SUDBURY -- There was an emotional discussion Wednesday morning as part of Magnetic North's panel on anti-racism and discrimination.

Four speakers with four very different lived experiences shared what it was like to live in northern Ontario -- and some of the barriers they facing every day just because of the colour of their skin.

Rimaz Abakar, an associate with Black Northern Consulting in Sault Ste Marie, spoke with CTV Northern Ontario after the conference.

"There are things like micro aggressions and macro aggressions and violence that personally I have been experiencing and I was exposed to," Abakar said. "I did get egged once walking down the street … I'm the not only person from Sault Ste. Marie in the black community that was egged while walking down the street. We have a few experiences of those, but I would say, yeah, we do experience them unfortunately."

In some situations, she said dealing with micro aggressions can be worse.

"It's death by a thousand cuts," Abakar said. "You are constantly being reminded that you are different, that you are other, and that you don't belong. These are the types of things … chip away at your mental health."

Someone who throws eggs or calls her a slur can easily be dismissed as a racist, she said.

"But when it's constantly from every other person -- your co-worker and people you play badminton with and at the grocery store -- when it's different people constantly happening, then you have to say it's the community, it's the people. You can't just say, oh it was so and so that egged me."

Abakar came to Canada as a child refugee and has been living in Sault Ste. Marie for six years. Despite the struggles, she said the region is getting better at creating a more tolerant environment and region for people to live. She credits that in part to the fact the issue of race has attracted a lot of attention in the past couple of years.

And the north is becoming more diverse, she said, with international students and immigrants from places like China, Japan, India and Africa becoming a more common sight.

"Just having the sheer amount of different people -- there are lots of Muslims that are walking around, too -- just by having people exist in spaces force people to be uncomfortable," she said. And once people have been confronted with that discomfort, they will be challenged to face their discomfort and hopefully people will come to say 'oh she's wearing a scarf and she's black but she's no different than my 17-year-old.' "

Micro agressions 'very macro'

It's a similar situation for Hediyeh Karimian, co-founder of ULU, an organization that works to promote inclusion. She agrees with Abakar's assessment on micro aggressions.

"Recently I just started calling it invalidation -- assault and aggression, right, because they're not micro, they're actually very macro," she said.

Karimian works in Sudbury at a dental office and describes herself as biracial.

'''Magnetic North was awesome and we have to do things like this because it raises awareness with people who have lived experience who are speaking," she said. "It's so important right because people, I think if you have never first-hand experienced it or witnessed it ... it makes a big difference."

"We're craving a sense of awareness for people so if there's 160 people in the conference, 160 people got to hear different stories and maybe they went home and started sharing that with other people," she added.

Karimian said it's incumbent upon all of us to ask the question -- what more can we do to help people feel included and welcome in the community?

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino closed the conference by highlighting the benefits of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.

"One in three businesses are employed and owned by newcomers supporting tens of thousands of jobs, if not more, right across the country. Under the pilot, communities recommend candidates who meet their unique needs," said Mendicino.

He said the region will thrive, just as communities in Atlantic Canada have benefitted from their own program.

He said newcomers face challenges in every community and the pilot program is meant to address that, aiming to make it easier for everyone.

When it comes to racism, while the panel said the region has made giant strides, there's still a lot that needs to be accomplished. 


This story has been updated to clarify ULU is an independent organization not affiliated with Laurentian University.