Examining the roots of racism in Canada

January 7, 2019 | Society

Before Viola Desmond’s face first graced the now circulating $10 bill, how many Canadians really knew her story of racial segregation?

Not many, says Dr. Kalyani Thurairajah.

“Canadians often have a better understanding of American history than our own,” says the assistant professor of sociology. “We know there was slavery and racial segregation in the U.S., but don’t recognize that those two things happened here as well. We understand that police brutality in the U.S. led to the Black Lives Matter movement, but we don’t recognize that people also face racism in our own criminal justice system.”

Kalyani is hoping to help change that with an interactive workshop she is hosting in partnership with students who completed her Sociology 368: Race and Ethnic Relations class last semester.

During At the Root: Canada's History of Racism and Advocacy on Thursday, January 10, five students will highlight examples of racism that have occurred in Canada’s past, and share efforts of racialized individuals and groups to raise awareness and fight against oppression.

It’s an opportunity to not only celebrate our collective accomplishments, but also to take responsibility for our atrocities, says Kalyani.

“Sociology 368 is probably the most challenging course I teach because students are forced to examine not only systemic racism, but their own individual roles in maintaining a society that privileges some, while oppressing so many others. The students in my class were incredibly insightful and really engaged in critical discussions.”

She is looking forward to continuing the conversation on January 10, and offering participants some serious food for thought about what Canada stands for.

Students will share a different perspective on racism in Canada through a series of two-minute films exploring topics ranging from the over representation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system and the Sixties Scoop’s mass removal of Indigenous children from their families, to the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, the 1969 Concordia race riot, and the 1990 Oka Crisis.

After each film, a student will contextualize that particular case, and pose questions to engage participants in a roundtable discussion.

The workshop is part of the At the Root Community Engagement Project, which explores a range of topics – from racism to sexual violence – in events hosted by members of the MacEwan community. The goal of every At the Root event is to encourage critical thinking and dialogue about contemporary social issues, and inspire social change by providing opportunities for learning, skill sharing and community building. 

Read more about our students sharing knowledge and taking action:


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