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Premier Doug Ford acknowledges systemic racism in Ontario|BCI CANADA

TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford has backtracked on his comments that Canada doesn't have the same "systemic, deep roots'' of racism as the United States, acknowledging that Ontario has a history of racism stretching back decades.

Ford made the comments Thursday as he announced the creation of a council on equality of opportunity — a new advisory group that will provide advice to the government on how young people can overcome social and economic barriers.

The premier also said his comments from earlier this week were misunderstood and "spun out of context", stressing that he sees systemic racism in the north Toronto community he represents in the legislature.

"We have our own history of racism here in Ontario and it's been going on for decades," he said. "You can go back 60 or 70 years and I know people right now are feeling pain out there. I see it."

On Monday, Ford was asked to comment on the anti-racism protests in cities across the U.S. that were sparked by the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

The premier said the difference between the two countries is that in Canada, people for the most part get along, working and shopping together.

"Thank God we're different than the United States and we don't have the systemic, deep roots they've had for years," he said at the time, adding that the distinction between the two countries is "night and day."

His comments drew immediate criticism from both politicians and social media users.

"Of course there’s systemic racism in Ontario, there’s systemic racism across this country," Ford said the following day in the legislature.

Ford stressed on Thursday that society must address the problem of racism by starting to work with young people.

"We must acknowledge the pain that we see and we must acknowledge where it's coming from," he said. "I can tell you these issues are deeply rooted and they stem from a history of racism and abuse."

The government also said it is allocating $1.5 million to organizations that support black families and youth. The funding will be provided on an urgent basis to meet the needs in the community during the pandemic, the province said.

The leader of the provincial NDP black caucus, Laura Mae Lindo, called the funding "paltry" and a "slap in the face".

"Just this week, Doug Ford denied systemic racism even existed in Canada," she said in a statement. "This announcement is even more evidence that Mr. Ford doesn't take addressing the cancer of systemic racism seriously."

Liberal legislators Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau called on the premier to restore funding his government cut to the province's Anti-Racism Directorate and Black Youth Action Plan.

"If he says talk is cheap, then he should keep undoing his cuts," the legislators said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Ontario said Thursday that it is taking over management of a ninth long-term care home that is struggling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.

The province has appointed a hospital to manage Woodbridge Vista Care Community in Vaughan, Ont. William Osler Health System in Brampton will serve as the interim manager of the long-term care home.

Ministry data shows that 17 residents at the home have died of the virus. Sixty-five residents and 20 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Ontario reported 356 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and 45 more deaths.

That brings the total number of cases in the province to 29,403, including 2,357 deaths and 23,208 cases that have been resolved. More than 20,800 tests were completed in the previous day.

When asked how the province could move to the second stage of its economic reopening plan when hundreds of new COVID cases are reported each day, Ford said that wasn't the only statistic the government was looking at.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province would need to have adequate testing levels, contact tracing, and hospital capacity in place before it could say when the second stage will begin.

"We need to be prepared ... and those discussions are continuing," she said.

The province said short-term rentals including lodges, cabins, cottages, homes and condominiums will be allowed to resume operations starting Friday at 12:01 a.m.

Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod told a legislative committee that the pandemic has damaged the province's tourism industry and she doesn't expect 2019 visitor levels to return until 2024.

"None of us should be naive to the fact that there will be lasting damage, that many customers are rethinking their old habits," she said. 

The province will need to help the sector, but so will all Ontarians, she said.

"We will focus rebuilding with staycations and domestic travel encouraging Ontarians, and other Canadians, to visit our destinations," she said. 

Meanwhile, former federal health minister Jane Philpott has been appointed a special adviser to help the province design and implement a new health-data platform.

The information will be used to help research and inform the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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