(Thunder Bay from the air. A new report shows that 200 people in the last year have used an online, over the phone and in-person racism reporting system)
When Thunder Bay’s local daily newspaper published an op-ed with the headline “System that rewards Status Indians spectacularly unfair”, 29 people reported the Chronicle Journal for racism.
That was last August, shortly after the city had launched a racism incident reporting service.
“The report really confirmed the reality of racism in Thunder Bay, particularly as it relates to Indigenous people,” said Amy Siciliano, an independent researcher who is working with the Lakehead Social Planning Council (LSPC) who collected analyzed the results.
During an 11-month period, almost 200 people reported incidents of racism using a service available online, by telephone and in-person.
Almost half of all 176 racist incidents reported were verbal assaults and 60 per cent targeted Indigenous people.
It also revealed that the most common place racism reportedly occurred was in local media.
Specifically, the city’s local newspaper the Chronicle Journal.
On August 9, 2017, the Chronicle Journal published an op-ed by retired Manitoba judge Brian Giesbrecht.
Many were outraged by the headline and content that followed.
“A person who can prove that an ancestor was aboriginal can have their children’s very expensive university education completely paid for, even if they are wealthy,” read the op-ed.
“A person with Indian status might never have to pay income tax, and they can pass this million-dollar exemption on to their descendants. Prescription drugs, eyeglasses, hearing aids and other pricey items are absolutely free, simply based on having a bit of the right kind of DNA.”
Siciliano said this incident accounted for 16 per cent of all reported incidents.
“When that happened, when that was published there were a lot of people who called the incident reporting service or went online to complain about it,” said Siciliano.
“And so you see a large number in the newspaper column because of that particular incident that was reported.”
She said that was one of the challenges of the survey.
“There was no way to accurately report on the number of incidents, the frequency of incidents happening in the city because one person could report an incident multiple times or multiple people could report on one incident,” said Siciliano.
Thunder Bay has become notorious for racism against Indigenous people, most notably on the streets where Indigenous people often have racial slurs and items like eggs, garbage and drinks thrown at them from passing vehicles.
Brayden Bushby was charged with second-degree murder last year when Barbara Kentner died from her injuries in an unprovoked attack. Kentner was walking down the street when a car drove by and a passenger hurled a trailer hitch at her, striking her in the stomach.
But Siciliano said the racist incidents reported weren’t limited to the streets.
“What we saw with Indigenous people that were targeted is that it happened everywhere. On the streets, in restaurants, in health buildings, on the bus,” she said.
The chair of the city’s anti-racism committee said the incident reporting service is an outlet for those who witness or experience racism.
“We want people who are experiencing racism to know we are listening and that help starts here,” said Amina Abu-Bakare.
The confidential service is available to anyone who has experienced or witnessed racism in the city.
Respondents can identify themselves by age, gender and race.
“One of the strengths of this reporting service was that it asked respondents a simple question – to tell us your story,” said Siciliano.
“And that gave people an opportunity to really share exactly what it is that happened to them or what it was that they witnessed,” she said.
The Giesbrecht publication wasn’t the only time the Chronicle Journal was reported for racism.
One respondent told APTN they reported a racist incident after she was interviewed by a Chronicle Journal reporter.
“Who unprofessionally complained to me about incidents involving Indigenous people. I called her out but she ignored me,” said Betty Carpick.
“I thought that by calling the hotline something would get done,” she said.
Brenda Reimer is the co-chair of the incident reporting working group. She said the reporting service will help identify patterns in locations or types of incidents.
But there’s another goal.
“To send a clear message that racism is not acceptable in our community,” Reimer said in the media release.
Siciliano said that is the positive that needs to come out of this report.
She noted that more than half of those who reported the Chronicle Journal for racism were non-Indigenous.
“It really signals to me anyway, that non-Indigenous people are stepping up and using the service to say what’s happening to our Indigenous neighbors and friends in the city is wrong and this is an example of it and this needs to stop,” she said.
Siciliano said she has recommended the city include racism in its annual citizen’s survey.
“It’s confirming the work that other researchers have done, that the media has reported on, that Indigenous people are experiencing racism in Thunder Bay,” Siciliano said.
The reporting service has been extended for another year and the working group is discussing how to improve the survey questions.