When I was elected MP for Sudbury in 2015, my promise to the community was to be Sudbury’s voice in Ottawa.
As a lawyer, a businessman, and a former Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, I am a more effective advocate for Sudbury in Ottawa when I listen to and focus on the tasks and priorities the community brings to me.
But I am also a citizen, and I live and work and socialize and raise a family in this community. I have opinions like everyone else does. I don’t usually speak up because one cannot listen when one is talking.
And so I have listened. I have watched. I have learned … and what I have learned has shocked me.
So I’ll say it simply: Racism is a deadly force in Canada. Racism produces tragedies that are both violently blunt and viciously subtle. It creates personal, private landscapes that saturate people of colour in trauma and despair.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is an expression of this trauma and despair. It is sad that BLM necessary, but it clearly is.
We all have unconscious biases. Prejudices, even. It is these unacknowledged biases that allow discrimination to perpetuate. We all have these blindspots.
Last week, I listened while my friend and colleague Ahmed Hussen talked about his reality in Canada. Ahmed came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia when he was 16.
He put himself through school, launched a successful law career and has now been in cabinet for five years. I have personally worked with him on projects big and small for Sudbury and Northern Ontario. He is an exceptionally skilled, professional and patriotic Parliamentarian.
So listening to him explain how he is still often followed around stores by security shocked me. Listening to him explain the constant fear he harbours for his three sons growing up in Canada breaks my heart. And observing the outpouring of hatred and abuse he endures every day on social media because of the colour of his skin and country of origin absolutely disgusts me.
We must recognize and accept that this is Canada today. The same Canada that proudly welcomes citizens from all corners of the world fleeing persecution, war and terror … may also subject them to racial bias, prejudice and even abuse when they get here.
Today, the lived experience of Black Canadians is in the spotlight. This does not reflect on the lives or the experiences of others. That Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean others don’t matter. It means that this community is hurting right now … and that all lives cannot matter until black lives also do.
In the coming weeks and months, we will have some very uncomfortable discussions about the role Canada’s most trusted institutions play in marginalizing Canadians of colour. And about the things all Canadians can do to call out and shout down racism and support marginalized communities.
We have also begun the discussion regarding the centuries of oppression of First Nations people in Canada. And we have broached it with Asian Canadians, too. But we have a long way to go to confront any of these tragedies and traumas in a meaningful way.
In the meantime, these indignities are still with us, still prevalent in Canadian society today, and they continue to demean us as a nation and a society. We will only be able to change when we recognize and accept that this is real and thus accept that important changes are required.
So I’m going to keep listening and watching. But I will try not to be silent. Racism can be quiet or loud, but it is never invisible. We can all see it, but only if we choose to look. And I will do my part to call out and shout down the voices of intolerance and hatred.
That’s my commitment to making Sudbury a more tolerant and welcoming community. I encourage you to join me and committing to this important cause.
Paul Lefebvre is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Sudbury.