On April 25, 2006 the Laidlaw Foundation presented a forum at Innis Town Hall focusing on the findings of Dr. Michael Ornstein published in his report: Ethno-Racial Groups in Toronto, 1971-2001: A Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile, conducted and published by the Institute for Social Research at York University.

I really appreciated the way Ornstein addressed various myths and surmises that even people of great good will might have about the difficulties faced by both visible minorities and immigrants in Toronto. And it was great to hear the distinction made by panel participants between the problems of immigrants and the problems faced by visible minorities–where those problems are shared and where they are separate issues. Commentators were correct that the waters get muddied where these issues are confused.

Dr. Ornstein’s report is available for download on the Institute for Social Research web site: . Panelists discussing Dr. Ornstein’s findings and responding to audience questions were: Rick Eagan (St. Christopher House and the MISSWA project), Debbie Douglas (Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants) and Amanuel Melles (United Way of Greater Toronto).

Ornstein remarked that the role of social research statistics are to “provoke, intimidate and encourage” which he elaborated to suggest that such research provokes discussion of solutions, intimidates those who would promulgate myths and undermine positive initiatives and encourages community-builders.

For the most part the report and panel presentations were well-received by audience members, although one member of the audience criticized the report and presentation in not examining the roots of white privilege sufficiently and suggested that certain initiatives were racist in their intention and/or results. In this regard the audience member named the Safe Schools Initiative as unfairly excluding black students from school. Hmm. Since all students have an equal right to be free from bullying in their schools, this lone commentator’s remarks seemed rather off-base and out of step with the positive community-building spirit of the forum and subsequent efforts likely to gain momentum through the Ornstein report. Other commentators congratulated Ornstein on exposing the myth that the difficulties faced by visible minorities in Toronto were solely those of settlement due to recent immigration.

Congratulations to the Laidlaw Foundation on funding this research and making the public panel discussion possible.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

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