Ontario Premier Doug Ford has acknowledged the presence of systemic racism in the Canadian province, backpedaling on previous comments that deny a “deep-rooted” issue north of the U.S. border.

“Our history is different than the United States, but we have our own history of racism here in Ontario. And you can go back 60 or 70 years, and I know people out there are feeling pain and I see it,” Ford said in a revised statement at a press conference on June 4. “These issues are deeply rooted – they stem from a history of racism and abuse.”

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Ford’s contradictory statement came as the Ontario government announced its new Premier’s Council on Equality of Opportunity, an advisory group “that will provide advice on how young people can overcome social and economic barriers and achieve success,” according to a release from the Government of Ontario

As part of the initiative, the Ford government has pledged an additional $1.5 million in funding to organizations that support Black families, children, and youth and provide urgent COVID-19 support – particularly relevant amid research highlighting the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities.

Lawyer, author, and Ontario’s Advocate for Community Opportunities Jamil Jivani is slated to chair the new council for the first year. 

“There has been a global pandemic, there are long decades-old systemic issues in the province – and we want to impact policy so that we can see real action, a lot of previous efforts from previous administrations have been about talk,” Jivani said at a press conference on June 4. “We did not wait for CNN to tell us there is a problem. Rather, we have been working on these issues for months.”

The Ontario government’s new initiative comes just days after the Premier publicly denied the presence of systemic racism in Canada.

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“Thank God we’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they’ve had for years,” Ford previously said, distinguishing the supposed differences between the two countries as “night and day.”

Ford later said his comments were “spun out of context,” adding that Ontario has had systemic racism for “decades.”