BlackNorth Initiative calls for ‘too white’ Order of Canada to ‘reflect the deep cultural mosaic of our country’

While the overall point of under-representation of visible minorities and Black Canadians in particular is factually correct, Wes Hall does not appear to understand how the Order selection process works. It is based upon nominations, which are reviewed by the selection committee which makes the recommendations, for the formal approval of the Governor General.

Rather than calling on the Governor General, the correct and more effective approach is to ensure more nominations of visible minority and other under-represented groups.

Proposing the nomination of dead Canadians is a non-starter as this would have to be open to all and most award programs are for the living, not the deceased, the most prominent being the Nobels.

Recognition of Viola Desmond on the $10 bill is both more significant and more appropriate.

In doing the background research for the chart above (and associated deck ), the Governor General’s office provided with earlier gender data that showed that the selection committee made an effort to improve women’s representation: while only 26.9 percent of nominations were women, 32.6 percent of appointments were women (2010-14 data):

The BlackNorth Initiative has spoken out about the racial gap in home ownership among Black people, the lack of Black people in boardrooms — and now it has turned its attention to one of the country’s highest civilian honours: The Order of Canada.

In a letter to Julie Payette, Canada’s Governor General, whose office hands out the awards, the initiative points out that only one Black Canadian was included out of the 114 recipients in 2020.

“If the Order of Canada is truly meant to reflect our country, then why do we not honour, dignify and celebrate the contributions of countless Black Canadian leaders who have pre-eminence, national and international service, and achievement?” asks the letter, signed by the initiative’s founder and chairman Wes Hall.

“The problem is that the vast majority of those 7,000 people who have received the Order are white and do not reflect the deep cultural mosaic of our country, especially Blacks.” 

Hall is also the executive chairman and founder of Kingsdale Advisors, which advises many of Canada’s large publicly traded companies. Hall says his experience working as a Black man in Canada led to many business leaders reaching out to him, resulting in the BlackNorth Initiative.

“I’m curious to see the reaction to this letter,” he said in an interview with the Star. “Our job is to keep shedding light on the systemic racism in our society, and hope they change their process.” 

The letter makes a number of recommendations, including the investiture of five Black Canadian leaders: businessman Michael Lee-Chin; athlete and Olympic gold-medallist Donovan Bailey; lawyer Robert Sutherland (born in Jamaica in 1830, died in Toronto in 1878); businesswoman and activist Viola Irene Desmond, who died in 1965; and social worker and Canada’s first Black MLA, Rosemary Brown, who died in 2003. The latter three have died, and the Order of Canada isn’t awarded to people posthumously — they’re given to living people. 

Hall says this was deliberate. He points out that the only 2020 Black recipient, B. Denham Jolly — who was awarded for his contribution to the promotion of equality and opportunity within the Greater Toronto Area — is already 85.

“I could die tomorrow, and no one would know about my accomplishment to society,” said Hall. 

He points out in the letter to Payette that, since 2013, only 4.8 per cent of the Order of Canada appointments are made up of visible minorities, “well below the 30 per cent of the population who identified as visible minority.”

“71.4 per cent of appointees in 2019 were men. The low number of women among the 2019 appointees — just 28.6 per cent of the total — and the low number of visible minorities — just 5.4 per cent — show the Order of Canada falling short of representing Canada’s diverse population,” the letter reads. 

Accusing the Order of Canada of forgetting countless Black Canadians, the letter urges Payette to do the “right thing.” 

“This chronic lack of recognition of Black Canadians must end. The time is now to set a path forward to equality, equity and justice for Black Canadians.”


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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