Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the committee for inviting me to appear today to support their efforts.
My name is Jenifer Aitken, and I’m the assistant deputy minister of strategic policy, planning and corporate affairs at Canadian Heritage.
The main focus of my remarks will be on providing the committee with an overview of the different tools and initiatives that Canadian Heritage employs to counter various forms of racism and discrimination.
To begin, let me highlight the extent of the diversity of our country. According to Statistics Canada's population projections, by 2036 Canada could see between 34.7% and 39.9% of individuals among the working-age population belonging to a visible minority group, compared with 19.6% in 2011. Additionally, the number of people affiliated with non-Christian religions could almost double to between 13% and 16% of the population, compared with 9% in 2011.
As the previous speaker mentioned, recent police-reported hate crime statistics demonstrate a 5% increase in reported incidents from 2014 to 2015. While hate crimes targeting black and Jewish populations remain the most common types of hate crimes related to race or ethnicity and religion, hate crimes against those of the Muslim faith increased by 61%, from 99 in 2014 to 159 in 2015.
While there are challenges, there is room for optimism. For instance, 87% of Canadians 15 years of age and older report that they are proud to be Canadian, and visible minorities express very high levels of pride in Canada. That comes from the general social survey of 2013. Furthermore, in a 2011 report, Canada was found to be the top-ranking OECD country on a measure of tolerance with respect to community acceptance of minority groups and migrants, with a score of 84% compared with an OECD average of 61%.
Taken together, this information provides the context for the Canadian Heritage programs that promote inclusion and address racism. The mandate of the Department of Canadian Heritage is centred on fostering and promoting Canadian identity and values, cultural development, and heritage. Canadian Heritage is proud to have contributed to Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to inspire a new and ambitious vision for a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive Canada, and to recognize the rich and unique contributions of a diverse population.
In fact, one of the four thematic areas of the commemorations is diversity and inclusion. The Government of Canada is supporting hundreds of initiatives across the country that highlight this important theme—for example, celebrating the presence of people of African ancestry in Saskatchewan; a digital storytelling project by the Afghan Women's Counseling and Integration Community Support Organization, which conveys the journeys and settlement experiences of refugees from different parts of the world; and a festival called We Are Canadians, Too!, in which first-generation Asian Canadian youth share their experiences and perspectives.
The mandate of Canadian Heritage specifically includes responsibility for the Multiculturalism Act, which is grounded in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is part of a broader legislative framework that includes the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Citizenship Act, and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act recognizes the diversity of Canadians in regards to race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and outlines the government's multiculturalism policy.
To implement Canada’s multiculturalism policy, the program strives to fulfill three key objectives. These objectives are to build an integrated and socially inclusive society; to improve the responsiveness of institutions to the needs of a diverse population; and to actively engage in discussions on multiculturalism and diversity at the international level.
Inter-Action, Canada's multiculturalism grants and contributions program, has an annual budget of $5.5 million in funding for projects that promote respect for diversity by encouraging positive interaction between cultural, religious, and ethnic communities in Canada. An additional $3 million is allocated for community-based events that foster intercultural and interfaith understanding and raise awareness of the contribution of minority groups to Canadian society.
Since April 2015, Inter-Action has supported 26 projects that were approved for at least $9 million in total funding for initiatives that target interfaith and intercultural understanding and/or racism and discrimination. More than 200 community-led initiatives were supported in 2016-17.
In February of this year, the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced a new call for applications for the multiculturalism Inter-Action program with funding priority given to projects that work toward the elimination of discrimination, racism, and prejudice; provide opportunities for youth community engagement; and bring people together through art, culture, and sport.
Public outreach and promotion activities are also a key component of the program. Key activities include the celebration of Asian Heritage Month in May and Black History Month in February. To commemorate and launch Black History Month and Asian Heritage Month, the program organizes events featuring community and political leaders, which honour the legacy and significant contributions of these diverse groups to Canada.
The multiculturalism program also publishes an annual report to Parliament on the operation of the act, which highlights activities undertaken by federal institutions to apply multiculturalism principles in the previous year.
The program also supports the nationally standardized data collection strategy on hate-motivated crime. To promote a better understanding of the extent to which hate crimes are occurring in Canada, Statistics Canada produces annual analytical “Juristat” reports, examining the nature and extent of police-reported hate crime in Canada.
Canadian Heritage also coordinates and supports the government's participation in a number of international bodies and initiatives, including the 2010 Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The department has also recently announced the reinstatement of the court challenges program, in collaboration with the Department of Justice. This program will provide funding to advance test cases of national significance related to Charter rights, including language and equality rights, as well as the Charter's fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, and life, liberty, and security of the person.
The Canadian government is also looking forward to the upcoming inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa. Implemented through the National Holocaust Monument Act, which received royal assent in March 2011, the monument will serve as a symbol of Canadian values and diversity. It will be erected in memory of the innocent men, women and children who perished during the Holocaust.
Finally, I'd like to mention the portfolio agencies with which Canadian Heritage works.
Canadian Heritage benefits from engaging with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, an arm's-length crown corporation that reports to the Minister of Canadian Heritage in her role as the minister responsible for the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. The work of the foundation contributes to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination.
Another portfolio organization that I would mention is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Its purpose is to explore the subject of human rights, promote respect for others, and encourage reflection and dialogue.
Madam Chair and committee members, in conclusion, Canadian Heritage fully supports the government’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and to countering all forms of racism and discrimination. This is a key priority for both the multiculturalism program and other departmental initiatives.
As such, we look forward to this committee's findings as we continue our efforts to promote an equitable Canada with respect for diversity and inclusion.