The federal government is consulting experts and community leaders ahead of a new national anti-racism strategy, but in a series of secretive meetings to avoid them turning into public shouting matches.
Four meetings have already been held — all in southern Ontario — and another 19 are to take place nationwide before the end of the year.
However, the government is not publicizing who attended, who will be at future meetings or even where those meetings are taking place. Participation is by invitation only.
There are still Canadian communities where people face systemic racism, oppression and discrimination, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Friday.
The minister has not, however, directly explained why he told The Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this week that systemic racism was not “part of his vocabulary” and that Canada was not in fact a racist society.
New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan asked Rodriguez this week multiple times in the House of Commons to explain and apologize for his comment, to which Rodriguez only said racism does exist in Canada.
The racism consultations follow a Commons committee study of systemic racism in Canada, which last winter recommended a national plan be developed with measurable goals.
The government quietly posted online information about the start of the consultations Oct. 15, along with an online survey members of the public can take. The questions touch on personal experiences with racism and whether the phenomenon exists in the justice system, with jury selection or even in how workplaces schedule holidays.
But there is no information about the consultations beyond that they will occur with “community members, leaders, experts, academics and stakeholders across Canada.”
“These meetings will not be open to the public in order to ensure that participants are able to have focused, meaningful and safe conversations on subjects that, for many, include reflecting on harmful experiences,” the website states.
The NDP argues the process is so secretive a number of groups that would want to take part didn’t even know the consultations had begun.
Last February, an anti-racism town hall hosted in Toronto by several Liberal MPs and members of the Ontario legislature ended up with a call to police. It was derailed by a number of people Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith says were white supremacists bent on shouting down speakers demanding a definition of Islamophobia.
“It was a jarring reminder of the work we still have to do in the name of equality when people are so willing to be so public in displaying their hate,” Erskine-Smith said in the Commons this week.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press