Experts say Canadian companies must support anti-racism efforts with ongoing action

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Canadian business executives are starting to speak out in support of addressing racism after demonstrations have erupted across North America, but experts say their words need to be accompanied by ongoing actions.

“What I’ve seen in the past is folks will make mention of ‘we stand together’ or ‘we’ll work together to make change,’ but rarely do they actually name anti-Black racism…and then it’s business as usual,” said Tomee Elizabeth Sojourner-Campbell, a Toronto-based consultant focusing on human rights compliance, diversity and inclusion.

“Statements, policies and protocols that have no implementation piece to them become nothing more than things that people refer to when things go wrong.”

Sojourner-Campbell’s comments come after violence has broken out in several U.S. cities following the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed Black man in Minneapolis who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

Around the same time Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Toronto woman, died after falling from the 24th-floor balcony while police were in her home, prompting questions about the role of officers in her death.

Canadians rallied in support of Floyd, Korchinski-Paquet and efforts to combat racism at weekend marches in Toronto and Montreal. On Monday, some business leaders started speaking out about the incidents and decades of racism around the world.

Tobi Lutke, founder of Ottawa-based, e-commerce giant Shopify Inc., took to Twitter to say he stands with the Black community, “who are our teachers now.”

“They hold the vision for a more just society and we all need to amplify. Racism of any kind is one of the bleakest aspects of humanity,” he tweeted.

He pledged to donate $500,000 to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund, $250,000 to the Black Health Alliance and $250,000 to Campaign Zero.

Vancouver-based Aritzia posted a message on its Twitter account Sunday, saying it didn’t have the words to express what it felt but wanted to respond to calls to action with a $100,000 donation to Black Lives Matter and the NAACP.

Elsewhere, Manulife Financial Corp. president and chief executive Roy Gori used LinkedIn to talk about being “deeply saddened and shaken” by the events, which he took to be a reminder that “we must all come together, to listen and to take action to end this injustice.”

Meanwhile, Victor Dodig, chief executive at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said on LinkedIn that he shared the “deep sadness and outrage,” but hopes that peaceful action and protest will prevail “so we can channel our emotions and energy into exposing and challenging racism, prejudice and bigotry wherever it exists.”


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