OCASI wants to head off racism

Who: Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), with Mass Minority for strategy, creative and media.

What: “Speak Up,” a campaign addressing the prevalence of racism in Canadian society, and urging people to speak up whenever they encounter it.

When & Where: The campaign launched earlier this month, running across TV and online in Ontario.

Why: According to Statistics Canada data, there was a 72% increase in hate crime in the country between 2019 and 2021. As the umbrella organization for immigrant and refugee-serving agencies in Ontario, OSASI is urging people to speak up whenever they encounter racism.

“To shift the conversation, we also need to shift how we present occurrences of racism, and move beyond the expected indifference or lack of awareness,” said OCASI’s executive director, Debbie Douglas. “We needed to show everyday Canadians demonstrating everyday abuse that it is not okay.”

How: Rather than focusing on raising awareness of racism, OCASI chose instead to focus on the indifference that tends to greet many racist actions, while challenging people to step up and say something whenever they encounter such behaviour.

The campaign is built around two 30-second spots, “Multiply” and “Backyard Blast,” both of which show a person casually making racist comments.

“Seems like there’s more of them every day,” says one woman after encountering Black people exiting her gym. “Wouldn’t they be happier with their own kind of food, anyway?” she says after gesturing toward a Southeast Asian family at a restaurant.

After each incident, the woman grows another head that parrots and laughs along with her remarks, which is followed by a bold super reading “Don’t let racism multiply.”

In “Backyard Blast,” a woman attending a backyard barbecue, casually remarks about “These people…” and “They should just go if…” Each time she is drowned out by fellow partygoers whose voice is the sound of an airhorn, followed by the super “Put racism on blast.”

Humour for a serious issue: Using humour and quirkiness to address a serious topic was a strategic decision, said Mass Minority CEO Brett Channer. While the heavy tone typical of this type of advertising is adept at driving awareness, it’s not particularly adept at changing behaviour, he said.

“This campaign asks the viewer for a bit of self-reflection of one’s own behaviour in stepping into the issues of tolerance around microaggressions,” he said. “Humour is known to break down barriers to create the opportunity to be more open to the message and be engaged.”

Chris Powell