3 of 22
Multiculturalism turns 50: thehistory andethos ofCanadian
multiculturalism
The adoption of multiculturalism policy reflects the realities and changes to Can-
ada’s immigration history (Meister 2021). Initially, multiculturalism has just been
a description of the social demographic fact in Canada since the confederation of
the country in 1867, when there were three founding ethnic groups, Indigenous
peoples, French, and British. The latter two colonized the land of the Indigenous
peoples and claimed power as the two dominant ethnic groups (Wong and Guo
2015). After confederation, there have always been immigrants to Canada from
various countries, but mainly because of the legislation of racist Immigration
Act of 1896 and 1952, which promoted a White Canada nation building agenda,
racialized immigrants were prohibited or restricted from immigrating to Canada.
Other systemic barriers targeting immigrants of colour also added to the exclu-
sion of ethnic groups that the dominant White Canadians considered undesirable
for “a white man’s country”. These barriers include legislations such as the Chi-
nese Immigration Act (1885) that imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants,
the Chinese Exclusion Act (1923) that banned all Chinese immigrants until its
repeal in 1947, the denial of entry of SS Komagata Maru ship with Indian refu-
gees fleeing from the First World War, the internment of Japanese immigrants
during the Second World War, the ban on immigration of Blacks in 1911, and the
many discriminatory practices that subjugate racialized minorities to the margins
(Anthony 2020; Guo and Wong 2018). Meanwhile, the Indigenous people have
not only been deprived of their lands, but their rights have long been disregarded,
and their existence as a founding group in Canada has also been diminished and
denied for a long time.
This scenario of overt racialization and colonization has not undergone much
change until the post-WWII period. The increased international pressure on coun-
tries to abandon overtly racist immigration policies and a post-war economic
boom in Canada have precipitated the conception of a new governance and immi-
gration model. Since then, the formation and development of multiculturalism
as a public policy has evolved in three stages: 1) incipient stage (pre-1971); 2)
formative stage (1971-1981); 3) institutionalization stage (1982-present) (Dew-
ing 2013). The conception of multiculturalism policy in 1971 was spurred by a
national unity crisis in the incipient stage, where the Quebecois raged its seces-
sionist movements in the 1960s. The federal government then implemented a
series of reforms to enhance the status of French Canadians, affirming English
and French bilingualism and biculturalism to strengthen the equality of British
and French as the “founding nations” of Canada (Kymlicka 2015). However,
these “duality” initiatives caused concern and objection from other ethnic groups
in Canada, particularly the other white ethnic groups from Europe such as the
Ukrainians, Italians, and Poles, as they fear that the emphasis on unity between
the British and the French would be achieved at their expense. These ethnic
groups then demanded official recognition of the ethnic diversity as well as finan-
cial support for ethnic groups in Canada to maintain their cultural identities.
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 4 of 22
Such multicultural movement in the 1960s influenced the recommendations made
by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (RCBB) appointed by
the Pearson government in 1963. The recommendations of the Commission were
responded to by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who proclaimed in the
House of Commons on October 8, 1971, that his government policy is “multicultur-
alism within a bilingual framework” (Blanding 2021). The announcement marked
the beginning of the formative stage of multiculturalism. For over ten years since
then, the federal government allocated funding dedicated to the implementation of
programs that foster ethnic culture development, language teaching and learning,
and cultural exchanges (Dewing 2013). Multiculturalism in the formative stage is
believed to be focused on celebrating cultural differences and objectified cultures
such as dress, dance, and food (Fleras and Kunz 2001).
The institutionalization stage (1982-present) is characterized by formal institu-
tionalization of the multiculturalism policy in legislation. In 1988, the Canadian
Multiculturalism Act was enacted, which endorsed multiculturalism as a central
feature of Canadian citizenship and upheld every Canadian’s freedom to his or her
cultural heritage. Other institutionalization efforts include the recognition of Cana-
da’s multicultural heritage and the inclusion of one’s ethnic origin and race in the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), the establishment of the Canadian
Race Relations Foundation Act (1991), the Employment Equity Act (1986, 1998) to
eliminate discrimination against under-represented groups in the workplace, includ-
ing Indigenous people, visible minorities, people with disabilities, and women.
Other more recent institutionalization efforts include the establishment of Cana-
dian Multiculturalism Day (June 27) in 2002, Asian Heritage Month (May) in 2002,
Black History Month (February) in 2008, and Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism
in 2005 as well as its relevant strategies. In this stage, the foci of Canadian multicul-
turalism evolved to one of “equity” in the 1980s, “civic participation” in the 1990s,
and “integration” in the 2000s (Fleras and Kunz 2001; Kunz and Sykes 2007).
In terms of recognition of ethnic groups’ cultures, the conception of multicul-
turalism is indeed a radical departure from an assimilationist and overtly racist
approach in the past, offering acknowledgement of the ethnic diversity in Canada.
Yet, its ultimate aim was at defending the political power of the British and French
groups and the biculturalist narrative of Canada’s nationhood. It is believed that
Trudeau’s vision of a multicultural Canada is of “a French-English bilingual, but
not binational country, coupled with individual rights and freedoms – something
he called the ‘Just Society’” (Blanding 2021, p. 18). However, with the British and
French being in privilege and power as a precondition for a “Just Society”, the extent
to which other ethnic groups can exercise individual rights and freedoms seems to
be quite circumscribed. Meanwhile, it must be noted that multiculturalism policy
was not created with non-European immigrants in mind but rather was “demanded
by, and designed for, European immigrant groups” (Kymlicka 2008, cited in Meister
2021, p. 13). In other words, those racialized non-white ethnic groups, such as peo-
ple of African, Asian, and Indigenous descent, were not regarded as stakeholders in
the original conception of multiculturalism (Meister 2021). Besides, multicultural-
ism was depicted as an imagery of a “mosaic” (Graham 1998; Porter 1965), which
perfectly masked the power relations in Canada (Warren 2021).
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 5 of 22
The three stages of multiculturalism reflect a change of emphasis and focus from
culture to race relations and social justice (Ghosh 2011). All three dimensions are
important and positive promises of multiculturalism. Kymlicka (1995) claimed that
heritage culture constitutes a critical aspect of an individual’s identity. Thus, the rec-
ognition of minority groups’ rights and freedom to cultural differences can facilitate
integration and is compatible with the ideology of a liberal state. In the same vein,
Taylor (1994) asserted that an individual’s membership in a community is vital to
his or her identity and thus one’s community should receive due recognition both
politically and socially. At the same time, Taylor argues, people should make efforts
to achieve cross-cultural understanding through dialogue. From their perspectives,
multiculturalism in Canada is conceived as cultural pluralism with limited attention
to power relations. Scholars like Fleras (2019) illuminated the limits of a model of
multiculturalism in Canada as cultural pluralism, as ethnic groups’ right to inclusion
is accepted on the condition that it does not challenge the hegemonic racial hierar-
chy imposed by the dominant social group. Despite a critique of multiculturalism as
a state-centric governance regime, an alternative solution is believed to be worked
out through a more interactive pluralism approach, or through the agency of individ-
uals in intercultural interactions (Wong 2015). However, as critical multiculturalism
scholars have pointed out, multiculturalism that is conceived as issues for the visible
minority “other” to deal with cannot ensure social equality and just race relations
in Canada. Rather, the need is to involve both the dominant and minority groups to
become equally aware of unequal power relations, the impact of difference on social
positions, the marginalizing experiences of those who are deemed “different” other,
and to transform unjust institutional practices (Ghosh 2011). As critical multicultur-
alism literature suggested, multiculturalism will only reproduce ethnic marginaliza-
tion and stratification when the society remains a systemically unjust and unequal
operation (Wong 2015).
It seems that multiculturalism tends to face increased criticism and challenge to
its legitimacy in two situations. On the one hand, critical literature on multicultur-
alism has shown that a rise in strong opposition to multiculturalism occurs when
there are increasing conflicts in global politics, increasing immigration and ethnic
diversity, and increasing globalization. As Wong (2015) observed, there was a huge
increase in academic and public discourse in the retreat of multiculturalism since
the 1980s and particularly in the 1990s and the post-9/11 event period. The increase
in the visible minority population from non-European countries in the 1980s lent
to propositions that multiculturalism’s emphasis on cultural difference and cultural
relativism will cause social fragmentation (Bibby 1990). Similarly, in a context of
political conflict between the Islamic world and the West, as manifested in the re-
emergence of racism against the Muslim population in France over headscarf issue
in the 1990s, multiculturalism was believed to bring about global and domestic
clashes of cultures (Huntington 1993; Silverman 1992; Wieviorka 1998). The 9/11
event further fostered angst against multiculturalism as it was claimed that multicul-
turalism failed to achieve minority integration or address social inequality. Instead,
it produces ethnic segregation and reproduces ethnic stratification (Abbas 2005). On
the other hand, the changing face of cultural diversity in Canada over the last five
decades together with immigrants’ transnational patterns of integration has led to the
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 6 of 22
argument that multiculturalism is dated for managing diversity in a hyper-diverse,
“post-multicultural” world (Fleras 2015; Vertovec 2010; Wieviorka 2014). Indeed,
Canada’s demographic has undergone significant changes since the implementation
of the multiculturalism policy in 1971. On the one hand, the percentage of immi-
grants from non-European and non-U.S. regions rose from about 14% in 1965 to
almost 70% by 1985. The visible minority population doubled from a negligible 5%
at the beginning of the 1980s to 10% in 1991. Accordingly, in Canada’s metropolitan
areas such as Toronto and Vancouver, the percentage of visible minorities also dou-
bled, reaching 26 and 24% respectively in 1991. In 2001, Canada’s visible minority
population increased to 13.4%. Ten years later in 2011, almost one fifth of Canada’s
population were visible minorities. The 2016 census has revealed a 3.2% increase
in the five-year period since 2011, with a total of 7,674,580 people, or 22.3% of the
population as visible minorities. In large metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Van-
couver, and Calgary, the proportions were 47, 45.2, and 28.1%, respectively. The
variety of ethnic origins has also grown at the same time and there were over 250
ethnic origins listed in the 2016 census. On the other hand, the percentage of the
two dominant groups, British and French, fell from 88% in 1901 to 63% in 2001 and
further down to 46.1% in 2016 (Statistics Canada 2008, 2013, 2017). Such grow-
ing ethno-cultural diversity in the Canadian population means that multiculturalism
policy needs to accommodate and reflect the needs and rights of a much wider eth-
nic diversity and to recognize the changing fact that with increasing visible minority
immigrants settling in large cities like Toronto and Vancouver, the visible minorities
will soon become the majority in these urban areas (Wiseman 2018; Yu 2018).
Research methodology
This article adopts critical discourse analysis (CDA) as its research methodology
underpinned by the interpretive and critical research paradigms to inform data col-
lection and analysis (Wodak and Meyer 2009). It focuses on social issues of inequal-
ity with an aim to expose unequal power relations and hegemonic knowledge, to
make sense of the formation of such power difference and hegemony through critical
analysis of various kinds of discourses, and to bring about change through critical
understanding (Van Dijk 2007). Analysis is achieved through descriptive and explan-
atory procedures in which the values, beliefs, and ideologies behind various dis-
courses, or texts, are identified and critically evaluated within their socio-historical
contexts. It can include both a focus on structure and a focus on action (Fairclough
2001). Following a Foucauldian perspective, discourse is formed through knowledge
and practice solidified and normalized through history. Discourse is imbued with
power as powerful actors which influence and impose hegemonic beliefs, practices,
and structures (Foucault 1970, 1988). CDA examines the historical roots of beliefs,
practices, and structures to emancipate those dominated by hegemonic powers. In
this article, news reports in popular media are used and described as texts. Themes
in these texts are identified and then critically analyzed through discussion with
another source of text, that is, scholarly publications, to examine the external social
relations and structures shaping the formation of the texts. Alternative discourses for
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 7 of 22
moving toward a more just society for the racialized community in Canada are then
developed.
Data for this paper were derived from online media reports search in Google.ca.
With foci on both structure and agency, key terms used for the search consisted of
two strands, including those relevant for racism and those relevant for action against
racism. Thus, key terms used included “Asian Canadian” “Black Canadian”, “Indig-
enous”, together with “racism” and “Covid-19”. Further search was conducted with
key terms such as “social action”, “activism”, “social movement”, “advocacy”,
“leadership”, and “initiative”, together with “racism” and “Covid-19”. The search
was delimited to news reports in 2020 and 2021 and primarily to mainstream news
media in Canada. Meanwhile, scholarly publications included for discussion in this
article are primarily academic articles and research reports pertaining to the theme
of racism against the racialized community in Canada conducted in the last ten
years.
Multiculturalism atacrossroad: therise ofracism duringCovid‑19
Five decades since its implementation, Canada’s multiculturalism has arrived at a
crossroad where multiculturalism’s ideal of inclusion, equality, and social justice
could be obstructed by discourses of the retreat and failure of multiculturalism, lead-
ing to its complete abandonment. Particularly, increased incidents of anti-racism
during the current Covid-19 pandemic in Canada are reminiscent of racist incidents
and ethnic tensions in history that gave rise to doubts of the usefulness and effec-
tiveness of multiculturalism. Meanwhile, elevated voices of protest from the ethnic
minority community against racist behaviours during Covid-19 have also indicated
that it is a pressing moment to revisit multiculturalism in Canada: What ideals of
multiculturalism do we uphold and how are we going to proceed in practice to work
toward the realization of such ideals? This section discusses current challenges to
multiculturalism by critically analyzing scholarly publications and incidents that
were reported in popular press during the pandemic pertaining to racism against
Asians, Blacks, and the Indigenous people1 during Covid-19 in Canada. Asians,
Blacks, and the Indigenous people are referred to as the racialized community, a
term acknowledging the common experiences of discrimination and marginalization
faced by non-Caucasian and non-white people in Canada.
Anti‑Asian racism
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a surge in racism and xenopho-
bia across Canada towards Asian Canadians, particularly those of Chinese descent
1 The term “Indigenous people” refers to the three groups of original inhabitants of the land that is now
Canada as well as their descendants. As recognized by the Canadian Constitution, Indigenous people
include First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. https:// www. rcaanc- cirnac. gc. ca/ eng/ 11001 00013 785/
15291 02490 303
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 8 of 22
(Guo and Guo 2021). They have been spat on, verbally abused, and physically
attacked. Many became the scapegoat who were wrongly blamed for spreading the
virus just because it was first reported in China. They are shouted to “go home”
although some of them are born in Canada who have never visited their ancestral
lands. Many of them have also become the target of hate crimes. Since the outbreak
of the global pandemic, there has been a significant rise of reported hate crimes
perpetrated against Asian Canadians resulting primarily from ignorance, fear and
misinformation. In Vancouver, for example, hate crime incidents targeting Asian
communities rose by 717% in 2020 compared to 2019, the highest per Asian capita
in North America (Liu 2021). Some of its members are stigmatized because of the
virus and their properties are vandalized. They have been depicted as “weak, sickly,
diseased, and foreign, and therefore ‘undesirable’ citizens” (Guo and Guo 2021, p.
204). As victims of racial discrimination, Asian Canadians have subsequently expe-
rienced high levels of anxiety, trauma, and desperation.
One recent news report by Canadian Television Network (commonly known
as CTV) (2021) revealed, by citing findings of several Asian advocacy groups,
that after one year into the pandemic, there has been more than 1,000 cases of
racist attacks against Asians in Canada. The cases were reported through online
platforms such as covidracism.ca and elimi n8hate. org. There are more than ten
types of racist incidents reported, with the top type being verbal harassment, fol-
lowed by physical aggression or unwanted physical contact, being coughed at or
spat on, and vandalism (The Chinese Canadian National Council [CCNC] 2021).
According to this report, most of the cases were reported from Ontario and British
Columbia (40 and 44% respectively). Almost 60% of case victims were women
and there were also a high proportion of physical assault victims as children, ado-
lescents, youth, older adults, and seniors. An earlier survey of more than 500 Chi-
nese Canadians revealed that respondents were exposed to racist messaging on
social media and were made to feel as if they posed a health and safety threat to
others (Angus Reid Institute 2020).
A prominent characteristic of the experiences of racism for Asian Canadians is
intersection of racism and other identity markers such as gender and age. Research
by the Learning Network at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence
Against Women and Children (VAW Learning Network)(2021) pointed out that
Asian women are particularly susceptible to racism and discrimination during the
Covid-19 pandemic because of xenophobia of immigrants as “perpetual foreigners”
and gender-based violence that have existed both historically and in contemporary
Canada. Historical discrimination against Asian women for building a “white Can-
ada” and contemporary immigration policies and workplace practices that exclude
and subordinate Asian women to the bottom of racial and social class hierarchies
have shaped the negative portrayal and stigmatization of Asian women as inferior,
thus threatening their safety and wellbeing particularly in times of ethnic tensions.
A study on the experiences of and impacts of Covid-19 on older Chinese immi-
grants in Canada indicated that the racialized community in Canada is dispropor-
tionally affected by Covid-19 as they faced higher physical health and psycho-social
risk than their Canadian-born counterparts. Chinese senior immigrants in the study
felt that there has always been discrimination and racism, but they have become
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 9 of 22
more explicit during the pandemic. The feeling of being blamed as carriers of the
virus has created discomfort, distress, and the inclination of further isolation from
others (Wang etal. 2021).
Anti‑Black racism
Anti-Black racism in Canada during Covid-19 was initially triggered by the death
of a 29-year-old black Toronto resident Regis Korchinski-Paquet. On May 27, 2020,
Regis fell 24 storeys from a balcony of the apartment where her family lived. At
the time of the incident, Regis was with the police alone in the apartment and the
police refused to reveal what happened right before her death. Regis’s family raised
concerns that Regis’s death may be related to racism against the black. Thereafter,
news report on this case immediately ignited anger from the public and protests
against anti-black racism and police brutality soon followed (Canadian Broadcast-
ing Corporation [CBC] News 2020). These protests were joined by those in solidar-
ity with lives lost to racism in the U.S. at that time, with the most appalling case
being the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. This case became
the breaking point of the most current wave of civil rights movement in the U.S.,
referred to as “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement. The BLM movement in the
U.S. together with the Regis case in Canada have brought to the spotlight the issue
of police brutality against the black in Canada. As CBC News’ research on fatalities
at the hands of the police shows, Black and Indigenous people are over-represented
in death caused by police violence (Singh 2020).
In addition to the 2020 BLM movement, the health and social risks suffered by
Black Canadians during Covid-19 also exposed the long-standing issue of racism
against the Black community. A report from the African Canadian Civic Engage-
ment Council and Innovative Research Group (2020) demonstrated that Black Cana-
dians are more vulnerable to the negative physical, socioeconomic, and psychosocial
impacts of Covid-19. They are more likely to report Covid-19 symptoms as they are
more likely to have jobs that require face-to-face interaction and to commute to work
via public transit. Moreover, Black Canadians are reported to be more likely to expe-
rience layoff or reduced working hours, and thus, more worried about paying rent
and household finances in general. In addition, refusal to collect and publish race-
based health data on Covid-19 in Canada was an indicator of ignorance and triviali-
zation of health inequities for the racialized community, including Black Canadians
(Bowden 2020; Osman 2021).
The BLM movement and the disproportionally high vulnerability of Blacks,
particularly during Covid-19, should be understood within the historical context
of structural racism, colonialism, and global capitalism (Kihika 2020). As Kihika
pointed out, as a multicultural country Canada always claims to be “better” than its
U.S. neighbour, which seems to be caught by a much more severe issue of racism
and to hold a more overt attitude of hostility toward the racialized community, par-
ticularly the Blacks. Canada also seems to have a tradition of ignorance about rac-
ism. Thus, the issue of racism is believed to be “over there” (in the U.S.) and “in the
past”. However, the reality of the vulnerability of Black Canadians during Covid-19
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 10 of 22
shows that Canada’s anti-Black racism may seem subtle, but its impact is felt and
experienced substantively by Black Canadians, who are subject to poverty, inequity,
and insecurity due to racialization (Block and Galabuzi 2018; Dei and Lewis 2020).
Meanwhile, institutionalized structures of white supremacy in Canada that margin-
alize racialized communities, including Black Canadians, have never been erased.
What is being erased, hidden, or silenced from the public is the recognition of Black
Canadians’ experiences of marginalization and social injustice as something existing
“here”, “now”, and “always” in Canada and something rooted in and sustained by
Canada’s institutional structure (DasGupta etal. 2020).
The strong association between police brutality against the Blacks in Canada,
higher rates of Covid-19 among Black Canadians and the intersection of their low
socio-economic status, low level of education, lower-paying employment with high
risk of exposure to Covid-19, and being a visible minority is a galling reminder of
the enduring impact and insidious manifestation of historical racism against Blacks.
As Mianda (2020) argued, Black deaths in police brutality and deaths due to Covid-
19 appear to be separate concerns, but they are in fact “linked expressions of deeply
entrenched anti-Black racisms” (p. 3).
Anti‑Indigenous racism
The most shocking news during Covid-19 that awakened Canada to its history of
colonization and racism against the Indigenous people was the discovery of more
than 1,300 unmarked graves near former residential schools. These graves are
believed to contain remains of mostly Indigenous children who were separated from
their families and forced to live in residential schools (The Globe and Mail 2021).
More than 150,000 Indigenous children between the age of 4 and 16 were sent to
more than 139 residential schools between the 1870s and the 1990s until the last
residential school closed in 1996. The unmarked graves remind people of the suffer-
ings of Indigenous children, who experienced physical and mental abuse, malnutri-
tion, lack of medical care, and sexual assault, to name just a few, leading to more
than 4,100 deaths of children in the schools (The Globe and Mail 2021; Union of
Ontario Indians 2013). Three unmarked graves were found and reported in summer
2021. There are 751 such graves found in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan
near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, 215 graves found in the former
Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C., and 182 unmarked graves found in the
former St. Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.
While state-sanctioned violence and injustice against Indigenous people seem
to be tucked in the past, systemic racism against Indigenous people is still preva-
lent and all-encompassing in Canada. The experiences of Indigenous people dur-
ing Covid-19 have brought to light the impact of everyday experiences of inequity
in times of emergency. According to Hawthorn (2021), the Indigenous community
is disproportionately hurt by the pandemic with a much higher Covid-19 case rate
than the Canadian average due to poor living and health conditions including food
scarcity, overcrowded housing, contaminated water, and substandard health care.
As explicated by a report by Public Health Agency of Canada (2021) on the State
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 11 of 22
of Public Health in Canada during Covid-19, the implementation of public health
behaviours such as frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and self-isolation is
a challenge in Indigenous communities where clean water may not be readily avail-
able and space for isolating infected people may not be available with a lack of hous-
ing. In terms of mental health, government policies on lockdown triggered Indige-
nous people’s traumatic memories of colonization in the past when white colonizers
dismissed the rights and freedoms of Indigenous people. Many Indigenous people
felt reluctant to approach health care professionals and uncomfortable accessing
healthcare service during the pandemic because of past experiences of systemic rac-
ism in healthcare.
While the above report is concerned primarily about Indigenous people in remote
and rural areas, a policy and practice review article commented that the experiences
of Indigenous people living in urban areas are also worthy of attention, as between
65% and 80% of the two million Indigenous people in Canada live in urban commu-
nities (Howard-Bobiwash et al. 2021). The issue of systemic racism against Indig-
enous people in urban areas was made invisible by the Canadian government as no
disaggregated data on Indigenous peoples’ health status is recorded or published.
Besides, while there are Indigenous representative organizations ready and avail-
able to engage with in the urban areas, they are not consulted in terms of Covid-19
intervention. Thus, the erasure of Indigenous people’s health status and the neglect
of Indigenous people’s treaty rights, including the right to self-governance during
the pandemic, manifests Canada’s pandemic colonialism, which sustains practices
of settler colonialism with mere rhetoric of structural oppression and Indigenous
rights (Howard-Bobiwash etal. 2021). Racism against Indigenous people during the
pandemic is also exposed in the tragic death of an Indigenous women in Quebec.
An Atikamekw woman, Joyce Echaquan, a mother of seven, died on September 28,
2020, because of mistreatment she received in a hospital north of Montreal. The hos-
pital staff believed Echaquan was suffering from withdrawal, so she was restrained
and left alone in her hospital room. However, there was no evidence of this. Hos-
pital staff infantilized Echaquan and labelled her as a manipulative drug abuser
because of their prejudice and bias against Indigenous people. They also hurled rac-
ist remarks at Echaquan. Despite these findings, the Premier of Quebec, François
Legault, refused to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism, which he believed
to be instead, an issue for some individuals and an issue that only existed in the past
when there were residential schools (Nerestant 2021).
As research shows, such discriminatory healthcare treatment of Indigenous peo-
ple has been a recurring problem rather than occasional incidents occurring only
during the current pandemic (Skosireva etal. 2014; Wylie and McConkey 2019).
As Mawani (2020) pointed out, the destruction of Indigenous people’s health is part
of the settler colonial project of Indigenous disappearance, which has happened for
over hundreds of years and is still ongoing today. In addition, the higher vulnerabil-
ity of Indigenous people to health challenges cannot be viewed as individual issues
as colonization and racism are conditions that created the vulnerability in the first
place. These conditions create a race-based hierarchy of the value of lives, where the
lives of Indigenous people and other racialized people are devalued and destroyed.
Meanwhile, as Perry (2021) argued, there has been an invisibility of “whiteness” in
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 12 of 22
critical race scholarship. Such invisibility tends to naturalize colonization and dis-
possession, making the history of colonization and racialization appear “inevitable
and benign”. Without a direct confrontation with whiteness, power and domination
that have been ascribed to whiteness remain intact, on the one hand, and the suffer-
ing and discrimination experienced by Indigenous people remain, on the other hand,
unrecognized, obscured, and unaddressed. Moreover, although most of the extant
literature on racism against Indigenous people tend to focus on Indigenous health
issues, anti-Indigenous racism is perceived and experienced by Indigenous people in
all social institutions and at multiple levels, including individual, collective, institu-
tional, and cultural levels (Benoit etal. 2019).
In addition, Indigenous people in Canada also suffered race-based police brutality
and this issue was thrust into spotlight during Covid-19 following the mass protests
against police brutality targeting Black communities in the United States. A string
of police violence incidents against Indigenous people were reported from March
to June 2020. For example, a 26-year-old First Nations mother, Chantel Moore,
was shot dead by the police in New Brunswick after the police was called to her
apartment for a wellness check. During the same week, a Royal Canadian Mounted
Police (RCMP) officer in Nunavut hit a 22-year-old Inuk man with the door of a
moving truck. One week later, Rodney Levi was shot and killed by an RCMP officer
during a barbeque gathering outside a church pastor’s residence in News Brunswick.
In another incident, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations Chief Allan Adam was
punched, tackled, and choked by RCMP in Alberta during his arrest over an expired
license plate. It was reported that in this period alone, six Indigenous people have
died in police violence in Canada (Britneff 2020; Cecco 2020; Graham 2020).
Despite RCMP and many politicians’ reluctance to admit the existence of sys-
temic racism behind police brutality targeting the Indigenous community in Can-
ada, quantitative crime-related data have shown that the Indigenous community is
indeed more likely than white Canadians to become victims of police force. There
have been higher rates of police-reported crimes in Indigenous communities and
an overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prison population, which indicates
discriminatory policing and discriminatory stereotype of Indigenous people (The
Council of Canadian Academies [CCA] 2019; Stelkia 2020). While such discrimi-
nation can be traced back to the history of colonization of Indigenous people, the
denial of the presence of systemic racism against Indigenous people in the Cana-
dian criminal justice system today allows for the normalization of such discrimina-
tory practices, the perpetuation of negative stereotype, and the ignorance of failure
to counter this issue (Cao 2014).
Calling toaction: anti‑racism movement inCanada
It can be seen from the analysis of media reports and scholarly publications that
critically discuss anti-racism incidents during the pandemic, Canadian multicultur-
alism policy is at a crossroad. Fifty years after its implementation, its legitimacy
is at stake. As a federal policy, it runs the risk of being too distanced from peo-
ple’s everyday practices, and thus being rendered a mere rhetoric. In addition, it runs
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 13 of 22
the risk of failing to effectively meet the pressing demands of racialized communi-
ties for equity and social justice. As the visible minority population expands and
its visibility grows through various cultural organizations and ethnic organizations
(Guo and Guo 2011), racialized communities today demand not only recognition
of their heritage culture, or more conversations about diversity, but also a height-
ened awareness and better social mobilization capability to demand immediate
action and change for equity and social justice. This is clear through the scale of
anti-racism protests, advocacy, and social mobilization occurred during the pan-
demic. For instance, Chinese Canadians across the country organized numerous
anti-racism campaigns and educational events using online meeting platforms such
as Zoom and social media platforms such as WeChat in response to discrimination
against Asian immigrants during Covid-19. The Chinese Canadian National Council
for Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) organized a series of initiatives to raise public aware-
ness about anti-Asian racism and call for proactive actions to fight against racism
(Boisvert 2020; Patton 2020). The Action! Chinese Canadians Together (ACCT)
Foundation (https:// acctf ounda tion. ca/) and ACT2endracism (https:// act2e ndrac ism.
ca/) have been providing an online avenue for reporting racist incidents and for pro-
viding strategies and recommendations to educate people as to how to respond to
racism and discrimination. Individuals, such as spoken poet Chris Tse, has called for
anti-racism and highlighted Asian Canadians’ contributions to Canada via the online
video platform of Youtube (CBC News 2021), and collective initiatives were made
by Chinese immigrants such as online rally, online petition, as well as in-person ral-
lies (Babych 2021; Chen 2020; We Canadian 2020).
The Black Canadian community has also been initiating acts of resistance against
racism. In addition to the Black Lives Matter Movement and anti-Black racism pro-
tests that took place from coast to coast, many Black Canadian leaders and activ-
ists have started advocacy and long-term capacity-building initiatives. For example,
Alliance for Healthier Communities (2020) has led rallies calling for the collection
of race-based data on the impact of Covid-19 and has also issued a public statement
by Black health leaders on Covid-19’s impact on Black communities in Ontario.
Black Canadian business leaders have launched the Canadian Council of Busi-
ness Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism and the BlackNorth Initiative
to increase the representation of Black leaders in corporate Canada and to address
multi-layered challenges facing Black Canadians (McNutt 2021). An immigrant and
refugee support organization, Skills for Change, has launched the Black Leadership
Institute on Social Action for Change to foster systemic change in addressing anti-
Black racism (Skills for Change 2021).
Meanwhile, Indigenous people have continued to raise their voices for social jus-
tice and for truth and reconciliation following over a century of political organiza-
tion and activism (Dyck and Sadik 2020). After the discovery of unmarked graves of
Indigenous children died in residential schools, Indigenous advocates led marches,
staged protests, and initiated awareness-raising public gatherings (French 2021).
Indigenous people led searches of residential school sites and filed class-action
lawsuits in seeking justice for harms they suffered in the past and for holding the
federal government accountable for breaching charter rights. (Gilmore 2021; Ste-
fanovich and Raycraft 2021). Indigenous leaders have initiated the Orange Shirt
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 14 of 22
Day movement to raise awareness about the history and legacies of the residential
school system in Canada and this grassroots commemorative day now takes place
with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada on September 30.
The Indigenous-led social movement, Idle No More (INM), initiated in 2012, has
continued to form alliance with the Black community and other marginalized Cana-
dians to hold the Canadian government accountable for defending Indigenous peo-
ple’s human rights and for addressing systemic racism and violence. Even during the
Covid-19 pandemic, INM activists and their allies have organized many peaceful
protests, including those against the federal government’s discriminatory Covid-19
assistance toward Indigenous people, and those against police brutality and racism
against Indigenous people (Godin 2020). INM’s “Cancel Canada Day” protests after
the discoveries of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at residential schools
have successfully gained support from 80 municipalities in 10 provinces and territo-
ries, which decided to cancel Canada Day events to recognize the ongoing coloniza-
tion genocide, oppression, and violation of human rights (INM 2021).
The struggles and acts of resistance of racialized communities against racism
in Canada, as amplified in the current context of the pandemic, urge us to shift the
gaze of multiculturalism from “culture” to “race” and “racism”. Multiculturalism
is no longer just about ethnicity and culture, as it was conceived at the time of its
adoption, and the Canadian identity the policy hopes to foster can no longer be
framed within a settler-centric unity, as it was intended at the time of its adoption
(Blanding 2021; Meister 2021). It has become evident that the Canadian identity of
people from racialized communities is not just about cultural heritage, but depends
more saliently on people’s racial identity, as it is socially constructed in Canada.
A multiculturalism policy that evades race and racism can no longer be relevant in
the current age of reconciliation and anti-racism, as demanded by racialized com-
munities. A multiculturalism policy that trivializes race and racism can no longer
be effective in the current times when all forms of racism, including overt and blunt
type of macro-racism 1.0, institutional and systemic mezzo-racism 2.0, and micro-
aggression type of racism 3.0, converge and co-exist (Fleras 2018). Although the
Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1985) and other legislative efforts in the 1980s and
1990s added a component of equity and anti-racism, they may not be enough to
encourage addressing racism in practice. As Reitz (2021) argued, although multi-
culturalism acknowledges problems facing racialized communities, it has not pro-
vided useful political resource or emphasized any obligations to address discrimi-
nation and disadvantage in action. This limitation contributes to multiculturalism
being more of a rhetoric and to Canadians’ overall complacency with the current
race relations in Canada.
Beyond multiculturalism: towardpandemic anti‑racism education
To look toward the future of a more equitable and just society of Canada that multi-
culturalism promises to achieve, it is high time that we go beyond multiculturalism
with an action-oriented anti-racism education approach, which aims to address rac-
ism at macro, mezzo, and micro levels as racism operates through multi-level and
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 15 of 22
intersected dynamics. Jean Augustine (2021), a former Member of Parliament and
social advocate, states:
The challenges to inclusion…will not be met by having more cultural aware-
ness events or by more studies on the experiences of racism…. Multicultural-
ism’s path forward for the next 50 years must be paved with the use of anti-
racism and anti-oppression approaches shaping our collective understanding of
the challenges to social inclusion. (p. 69)
In revisioning an alternative approach, we propose a pandemic anti-racism edu-
cation model, which aims to call out any form of racism and xenophobia that is
directly related to the global pandemic and eliminate racial oppression for achieving
racial justice in post-COVID Canada (Guo and Guo 2021). Theoretically, this frame-
work, as an alternative to the multiculturalism framework, is informed by critical
race theory (CRT) that is deeply rooted in critique of racism and advocacy toward
emancipation and social justice for racialized communities. It places the social con-
struction of race as the central factor in affecting people’s life chances and ordering
their social positions. It recognizes that racism is endemic and ordinary, pervasive
in all aspects of society. CRT centres its analysis on power and power differentials,
in particular, those engendered by racism, as racism constitutes the condition of an
unequal society where the White sustains power and privilege through the oppres-
sion and marginalization of racialized communities (Luke 2009). CRT also recog-
nizes the intersectionality of race, class, and gender in shaping people’s experience
of social inequality, thus exposing multiple systems of subordination and oppression
(Crenshaw 1991; Gillborn 2015). Emphasizing the historical, social, and economic
context of racism, its key tenet is the recognition of race as a social and political
construct (Matsuda etal. 1993). By being race-conscious, CRT offers an enabling
framework to name and eliminate racial subjugation.
The application of CRT in the field of education has allowed for an understand-
ing of social inequality in various educational settings from a race perspective. It has
been an effective analytic tool for discussing issues of structural and institutional
barriers to access power, knowledge legitimacy and democracy, and the language
and cultural rights of racial minority groups (Howard and Navarro 2016; Powers
2007; Roithmayr 2000). At the same time, it raises the voices, experiences, and per-
spectives of racialized people (Ladson-Billings and Tate 1995). Although particu-
larly focused on anti-Black racism when it enters the field of education, CRT is not
a theorization of blackness, but rather, a theory of race and racism that applies to all
oppressed racial groups (Delgado and Stefancic 2007; Dumas and Ross 2016). CRT
promises to offer an alternative perspective to the multicultural discourse as experi-
ences of discrimination, exclusion, and oppression are often not directly addressed
in the multicultural discourses of inclusion, diversity, and equity (Lopez 2020). It
functions as a critique of White supremacy and the limits of a hegemonic liberal
form of multiculturalism (McLaren 1995; Melamed 2011). CRT can thus advance
innovations in educational policy, research, and practice that are committed to a
social justice agenda (Tate 1997).
Following CRT’s tenets, a pandemic anti-racism education model integrates mul-
tiple centres of knowledge; recognizes and respects for difference; affects social
L.Lei, S.Guo
Page 16 of 22
and educational change related to equity, access and social justice; and teaches
for community empowerment (Dei 1996; Dei et al. 2001). In implementing this
approach into education and social practices, the role of teachers and instructors
should extend from the sphere of the classroom into the community and educational
practices should engage with social and political issues. Educators need to explic-
itly teach pandemic anti-racism and develop awareness of discursive racialization
and xenophobic violence and discrimination in relation to COVID-19 and discuss
action plans to eliminate them. This requires collaboration among teachers, students,
administrators, and community activists to work for change at a broader level.
A CRT-informed pandemic anti-racism education goes beyond the current mul-
ticultural model in three significant ways to effect social change. First, a pandemic
anti-racism education shifts the policy dimension of multiculturalism to a focus on
social justice. It means that cultural and socio-economic policies should consider
issues of equality and equity for racialized communities. Inclusive policies should
follow the three principles of social justice theorized by Nancy Fraser, that is recog-
nition, redistribution, and representation (Fraser etal. 2004). Under these principles,
anti-racism education model must recognize the cultures of racialized communities,
ensure egalitarian redistribution of socio-economic resources, and problematize
governance structures and decision-making procedures by increasing the visibility
of racialized communities as decision-makers and representatives in consultation.
Second, an empowering pandemic anti-racism education approach challenges the
practice dimension of multiculturalism. It supports racialized communities to take
initiatives in designing and implementing multicultural education programs that
are not mere tokenistic celebrations of specific events, ethnic songs, dance, or ritu-
als. Racialized individuals should be empowered to exercise their agency through
funding support, awareness-raising education programs, and leadership programs
focused on community development. Particularly, an anti-racist education model
will not only engage students in articulating and reflecting on race and racism, but
it will also challenge the “white gaze” (Rabelo etal. 2020), or knowledge prem-
ised on white supremacy, by encouraging the inclusion of multiple ways of knowing
(Dei 1996; Guo and Guo 2021). Finally, a pandemic anti-racism education reflects
a fundamental change in ideological focus. It means that education should confront
ethnic relations and diversity in Canada as a politically mediated issue rather than as
a matter confined to the domain of culture. An anti-racist model of education recog-
nizes that systemic racism is still prevalent. Macro-level racism is not something in
the past or something elsewhere. Racism does not just exist as isolated incidents or
interpersonal trifles. Instead, an anti-racist model of education questions and decen-
tres an exclusionary ideology of white supremacy in the social system and in politi-
cal and public discourses. Multiculturalism that does not engage with anti-racism
can at best achieve tolerance of cultural diversity and at worst, reproduces a Euro-
centric racial hierarchy and white domination (Dei 2011).
As Kymlicka (2021) commented, Canada’s multiculturalism at present is deeply
anchored in the chains of the past and at the same time looking forward with aspi-
rations of rebirth in the future. The current conjuncture that situates multicultural-
ism’s 50th anniversary within a global pandemic clearly reflects how multicultural-
ism, with an inherent obscurity in meaning, is torn between an ideal of inclusion
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (2022) 6:1 Page 17 of 22
and equity, on the one hand, and a mere political rhetoric and unjust social reality,
on the other. This paper re-visits Canada’s multiculturalism policy by reviewing the
history and ethos of the multiculturalism policy and critically examining the cur-
rent challenges to multiculturalism as they are manifested during Covid-19. With a
focus on anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism, and anti-Indigenous racism, this arti-
cle reveals that racism is not something in the past in Canada. Rather, it is perceived
and experienced by racialized communities at the present time during the pandemic.
Experiences of racism indicate that multiculturalism has failed to address issues of
inclusion and social justice as it has not challenged the fundamental social system of
white supremacy, has not provided effective resources for confronting racism, and
has not framed ethnic tensions as political. Considering these limitations, we hope
the proposed pandemic anti-racism education sheds new light on the ongoing debate
about multiculturalism that takes us beyond the traditional multicultural approach in
building a more inclusive and socially just society in poast-Covid-19 Canada.
Acknowledgements Not applicable
Authors’ contributions The two authors contributed equally to this manuscript. Both authors read and
approved the final manuscript.
Funding Not applicable
Availability of data and materials Not applicable
Declarations
Ethics approval and consent to participate Not applicable
Consent for publication Not applicable
Competing interests The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License,
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you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Com-
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ses/ by/4. 0/.
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