Members of the Black community in Canada on Monday are warning this country is also vulnerable to hate crime as they react with shock and horror to Saturday’s bloodshed in Buffalo that left 10 Black people dead.
“Canada is not immune to it,” Velma Morgan, the chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, told CBC News Monday.
“We’ve seen what happened at different places of worship, we see what happens in London, Ont., we’re definitely not immune to it at all.”
Payton Gendron, 18, is accused of a racist rampage after he crossed the state to target people at the Tops Friendly Market in one of Buffalo’s predominantly Black neighbourhoods. He had talked about shooting up another store as well, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told CNN.
Authorities in Buffalo are working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page manifesto posted online, which identifies the accused by name as the gunman. It cites the “great replacement theory,”‘ a racist ideology that has been linked to other mass shootings in the United States and around the world.
Referring to a Statistics Canada report, which says hate crimes against Black Canadians increased by 96 per cent over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Morgan says Canadians should “absolutely” be concerned when it comes to tolerance and diversity.
“We definitely have to be very conscious of [hate crimes against Black people] and we have to, I think, pre-empt it,” Morgan said.
“We need to start doing things to prevent that kind of behaviour here.”
‘It’s just horrifying’
Morgan says she was horrified when she heard of, and saw, the news of the Buffalo shooting.
“Just to think that on Saturday, people are doing their shopping, as we all do on a Saturday morning … And to think they were shot, killed simply because they were Black. It’s just horrifying,” she said.
“He didn’t just turn up at a store. He planned it. He planned to go to this place because he knew and probably had been there before. He knew that the majority of people there were Black. It was a Black community,” Morgan added.
“His alleged manifesto talks about Black people and our inferiority and all the things that he thinks are wrong with us. So, you know, it’s systemic racism, it’s a lack of education within the school system, educating people on people’s rights and people’s worth.”
Amanda Bartley, a human behaviour researcher and a board member with Family Service Toronto, says Black people experience fresh trauma whenever there’s an attack like the one in Buffalo.
“It’s super traumatizing to see your people gunned down and murdered, whether it’s at the hands of a civilian or even the police,” she said.
Bartley says Canadian leaders need to “call out white supremacy … and be much more proactive in addressing hate crimes and far right violence before it even occurs.”
“It feels like we’re constantly tiptoeing and we’re stopping short of saying that we have a white supremacist problem,” she said.
Birgit Umaigba, an ICU nurse in Toronto, took issue with a tweet by Catherine McKenna, Canada’s former minister of the environment and climate change, who said she was “feeling very fortunate to live in Canada — a diverse and tolerant country that values freedom while respecting human rights.”
Reading the news today, I’m feeling very fortunate to live in Canada – a diverse and tolerant country that values freedom while respecting human rights. We aren’t perfect and building our country is an ongoing project but I wouldn’t choose anywhere else. ❤️🇨🇦
“First of all, that was very distressing to read because it was so void of any empathy for the people that had just lost their lives,” Umaigba said.
“I’m not sure which Canada they are talking about, because for me and people who look like me, it is daily racism. Canada has this notion of always so tolerant and welcoming. We are diverse but it is so not true. It’s daily racism here, the institutions are steeped in so much racism.”
She too says Canadians “should be worried.”
“There’s so many examples: the London truck attack … A white supremacist ran into an entire Muslim family and killed them,” Umaigba said.
“The Quebec mosque shooting happened five years ago, so what are we talking about?” she said, referring to a shooting that claimed the lives of six people during prayers at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017.
“People are flying Confederate flags in their houses as we speak right now.”
Umaigba says the burden should not be on Black people alone to both suffer and combat racism.
“We need white people to step up. We are suffering because of that. Yes, there are good ones. I’m not saying that all white people are racist but we need the good ones, the allies, the co-conspirators, to step up and do the work,” she said.
“A lot of us are not OK. We carry this burden right now of the Buffalo shooting,” Umaigba added.
‘White folks have work to do too’
Amie Archibald-Varley lives in Binbrook, a community in southeastern Hamilton about 90 kilometres from Buffalo.
Like Umaigba, Archibald-Varley says “white folks have work to do too” and is encouraging white people to talk about the shooting with their colleagues, spouses and children.
“Hate is not something that is innate, it is learned, it is taught,” she said.
“We also need to talk about how we can educate about racism within our school systems. I think that’s hugely important,” she said.
Meanwhile, Archibald-Varley says incidents like the Buffalo shooting leave Black communities hurt and traumatized.
“I just want to go get groceries and not have to deal with this sh*t. This is crazy,” she said.
“This is not just a U.S. problem. This is a problem here in Canada as well … That could have been any one of us Black individuals.”
She says the entire community needs to band together against racism.
“We can’t keep having these same things happening without stronger laws, stronger policies, without having solidarity from other community members,” Archibald-Varley said.
‘We’re hurt, we’re broken’
Archibald-Varley, who is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, says while she was raised to be a strong individual, the killings take a toll on members of the Black community.
“As a community we’re hurt, we’re broken, we’re scared, but we’re strong,” she said.
“We’ve seen the damage and the harm perpetuated to us through systemic racism for years, but we are still here and we’re still going to continue to fight for changes that call for accountability, to see better things, better health outcomes, better resources, better representation for Black folks and other racialized folks,” she added.
“We’re grieving together, but we’re strong together as well.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.