At Avanti, our core value of inclusion is an ethic of respect for difference. You have heard us say that diversity is a fact and inclusion is the act. To be inclusive is to find ways for all of us, with our unique identities, viewpoints, and experiences to come together, respect, value and actively accept our collective differences.

I have long been proud of the global leadership that Canada demonstrates through its constitutional commitment to a pluralistic governance model built on diverse and inclusive communities. Our country is strengthened and enormously enriched by successive waves of immigration and the ensuing contributions of new Canadians. This is surely the reason I am Canadian; Canada opened its doors to my family, among those expelled from their homes in east Africa in the early 1970s. Since then Canada has continued to welcome refugees and immigrants from all parts of the world fleeing war and persecution or seeking a better life. Our pluralistic model is an inspiration to the world, showing that we can and will continue to build inclusive societies.

But the protests this past week, in Canada and the USA, have served as a stark reminder that we are far from perfect, far from good, even. We have a long way to go in achieving the inclusive ideal. Simply tolerating difference is not enough. Tolerance must evolve to inclusion by starting from a place of understanding, seeking education, spotlighting social injustice, and through allyship with marginalized communities.

To create a truly inclusive society, we must remain unwaveringly committed to doing the necessary work to bridge, not deepen divides. Part of this work includes learning our history, admitting our mistakes, and actively working to promote awareness and support change that reconciles our dark past with hope for a brighter future.

For all that I love about Canada, in seeking to understand the pain etched in the hearts of millions of people who are righteously organizing and protesting for positive change and social justice, I am forced to reckon with our long and saddening past that preceded the Canada I know today.

From the enslavement and systemic exclusion of Black Canadians through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, to the dispossession and internment of Japanese Canadians during Pearl Harbor3, to the ban on Chinese immigration through the Chinese Exclusion Act4 which remained in place to 1947, our track record of inclusion is spotty at best.

Worse still, our most glaring blemishes stem from the ethos of exclusion and systematic cultural annihilation of the First Nations communities that lived here when Canada was colonialized. Restrictions were placed on their movement, disease was rampant, voting rights were denied and legislative policies were enacted to promote what amounted to nothing short of cultural genocide.

Nevertheless, standing among the pieces of the shattered image of the pluralistic Canada I once held so dear, I remain ardent in my belief that we will continue to take steps toward our inclusive ideals.

To that end, the deaths of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and many, many before them, must not be in vain. They have served, most recently, as an important catalyst in mobilizing social activists to spotlight the lasting injustices arising from racist sentiment that still pervade our legislation, government bodies and institutions.

This is not just an American problem. This is a Canadian problem too. Between 2013 and 2017, despite representing ~9% of Toronto’s population, Black people made up 60% of deadly encounters with the police and were twenty times more likely to be involved in a fatal shooting by the police. Black people should not have to prepare themselves for hatred and violence directed at them, simply because of the colour of their skin. They should not have to live in fear of the possibility of being killed by those who were meant to protect them. We cannot sit here and tolerate the outcomes from institutionalized racism.

The onus is on us. Not just Black people, but on all of us. On us to get educated, to seek awareness and understanding, to listen, to stand with our brothers and sisters in protest and to act in bridging divides. To our Avantians that are members of the Black community: your lives matter, your voices matter, your happiness matters. We are listening, we are learning, and we stand with you.

In reexamining our own views and moving from awareness, to activism to action, we must support political policy, educational institutions and other organizations that create the necessary societal and institutional reforms to our laws and practices. We must endeavor to teach our families, our colleagues, and our communities about our past and show them the path to an inclusive future. We must reject the notion of tolerance in favor of inclusion. We must call each other in to the conversation and hold each other accountable for our actions. Ultimately, we must fulfil our moral obligation to hold true that all lives are equal.

Today, Avanti has made donations to four organizations (Black Lives Matter (Toronto branch), Global Centre for Pluralism, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Equal Justice Initiative) in support of their efforts to challenge racial injustice and mass incarceration and protect the human rights of marginalized communities around the world. Further, we will be matching Avantian donations to any organization in support of anti-racism, anti-violence, and Black communities.

Over the years, Avanti has built our diverse workforce and inclusive culture deliberately. Still, we know we can do more, so in FY 2021 we will be formalizing our diversity and inclusion strategy, Designing for Inclusion, to improve or rebuild our systems and processes by incorporating inclusively designed practices. We know we can do better and would love to hear from you, how we can do so.

We work hard to create an inclusive culture so we can all feel that sense of belonging. But make no mistake – inclusive cultures, be it within a company, a community or a country do not occur by accident. They are a result of deliberate and continuous investment, by individuals and the collective alike, in seeking awareness of, understanding, and actively accepting difference. Inclusive culture is the essential glue that will bind us as we all walk together along the road to a better world.

To weave an inclusive culture into the fabric of our societies will not be easy. But it will be worth the effort.

1. Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

2. The story of slavery in Canadian history, Black Voting Rights in Canada

3. Japanese Canadian internment and the struggle for redress

4. The Chinese head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act

5. The Indian Act

6. OHRC interim report on Toronto Police Service inquiry shows disturbing results

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