Canada must formally apologize for its historic role in the enslavement of Africans in this country and acknowledge the contributions of Black Canadians

From one of the more prominent plaintiffs in the proposed class action lawsuit against the Canadian government for past and current discrimination.

Question the need for a separate category under the Employment Equity Act for Black Canadians, given that the disaggregated data already includes Black Canadians, and government employment equity reports are now including that data.

And, as I have written elsewhere, disaggregated government employment and public service survey data highlights the similarities and differences between the different visible minority groups (https://multiculturalmeanderings.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=48735&action=edit), with some groups being comparable to Black Canadians, others doing better.

Hopefully, the federally regulated sectors will start to collect comparable disaggregated data, as agree this would be helpful. But it should be collected for all visible minority groups, not just Black Canadians:

American civil rights activist James Baldwin once asked, “how much time do you want for your ‘progress.’ ” Canadian Black politicians, leaders, professors, civil rights activists, and associations have for years called upon Canada to formally apologize for its role in the enslavement of Africans in this country. This long-awaited apology would bring about acknowledgment, recognition, and much-needed healing of the effects of slavery still reflected in the treatment and the experiences of Black Canadians. Canada’s long overdue apology for the treatment of the No. 2 Construction Battalion and recognition of Emancipation Day are not enough.

For too long, Black Canadians have been fighting anti-Black racism symptoms by calling for changes in the criminal justice system, employment, housing, and education sectors. We have also been calling for changes in the same organizations that are meant to bring about equality, specifically amendments to the Employment Equity Act (EEA) to establish a category for Black Canadians, as well as to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), which is more often than not dismissive of anti-Black racism. As of March 2021, more than 600 former and current Black public service employees are suing the federal government over the unjust practice of Black employee exclusion due to systemic discrimination dating back from the 1970s. More than 12,000 Canadians have signed a petition calling on Justin Trudeau and the Government of Canada to end systemic discrimination and Black employee exclusion within the federal public service.

Black Canadians lack capital power and political representation; thus, our calls for change are dismissed and our demands shoved for another day, promises of change are never realized. The Canadian government itself practices discrimination against Black Canadians and is thus unwilling to force change. In addition to the above mentioned lawsuit by Black government of Canada employees, Canada has officially apologized to several indigenous peoples, apologized over the Chinese head tax, and for sending Japanese-Canadians to internment camps during the Second World War. The government has also rightly apologized for its discrimination, criminalization, and the injustices endured by the Canadian LGBTQ community members. Yet, Black Canadians are still awaiting such turning points and are disheartened to repeatedly ask a prime minister who himself repeatedly wore a Black face and contributed to our dehumanization. So, long as the Canadian government discriminates, it cannot in good faith and with the same breath implement equal rights and progress.

In a 2019 survey, the Canada Race Relations Foundation found that Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are the most likely groups to report racial discrimination experiences, and they are also the groups widely understood by others to experience such treatment.

The government is aware of the pervasive nature of anti-Black racism in Canada. In 2017, the federal government invited the United Nations Human Rights Council working group of experts on people of African descent to examine the legal, institutional and policy framework and measures taken to prevent racial discrimination and related intolerance faced by Black Canadians. While acknowledging Canada’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, the UN expressed deep concern about Black Canadians’ human rights situation.

It noted that Black Canadians faced disproportionately high unemployment rates and forced to take low-paying jobs with little security and poor prospects when working. The UN cited the multiple and intersectional forms of racism at play against Black Canadian women who make 37 per cent less than white men, and 15 per cent are less than white women, with over one in four living below the Canadian poverty line. The UN working group recommendations included that Canada recognizes Black Canadians as a distinct group who continue to make profound economic, political, cultural and spiritual contributions to Canada. Additionally, it proposed a mandatory nationwide policy on collecting data disaggregated by race and other identities to determine if and when racial disparities exist for Black Canadians. Furthermore, it remarked that the category of “visible minority” obscures the degrees of disparities in Black Canadians’ treatment and specific human rights concerns.

In January 2018, Canada officially recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, stipulating that the international community acknowledges that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. It also calls for adoption or strengthening of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and ensuring its effective implementation.

Amid COVID-19, Statistics Canada indicated that the pandemic had hard-hit Canada’s Black population (approximately one million people aged 15 to 69). Data revealed that in the three months ending in January 2021, the unemployment rate among Black Canadians (13.1 per cent) was about 70 per cent higher than that among non-visible minority Canadians (7.7 per cent). Additionally, almost one-third of employed Black women (31.7 per cent) worked in health care and social assistance in January 2021, bearing the brunt of response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Groundbreaking research by the Edmonton-based African Canadian Civic Engagement Council and Innovative Research Group unveiled how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the health and finances of Black Canadians. It showed that Black communities are experiencing layoffs, reduced work hours, and reduced household incomes at higher rates. Fifty-six percent of Black respondents said their job, or the job of someone they knew, had been affected, compared with the national average of 46 per cent.

The government’s ongoing initiatives and resources to address systemic racism and anti-Black racism in Canadian institutions and the privately regulated sectors are welcomed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bardish Chagger, minister of diversity and inclusion and youth, acknowledge that racism is one of the root causes of social and economic gaps for Indigenous peoples. The more recent 2021 Privy Council call to action to deputy ministers, heads of separate agencies, and heads of federal agencies to reflect deeply on the unjust treatment of Black people and other racialized groups and Indigenous peoples is helpful. It is encouraging that the Privy Council statements distinctly recognized and named Black Canadians in its call to eradicate systemic racism and appropriately used the words racialized communities rather than visible minorities and Indigenous Canadians, rather than aboriginal peoples. This is in stark contrast to the outdated federal legalization meant to eradicate systemic racism and take positive measures towards employment equity in the federal government and federally regulated private sectors, namely the EEA. The Federal Black Employee Caucus (FBEC), established in 2018 to support efforts to address issues faced by Black federal public servants, is also a positive development in the governments’ efforts towards engaging Black employees and learning about their first-hand experiences with systemic racism as it relates to barriers to career to advancements.

The Employment Equity Act requires that federal jurisdiction employers take proactive measures to measure progress on the programs it puts in place. The Public Service Commission (PSC) collects and analyzes hiring, promotion, selection process, survey response and other data for these designated groups. In its January of 2021 audit report on employment equity representation in recruitment, the Commission found that the representation rate of visible minority groups declined at the organizational screening and assessment stages. Of the visible minority sub-groups examined in the audit, Black candidates experienced a more significant drop in representation than other visible minority groups, both at the organizational screening stage and at the assessment stage. Additionally, according to the Federal Black Employee Caucus (FBEC), Black people encounter more significant challenges and obstacles than their mainstream counterparts in their efforts to be recruited and promoted in the federal public service.  The FBEC further state that Black federal employees report above-average levels of harassment and discrimination and are over-represented in the lower ranks. They note ongoing marginalization and underemployment affect the health of some Black employees and force others to leave the public service and that current and former diversity initiatives aren’t solving the problem. The FBEC called on the government to collect disaggregated data on the experiences of the Black public servant and noted that the currently visible minority category masks the representation, recruitment and advancement challenges of Black people. The collection and analysis of disaggregated data have also been made by Liberal MP Greg Fergus, the Canadian caucus of Black Parliamentarians’ chair.

Where is the political will for real change?

In a missed opportunity, in November of 2020, the government passed amendments to the Employment Equity Regulations under the EEA and introduced new pay transparency requirements that came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Had there been a prioritization of anti-Black systemic racism and its painful impact on the Canadian Black populations, indeed, the government could have enacted the above recommendations.

As former senator Donald Oliver outlined, the legislation can be amended in two weeks, should the government so wills. As such, the minister of labour is encouraged to consider the Canadian Black population as a separate and distinct group within the EEA and take immediate steps to collect disaggregated data along racial and intersectional identities to understand African Canadians’ experiences in the labour market and associated human rights concerns. Future amendments to the Act should also include a robust accountability model akin to the Canadian Official Languages Act. Under OLA the duty of each federal institution to take positive measures is enforceable. This means that the public and the commissioner of official languages may seek court remedies if they feel that the duty under Part VII of the act has not been met.

Profound demands for justice have been enlisted following the tragic murder of George Floyd, which sparks international demands for justice, and equality including in Canada. This will continue until measurable progress is achieved and history shall keep recording. With COVID-19’s devastating impact on Black Canadians, their families, children, and communities, the time to act and take measurable action is now.

Huda Mukbil is a national security expert and a former senior intelligence officer with Canadian Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Source: https://hilltimes.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=a90bfb63c26a30f02131a677b&id=64bcc7c44b&e=685e94e554

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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