In a 2016 interview, CBC journalist Peter Mansbridge confronted children’s advocate Dr. Cindy Blackstock with this statement regarding public funding for Indigenous programs:
“Billions of dollars have been spent in trying to come to grips with the situation that so many Indigenous Canadians face. And of those billions, it’s on the record that some of them, a lot of them, have been misspent, not just by non-Indigenous groups but by Indigenous groups.”
Blackstock didn’t argue with Mansbridge but noted that the auditor general of Canada looked into this and found that the misappropriation of funds was not significantly different than it is in the non-Indigenous community. She then pointed out that this stereotype has been weaponized against Indigenous people, resulting in funds being held back – money that should be used to help children overcome the challenges they face.
Blackstock’s point is quite valid and much more needs to be said with regard to corruption, not only in Canada but throughout the industrialized world.
Our democracies are rife with corruption; this is nothing new. We allow those who have the most to gain through unjust policies to influence our law-making. For example, English slave traders not only lobbied for the legality of the sale and enslavement of humans, they were also generously compensated by their government when slavery was made illegal in the British Empire in 1837.
The French were no better than the British. While slaves were freed in Haiti in the early 1800s after they forced their colonizers to leave, the French government required Haiti to pay exorbitant compensation. It wasn’t until 1947 that banks were paid the last of these debts.
One can only imagine the benefit to the citizens of Haiti had their hard-earned money been used to build infrastructure in their country rather than increase the wealth of unscrupulous white men.
Even today, our laws allow the wealthy to profit from our most vulnerable citizens. We have, in essence, legalized loan sharks who give money to those who struggle with poverty and addictions and then charge exorbitant interest rates and unreasonable fees.
Isn’t it ironic that we question funding social programs that will help these people while we pass laws that allow unscrupulous businesses to exploit them?
On a much larger scale, the military-industrial complex convinced us that it was a good idea to invade Afghanistan. Looking back 20 years later, it’s clear they’re the only ones who benefited from that decision.
Even our tax structure results in middle-class citizens paying far higher tax rates than their wealthy neighbours. Perhaps the most loathsome example of the impact of this philosophy of taxation happened recently in the United States, where a billionaire took a joy ride through the upper atmosphere while his underpaid workers on the ground were penalized for going to the bathroom.
No one will argue that Indigenous groups don’t need to be held accountable for the use of public funds. The more important point is that, in reality, our efforts to focus on corruption in the Indigenous community while allowing obscene amounts of funds to flow into the pockets of wealthy individuals is arguably the very definition of systemic racism. We’re passing laws that establish unjust tax structures and reward unscrupulous business practices while holding money back from children who need better schools and social programs.
Clearly, we need to find a way to deal with the conflict of interest that has existed in our democratic structures for hundreds of years. We can’t continue to allow the rich to benefit from exploiting other humans and we need to find a way to make the rich pay their fair share in building a more just society.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. For interview requests, click here.
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