Black on the battlefield: Canada’s forgotten First World War battalion

Good Remembrance Day article and history lesson:

The year was 1914 and while the war was escalating in Europe, a different struggle took root in Canada.

Young black men determined to serve their country – men who had left jobs and uprooted families in pursuit of a military unit that might accept them – were being rejected by recruiters from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. One commanding officer in New Brunswick turned away 20 healthy black recruits at once because he believed his white soldiers should not “have to mingle with Negroes,” according to a letter he wrote to his superiors in Halifax.

This war, black Canadians were told, had no use for people of their colour.

That unofficial policy kept most black Canadians from enlisting for the better part of two years, although some did manage to convince sympathetic commanding officers to allow them into mostly white units. Black leaders and their white supporters were unwilling to accept being shut out en masse, though. After two years of lobbying – fighting to fight – a compromise was cautiously forged. Black Canadians were told they could enlist if they could muster enough men to form their own, segregated battalion, which would be based out of the way in tiny Pictou, a community on Nova Scotia’s North Shore that had no black residents.

Still, the plan was to recruit more than 1,000 men from across the country from Canada and, ultimately, the United States and the British West Indies.

But there was a catch: The battalion’s soldiers would not be given guns. Instead, they would be outfitted with shovels and forestry tools. Instead of fighting alongside Allied forces on the front lines, the Black Battalion – officially the No. 2 Construction Battalion, CEF, and the only segregated battalion formed – would ship out as a non-combat force trained to dig trenches, carry the dead, build prisons and fell trees in France’s Joux forest.

“In France, in the firing line, there is no place for a black battalion,” wrote Major-General W.G. Gwatkin, Chief of the General Staff in Ottawa, who derided black recruits in the same announcement he made to enable their service. Having black soldiers on the front line “would be eyed askance,” he wrote. “It would crowd out a white battalion; and it would be difficult to reinforce.”

Their second-class status was one of many difficult challenges faced by the Black Battalion, whose soldiers suffered some of the most oppressive conditions during the war but received little recognition for their sacrifice and service. They were not honoured as heroes when they returned to Halifax in 1919 nor when the battalion was officially disbanded in 1920. Their story went largely unacknowledged until 1986, when Senator Calvin Ruck published his book, The Black Battalion: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret. The thin volume was the culmination of years of painstaking research. Even Mr. Ruck, who was born in Sydney, N.S., had never heard tell of the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

Formed in July, 1916, the unit recruited just more than 600 men, including about 300 from Nova Scotia, 350 from Ontario and a collection of Western Canadian, American and international recruits. Their first assignment was to dig up rail lines across New Brunswick. They eventually left from Halifax in March, 1917, on the troopship Southland. They landed in England and dug trenches for troops training there and repaired roads; within months, they were attached to the Canadian Forestry Corps and sent to France for logging and milling work, to carry out road repairs and to haul supplies.

“They were viewed as being mentally and physically inferior. They joined in obscurity. They trained in obscurity. They fought and served in obscurity,” said Douglas Ruck, a Halifax-based lawyer and Senator Ruck’s son. He recalls the family dining table being blanketed for years with the archival records his father had collected to piece together the Black Battalion’s story.

It is as much about their absence from most Canadian history books as it is about their role in the war. Although her father, Joseph Parris, served in the No. 2, Sylvia Parris grew up with no knowledge of the battalion. She learned much of the story after Mr. Ruck published his book and says it has helped her understand why her father and the rest of the battalion rarely told their stories, which were neither heroic nor prideful.

“They went to the war in the face of systemic and individual racism. They went because their country, however they came to it, was their country, too. They had families to protect,” she said, adding: “They came back to those same systemic issues. And they kept to themselves as a means of survival.”

Russell Grosse, executive director of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, said few stayed in touch after the war despite the fact many lived near each other. In 1982, when Mr. Ruck and the BBC held a ceremony in Halifax to honour nine remaining veterans of the battalion, the men were practically strangers. But the recognition they received that night, Mr. Grosse said, showed the veterans and their families that they deserved a legacy.

“They were so abused and misused along the way. Every day was a struggle for them just to be a part of the organization,” said George Borden, a historian who grew up with several Black Battalion veterans in his Nova Scotia community. “They were the last to get supplied. They were the last to get paid. These were young men, but they were men,” he said. “It completely destroyed their self-pride.”

Official recognition of their service came in 1993, when Pictou’s Market Wharf, the site of the battalion’s first headquarters, was declared a national historic site.

Now, the job for the dwindling number of people who know the battalion’s story is to get it into history books and ensure their legacy does not disappear.

“I just want to respect them as having wanted to do the same job as everyone else wanted to do,” Mr. Borden said. “If anyone can be remembered, they should be remembered likewise.”

Source: Black on the battlefield: Canada’s forgotten First World War battalion

Remembering Bromley Armstrong, and the segregation of Canada’s stories

Nice and important profile:

In January of 1991, when I was in the fifth grade, my mother woke me up early on a Saturday morning to go to school. I put on a white dress shirt, navy blue pants, and a matching tie before she packed me into the car and drove me across town to Higher Marks, a tutoring and mentorship program for Black youth in the Greater Toronto Area. At the time, the school was located near the intersection of Bathurst and Bloor streets, a corner that functioned as one of Toronto’s original Black business hubs and community gathering spots. While my friends ate sugary cereals and gorged themselves on morning cartoons, my mother parked my behind in a cold, cramped classroom to learn advanced math skills and Black Canadian history.

I hated it, of course. But it was in Dr. Ronald Blake’s classroom at Higher Marks that I first learned the phrase “Jim Crow,” and that even in Canada, the fight to end segregation was long and arduous. There were no textbooks we could flip open to read this history, and Google wasn’t yet even a twinkle in Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s eyes. It was inside that classroom that I learned of our separate history, carried on the lips of Black community members who were either born or immigrated to this country early enough to have witnessed the events as they happened.

This is one of the stories I first learned at Higher Marks.

In July of 1943, carpenter and Second World War veteran Hugh Burnett wrote a letter to federal justice minister Louis St. Laurent about an incident he felt demanded the minister’s attention. While Burnett was in town to visit relatives, he went to have lunch at Kay’s Café, a restaurant in Dresden, Ont., while wearing his army uniform—the one he voluntarily put on to fight the tyranny of the Third Reich. But because he, like approximately one-fifth of Dresden’s 1,700 residents, was descended from slaves who escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad, he was told he was not welcome to eat at that counter. Its proprietor, Morley McKay, was a flagrant racist who, like many of Dresden’s white residents, believed in the separation of the races.

St. Laurent’s reply to Burnett’s letter was curt and dismissive: there was no law in Canada that barred racial discrimination.

In response, Burnett, his family, and several Dresden residents organized over several years to form the National Unity Association, which joined with the Toronto-area Association of Civil Liberties to draw attention to Dresden’s Jim Crow-like racial atmosphere. Vivien Mahood, chair of the ACL’s committee on group relations, contacted Maclean’s managing editor Pierre Berton in 1949 regarding the town’s growing discontent, and Berton dispatched feature writer Sidney Katz to cover the story. Katz’s article, “Jim Crow Lives In Dresden,” helped propel the Dresden story to national interest, even quoting McKay as saying “I get raging mad every time 1 see a Negro. Maybe it’s like an animal who’s had a smell of blood.”

The story of Dresden helped precipitate two events in 1954. One was a 30-minute documentary entitled Dresden Story, in which residents debated the problem of segregation, and in which pro-integrationists were even accused of having “communistic influences;” it was an eye-opening look at the intellectual lengths to which white Canadians would leap in order to keep Black Canadians yoked to second-class citizenship. The second was the Fair Accommodation Practices Act, passed into law by Ontario premier Leslie Frost, a Progressive Conservative who served at a time when the party stood for racial and gender equality. The act erased the ambiguity of anti-discrimination policies that varied from municipality to municipality, and made clear the province’s stand on segregation: “No person shall deny to any person or class of persons the accommodation, services or facilities available in any place to which the public is customarily admitted because of the race, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry or place of origin of such person or class of persons.”

In order for the law to be effective, though, it had to be enforced. And in order for that to happen, businesses had to be caught in the act of discrimination. Enter a 21-year-old labour activist named Bromley Armstrong.

Along with University of Toronto student Ruth Lor, Armstrong was dispatched to Dresden in the fall of 1954 to sit at Kay’s Café and request service. According to Armstrong, McKay became so angered at this “test” that Armstrong feared that the man would attack him with the meat cleaver he was holding. The cafe’s waitress refused them service, which not only violated of the law but also exposed McKay in front of undercover reporters that were invited from Toronto to witness the test. McKay was prosecuted by the government of Ontario, marking a first for Canada: a racial discrimination trial in which a business establishment was the defendant.

McKay would go on to lose the trial, successfully appeal on the basis that a business proprietor shouldn’t be punished for the actions of an employee (i.e. the waitress who refused service), and then lose on the basis of another test, in which his overconfidence in the secret handshake of white supremacy led both the waitress and himself to deny service to two more Black patrons.

Armstrong’s name would become widely known throughout the Black Canadian community over the course of his decades-long career in civil rights and labour activism. He helped to found the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Black Business and Professionals Association (with which I’ve served as a board member and consultant), the Black Action Defense Committee (which successfully pressured Ontario into create the Special Investigations Unit oversight branch, for police incidents involving injury, death, and sexual assault of civilians), and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

For his tireless work, Armstrong was granted a seat on the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as well as admission to the Order of Ontario, and the Order of Canada. And after a life lived in service to the communities he loved, Bromley Armstrong passed away on Aug. 17, at the age of 92.

And yet, outside of labour websites and Facebook tributes from small-press Black publications in Toronto like Share Magazine and Pride News, media coverage of his death was nonexistent. While activists like Bromley Armstrong helped end the segregation of Canada’s public spaces, his story has been deeply segregated from public knowledge.

By Aug. 22, Black journalists (including myself) began to make noise on social media, arguing that it was unacceptable that the passing of someone with such a rich legacy, and whose work helped drag Canada into civil-rights modernity, would go unremarked upon by the mainstream media. It wasn’t until a week after his death, on Aug. 24, that CBC’s “As It Happens” picked up the story—and even then, in the original published draft, Armstrong was incorrectly reported to have died the previous Saturday.

Bromley Armstrong’s life, and his work, matters. Within the Black community, this is incontrovertible fact. But in our classrooms, almost 30 years after I first set foot in Higher Marks, his name is still absent from the textbooks. And in our newsrooms, where Black journalists regularly watch our colleagues take cameras and laptops out to our neighbourhoods to report tragedies in our community, and convert our blood into copy, clicks, and revenue, our history might as well be that of some small, unremarkable country overseas.

I attended Armstrong’s wake, and shook hands with his family. There were labour activists present, a few MPs and MPPs, and members of the organizations that Armstrong helped found. It was not a somber event, but a joyful one, as people shared stories about the man, including that long-ago time when he sat stoically at a café table while a bigot, armed with a meat cleaver, hurled insults his way. And it saddened me to know that, if it hadn’t been for the few Black journalists in Canada’s media industry holding their colleagues’ feet to the fire, some of the people listening to those stories might not have known who the man was.

And if it wasn’t for Higher Marks, I might not have known either. None of what I learned in Dr. Blake’s classes—not in middle school, high school, or university—was any of this history taught. As with most Black Canadian history—the razing of Africville, the No. 2 Construction Battalion, the trial of Viola Desmond, and stories of Armstrong, Burnett, Lor, Joseph Hanson, Bernard Carter, Lyle Talbot, Sid Blum, and the National Unity Association—there was no space in the public school classroom for the Dresden sit-ins. Instead, during the school week, my classmates and I read books about Sir John A. Macdonald and the formation of the Dominion. But on Saturdays, in a classroom my mother worked double shifts for me to attend, I watched a VHS copy of Dresden Story. I read news clippings blurred by the imperfect cloning process of the photocopier, as well as Katz’s story. And I listened to an instructor who knew Bromley Armstrong on a first-name basis—as well as several other Black civil rights activists, like Charles Roach, Dudley Laws, and Denham Jolly—deliver the man’s oral history. Otherwise, I might never have known about the Dresden story at all.

As the concept of diversity comes under attack by white nationalists in Canada, and when prominent members of Canada’s opposition party have castigated the taking-down of Macdonald statues as the erasure of history, it’s time for this whitewashing of our history and of the quiet struggles that people of colour have undertaken to end. Slowly and inevitably, the civil-rights generation is leaving us behind in troubled times. The story of Dresden led to the end of segregation, and if that can teach us anything, it’s this: if we truly want unity and shared values to prevail in Canada, some stories have to be told.

Source: Remembering Bromley Armstrong, and the segregation of Canada’s stories

Andray Domise: Why I’m #HereForCelina

Valid and needed perspective:

The first thing to know about Black political involvement in Canada is that, until very recently, its success or failure has mostly revolved around managing white perceptions.

This isn’t hyperbole, or even a gripe, but the simple reality of getting elected and keeping one’s seat in a country where Black people make up less than three per cent of the population. For far longer than I’ve been alive, there has been an unspoken understanding in the community that, while the Black politician knows firsthand the frustration, pain, and anger of living in a society that abides our unequal treatment, there is a certain decibel level above which a politician cannot speak. Better to do the work quietly and accomplish what they can for the community, than risk offending the white Canadian who, while benefitting from the systemic racism that keeps him perched atop the social hierarchy, feels unfairly indicted for having his position explained to him.

This is what makes Celina Caesar-Chavannes unique among Canada’s Black political class. The Liberal MP for Whitby not only carries the work outside of Parliament Hill to the broader community, often speaking at events and encouraging organizers to demand more from their elected representatives, but publicly names white supremacy for what it is. Whether speaking to systemic and institutional violence, or individualized racism (e.g. discrimination against Black women’s natural hair, a topic for which she became known internationally), Caesar-Chavannes has, like Rosemary Brown before her, defied the accepted wisdom that Black politicians must face down racism with resolute silence.

And for that, she was named a racist.

In the last few weeks, Caesar-Chavannes has made headlines repeatedly for using Twitter to call out Canadian politicians and media figures who, having no firsthand experience with racism, have attempted to define the terms of its discussion. First, there was her suggestion that Conservative MP Maxime Bernier “be quiet” when Bernier criticized Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s language in cheering a budget set-aside of $19 million for programs that serve racialized Canadians. She later apologized for her comment, and Bernier rejected the apology via Twitter, responding that it’s “time we Conservatives stop being afraid to defend our vision of a just society made up of free and equal individuals and push back against those who want to silence any opinion that differs from theirs.”

And then there was her response to Robert Fife, the Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau chief, who questioned the existence of “systematic racism” in a CPAC interview. Fife was discussing the Liberal government’s announcement of a strategy to counter systemicracism, and flippantly dismissed the announcement as a “wedge issue,” given that schoolchildren seemed to be integrating well with one another. Caesar-Chavannes tweetedthat Fife’s comments made her question his “ability to investigate stories of the Canadian experience without bias.”

In response, former Rebel Media co-founder Brian Lilley wrote a blog post accusing Caesar-Chavannes of “seeing racism everywhere,” following an earlier claim by Rebel Media owner Ezra Levant that she is “a racist,” and “a disgrace.” In a 20-minute video, Levant claimed that “Canada has been good to her,” implying that Caesar-Chavannes could not have achieved similar success in the “very poor” and “very small” Grenada, her country of birth. He later compared Caesar-Chavannes’s description of her skin colour—“Black, no sugar, no cream”—to Malcolm X’s anti-integrationist coffee allegory, solidifying the assertion that her extremism made her unfit for office. This, of course, triggered a wave of harassment by the Canadian alt-right, with several Twitter users calling her a “racist,” and others descending into racial slurs.

In the messy business of combating racism at the political level, too often the burden of white anger falls on the shoulders of outspoken Black women. In the UK, Labour MP and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has spoken at length about the harassment and racial abuse she’s faced as a result of her Black skin and high profile. In the United States, Congressional representative and Donald Trump critic Maxine Waters has faced racism not only from the President’s alt-right supporters, but from the President himself. It seems that, whenever a Black woman in office uses her platform to denounce the systemic oppression of Black people, the immediate and overwhelming response is to tear that woman down, paint her as an extremist, and break her will to continue.

For transparency’s sake, Celina Caesar-Chavannes is a friend of mine; the social circles that comprise Toronto’s Black political, business, and media class overlap heavily, and most of us are at least passingly familiar with one another. So it would be disingenuous of me to pretend I have no interest in seeing her succeed, or that I didn’t have a personal stake in promoting the #HereForCelina hashtag on Twitter (which was started by fellow Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, and joined by thousands of Canadians including the Prime Minister) in response to the harassment she faced.

But the backlash that she has faced over the last few weeks is more than an unfair attack on a friend. It has been an instructive guide to the way we deal with racism in this country. We avoid naming the issue for as long as possible (witness Justin Trudeau’s acknowledgment of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent almost three years after he took office), and when it is named, we stand by and watch as the whistle-blower is attacked by aggrieved white people who demand gratitude for merely tolerating our existence.

The right-wing attack on Caesar-Chavannes is the scenario that many Black politicians before her have avoided by keeping their heads down in public, while discussing matters of race within the confines of the community. And it demonstrates the importance of discussing these issues frequently and in the open. If, as other writers have suggested, we keep a low profile on discussing matters of race, we inevitably surrender the power to shape the conversation to those least equipped to handle it.

Levant isn’t fit to discuss Caesar-Chavannes’s racial politics when he missed that her proud “no sugar, no cream” description wasn’t lifted from a Malcolm X speech, but rather a Heavy D song that praises dark-skinned Black women in a culture that has, for centuries, elevated lighter skin. Bernier isn’t fit to discuss racism when he lacks awareness that the white moderate’s mantra of “colour-blindness” is its own pernicious form of racism. And Fife isn’t fit to criticize systemic racism when it seems he isn’t even clear as to its definition.

Eliminating racism means much more than a personal distaste for neo-Nazis and other unrepentant bigots. It means supporting Black women who’ve spoken up about the soft bigotry of Bay Street, written about Canada’s history of policing the Black body, and called attention to the violence of forcibly placing Black children in the care of the state. It means showing up for Black women, like Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who use their political platform to advocate fiercely for an equal society. And it means facing the uncomfortable truth that our institutions—schools, social services, the justice system—were not designed for the protection and equal treatment of racialized Canadians. We’ve long passed the time when white perceptions about our language and our politics ought to be considered when advocating for our lives.

Source: Andray Domise: Why I’m #HereForCelina

Lawyers ask judge to declare African-Canadians deserve special consideration in sentencing, like Indigenous people

Will be interesting to see how the judge rules. His initial reaction suggests he will be appropriately cautious, given his reference to general guidelines:

Lawyers for a black man caught carrying a loaded gun are asking a judge to declare for the first time in Canada that African-Canadians should receive special consideration in sentencing, much as Indigenous peoples do.

The federal Criminal Code says expressly that sentencing judges must pay particular attention to the circumstances of Indigenous people. Parliament drafted that provision in 1996 in part to respond to a disproportionate rate of incarceration. Indigenous people make up 27 per cent of federal prisoners, and just 5 per cent of the country’s overall population.

But black Canadians, too, are disproportionately incarcerated. They make up 8.6 per cent of federal prisoners (those serving sentences of two years or more) and just 3 per cent of the population.

Lawyers Faisal Mirza and Emily Lam, representing Jamaal Jackson, 33, say African-Canadians, like Indigenous people, have faced dislocation, segregation, disproportionate rates of incarceration and discrimination in employment and education, plus over-policing of neighbourhoods and mistreatment in federal custody.

“In 2018 … the experience of African-Canadians is sufficiently unique that it is in and of itself deserving of special recognition,” Mr. Mirza told Ontario Superior Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru in Toronto. Disadvantage in the black community, he said, may diminish the “moral culpability” of offenders. Just as it is mandatory for judges to consider an Indigenous offender’s history of disadvantage, they should also be obliged to perform a similar analysis for black people. “I’m asking that it become presumptively the approach for African-Canadians.”

But Justice Nakatsuru, whose Japanese-Canadian father was interned during the Second World War, told Mr. Mirza he is “struggling” with the idea. He said the Criminal Code already provides that all offenders are entitled to consideration of their individual circumstances, including discrimination and disadvantage, when they are being sentenced. To go further than that and create a presumption of special treatment for African-Canadian offenders raises difficult questions, he said. “Where does it end, to take judicial notice of a collective experience?”

Justice Nakatsuru mentioned the experiences of Asian-Canadians and other visible minorities. He said the experiences of African-Canadians are diverse, and in that sense do not fit well within a presumption of shared disadvantage. He also asked what cases, laws or constitutional principles would give him the authority to make such a declaration.

Mr. Jackson has a nearly continuous criminal record dating from his youth, prosecutor Sue Adams told the court. His most serious crime was an armed robbery of a Petro-Canada station with a sawed-off shotgun, for which he was sentenced to 81 months in prison. Released on parole, he violated his conditions and was returned to prison to serve out the full term. Seven months later, police attempting to fight the spread of guns caught him on a wiretap attempting over a two-day period to obtain a firearm. Judges had made five orders in previous cases prohibiting him from carrying weapons or ammunition. Police caught him with the handgun in Mississauga, west of Toronto, with a single bullet in its chambers.

The prosecutor is asking for a sentence of 7.5 to nine years, plus an additional year for violating his weapons prohibitions. She said she does not oppose detailed histories of an offender being put before the court, but said that given the seriousness and repeated nature of his crimes, he does not deserve special consideration in sentencing.

The defence has not yet recommended a sentence, but is expected to ask for four years.

It submitted a “race and culture assessment” by a Nova Scotia social worker, Robert Wright. Mr. Jackson spent part of his childhood and teen years in Cole Harbour, N.S., and part in London, Ont. As a light-skinned black person, Ms. Lam told the court, he was not accepted by whites or blacks. His extended family was large and had good jobs. But a lack of parental support left him seeking support from his peers. (He also identifies as Indigenous, but an Aboriginal legal group declined to take on his case, Ms. Lam said.)

If Justice Nakatsuru accepts the idea of special consideration, Mr. Mirza asked him to affirm that judges should order detailed reports on African-Canadian offenders, setting out how “intergenerational disadvantage” affected them. Such reports are done regularly for Indigenous offenders.

Mr. Mirza said that, while sentencing judges traditionally take into account the need to deter other criminals and protect communities, they should also consider that “overincarceration” perpetuates disadvantage in the African-Canadian community.

As far back as 2004, the Ontario Court of Appeal said that if racial or gender bias help explain why a crime was committed, it can be considered in sentencing.

The sentencing hearing continues Tuesday. Justice Nakatsuru is not expected to rule immediately.

via Lawyers ask judge to declare African-Canadians deserve special consideration in sentencing, like Indigenous people – The Globe and Mail

Black advocates must put cause ahead of career

Desmond Cole’s counterpoint to Karen Carter’s earlier column (My activism is better than yours | Toronto Star) and critique of the Federation of Black Canadians.

Ironically, his commentary appears a few days after Budget 2018 provided significant funding to help address issues facing the community, where the Federation (or at least its chairperson) is being given public credit:

Nearly three months ago in a Toronto library, I stood with El Jones, a devoted activist and professor from Halifax, and asked the federal minister responsible for immigration to stop the deportation of a black youth who grew up in Canada. The exchange I had with Minister Ahmed Hussen that morning was like many with government officials — he asked for more information and agreed to follow up.

I feel responsible for what happens to Abdoul Abdi, 24, a refugee who came to Nova Scotia from Somalia at age 6, was taken into the child welfare system, and never got his citizenship because the government, his legal guardian, never applied for it. I’m lucky to be in a position to raise my voice for Abdi, and I have made many sacrifices so I can speak as openly as I need to for Black people across Canada.

I regularly meet Black folks who encourage me to speak out, who say they cannot for fear of compromising themselves, especially in their workplaces. While I truly understand how they feel, I also believe that Abdi is still in Canada because Black Canadians and many others have publicly told the government to stop his deportation. People who are not free to make such demands, or who refuse to, can never propel the libratory changes Black people in Canada need.

A new group calling itself the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC) is led by well-connected Black people who cannot, or who choose not to demand Abdi’s freedom. I don’t believe the judges, police officers and corrections officials who helped create FBC can speak to Abdi’s particular situation, nor do I think they can openly critique their own institutions — the courts, the prison system, the law enforcement regime — without jeopardizing their careers. This obvious fact, bears repeating given the sudden rise of the previously unknown FBC.

The FBC is led by chairperson Donald McLeod, a sitting judge in the Ontario Court of Justice. Whatever duty McLeod feels to our community, he also has a professional duty to the court. The Ontario Principles of Judicial office state judges “must avoid any conflict of interest, or the appearance of any conflict of interest,” in the performance of their duties; that a judge “must not participate in any partisan political activity;” that an Ontario judge “should not lend the prestige of their office to fundraising activities.”

McLeod has spent the last 18 months building the group now called the Federation. During that time he has held meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne, and a host of Liberal cabinet and caucus members, including Hussen.

More shockingly, freelance journalist Ron Fanfair reports that, after high-level meetings with the federal government in 2017, McLeod “received a call from Ottawa indicating they would prefer the initiative to be national.”

McLeod’s behaviour, including his reported willingness to take direction from Ottawa about the FBC, gives the strong appearance of conflict of interest and partisanship.

The Federation has no formal bylaws, constitution, or public membership, yet it is asking for donations, with McLeod saying he wants Black people to scrounge up our “toonies and loonies and fives and tens” to fund the initiative.

Again, this behaviour appears to conflict with the rules of his office. Even if it doesn’t conflict, such conduct is not good enough for Black people fighting in our name.

On Sunday, Ebyan Farah left the Foundation steering committee — the group claimed her term of service had simply ended. Farah is the spouse of Hussen, and it only took days after I publicized this news for her to leave abruptly, without further explanation.

Imagine Farah, as part of the Federation, wanting to advocate for Abdi but knowing her husband may be ultimately responsible for the refugee’s fate. This compromised advocacy is what the Federation of Black Canadians is offering us, and we must do better.

Karen Carter took space in this publication Tuesday to criticize me for “personally attacking” McLeod (I never have).

Interestingly, a Feb. 23 tweet by MP Melanie Joly tweet shows Carter sitting next to McLeod at a meeting with Joly at BAND, Carter’s Black-owned art gallery. Carter says there are many ways for Black people to advocate, and that all are valid — I disagree.

We can only get free by putting the plight of people like Abdi ahead of our own access to power, safety, and comfort.

via Black advocates must put cause ahead of career | Toronto Star

Budget 2018: Rebuilding Multiculturalism and Evidence-Based Policy

After the neglect over the past two years, the government is investing in the multiculturalism program (essentially restoring or more the previous cuts) along with targeted initiatives for Canadian Blacks.

Equally, if not more significant, the creation of new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics will improve the quality and quantity of diversity-related data, with more data disgraced by race (likely defined as the different visible minority groups).

Both initiatives respond largely to some of the more substantive recommendations of the Canadian Heritage committee report on M-103:

Strengthening Multiculturalism and Addressing the Challenges Faced by Black Canadians (p184) – $42 million

Diversity is Canada’s strength and a cornerstone of Canadian identity. Recent domestic and international events, like the rise of ultranationalist movements, and protests against immigration, visible minorities and religious minorities, remind us that standing up for diversity and building communities where everyone feels included are as important today as they ever were.

To provide support for events and projects that help individuals and communities come together, the Government proposes to provide $23 million over two years, starting in 2018–19, to increase funding for the Multiculturalism Program administered by Canadian Heritage. This funding would support cross-country consultations on a new national anti-racism approach, would bring together experts, community organizations, citizens and interfaith leaders to find new ways to collaborate and combat discrimination, and would dedicate increased funds to address racism and discrimination targeted against Indigenous Peoples and women and girls.

As a first step toward recognizing the significant and unique challenges faced by Black Canadians, the Government also proposes to provide $19 million over five years that will be targeted to enhance local community supports for youth at risk and to develop research in support of more culturally focused mental health programs in the Black Canadian community. In addition, with the creation of the new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics, announced in Chapter 1, the Government is committed to increase the disaggregation of various data sets by race. This will help governments and service providers better understand the intersectional dimensions of major issues, with a particular focus on the experience of Black Canadians.

Evidence-Based Policy (p 56)

In order to properly address gender inequality and track our progress towards a more equitable society, we need to better understand the barriers different groups face. The Government of Canada intends to address gaps in gathering data and to better use data related to gender and diversity.

This includes proposing $6.7 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, and $0.6 million per year ongoing, for Statistics Canada to create a new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics. The Centre will maintain a public facing GBA+ data hub to support evidence-based policy development and decision-making—both within the federal government and beyond.

The Centre will work to address gaps in the availability of disaggregated data on gender, race and other intersecting identities to enrich our understanding of social, economic, financial and environmental issues. The work conducted at the Centre will include collecting, analyzing and disseminating data on visible minorities to understand the barriers different groups face and how best to support them with evidence-based policy.

As part of the Government’s commitment to address gaps in gender and diversity data, the Government is also proposing to provide $1.5 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, and $0.2 million per year ongoing, to the Department of Finance Canada to work with Statistics Canada and Status of Women to develop a broader set of indicators and statistics to measure and track Canada’s progress on achieving shared growth and gender equality objectives.

Budget 2018 also proposes to provide $5 million per year to Status of Women Canada to undertake research and data collection in support of the Government’s Gender Results Framework. One of the first projects this would support is an analysis of the unique challenges visible minority and newcomer women face in finding employment in science, technology engineering and mathematics occupations. This research will fill important gaps in knowledge as to how to achieve greater diversity and inclusion among the high-paying jobs of tomorrow.

Recognizing the importance of poverty data in evidence-based decision- making by all levels of government, the federal government additionally proposes an investment of $12.1 million over five years, and $1.5 million per year thereafter, to address key gaps in poverty measurement in Canada. This includes ensuring that poverty data is inclusive of all Canadians, data on various dimensions of poverty are captured, and the data is robust and timely

Ontario puts moratorium on suspending racialized public servants

Strong step:

The province has put a moratorium on suspending racialized public servants while it reviews how it processes complaints on racial discrimination.

The announcement came a day after more than 20 Black employees, mostly women, brought their concerns directly to Michael Coteau, Ontario’s minister of children and youth services, who is also in charge of the province’s anti-racism initiatives.

At a meeting Jan. 18, past and present public servants said they suffered racial harassment and faced reprisal when making complaints.

Coteau heard stories from Black employees who said their roles were steadily diminished despite years of positive reviews. Others had trained new staff, only to see those new employees be given higher, more lucrative positions. Some said their complaints about racial discrimination were mishandled. A majority of the participants said they had been suspended, demoted or fired while the staffers they had complained about faced no repercussions.

“When I started at the ministry, I was confused for the hired help,” Hentrose Nelson, who has worked in the public service since 2004, told Coteau. Nelson was one of the organizers of the meeting and she spoke about her experience with the complaints and suspension process.

Nelson is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against provincial Citizenship and Immigration Minister Laura Albanese, alleging systemic racism in the department.

None of the accusations has been tested in court.

Boafoa Kwamena, a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service — which encompasses over 60,000 employees in the province’s ministries, agencies and Crown corporations — would not comment on specific complaints. She also declined to answer Metro’s questions about what prompted the moratorium or how long it will last, saying in an email this week only that it is in place pending the review of existing policies and procedures.

Where there is a clear case of wrongdoing such as theft or violence against another staff member, the moratorium does not apply as those cases are reviewed by the province’s Public Service Commission.

“Creating a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for everyone in the OPS is a top priority,” Kwamena wrote in an email.

She added that officials are working with the Black OPS Network, an internal employee network, on a three-point plan. It includes an independent third-party review of complex cases; an independent review of the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Prevention policy with an anti-racism methodology; and developing an anti-racism policy. Attendees of the January meeting also called for these actions.

The review of the complaints process is intended to start by this March. A private sector lawyer will manage the review of complex cases. The OPS has declined to name the lawyer until a contract has been finalized.

“This is really something that we wanted to do for other Black women,” explained Jean-Marie Dixon, who has worked as a lawyer in the civil service.

Dixon says the action employees are taking now is for future generations. She wants to see people who have engaged in racism and discrimination fired as well as more funding and support for Black women going through a grievance, complaint or lawsuit.

Nelson welcomes the news of the moratorium and echoes the hope for more change to come.

“It’s not about our struggle only,” she said in an interview following the announcement. “It’s a systemic beast which we are trying to fight. It’s a huge win.”

via Ontario puts moratorium on suspending racialized public servants | Toronto Star


How to support celebrating Canada’s Black heritage and challenge racism: Tiffany Gooch

A bit of a laundry list and given resource and other constraints, some guidance in terms of relative priorities would be helpful (I always start with improved data!):

At the end of January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the official Canadian recognition of the UN Decade for People of African Descent, which runs from 2015 to 2024.

The gesture was three years late and largely overlooked by traditional media, but for some, the very act of a sitting prime minister acknowledging anti-Black racism — and making a public commitment to dealing with it — was a moment of historical significance.

The fight against anti-Black racism in Canada is not new. Generations of Black community members have been tirelessly carrying out this work across the country with insufficient support from government. It’s worth reading through the #BlackLivesCDNSyllabus developed and updated by Anthony Morgan and Huda Hassan for Canadian context.

As a next step, strategies and plans should be developed that include milestones for cross-ministerial policy collaboration with budgeted allocation, public and private partnerships, and sincere, thoughtful regional community consultations to guide the process.

There are opportunities for the private sector, unions, academic institutions, community-based organizations, and individuals to participate in seeking to understand, celebrate, and most importantly, support the advancement of the challenging work ahead.

Some key targets for these plans should include national celebrations of emancipation alongside official apologies for the enslavement of Black people in Canada and the systemic, anti-Black racism that continues to permeate Canadian institutions.

Aug. 1 should be a national holiday celebrating emancipation in Canada. Perhaps as a part of the federal recognition of the decade, the Greatest Freedom Show on Earth in Windsor, Ont., could come alive once more.

On the heels of Canada 150, we have an opportunity to band together to preserve and celebrate Black Canadian history and cultural contributions, beyond the month of February alone. There are extraordinary institutions — specifically many churches, built as sanctuaries and celebrations of Black Canadian freedom — well past observing their sesquicentennials.

Churches like Salem Chapel BME, where Harriet Tubman herself worshipped and organized to emancipate hundreds of enslaved Black families through a courageous journey to reach Canadian soil.

While we study and celebrate Black history let’s take a closer look at both the present and the future we want to create. The federal government should follow provincial leadership and gather disaggregated data, so we can see with numbers how our policies are having a disproportionately negative impact on Black Canadians.

It’s also important to remember that the African diaspora in Canada is beautifully diverse. We have different experiences, and will have different definitions of what success looks like as the Canadian acknowledgement of the decade is carried out.

We must also consider that it is real intergenerational trauma we are exploring and seeking to rectify. In the process, Black Canadians live in different stages of grief that impact how individuals contribute to this mentally and emotionally exhausting dialogue and work.

The federal government has taken an important step forward, and I hope that an equity lens can be applied in the development of policy with consideration to unique barriers faced by Black women, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Tangibly this means policy focus and investments in education, poverty reduction, health equity and especially mental health supports necessary for the success of Black Canadians.

This means acting on our responsibility to respond promptly to the issues facing Black communities at this very moment. This includes cannabis legalization, which should be rolled out with a proactive pardoning approach that ensures individuals with previous cannabis related convictions are not restricted from participating in the legal market.

It requires action to improve the experiences and outcomes of Black workers as they come forward with stories about the racism and micro-aggressions faced when training and working within their respective sectors. It further requires taking an honest look at public and private sector leadership positions and sponsoring a definition of diversity that goes beyond gender.

It means not turning a blind eye to the disproportionate impact of the global migrant crisis on Black families seeking refuge within our borders, and working to correct the systemic injustices, like the risk of deportation of children and youth in care that the case of Abdoul Abdi has shown us.

I challenge Canadians to aspire to global leadership, beginning by taking an honest look at our own shortcomings and contributing to the powerful role we can play as a country in creating better outcomes for people of African descent, both within and outside of our borders.

via How to support celebrating Canada’s Black heritage and challenge racism | Toronto Star

A reckoning on Black people and marijuana is a long time coming: Paradkar

Important aspect with compelling arrest stats:

As the banned substance begins to burgeon into a multi-billion-dollar industry, the once-petty crooks, many of them Black, with the grassroots know-how of how to run the business and who could become contributing members of society, are once again being shut out because they have criminal records.

The government has talked about amnesty for past marijuana crimes that would mean erasure of those records. But it is unlikely to take any action until after legalization — and already, others with money have plunked their grubby fingers in this pie to make more money.

This includes, of course, that shameless hypocrite and former chief of multiple police forces Julian Fantino, who helped passed into law Bill C-10 that included mandatory minimum sentences on people for having as few as six plants.

On Friday, The Canadian Press reported that a group of frustrated lawyers in Toronto is considering a class-action lawsuit against the government to push it into granting cannabis amnesty.

They should just do it.

Some advocates are also seeking an apology.

A reckoning of the unfairness with which anything related to marijuana has been treated is a long time coming.

Even the usage of the word marijuana — which comes from Mexico—came into being during the Prohibition Era to warn off Americans by appealing to their xenophobic sensibilities with the suggestion that it could lead to the intermingling of races.

In Canada, too, marijuana has proven handy as a system of racial control. In July last year, the Star published an analysis of 10 years of Toronto police data — including two years when Fantino was police chief — to show that Black people with no history of criminal convictions were three times more likely to be arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana than white people.

The users are Black and white at about equal rates, but the people behind bars are disproportionately Black.

More recently, the American experience shows that even in states where the plant is legalized, while overall numbers of arrests have plummeted, Black people are still arrested at higher rates.

Four times higher in Washington, D.C., 10 times higher in Alaska.

From Richard Nixon’s so-called “war on drugs” to Ronald Reagan’s drug war to Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” laws, the crackdown on drugs has always been an assault on race.

The scholar Michelle Alexander points out in her seminal book The New Jim Crow that Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman recalled that Nixon “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

The Reagan administration created an indelible link between drug abuse and Black people, she wrote in HuffPost. It hired staff whose responsibility it was “to publicize inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence.”

Clinton’s policies wrought the highest increase in number of people imprisoned.

But a change was coming. The face of drug users in the public imagination was getting lighter-skinned. Think Breaking Bad. Ozark.

“Changing attitudes and policies became possible in large part because the media was no longer saturated with images of Black and brown drug dealers,” Alexander said at a Drug Policy Reform conference in 2017. “The colour of drug users and dealers got whiter in the public imagination, and so we, as a nation, got nicer.”

Nicer in Canada would mean erasing criminal records without a fight, the flawed structure of the RCMP’s national criminal record database notwithstanding. That database can show whether someone has a record for possessing an illegal drug, but not necessarily which one, according to a report in Global News.

“That means that erasing marijuana possession (or trafficking) records could turn into a painstaking, manual process, involving searches in court and police archives across the country.”

No reason why people imprisoned for petty crimes should pay for the carelessness of those trafficking in power.

via A reckoning on Black people and marijuana is a long time coming | Toronto Star

Marketed Multiculturalism Makes Canada A Hostile Homeland: Sarah Beech

Some valid points but a bit over the top in words and rhetoric, and too general with few concrete and implementable suggestions:

On January 30, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Government of Canada will officially recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which began in 2015 and runs until 2024. The objective of this recognition period is to highlight and celebrate the contributions people of African descent have made to Canada. But, what does that actually mean for black Canadians?

According to Trudeau, “This means learning more about the issues that affect black Canadians, including improving research and data collection, so we can better understand the particular challenges they face.”

In some respects, additional data is needed, but the collecting of more data will not necessarily produce new ways of thinking about historic problems, like anti-black racism.

Overall, Trudeau’s remarks were lackluster, peppered with symbolism to validate Canada’s selected brand of nationalism without explicitly delineating a strategic plan or any course of concrete action. I do not expect that he or his government would have been able to release a 10-point plan, but to make an address without any definitive next steps is futile in the fight against anti-black racism. His speech, the topic and the timing (two days before Black History Month, and three years late,) appear contrived and symptomatic of marketed multiculturalism.

Marketed multiculturalism occurs when racial and cultural diversity are used by social, political and economic discourses to validate state sponsored messages, amplified by news media, that Canada is a post-racial multicultural society. This marketed myth preserves the status quo, tokenizes racialized people and obfuscates the existence of racism and anti-black racism in this nation.

Within the marketed multicultural framework, when an acknowledgement of racism is made by institutions responsible for the systemic oppression of racialized people, the surreptitious ways in which racism operates become more nuanced. The prime minister’s announcement was a representation of this phenomenon. The particulars of his speech reinforced multiculturalism in Canada more than they declared a commitment to combatting anti-black racism. While the two are not mutually exclusive, in order for either to be fully realized the commitment has to be more than just promised.

For multiculturalism to be legitimately realized in Canada, the policy needs to go beyond the page. Acknowledgements need to be met with action. Cultural inclusion, equity and other principles upon which authentic multicultural ideology is premised must not conflate performance with progress. The absence of this distinction makes Canada a hostile homeland for black Canadians, Indigenous people, racialized immigrants and other people of colour.

As politicians make (more) policy, they both have a propensity to succumb to the effects of marketed multiculturalism, where acknowledgement and accountability are systemically destined to never meet within the status quo. While accountability is not impossible, it does require all Canadians to interrupt the political performance, forgo the politeness and promote political progress for racialized people in Canada.

via Marketed Multiculturalism Makes Canada A Hostile Homeland