Ontario's new plan for black youth comes with vision from chair, skepticism from opposition

JAMIL JIVANI

With racial tension increasing in North America and two days after taking criticism for comments about systemic racism in Canada, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced a new initiative aimed at helping black youth and other people of colour during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Thursday, Ford announced the Premier's Council on Equality of Opportunity, which the government says will be an advisory group that will give recommendations on how "young people can overcome social and economic barriers and achieve success."

Jamil Jivani, Ontario's Advocate for Community Opportunities and serving as an advisor to Ford since December, will chair the group.

"There's a part of me that knows that expectations will be high, people will expect us to deliver and I hope they do, because that's exactly what we expect to do," he said. 

Jivani says like many young black men, he's been saddened by recent events in the U.S. and said decades-long inequality issues in Ontario have be solved with action. 

He said where previous governments have failed in social programs, this one can succeed. 

"The relationship between economic policy and social issues is important for us to understand and from my perspective, a lot of previous government initiatives in past administrations separated the two," he said. 

The announcement comes two days after Ford said Canada does not have the same systemic roots of racism that the U.S. has. 

Following criticism for those comments, he said the next day in the Legislature that "there's systemic racism across this country, I know it exists." 

He echoed that sentiment Thursday. 

"I just have to go in my own community, up in Rexdale and we must acknowledge the pain that we see and we must acknowledge where it's coming from and I can tell you these issues are deeply rooted," he said. "We have to correct it."

The government also announced $1.5 million in funding to "organizations that support Black families and youth," saying it would be used to provide urgent COVID-19 supports. 

OPPOSITION 

The NDP and Liberals were both unimpressed with the funding specifically, with Chair of the NDP Black caucus Laura Mae Lindo, calling it a "a slap in the face to Black communities."

"Ford gutted and shut down the Anti-Racism Directorate, and cut down the Anti-Racism Initiatives budget line to a ludicrous $1,000," Lindo said. "Black Ontarians, along with Indigenous and racialized Ontarians, have suffered two years of cuts, damage and disturbing denials about the existence of systemic racism, and the experiences they face."

The Anti-Racism Directorate has been in place since 2016, focused on public consultations to develop anti-racism strategies. 

The NDP has pointed to the $1,000 because that was the total for actual initiatives portion in the 2019-20 budget estimates, a reduction from the $800,000 by the Liberal government. 

The PCs have argued it was due to a change in accounting practices and the overall budget for the ARD was almost completely unaffected. 

There was a reduction of $200,000 to an overall budget of $4.9 million, but the government has argued that was because a portion of the budget went unspent by the previous Liberals. 

"There was no cut, the money wasn't spent," Ford said Thursday, saying the government continues to support the ARD. 

Liberal MPPs Michael Coteau and Mitzie Hunter said their concerns go beyond the ARD. 

"He should restore the funding he cut from the Black Youth Action Plan. He should restore the funding he cut from OSAP, legal aid, support for low-income
students and so much more," they said in a joint statement. "If he says talk is cheap, then he should keep undoing his cuts."

DEFUNDING POLICE 

Ford also took questions about the suggestion of defunding police, a subject which has gained traction in the wake of the protests. 

"I support more funding for the community resources and I don't believe in cutting the police," he said. "The police and everyone in our community has to be part of the solutions." 

Jivani also responded saying that when it comes to policing policy, there's a lot of diversity of opinion in the black community. 

"An argument some people in the black community make, but I certainly wouldn't want to generalize and say everybody in the black community is making arguments to defund or disarm police officers," he said. "I do think that this is something that local municipalities should consider, what is the best use of their budget?" 

Jivani said funding policing is a nuanced subject and while there are certainly areas where funding could be diverted from one area to another, that wouldn't apply universally. 

"Taking resources away from cops inherently improves the quality of life for people, I think that's an important assumption to interrogate," he said, adding we should defer to police chiefs who have more expertise. 

Toronto journalist, advocate and activist Desmond Cole told NEWSTALK1010 the reason the talk around defunding the police is happening is because of a legitimate fear the black community has whenever the police gets called to a scene. 

"It sounds like Jamil's running for office and trying to be really careful like a politician about what he's saying," he said. "People like Jamil pretend that putting a leader who makes hundreds of dollars a year at the head of a police force changes what the police force is for and what it's been doing."