Like many people I came to Canada because of its international reputation for fairness. I came to Toronto from London, UK, because Toronto is more multicultural and has a reputation as a place where people from ethnically diverse groups can live side by side and flourish. Toronto is a social project that the world needs to succeed. If multiculturalism is going to succeed anywhere in the world it will be here. I am a great supporter of Toronto and I am proud that this city is my home but recently two linked issues have me concerned.
The first issue is the increasing gap between rich and poor. Income inequality is a social cancer which affects everyone. In an unequal society the rich as well as the poor live shorter and less healthy lives. Income inequality leads to social division, and evidence is growing of social division in Toronto. Toronto is not one city; instead it is three cities, with increasing power and wealth downtown and increasing poverty and lack of influence on the outskirts of town. Especially troubling is that power and wealth is colour coded in Toronto: 82 percent of people who lived downtown in 2006 were white, compared to only 34 percent of those who lived in the inner suburbs. By contrast, 66 percent of people living in the inner suburbs were from a visible minority while visible minorities made up only 18 percent of the downtown population.
These divisions are important to understand because they show where power resides in our city. People downtown, city one, have greater access to social networks that allow them to lever change from politicians, business and other people with influence. That sort of social efficacy is harder for people living in the inner suburbs, city three, to achieve who are increasingly on the fringes of society.
The second issue is carding. Many of the top minds in Toronto have concluded that carding is a form of institutional racism. Institutional racism occurs when a system is set up that predictably treats groups differently and that leads to worse outcomes for a particular group. There does not have to be intent to treat the group differently and it does not mean that people running the system are racist. It simply identifies that a particular practice has differential impact. The institutional racism of police carding is clear: carding is more common for people who are black and brown.
The health impacts of racial discrimination are well known. From a health perspective it leads to shorter life expectancy, poorer mental health, as well as higher rates of cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, among other conditions. But the impacts of carding are not only on the individual who has been stopped. The fear of being stopped and the belief that you are living in a discriminatory city that does not care also have clear health impacts. Practices like carding can cause fear and unease for some communities, and amplify racism in others.
Carding, like income inequality, undermines people’s belief in our institutions and our government. It undermines the multiculturalism that offers so much to Toronto, and erodes the fairness for which our city is known. Carding violates an individual’s right to health, their charter rights and their human rights, and can undermine community-police relationships across the city. There are other effective ways to decrease crime – such as community policing – which do not have negative outcomes.
It is important that we act as One Toronto. Issues that impact one part of the city impact us all. When the same points were made only by those living in city three, politicians and police did not listen. Social efficacy is important for health and links these two issues. The fact that things only changed when city one got involved says that we are still not acting as One Toronto.
The one bright spot is that we have now heard from people from across geographical and social strata in Toronto and the communities most affected by carding to say that they have had enough and carding should stop now, and the Mayor listened. This is an important step, but just the beginning if we are going to really tackle the divisions within the city.