Rise in opioid deaths serve as reminder COVID-19 isn’t Canada’s only health crisis

Public health agencies push federal government for pharmaceutical alternative to street drugs

Minority Report is your weekly tip-sheet as we navigate the parliamentary waters of a minority government. Get insights and analysis from CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau in your inbox every Sunday morning. (CBC)

The past three months have felt out of the ordinary in so many ways.

As patios and hair salons re-open in Ottawa, it’s remarkable to think about how little social interaction we’ve had in these thirteen weeks, how normal routines have all been upended.

But some new routines have emerged too. For me, at work, that means every day at 5:30 p.m. ET there’s an update on COVID-19 from public health officials in Alberta and at 6 p.m. ET the same thing happens in BC. Over the past few weeks, it’s more like every other day, but you get my drift.

Because those are the provincial updates that fall on my watch, I’ve listened to more than a hundred of them and I’m pretty sure the inside voice in my head is now either Dr. Deena Hinshaw or Dr. Bonnie Henry. And it’s always telling me to stay calm and be kind.

Which is why last Thursday, accustomed to my normal show routine, I was jolted to hear Dr. Henry in tears. She wasn’t talking about COVID-19 though, at least not directly. She was talking about overdoses.

Watch Dr. Henry’s comments on the opioid fatalities:

B.C.’s provincial health officer teared up as she shared her condolences with the loved ones of overdose victims. 2:47

Last month in B.C. a record number of people died from an overdose; 170. It’s also more than the total number of deaths due to Coronavirus in the province; 167. More than 400 people in B.C. have died from overdosing during the three months COVID-19 measures have been in place.

Dr. Henry’s emotion was raw as she talked about those numbers. They were moms, dads, sons and daughters. She also noted the increased toxicity of street supply.

“COVID-19 is not our only health crisis,” she told reporters. “I cannot express how difficult this news has been to hear, my thoughts and condolences go to those who have lost their loved ones and I share your grief.”

I can’t imagine the impact of isolation on someone who suffers from addiction. The decision to reach out and ask for help, or to talk to a friend, must already be tough — but the inability to do so must be crushing. Outreach workers say physical distancing measures also mean less people can access addiction services. It is a devastating combination.

According to a report by CBC’s Health unit, early data from Ontario shows a 25% increase in the number of overdose-related deaths from March to May over the same period last year.

In Alberta, the number of opioid-related calls to EMS went from 257 in March to 550 this May.

A report from Toronto’s medical officers of health shows paramedics there responded to 25 suspected opioid overdose deaths in April, the highest number since September 2017.

In an interview last week, Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart was also visibly shaken by the increase in deaths in his province.

“This keeps me up every night and it has, really, since I started campaigning for mayor,” he told me.

Stewart stressed the importance of finding a safe drug supply — essentially a prescription alternative to street drugs — and lauded the federal government’s efforts on that front during the pandemic. He hopes the measures aren’t temporary.

“We’ve got to make it permanent … otherwise these numbers are just going to continue, not just here, but right across the country.”CERB may be linked to overdoses, say outreach workers

Public health officials in various parts of the country are pressing Ottawa for more funding for a safe supply of drugs in their provinces and cities. People I spoke to in the federal government say they expect to be able to provide a lot of that funding soon — but provinces have some jurisdiction here as well. On the question of whether to make safe supply funding permanent, everyone I spoke to said a decision hadn’t been made, but the federal minister of health was open to the conversation.

Dr. Henry has gone a step further than making a call for a safe drug supply in the past; calling for decriminalization of all illicit drugs.

That’s a controversial position and often a politically contentious one — we saw that in the last federal election. Unsurprisingly, the call to decriminalize was rejected by governments prior to COVID-19; but this pandemic has changed so much — given the heartbreaking volume of overdoses in the last three months I wonder if it will change that too.


What the Pandemic Reveals About the Male Ego

Why are the rates of coronavirus deaths far lower in many female-led countries?

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan at a military base this spring amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit…Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Are female leaders better at fighting a pandemic?

I compiled death rates from the coronavirus for 21 countries around the world, 13 led by men and eight by women. The male-led countries suffered an average of 214 coronavirus-related deaths per million inhabitants. Those led by women lost only one-fifth as many, 36 per million.

If the United States had the coronavirus death rate of the average female-led country, 102,000 American lives would have been saved out of the 114,000 lost.

“Countries led by women do seem to be particularly successful in fighting the coronavirus,” noted Anne W. Rimoin, an epidemiologist at U.C.L.A. “New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway have done so well perhaps due to the leadership and management styles attributed to their female leaders.”

Let’s start by acknowledging that there have been plenty of wretched female leaders over the years. Indeed, according to research I once did for a book, female leaders around the world haven’t been clearly better than male counterparts even at improving girls’ education or reducing maternal mortality.

There has been solid research that it makes a difference to have more women on boards and in grass-roots positions, but evidence that they make better presidents or prime ministers has been lacking — until Covid-19 came along.

It’s not that the leaders who best managed the virus were all women. But those who bungled the response were all men, and mostly a particular type: authoritarian, vainglorious and blustering. Think of Boris Johnson in Britain, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran and Donald Trump in the United States.

Virtually every country that has experienced coronavirus mortality at a rate of more than 150 per million inhabitants is male-led.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the best-run places have been run by women: New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan,” mused Susan Rice, who was national security adviser under President Barack Obama. “And where we’ve seen things go most badly wrong — the U.S., Brazil, Russia, the U.K. — it’s a lot of male ego and bluster.”

“We often joke that men drivers never ask for directions,” observed Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania. “I actually think there’s something to that also in terms of women’s leadership, in terms of recognizing expertise and asking experts for advice, and men sort of barreling ahead like they got it.”

He has a point. Those leaders who handled the virus best were those who humbly consulted public health experts and acted quickly, and many were women; in contrast, male authoritarians who botched the response were suspicious of experts and too full of themselves.

“I really get it,” Trump said when he visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March. Surrounded by medical experts, he added, “Maybe I have natural ability,” and he wondered aloud if he should have become a scientist.

(Given that Trump said in January that Covid-19 was “totally under control,” he has his answer. And peer review might not have been kind to his ideas about bleach.)

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand.

Credit…Pool photo by Mark Mitchell
Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor.
Credit…Pool photo by Andreas Gora

While women have generally outshone men as international leaders, that does not seem true within the United States. Some female governors have done better, others worse, so there isn’t an obvious gender gap at home.

It’s also possible that this isn’t about female leaders but about the kind of country that chooses a woman to lead it.

Companies with more female executives on average perform better than those with fewer women, but analysts think that the reason isn’t just the brilliance of women leaders. Rather, companies that are culturally open to having senior women are also more willing to embrace other innovations, and it may be this innovative spirit that leads to higher profitability. Likewise, countries willing to elect female prime ministers may be those more inclined to listen to epidemiologists.

Yet I think that there’s also a difference in the leadership itself.

“Women lead often in a very different style from men,” said Margot Wallstrom, a former Swedish foreign minister, citing examples from Norway, Germany and New Zealand of women with low-key, inclusive and evidence-based leadership.

Wallstrom also noted that public health is a traditional “home turf” concern for many women leaders. Grant Miller, an expert in health economics at Stanford University, found that as states, one by one, granted the vote to women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, those states then also invested more in sanitation and public health — saving some 20,000 children’s lives a year. Boys were thus huge beneficiaries of women’s suffrage.

One trap for female politicians is that brashness can be effective for male candidates, but researchers find that male and female voters alike are turned off by women who seem self-promotional. That forces women in politics to master the art of communicating effectively in a low-key way — just what’s needed in a pandemic.

“Perhaps the skills that have led them to reach the top,” said Rimoin, the U.C.L.A. epidemiologist, “are the same skills that are currently needed to bring a country together.”


By has been a columnist for The Times since 2001. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for his coverage of China and of the genocide in Darfur. You can sign up for his free, twice-weekly email newsletter and follow him on InstagramHis latest book is “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.” @NickKristof  Facebook

New Brunswick Unites For Healing Walk After Police Killings Of Indigenous People

On the eve of healing walks planned for Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi was killed by police.

STEPHEN MACGILLIVRAY/CANADIAN PRESS First Nations women in face masks and shields drum during a healing ceremony to honour Chantel Moore in Edmundston, N.B. on June 13, 2020.

Large crowds came together across New Brunswick for healing walks in honour of two Indigenous people who were shot and killed by police in the province within the last two weeks.

Chantel Moore, 26, was shot by police at her home in Edmundston, N.B. where they were called to perform a “wellness check” on June 4. Moore had recently moved to Edmundston from B.C.’s Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. Rodney Levi, 48, who was from Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation, was shot by RCMP on Friday night.

“This is a broken system, it’s not working,” said Jeremy Dutcher, a Juno Award-winning musician and Wolastoqiyik member of the Tobique First Nation, who joined a walk in Fredericton.

“I want to know from our premier what he thinks is going on,” Dutcher told HuffPost Canada. “Why does he think since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been more Indigenous people killed by police officers than have been killed by the virus [in New Brunswick]?”

STEPHEN MACGILLIVRAY/CANADIAN PRESS Chantel Moore’s mother Martha Martin reacts during a healing ceremony in Edmundston, N.B. on June 13, 2020.


Moore’s family led the walk in Edmundston and spoke to a crowd of about 100 people at the town square on Saturday morning, calling for a full public inquiry into Moore’s death, CBC News reported.

Unlike a protest or demonstration, a healing walk highlights a spiritual focus and incorporates specific Indigenous traditions like sacred drums and ceremonial clothing. Walks were also held in Moncton and Halifax. Many participants wore gold and yellow in honour of Moore, who liked to say ‘Stay Golden!’

“We don’t have the word ‘protest’ in our language,” Imelda Perley, an instructor at the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre at the University of New Brunswick told CBC. Perley wrote the protocol for the healing walk, which also called for participants to practise social distancing and wear masks.

Forrest Orser@ForrestOrser

This afternoon I went to the Healing Walk for Chantel Moore, the woman who was killed by an Edmundston police officer on June 4.

There was a big turnout and everyone was respectful and peaceful.

Chantel’s catchphrase was, ‘Stay golden!’ Organizers asked people to wear yellow.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Stacey Gomez@staceyjgomez

Healing Walk for Chantel Moore on Spring Garden in

Embedded video

“The police do not prosecute the police, we see this over and over and over again,” Dutcher said.

In 2019, CBC News reported that out of 126 investigation the BEI conducted, zero criminal charges were laid.

... what it says is that if you’re mentally ill and you have a bad day, the cops can kill you for it.Chief Bill Ward, Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation

Chief Bill Ward of the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation said Levi was a slight man who tried to get a mental health assessment at hospital recently, but was refused. Ward said Levi had trouble sleeping in the days before the RCMP shooting.

“He had his demons but he was always very friendly, he never tried to harm anybody,” Ward said during an emotional Facebook event on Saturday.

The RCMP were called to a home after Levi attended a barbecue, where he had planned to seek guidance from a church minister.

Ward said police told him that Levi had two knives in his sweater and threatened officers.

“He wasn’t in the right state of mind at that point of time. He wasn’t a violent person, so basically to me what it says is that if you’re mentally ill and you have a bad day, the cops can kill you for it,” said Ward.

High-profile case

This week, video was released of an Alberta RCMP arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Alllan Adam over alleged expired licence plates. It shows an officer punching and tackling the Indigenous leader.

Allan’s case spurred concern from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but was also followed by statements from two top RCMP officers, who said they don’t believe their police force has a problem with systemic racism.

Both Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki retracted their statements after criticism. Zablocki changed his opinion after some research and “Googling it,” he said.

“I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP,” Lucki said. “I should have.”

“As many have said, I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included. Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly.”

“What’s been really disheartening is to see that our leadership has no active knowledge of what systemic racism actually is,” said Butcher. “To hear these police chiefs and politicians go on TV and say, ‘Well, I’m not sure what systemic racism so I had to Google it.’

“Well, isn’t that nice that you had the chance to Google it instead of experiencing it.”

Roger Augustine, the Assembly of First Nation’s regional chief representing New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, said “systemic racism is not owned by the RCMP.”

“And it’s not owned by any government in any country. Systemic racism is something that has to be addressed by the community itself, and in this case it’s New Brunswick. Racism exists in all peoples. Racism is about judging people. When (you) walk down the streets and you see someone you don’t like, you judge their clothing, the colour of their skin …. that’s racism.”

‘… time of monumental change’

Like those who have taken to demonstrating, Dutcher said he’s trying to use his social platform to demand justice for the Indigenous lives taken by New Brunswick police. Along with Moore’s family, he said many community members are calling for a public inquiry and police reform.

“This is a time of monumental change in this country and across North America — trust and believe that these struggles are connected,” said Dutcher.

He said while Black and Indigenous experiences aren’t necessarily the same, in Canada or the U.S., these communities are connected by the forces that oppress them, rather than serve and protect them.

“That connection I hope can be made clear,” he said. “We can move in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters, because we’re tired —  enough is enough.”


With files from The Canadian Press

Valérie Plante commits to change after report finds Montreal has ‘neglected’ fight against racism

Public consultation report says substantial changes needed to resolve what is widespread problem

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante held a news conference on Monday following a report detailing problems of racism in the city. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says she is committed to addressing systemic racism and following up on recommendations laid out in a new report detailing problems in the city.

Plante said she would introduce a motion to “formally recognize” systemic racism, appoint a commissioner to counter racism, hire more minorities to public posts and improve accountability among the Montreal police service.

“I want you to know that Montreal is a city where every Montrealer is entitled to have their dignity respected,” she said Monday at a news conference in response to the report.

“I’m firmly committed to implementing systemic solutions to these systemic problems without delay, because there is no time to lose.”

The report, released Monday by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM), is the result of a 20,000-signature petition presented to the city nearly two years ago, which triggered public hearings on systemic racism.

It concluded the city has “neglected” the fight against racism and discrimination and does not recognize the systemic nature of the problem.

It arrives at a time of global reckoning on the issue. Recent protests in Montreal in response to last month’s killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police also coalesced around local tensions — including Premier François Legault’s denial of the existence of systemic discrimination in Quebec.

The city’s approach to issues of race and discrimination, the OCPM found, “turns a blind eye to the debate regarding the relationship of power between majority and minority groups.”

As a consequence, “the city does not question its policies and practices, nor its role in the production and perpetuation of inequalities within its various jurisdictions, such as employment and public security.”

On the subject of the Montreal police and racial profiling, the report says major changes are needed. It calls for two experts on racial profiling to be added to the city’s public security committee and for changes to police training.

The report says an “understanding of the phenomenon of racial and social profiling” and “the necessary skills to bring about a change in the culture of the organization” should be requirements for hiring the city’s chief of police.

Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in recent weeks in anti-racism protests in Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

38 recommendations

The commission outlined 38 recommendations that call for sweeping changes: greater transparency, specific targets and accountability at the executive level, for everything from hiring for city positions to policing to cultural programs to housing.

The report’s first two recommendations, both of which Plante committed to acting upon, are for the city to “publicly recognize, without delay, the systemic nature of racism and discrimination and commit to fight against these phenomena,” and to create the role of a commissioner to counter racism and discrimination.

The report also calls for the city’s services to Indigenous people to be revised “in order to better adapt the services to the demographic reality” of that population, and for better resources and more stability for the city’s Indigenous Affairs Commissioner.

Most of the city’s efforts around racism amount to programs and policies to integrate immigrants and don’t address systemic discrimination, the report says.

Balarama Holness spearheaded an initiative calling for hearings on systemic racism in Montreal. (Jérôme Labbé/Radio-Canada)


As of now, it says, Montreal has seen few results in the fight against systemic racism because the actions it has taken “are sparse” to begin with. No political or administrative leader is accountable for that file, and no data is being collected that might help document discriminatory practices and policies.

The report observes that the City of Montreal has had staffing diversity plans for a decade, and in that time not a single upper management role was filled by anyone who self-identifies as a visible minority, ethnic minority or Indigenous person.

A need for better data

A common theme in a number of recommendations is the lack of data available to adequately assess programs. The report calls for the city to produce and make public, every three years, “comparative and differentiated populational data” in areas such as housing, social and economic development and democratic participation.

“The main takeaway is you cannot fight what you do not name,” Dominique Ollivier, president of the OCPM, told CBC News.

The report recommends that data be tracked and made public on city hiring, attendance and funding of cultural programs, and the outcomes of complaints around racial mistreatment.

The hearings were prompted after a group submitted a petition in July 2018 calling for Montreal to look into systemic racism and discrimination.

Under municipal regulations, the city is compelled to hold public hearings on the subjects of any petition signed by at least 15,000 citizens.


John MacFarlaneBenjamin Shingler · CBC News 

It’s putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg’: Indigenous leaders say police training inept, join calls to defund

Vancouver police says officers take anti-racism training and do an excellent job

Patricia Barkaskas is Metis and a director at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic. She believes that the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP need their funding scaled back and believes Indigenous people’s rights need to be recognized for true reforms to happen.   (Maggie Macpherson)

As more cases surface about Indigenous people facing brutality at the hands of police, leaders are joining calls to defund the police, saying efforts like cultural sensitivity training are failing.

“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg,” says Urban Native Youth Association vice-president Matthew Norris. Cultural sensitivity training for city police and RCMP is inadequate for understanding Indigenous people’s experiences, he adds.

Norris, who is Nehithaw-Cree, is also part of a new group called the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition that launched a campaign to defund the police this week, saying Canada needs to recognize Indigenous people’s rights to determine how to protect themselves.

His group is concerned that police budgets will remain unchanged while many organizations that support vulnerable communities are facing cuts. That’s a poor choice because the Vancouver Police Department, he says, does little to serve Indigenous people or their concerns.

“There is a certain amount of fear [of police] from communities that are over-policed, and we need to see something new, with Indigenous youth at the table to decide what an effective system looks like,” said Norris.

Matthew Norris is one of a growing number of Indigenous people joining calls to defund the police saying police services do little to uphold Indigenous communities, their rights and their interests. (Supplied by Matthew Norris)


In response to concerns about strained relations with Indigenous people, the Vancouver Police Department told the CBC that their “officers are highly trained and do an excellent job in responding as first responders.”

Director Steve Schnitzer of the Justice Institute of British Columbia’s Police Academy said that the VPD’s current training to address anti-Indigenous racism is watching a 45-minute video called The Spirit Has No Colour about Indigenous relations with the police.

New recruits also take part in a one-day session that features Indigenous community members and elders speaking about the impacts of colonization.

Norris calls it “a paltry exercise.”

‘Woefully inadequate’

“I fail to see how these programs result in substantive change to an institution that has been criticized time and time again for its discriminatory behaviour … clearly these programs do not work, and it’s time to try something new,” Norris said.

That something new, he said, needs to take Indigenous self-determination into consideration, where organizations that aim to support and protect Indigenous people are driven by their communities and funded at the same level as non-Indigenous organizations, something that is often not the case in Canada.

It’s something Métis lawyer Patricia Barkaskas agrees with.

“This is a conversation that the federal government should be having with Indigenous people and with Indigenous nations about what it is that they need, and it comes back to sovereignty,” Barkaskas said.

Barkaskas who is also a director at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic agrees with the goal of defunding police, but says Indigenous people also face discrimination and violence from other Canadian institutions such as child welfare and health care.

She also points to the RCMP’s role in removing Indigenous children from their homes and Indigenous people from their lands — something she said continues today, including Wet’suwet’en people removed by the RCMP to make way for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline following a court injunction.

“We have a long history as Indigenous people with the RCMP as the military arm of the Canadian state that is meant to eradicate us, and those histories don’t disappear,” Barkaskas said.

As for the Vancouver police’s assertion that their training is improving relations with Indigenous people, she disagrees.

“Clearly this training is woefully inadequate,” she said.

“Obviously a 45-minute video cannot even begin to cover the history and ongoing impacts of colonialism,” she added.

She and Norris feel that while education is important, it is limited in the amount it can do to shift cultural and institutional racism within a police force.

Karen Joseph is the chief executive officer of Reconciliation Canada, an Indigenous-led organization that will provide new training to the Vancouver Police Department.  (Maggie Macpherson)


Ultimately she believes that Indigenous people’s own laws, justice systems and governments must be recognized by all levels of governments in order for Indigenous people to be treated fairly by police.

“Indigenous Nations have our own ways of accountability and responsibility and those have existed for thousands of years,” she said.

Still some Indigenous people are looking at institutional reform as a way to address police discrimination against Indigenous people.

Others say more training is needed

Recommendations from the national inquiry looking into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada call for more anti-racism and anti-bias training and more culture and language training for officers.

The VPD is now in talks with the Indigenous-led group called Reconciliation Canada to create more training for its officers. The force sought out the group after its officers handcuffed and detained a 12-year-old Indigenous girl and her grandfather who were trying to open a bank account at a branch of the Bank of Montreal in downtown Vancouver late last year.

“I think training can provide some level of motivation for individuals to make some substantiative changes,” said Karen Joseph, the chief executive officer of Reconciliation Canada.

“Even though a system might exist that is inherently detrimental, the individuals can often lead changes if they are motivated,” she added.

Join CBC British Columbia for a virtual town hall about racism on June 17th at 7pm.


Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt’s news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column ‘Reconcile This’ tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea? angela.sterritt@cbc.ca

Most Canadians believe systemic racism exists — but could it affect how they vote?

Polls suggest most Canadians see systemic racism as a serious issue in law enforcement

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in an anti-racism protest last week. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

Calls to end systemic racism in this country have brought thousands of Canadians into the streets, driven by a hope that things might finally begin to change.

The protests already have had an impact, but political leaders will need to think hard about their impact on another vehicle for change — the ballot box.

The thousands who have participated in the mass demonstrations represent only the tip of the iceberg, as polls indicate that most Canadians believe systemic racism is a problem in Canada.

survey by Abacus Data for CityNews found that 61 per cent of Canadians said they were certain or pretty sure that there is systemic or institutional racism in Canada. Only nine per cent said there probably or certainly isn’t.

Thousands of people wind through downtown Montreal’s major streets after an anti-racism rally at Place Émilie-Gamelin. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)


According to a poll by Léger for the Association for Canadian Studies, 50 per cent of those surveyed said that racism is a very or somewhat serious problem in law enforcement, while 72 per cent supported those protesting in the streets in the United States — nearly twice the number of those who said they supported the police who have been deployed against those protesters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau injected himself into the debate last week when he took a knee at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

On Thursday, he said “systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP … It’s the issues faced by Canadians of diverse backgrounds over years, decades and generations. This is a moment Canadians are recognizing that there is an unfairness built into our system.”

There are some differences in how Canadians are viewing this issue, however, depending on where they live and the colour of their skin.

According to Léger, 56 per cent of Canadians living in urban centres believe that racism is a serious problem in law enforcement, compared to 48 per cent in the suburbs and just 42 per cent in rural areas. While 48 per cent of white people said it was a serious problem, that rose to 61 per cent among visible minorities.

This has the potential to make racism a potentially divisive issue in an election campaign, one that might erupt whether the parties want to discuss it or not — as Trudeau’s blackface scandal demonstrated last October.

Liberals lead by wide margin among racialized Canadians

Despite that controversy, the Liberals retain a significant amount of support among racialized Canadians.

According to Abacus Data, the Liberals have the support of 52 per cent of decided voters among racialized Canadians, compared to just 22 per cent for the Conservatives and 20 per cent for the New Democrats. Among white Canadians, the Liberal lead over the Conservatives is just six percentage points.

Trudeau’s own personal image among people of colour also remains quite good. In polls by Abacus Data conducted since the beginning of May, an average of 53 per cent of racialized Canadians said they have a positive impression of the prime minister. Only 19 per cent have a negative one.

That’s a significant improvement since the election, when an average of 43 per cent of racialized Canadians held a positive impression of Trudeau. Abacus’s tracking survey suggests that Trudeau’s reputation might have taken a momentary hit after the blackface scandal, but that it was largely rehabilitated by election day.

Abacus Data polling on impressions of Justin Trudeau among racialized Canadians. (Abacus Data)


As has been the case among the general population, positive impressions of Trudeau spiked among racialized Canadians as the COVID-19 crisis struck.

Thanks to that pandemic boost, the Liberals would easily secure a majority government if an election were held today. But by the time an election campaign actually takes place, the Liberals may no longer be benefiting politically from their handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The party’s base remains in the urban and suburban centres of the country — particularly in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia — where most people of colour live. In the urban centres, the Liberals’ main opponents are the New Democrats — themselves led by a racialized Canadian, Jagmeet Singh.

Supporters of the NDP tend to care more deeply about racism than supporters of the other parties. Léger found that 65 per cent of NDP voters think racism is a serious issue in law enforcement, compared to 59 per cent of Liberal voters, 55 per cent of Green supporters and and just 31 per cent of Conservative supporters.

Systemic racism as an election issue

The Liberals need to hold their urban seats to hold government. The party holds 32 of the 41 ridings in which visible minorities make up the majority of the population. The Liberals hold the 24 seats with the highest Black populations in the country.

That makes avoiding the issue of systemic racism on the campaign trail risky. Embracing it isn’t risk-free, either.

The polls suggest that people in suburban areas — traditional swing seats — are somewhat less concerned about racism in law enforcement than urban dwellers. Conservative voters are even less concerned (though those same polls suggest the party might already be down to its base of core supporters — people the Liberals don’t really need to woo).

But the Liberals have shown they aren’t afraid to lean into this issue when an opportunity arises — as they did during the 2015 federal election when the Conservatives pitched their “barbaric cultural practices” tip line. Whether the Liberals would consider leaning into it again in the next election depends on a few factors, including the position adopted by the Conservatives and the damage the blackface episode did to Trudeau’s credibility on the issue.

Where systemic racism will fall as a priority for voters in the next election is also an open question, particularly if the country is still in the grips of COVID-19 or reeling from the economic shock of the pandemic.

The U.S. presidential election in November will also play a determinant role in the depth of racial tensions in that country, with reverberations likely to be felt on this side of the border.

But it’s clear that the issue of systemic racism has a motivated and sizeable electorate in Canada. What’s more, it is concentrated in some of the most sought-after political territory in the country. If thousands of marchers in the streets don’t spur leaders to action, that certainly can.


Éric Grenierr is a senior writer and the CBC’s polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

Anti-racism protesters block Vancouver viaducts for rally in support of Black Lives Matter

Peaceful protest is latest in series of nationwide demonstrations

Anti-racism protesters walk along the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts on Saturday. (Cory Correia)

Anti-racism protesters lined up along the east and west ends of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts early Saturday morning for a rally in support of Black Lives Matter and defunding police forces.

The protesters declined to comment to CBC News, but said the protest was peaceful, and held signs with slogans like “Care Not Cops,” “Support Black Trans Women,” and “Defund VPD.”

Access to several adjacent roads has been blocked, though local residents are permitted access.

Vancouver police said in a written statement it is coordinating traffic around the disruption and would provide updates on its social media feeds.

People participate Saturday in a rally on Vancouver’s viaducts to support Black Lives Matter. (Cory Correia)


The demonstration, which began around 7 a.m. Saturday, is the latest effort to protest anti-Black racism in the United States and Canada, and to demand defunding and reform of police departments.

Cory Correia

Vancouver’s Georgia and Dunsmuir Street viaducts remain deserted as anti-racism and anti-police protestors have blocked access to the roadways since 7 am Saturday morning.

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Thousands have also demonstrated in other Canadian cities, including Victoria, Toronto, and Montreal.

Since the death of George Floyd in police custody in the U.S., police in North America have been facing greater scrutiny of their treatment of minorities and use of violence.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said on Friday that she believes systemic racism exists in the police force she leads — after telling several media outlets this week that she was “struggling” to define the term.

Access to several adjacent roads has been blocked due to the protest. (Cory Correia/CBC)


The area the viaducts occupy has historic significance to the city’s Black community. The area —  centred between Prior and Union and Main and Jackson — was known as Hogan’s Alley.

Starting in the 1920s, it was a cultural hub for Vancouver’s Black community, anchored by local businesses and the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel.

In the late 1960s, the neighbourhood’s buildings were torn down for the development of an interurban freeway. The freeway was later dropped, but not until after the construction of the Georgia Street viaduct.

The protesters declined to comment to CBC News, but said the protest was peaceful. (Cory Correia/CBC)



Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub. With files from Cory Correia

Black Lives Matter demonstrations reach B.C.’s small communities

Erin Charles, protests with her son Aysis, at a Black Lives Matter protest in Campbell River on Saturday. Photo: Rochelle Baker

Upheaval from massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations in cities across North America rippled across small communities in B.C., as they also rallied over the weekend to protest police violence and racism against Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour locally and nationally.

Hundreds of people in Campbell River’s Spirit Square took to their knees and bowed their heads in silence for eight minutes, 46 seconds.

The exact amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

Following the silence, speakers got on stage to speak about their experiences with racism and to call for justice and healing.

But Devon Charles did not. Could not.

“It hurts too much,” he said.

“It’s very emotional and I think I would cry.”

He, his wife and young son attended the protest in their small city on Vancouver Island in solidarity with all Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour who experience racism, whether from ordinary citizens or by police, Charles said.

“I would like people to recognize that we have experienced a lot of trauma, hardship, rejection and exclusion,” he said.

He recalled an instance when he was detained in public in front of his child due to an assumption he was abusing him.

His son, two at the time, was having a meltdown because he’d spilled water on himself, Charles said.

“He looked like he was coming to kill me. He handcuffed me and didn’t even ask what happened,” Devon Charles on being detained in public by police in front of his son after the toddler was crying in public.

“I had him outside and was cleaning up his clothes,” Charles said.

The pair had been waiting outside the Campbell River hospital to pick up his wife from work.

Five minutes later, after his son had already calmed down and was sitting in their vehicle a police officer showed up.

“He looked like he was coming to kill me,” Charles said. “He handcuffed me and didn’t even ask what happened.”

Campbell River resident Devon Charles says police need more training in dealing with Black people and those from different cultures. Photo: Rochelle Baker 

Police have little or zero training in dealing with Black people from different cultures, he said. Something he personally would be willing to rectify.

“I’m willing to educate police and be in a class talking about how people should be treated and our struggles,” Charles said.

“We don’t want much. We just want to be treated equally.”

Sisters Camisha and Lakeshia Jackson spoke to the crowd about their feelings and experience.

People assume that as a Black person her successes are due to assistance from a white person, Camisha said.

“I put myself through school,” she said. “I am so sick and tired of people undermining my own success by people by (saying) a Caucasian person was behind it,” she added.

“Nobody gave me my degree. Nobody started my businesses. I did it all by myself.”

Sisters Camisha and Lakeshia Jackson address the crowd at the Black Lives Matter protest in Campbell River. Photo: Rochelle Baker 

Lakeshia said she grew up in Campbell River, but her family originally hailed from Atlanta, Georgia.

“And we’re struggling over there,” she said.

Violence against Black people provoked a surge of emotions for her, but she was grateful for the community’s support.

“I have so many thoughts and feelings. I’m mad, I’m sad and I’m scared, but I’m glad that you guys are all here to support me,” she said.

“And it would be doing a disservice to my ancestors to not get up here and thank every single one of you who came down here right now.”

First Nations leaders also took to the stage to express their solidarity as allies of the BLM movement and share their own experiences with racism.

Darren Blaney, Chief of the Homalco First Nation, spoke of the fears he has for his sons and the casual, everyday discrimination First Nations people face.

“How many times will they be stopped by police or followed by security?” Blaney asked.

Indigenous people suffer repeated interactions and contacts with police because they “fit the description,” he said.

“Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s racism or helpfulness,” Blaney observed wryly.

The death of George Floyd should be taken as a moment of awakening, a recognition that a larger system of discrimination is at play in all communities, said Blaney, who added he lost his language when he was forced to attend residential school as a child.

Darren Blaney, Chief of the Homalco Nation, said violence and racism against First Nations people is systemic. Photo: Rochelle Baker. 

When people look down at homeless people in the streets of Campbell River they are not recognizing them as victims of a long history of racism, Blaney said.

People need to see the connection to the trauma and pain residential schools have left in their wake, he said.

Poverty is another form of discrimination, Blaney said.

“We shouldn’t have poor First Nations people. We shouldn’t have homeless people…everybody deserves to have a home.”

Government needs to curb corporate greed and tax cuts, and shift its focus to preserving the environment and people, he added.

“All these corporations are not accountable to anybody, or the environment or poor people.”

The crowd attending the protest was diverse, including babies, families, youth and seniors and allies from the LGBTQ2S+ community.

Donie Johnson, right, was one of hundreds of people attending the BLM protest in Campbell River to oppose racism against Black and First Nations people. Photo: Rochelle Baker. 

Many demonstrators arrived by ferry from neighbouring Quadra Island.

Quadra resident and long-time educator Jan Gladish said she was impressed and moved by the demonstration.

As a member of the Heiltsuk Nation and former principal of the school in the tiny north coastal community of Bella Bella, Gladish worries for the future of Indigenous youth and about the continued inaction around First Nations issues.

Few concrete changes or significant progress has occurred for Indigenous people despite recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Gladish said.

“I worry that those two big initiatives are gathering dust on shelves, and we are not doing what we need to do to raise awareness and actually do something that will make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

The MMIWG report marked its first anniversary last week, the same week Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old woman who was a member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was shot and killed by police in Nova Scotia during a wellness check, Gladish said.

“For me it hits home,” she said. “It’s indicative of just some of the things that happen. It’s just like life doesn’t matter.”

“I have nephews and nieces, and former students, and that’s the kind of world they are going out into,” Gladish added.

“And things have to change if they want to follow their hopes and dreams in a way that is inclusive of who they are.”


Rochelle Baker/Local Journalism Initiative/Canada’s National Observer

Stop killing my people

We are a sovereign people. We are not a conquered people. Photo of Brandi Morin by Ashford Hamilton

Sometimes it seems like I’m watching an epic movie of drama and barbaric injustice lately. But, it’s real life. Another one of us is gone.

Rodney Levi’s name lit up my Twitter feed Friday night. ‘Murdered by RCMP…this Mi’qmaq man was unarmed. This country is in chaos. Rest in Power, brother’


Rodney Levi murdered by RCMP in Miramichi tonight. This Mi’qmaq man was unarmed.

This country is in chaos.

Rest in power, brother.


It hit like a poisoned arrow of torment.
26 year old Chantel Moore was shot dead by police in Edmundston, N.B. on June 4, 2020. 

In April Winnipeg police shot three young Indigenous People. Two were less than 24 hours apart. Eisha Hudson, age 16. Jason Collins, 36. Stewart Keven Andrews, 22.

One of our prominent leaders, Chief Allan Adam’s beaten and bloodied picture flashed across the headlines of the world this week too. He was profiled by RCMP in Fort McMurray, tackled and arrested over an expired license plate.

I’ve cited stats in countless articles I’ve written over the last 10 years about Indigenous Peoples. You can go look up what is going on if you need proof in numbers.

This perspective is from a human standpoint, from someone who has been on the frontlines of this war against her own people, as a journalist for over a decade.

“The essence of racism is systemic. It is before our eyes, are you looking? Do you see the injustice now?”

How does it feel when your own people are being murdered from oppression on your very own home and native land? It feels like tremendous pressure on your chest, it’s like losing your breath, gasping for air and it throbs with pain. You walk around in a daze nursing another blow to the heart. You curse to the sky and you drop to your knees until you get up and walk again.

It’s like a virus. You can’t breath. And we all feel it.

But that pressure, that pain starts churning into a raging fire. A fire of a thousand generations of strength, of courage and unrelenting hope.

Hope, because it’s not 1873 anymore. Our people are not silenced anymore.

The very Dominion of Canada established an army of its foreign force to keep our people under its control. Through the North West Mounted Police, now turned RCMP, and its foundational principles which trickled out into police forces under colonial rule.

Invaders dispatched an army in the name of clearing the plains and seizing the lands from my ancestors.

Indigenous people and North West Mounted Police with dance drum, Rivière Qui Barre, AB, 1900 

That was just the beginning. After the clearing of the plains they herded our people into boxes called reservations and stood guard so they couldn’t leave unless given permission by the Indian agent of the Indian Act. The RCMP enforced and enforces that racist law to this day.

This country was designed to oppress our people. It was designed to target us, to keep us in line.

We are a sovereign people. We are not a conquered people.

Colonialism tried wiping us out. It may have brought us down, it may have stolen the dreams of generations, but our mothers and fathers prayed for us with their dying breath. They prayed their children and grandchildren would one day heal, live free, rise and thrive over the chains of adversity.

Open your eyes, Canada. The world is watching now, the world is listening, and the world is shifting. Right now. Racism is being ripped from the roots for all to see its ugly truths.

More innocent bloodshed is on the line in this war of race and power. Our people are tired. But our people will not give up.

Rodney Levi was shot and killed by RCMP during a police call on June 12, 2020. 

Governments can make laws to change, courts can pass judgements to condemn or to win, but, something I’ve learned is none of that will matter until it comes from the heart. And the change comes from the people — not systems.

The essence of racism is systemic. It is before our eyes, are you looking? Do you see the injustice now?

Stop denying. Stop debating and just start doing. Something! Stop killing my people.

Who will you stand with now that the foundations of ignorance are being shaken and can no longer be an excuse?

The hearts of my people may be broken; but our hearts are in-sync for justice.

We have hope like never before because our people are speaking up and standing up.

More than ever our allies awaken to stand for justice and equality.

One thing I’ve learned in life, is to never give up, be brave; be courageous and never lose hope.

We are all in this together.