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Looking Across the Border at American Turmoil

2020-06-06 01:26:17

The year 1967 stands out more than most in my childhood. That was when my family headed off to Montreal along with 50 million other people to celebrate Canada’s centennial, and to be dazzled by the futuristic buildings, multimedia films, space capsules and performances at Expo 67.

But it wasn’t an entirely carefree year.

I distinctly remember looking across the Detroit River from my aunt’s walk-up apartment in Windsor, Ontario.

Across the invisible line that separates Canada and the United States, smoke billowed up from Detroit neighborhoods ablaze from rioting. Emergency vehicles of every variety were racing around on the waterfront of Windsor’s much larger neighbor. As is the case now, the border between the cities was closed.

Cities throughout Canada have their own examples of episodes that have eroded trust between police and members of their nonwhite communities. In 2016, a police officer in Toronto was found guilty of attempted murder after he fired eight bullets and killed 18-year-old Sammy Yatim in an otherwise empty streetcar.

The episodes are not always deadly. Until a ban a few years ago, many police forces in Ontario routinely stopped and “carded” a disproportionate number of black people.

Like everyone at The Times, I fret about colleagues in the United States who are taking significant risks to report on the protests there, particularly in the midst of the pandemic. And it was chilling to hear the drone of a military helicopter over the home of an editor in Washington during a conference call.

In Canada, there have been some protests about the situation in the United States, including one, in Ottawa on Friday afternoon, where Mr. Trudeau knelt on the ground. The Canadian protests have been largely peaceful. But that does not mean that the country is without serious, unaddressed issues when it comes to race.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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