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Graffiti on the Wall: Ottawa's Racial Problem

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This morning, three of Ottawa's four most-read dailies had cover stories about the latest racist graffiti sighting in the city. The narrative seems to suggest that this insidious act has shaken a community that has rarely experiences such hatred.

Perhaps short memories from those who are rarely on the receiving end of these not-so-isolated incidents need refreshing.

A 2010 inaugural forum on racial profiling raised dozens of incidents where law enforcement abused their authority towards members of Ottawa's radicalised communities following the now infamous Stacy Bonds assault caught on tape after the young Black woman was wrongfully arrested on a trumped up charge.

Not only has Ottawa's Police Service been under scrutiny for a number of racial profiling incidents, including a case where the judge scolded an officer for clearly targeting black youth, but the Ottawa Police Service was forced by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to track the race of all the citizens they stop in a bid to put statistical numbers to the obvious racial issues.

The city has little staff or dollars committed to addressing the widening gap between the communities often unfairly targeted by law enforcement and the Ottawa Police Services, whose union leader continues to deny any racial profiling issue exists.

In 2009, City Councillor Jan Harder was not shy to blame crime in her ward on "non-whites coming into our community looking to cause trouble." To date there are zero reports supporting her race-based claim.

This year, none other than former Ottawa Mayor O'Brien used a racial slur in his online conversations. He was pressured to apologize.

The local football teams continues to use a racial slur, Nepean Redskins, as part of its team name, despite the public calls for evolving the moniker to something less offensive to the first inhabitants of the City. Their request was swiftly dismissed by the establishment.

The city had a string of unfortunate naming suggestions to commemorate champions of discrimination of late. Last Spring, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson first defended the naming of a city building after former Mayor Charlotte Whitton, a devout anti-Semite who blocked Jewish orphans from her city.

This past summer, the Ottawa River Parkway was renamed to honour former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald even though there are already many buildings named for the man who championed an Aryan Canada, including the Ottawa International Airport. The idea floated to name something after those brave Canadians who fought the Chinese Head Tax imposed by the PM fell to deaf ears.

Last week, eugenics pioneer Helen MacMurchy was honoured in a ceremony and a commemorative plaque near a federal building. MacMurchy believed that White Anglo-Saxons were the superior race, and actively discouraged eastern European immigrants while supporting sterilization for First Nations people. Though the plaque creation process takes multiple years and goes through innumerable approvals, not a single senior bureaucrat seemed to be deterred by the doctor's dark side, choosing instead the Canadian way -- ignoring it in the hopes that it would disappear.

A recent initiative called "Neutral Ethnicity: a Canadian Collective" seeks personal short stories and essays about a challenged sense of belonging based on ethnicity. An August submission entitled "Ottawa Bus On Time, Off Base" relates poignant an incident on an Ottawa bus which underscores that these hateful incidents are not isolated, rare, or limited to any community. It is time to call a spade a spade, to open the lines of communication and to address these issues head on.