Black civil servants passed over for promotions, says Independent MP

Census data for public servants, broken down by visible minority group, can be seen in the above chart. Compared to the population, Black Canadians are slightly over-represented at the federal and provincial levels.

However, median income data indicates that these tend to occupy lower-paid positions than other visible minority groups.

Part of this may be explained by the overall lower university graduation rates of Black Canadians compared to other groups in addition to the factors mention by MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes.

I haven’t recently done a recent breakdown of EX positions (ADMS EX4-5, DGs and Directors, EX1-3), so hard to comment on her statement regarding any “thinning out” at the ADM level:

Qualified black Canadians are being passed over for promotions to senior positions in the federal government due to systemic racial barriers, says Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes.

Caesar-Chavannes, who is not running for re-election in October, used her final act in the House of Commons last week to shine a light on what she says is discrimination in the civil service.

She says in all of Canada’s history, no black person has been appointed as a federal deputy minister, the bureaucratic head of a department. There has also been a “thinning out” of visible minorities at the assistant-deputy-minister level, she said.

That’s why she tabled a private member’s bill that would require the Canadian Human Rights Commission to more specifically report annually on the progress — or lack thereof — of government’s efforts to promote black Canadians and other visible minorities to more senior positions within the federal ranks.

“It saddens me to know that this is the current state of our federal system,” she said in an interview.

She has heard from current and former civil servants who say they have the qualifications to be promoted, but report being passed over for more senior jobs in favour of candidates they say were sometimes less qualified.

One man she spoke with had a master’s degree, a chartered professional accountant certification and spoke French, English and German — and yet he couldn’t get promoted to a managerial position.

“They present their credentials to me and they’re frustrated,” Caesar-Chavannes said.

“A lot of others have multiple degrees, speak French and English, are dedicated public servants and they’re not able to get ahead. And I think there’s a general sense of frustration.”

Caesar-Chavannes had previously tried to get the House of Commons to unanimously adopt a motion asking the government to study barriers facing black federal employees and to seek to understand their lived experiences. The motion also called on the government to consider implementing equity and anti-racism training for all federal employees.

The motion did not receive the necessary support and it was not adopted.

Her subsequent private member’s bill, which was seconded by Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould — like Caesar-Chavannes, a former Liberal — streamlined the request to simply call for the Human Rights Commission to provide an annual report to the minister on the progress made in “dismantling systemic barriers that prevent members of visible minorities from being promoted within the federal government.”

The bill will die on the order paper once the election writ is dropped, as will any other bills left unpassed. But she hopes another MP will take up the cause and reintroduce it when Parliament convenes after the election.

“Let’s ensure that the largest employer in the country leads by example and sets the tone for other organizations to follow suit,” she said.

“Let’s establish some metrics, some criteria by which we can measure ourselves such that our federal public system is reflected, at all levels of management, of the population we serve.”

The Human Rights Commission is mandated to look broadly at the representation of visible minorities in federally regulated workplaces, but said in its recent annual report it finds this term in the Employment Equity Act antiquated.

It has recently employed new auditing tools to better understand why women, Indigenous people, people with disabilities and racialized groups still face barriers to achieving equal representation in the federal workforce. Caesar-Chavannes says more data should be gathered to get a clearer picture of the different experiences of marginalized groups.

Farees Nathoo, a spokesperson for Treasury Board President Joyce Murray, said the government believes Canadians are best served by a public service that reflects the country’s diversity, which is why a “centre for diversity and inclusion” within the public service was created, as was a joint union-management task force on diversity and inclusion. The Treasury Board oversees the federal public service as a workforce.

“As Minister Murray noted in her recent meeting with the federal black employees caucus, more work needs to be done to have a public service that looks like Canada,” Nathoo said.

Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s spokesman Simon Ross acknowledged that many Canadians still face racism and discrimination, including anti-black racism.

Rodriguez is to launch a new national anti-racism strategy on Tuesday “because we refuse to turn a blind eye and pretend that racism and discrimination do not exist in Canada,” Ross said.

Source: Black civil servants passed over for promotions, says Independent MP

There’s a gaping hole in our democracy

Former Conservative Senator Oliver on the under-representation of Black Canadians.

His solutions are not as easy as he states, and certainly the current government has a good overall record in its appointments in terms of increased numbers of women, visible minorities and Indigenous peoples:

Canada was once the envy of the world with our legislation on multiculturalism, tolerance, and ethnic fairness. But our democracy, indeed all our democratic institutions, have failed us because, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said,” our House of Commons, the heart of our democracy, should look more like the composition of Canadian society”— including more Black MPs, but, sadly it doesn’t. However, the good news is that we are capable of reaching that pinnacle of democratic excellence once again if we could just learn how to accept diversity.

Some things never seem to change. In nature, virtually all plant and animal life change and adapt with time. But attitudinal change is difficult, particularly as it relates to our Canadian democratic demographics. They seem strangled by decades, indeed centuries, of insidious, often painful, and subtle racism that prevents minorities, specifically African Canadians, from participating, in a meaningful way, in the framework of Canadian society. And that includes being elected or appointed to Canada’s parliamentary institutions. In February, during Black History Month, Prime Minister Trudeau stated that he wants to do more to “recruit and elect Black Members of Parliament.”

Last year, our prime minister also announced that Canada officially recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent. But so far, that recognition, like the recruitment promise, has not made its way into the heart of our parliamentary institutions. It seems that everything, from gerrymandering, certain racially biased laws and regulations, to some blatant mainstream political party racial insensitivity, have kept our political and bureaucratic institutions virtually white. Of 338 members of the House of Commons, there are fewer than 10 African Canadians. Is that representative of the Canadian mosaic? Hardly. Where are they? Why aren’t more nominated and elected?

As the United Nations puts it, for far too many Canadians, anti-Black racism, discrimination and inequality are part of their daily lives. It reaches into our democratic institutions. It’s unacceptable and, frankly, it’s time our government took some concrete, positive steps to change and correct it.

What, you may ask, is so wrong if people in the seats of power in our democratic institutions do not reflect the face of Canada? What if they are all from the white majority? So, what? Well, for one thing, anti-Black racism is a fact and a reality in Canada today. It exists. Equality of opportunity for all is non-existent. So if African Canadians are not represented, their issues, concerns, aspirations, and needs can easily be unconsciously overlooked and ignored. That constitutes a fundamental failure of our democracy.

There are answers and there are solutions. But it will not be cured with one token appointment of a lone Black person delegated to the back corner. It requires critical mass to ensure a viable result.

All of this can be easily and quickly rectified starting with executive action in Ottawa. For instance, the next 10 appointments to the Senate of Canada could be African Canadians. More eminently qualified Black lawyers and judges could be immediately appointed by cabinet to our Supreme and Superior Courts throughout the land. The next three deputy ministers appointed in the public service could easily be African Canadians. There is a huge pool of bilingual, highly skilled senior EX managers awaiting a call. The prime minister could also act on another UN recommendation because we desperately need a new Department of Diversity headed by a seasoned and qualified Black Canadian deputy minister. The next 15 order-in-council executive appointments to our largest and most powerful Crown corporations could easily be African Canadians, and all of that can be done with the stroke of a pen. It simply takes executive will. Prime Minister Trudeau could implement all of the above before the next federal election.

That’s how easy it would be to implement, throughout Canada, the directives and wishes of the United Nations for this International Decade for People of African Descent. Once implemented, Canadians could observe these talented and qualified Black men and women perform with competence and integrity in these senior positions. At the same time, the remnants of this latent anti-Black racism would slowly dissipate and disappear. These exceptional Black leaders would be part of our cultural mosaic, which makes Canada so great. And Canada would once again return to its position of envy around the globe because of the strength of our democratic institutions.

Let’s fill that gaping hole in our democracy. Now is the time for all Canadians to call on their parliamentary representatives to force the executive to carry out these changes. What a better place Canada would then be for all of us.

Source: There’s a gaping hole in our democracy

Les Noirs du Canada : éradiquer le racisme structurel

It will be interesting to see the results and evaluations of the initiatives announced in Budget 2019 in about five years). The funding and programming appears more substantive than that of the Canadian Action Plan Against Racism following the 2001 Durban Conference:

Ce texte s’inscrit dans le contexte de la Décennie internationale des personnes d’ascendance africaine (2015-2024) décrétée par l’ONU. Au cours des 20 dernières années, la taille des communautés noires au Canada a doublé, passant de 573 860 membres en 1996 à 1 198 540 en 2016.

Les communautés noires représentent aujourd’hui plus de 3,5 % de la population totale du Canada et 15,6 % de la population définie comme faisant partie d’une minorité visible ou racisée. Selon les projections démographiques de Statistique Canada, la population noire poursuivra sa croissance et pourrait représenter entre 5,0 % et 5,6 % de la population canadienne d’ici 2036. Une des particularités des communautés noires du Québec et du Canada est la jeunesse de leurs membres. En effet, en 2016, l’âge médian de la population noire était de 29,6 ans, alors qu’il était de 40,7 ans pour la population totale.

La population noire du Canada et du Québec est fortement concentrée dans les grands centres urbains tels que Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Edmonton et Calgary.

Les communautés noires, incluant les jeunes, connaissent généralement un taux de chômage supérieur à la moyenne. Le taux de chômage des communautés noires est autour de 12 %, alors que la moyenne générale est de 5 % chez les non-Noirs. Chez les jeunes issus des communautés noires âgés de 15 à 24 ans, le taux de chômage est deux fois plus élevé que la moyenne chez les jeunes Québécois et Canadiens dans leur ensemble. Nés au pays ou ayant immigrés en bas âge, ces jeunes possèdent une formation équivalente aux autres jeunes Québécois et Canadiens d’origine française ou britannique. Pourtant, leurs chances d’accès à un emploi sont moindres. En plus des désavantages relatifs à la jeunesse, tels que le manque d’expérience et le manque de formation, les jeunes provenant des minorités racisées doivent composer également avec leur différence. L’incorporation des minorités ethniques, et plus particulièrement des « minorités racisées », sur le marché de l’emploi et dans d’autres sphères de la société demeure problématique.

La notion de « groupe racisé » ou de « minorité racisée » (qui nous paraît plus appropriée), ici, réfère à un processus de racisation et indique l’extension d’une signification raciale à des relations non classifiées ou caractérisées en termes raciaux dans une phase antérieure. Ainsi le groupe racisé renvoie aux groupes porteurs d’identité citoyenne et nationale précise, mais cibles du racisme. Il est à noter que la Loi sur l’équité en matière d’emploi réfère à la notion de minorité visible, qui désigne « les personnes, autres que les Autochtones, qui ne sont pas de race blanche ou qui n’ont pas la peau blanche ».

Rappelons que la perpétuation des discriminations systémiques et leur reproduction représentent un obstacle important pour les groupes qui en sont victimes. Ces problèmes ont également des répercussions néfastes sur l’ensemble de la société et engendrent des coûts sociaux et humains.

Pour évoquer à quel point la situation est préoccupante, le Groupe de travail d’experts sur les personnes d’ascendance africaine de l’ONU relatait dans un rapport sur la situation des Noirs au Canada en 2017 que le racisme anti-Noirs découle de « l’histoire d’esclavage, de ségrégation raciale et de marginalisation ».

Des organisations à l’avant-garde des enjeux et défis relatifs aux communautés noires

Le Sommet pancanadien des communautés noires, porté par la Fondation Michaëlle Jean, la Fédération des Canadiens noirs et le Centre somalien de services à la famille, en partenariat avec une panoplie d’organismes communautaires, a réclamé des mesures urgentes face à des problèmes auxquels se heurtent les personnes d’ascendance africaine partout au Canada. Une des principales initiatives émanant du Sommet consiste en l’élaboration d’un plan stratégique pancanadien en vue d’offrir une véritable feuille de route permettant aux communautés de collaborer avec les instances publiques et le secteur privé afin de résoudre ces problèmes. Ce plan d’action stratégique s’inscrit explicitement dans le cadre de la Décennie internationale des personnes d’ascendance africaine. Il constitue la version canadienne du Programme d’activités de l’ONU pour la Décennie (ce programme demande que chaque État membre de l’ONU se dote d’un plan d’action pour la Décennie). La mobilisation stratégique générée par le Sommet a su faire en sorte que le premier ministre canadien reconnaisse officiellement la Décennie internationale. Pour la première fois dans l’histoire du Canada, le budget fédéral de 2018 a alloué explicitement des sommes destinées aux communautés noires (renforts aux jeunes Noirs, appuis à la recherche sur la santé au sein des communautés noires, collaboration avec Statistique Canada pour obtenir des données ventilées sur les communautés noires du Canada, etc.). Soutenue par le plan stratégique canadien pour la Décennie internationale, la mobilisation des communautés noires en provenance des quatre coins du pays lors du Sommet de 2019 a débouché sur des rencontres avec des ministres fédéraux. Ces rencontres ciblées et stratégiques auraient contribué à générer une augmentation des sommes allouées spécifiquement aux communautés noires dans le budget fédéral de 2019. En reconnaissance de la Décennie internationale des personnes d’ascendance africaine de l’ONU, le budget fédéral de 2019 propose en effet une somme de 25 millions de dollars sur cinq ans, à compter de 2019-2020, ce qui constitue un pas dans la bonne direction.

Au Québec, le Sommet socioéconomique pour le développement des jeunes des communautés noires (SdesJ) ainsi que le Forum économique international des Noirs (FEIN) proposent également des orientations et des initiatives stratégiques pour contribuer au développement socioéconomique et à la création d’emplois valorisants au sein des communautés noires.

Le SdesJ entend miser sur la cohérence d’une stratégie gouvernementale pour la jeunesse québécoise et favoriser des synergies dans les communautés de pratique en préconisant notamment une approche structurante et holistique. Il souhaite encourager le financement conjoint de projets et de différentes initiatives (par les gouvernements, les communautés et la société civile). Le FEIN, quant à lui, promeut l’entrepreneuriat et l’investissement comme des moteurs essentiels de la création de la richesse au sein des communautés noires. L’entrepreneuriat est au cœur de sa stratégie, puisque le FEIN mise sur l’autonomisation économique des populations noires. Il propose notamment « des solutions pragmatiques aux enjeux économiques que vivent les populations noires » en mobilisant les différents acteurs concernés par ces problématiques et enjeux pour catalyser le progrès économique des Noirs.

Ces organisations réclament un travail concerté et continu avec les différents ordres de gouvernements —municipaux, provinciaux et territoriaux, fédéral — afin d’évaluer plus précisément la situation des communautés noires à travers le Canada, en vue de définir des politiques publiques et des programmes gouvernementaux qui contribueront à produire des résultats tangibles et mesurables pour les communautés noires.

La pleine participation des communautés noires : un enjeu majeur pour le Québec et le Canada

Les membres des communautés noires continuent d’être sérieusement désavantagés. En outre, les Noirs sont moins susceptibles d’avoir accès à des emplois gratifiants dans les postes stratégiques de direction. Plus souvent qu’autrement, les Noirs sont relégués dans des positions hiérarchiques moins favorables au sein des organisations publiques comme dans le secteur privé. Ces lieux où se concentre le pouvoir décisionnel demeurent-ils « la prérogative d’un segment relativement homogène de la population ? La composition de ces lieux stratégiques de pouvoir est-elle représentative de la population québécoise et canadienne, caractérisée par une grande diversification des origines ethnoculturelles ? » Les difficultés liées au fait d’être Noir et d’être confronté de manière récurrente à la discrimination et au racisme structurels, en milieu de travail et dans d’autres sphères d’activités, créent un profond malaise démocratique et une injustice sociale qu’il faut nommer afin d’apporter des correctifs sur une base pérenne et structurelle.

En effet, une démocratie véritable requiert des institutions et des modes de fonctionnement offrant des voies d’accès ouvertes à la participation de tous les individus aux différentes sphères d’activités (sociales, politiques, économiques ou culturelles) de la vie commune.

C’est pourquoi promouvoir la pleine participation des communautés noires aux différentes instances du pouvoir administratif, par exemple, c’est œuvrer à moderniser, sinon à légitimer notre démocratie en examinant à nouveau ce qui constitue les fondements d’une société juste et équitable. Il est fondamental, en ce sens, de porter une attention particulière aux normes et pratiques en cours qui obstruent l’atteinte de cette équité souhaitable.

Source: Les Noirs du Canada : éradiquer le racisme structurel

Black people in Halifax 6 times more likely to be street checked than whites

Not unique to Halifax:

A new report released Wednesday on racial profiling by Halifax-area police found black people were street checked at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax.

The independent report found that in Halifax, the odds of being stopped for a street check were highest for black men, followed by Arab males and black females.

The number is about double the CBC News estimate that triggered this review. The new report comes more than two years after data showed black people were three times more likely than whites to be subjected to the controversial practice in the municipality.

The report by Scot Wortley, a University of Toronto criminology professor, also found that police in the Halifax region do more street checks than police in Montreal, Vancouver or Ottawa. There were comparable rates in Edmonton and Calgary.

Street checks allow police officers to document information about a person they believe could be of significance to a future investigation, and record details such as their ethnicity, gender, age and location.

In Halifax, the odds of being stopped for a street check were highest for black people, followed by Arab and west Asian people. (CBC )

The 180-page report also found the practice of street checks has a disproportionate and negative impact on the African Nova Scotia community, contributing to the criminalization of black youth.

Wortley reported that black community members interviewed for the study said they are afraid of police, they feel targeted by police, and they are treated rudely and aggressively. They also said police treatment of black people has not improved significantly in the past 20 years.

Blacks more likely to be charged

Wortley was hired by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2017 after a report from Halifax RCMP in January of that year found that in the first 10 months of 2016, 41 per cent of 1,246 street checks involved black Nova Scotians.

Halifax Regional Police figures showed that of the roughly 37,000 people checked between 2005 and 2016, almost 4,100 were black — about 11 per cent of checks — despite making up only 3.59 per cent of the city’s population, according to the 2011 census.

In what Wortley described as a “difficult statistic,” the report showed that 30 per cent of Halifax’s black male population had been charged with a crime, as opposed with 6.8 per cent of the white male population, over that period.

Wortley said this likely means black people are more likely to be charged for the same behaviour than white people. The charge rate for black males with cannabis offences was four times higher than for white males, even though there’s no evidence that black people use more cannabis than white people.

He said police street checks have contributed to an erosion of trust in law enforcement and undermined the perceived legitimacy of the entire criminal justice system.

Wortley presented several recommendations including that street checks must be banned or at least regulated.

He said it’s clear that street checks have a disproportionate effect on the black Nova Scotia community and consequences of current street check use “clearly outweigh and crime prevention benefits.”

Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said she supports stopping the practice of street checks.

“The rest of Canada will be watching what happens here,” she told an audience gathered at the Halifax Central Library, where the report was unveiled.

‘Anti-black bias’

Lindell Smith, the first black city councillor elected in Halifax in 16 years, said in a statement on his website that he hopes this is an opportunity to “repair the broken relationship with the black community and our police force.”

“As a member of the African Nova Scotian community, I certainly do not need Dr. Wortley’s report to tell me that for decades the community has felt that there is anti-black bias, and racial profiling when policing black communities. I hope that with the release of this report that we as the black community don’t see this as a ‘I told you so’ moment,” he said.

Smith said he’s been stopped many times by police, both while driving and walking in the Halifax area. He said in those instances he had the felling of “humiliation and being racially profiled.”

Across Canada, the report found the average annual street check rate was highest in Toronto, with Halifax in second place. Despite an overall reduction in street checks in Halifax in recent years, Wortley says the over-representation of minorities has remained constant.

Ontario banned police carding in specific situations in 2017 — a controversial practice that is similar to street checks.

However, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais has argued in the past that the valid street checks performed by police officers in Halifax differ from the random stops or carding practices that are now restricted in Ontario.

Source: Black people in Halifax 6 times more likely to be street checked than whites

Passed over, bullied, mistaken for janitorial staff. Black women sue Ontario public service alleging systemic racism

A case to watch:

Two Black women employed by the Ontario public service (OPS) are suing their unions and the provincial government, alleging they suffered years of systemic racism and discrimination while their complaints were ignored, disbelieved or met with reprisals — and ultimately led to them being suspended or forced from the workplace.

In a statement of claim filed Feb. 25 with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Jean-Marie Dixon and Hentrose Nelson accuse the provincial government of allowing an organizational culture that “fosters racism, dysfunction, discrimination, harassment, racial bullying, and abuse of authority/power.”

“Anti-Black racism, and racism in general, along with white privilege and white supremacy, are pervasive and entrenched within the OPS,” they allege, referring to the government workforce of more than 65,000 public servants employed by ministries, agencies and Crown corporations. (According to a glossary in their lawsuit, they define white supremacy as a “racist belief that white people are superior,” which is “ever-present in our institutional and cultural assumptions” and confers structural advantages to white people.)

They further allege that despite ongoing efforts to seek help from senior management, “Black and racialized employees, particularly Black women, continue to be subjected to individual, systemic, and institutional racial discrimination and racial harassment.”

Their unions, meanwhile, have failed to adequately represent them because they are influenced by the same “culture of systemic and institutional anti-Black racism,” according to their statement of claim.

Dixon and Nelson’s legal action comes one year after they organized a meetingbetween several OPS employees and government officials that triggered a temporary halt on the suspension of racialized employees — a moratorium that was quietly lifted in July.

Their lawsuit also intends to challenge the way these kinds of allegations are handled in Canada. Many of their claims relate to issues covered by their collective bargaining agreements, but the “law is designed to keep these sorts of disputes … out of the courts and sent instead to expert labour and human rights tribunals,” says David Doorey, a labour and employment law professor with York University who is not involved with the lawsuit.

But Dixon and Nelson allege their many attempts to seek justice — including through their unions, internal workplace processes and the human rights tribunal — have been “ineffective” so their “only viable recourse” is through the courts.

“It’s been very, very traumatic,” Dixon said in an interview. “When you’ve worked so hard, as I’ve worked — I put myself through school, I got here on my own and on my own merit. And someone can take that from you.”

“No dollar amount could fix the irreparable damage,” Nelson said. “I think about how my life has been altered; I can’t get it back.”

The lawsuit’s allegations have not been tested in court and the respondents — the provincial government, Association of Law Officers of the Crown (ALOC), and Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees (AMAPCEO) — have yet to file statements of defence.

When reached by the Star, government spokesperson Craig Sumi with the cabinet office declined to comment on a matter subject to legal action but said “ending system (sic) racism” is a top priority.

“While the organization has made a lot of progress, we continue to hear that OPS programs and policies are not addressing the concerns of racialized employees, particularly Indigenous and Black employees,” Sumi said in an email. “The organization is committed to working with our employee networks to make significant progress toward building a more diverse, inclusive workplace where everyone feels comfortable and welcome and is able to fully contribute.”

Both unions named in the lawsuit said they take discrimination complaints “very seriously” and will continue to represent Dixon and Nelson, who remain members. But ALOC “strongly denies” allegations that it discriminated against Dixon and “will defend itself before the courts,” president Megan Peck wrote in an email.

“In representing Ms. Dixon, ALOC has always acted, and will continue to act in accordance with its legal responsibilities, which include the duty to represent Ms. Dixon without discrimination,” Peck said.

A spokesperson for AMAPCEO, Anthony Schein, declined to comment on Nelson’s case but said as a policy matter, the union’s view is that the OPS “continues to struggle with systemic discrimination.”

“For decades, AMAPCEO has been advocating for the OPS employer to end systemic discrimination within the OPS and promote equity in our members’ workplaces,” he wrote. “To this end, AMAPCEO ably responds to individual members’ situations through our dispute resolution process. We also push the employer to address systemic issues.”

In their 113-page statement of claim, Dixon and Nelson allege a pattern of anti-Black racism and harassment that followed them across departments and persisted throughout their public service careers.

Dixon and Nelson, both in their 40s, joined the OPS in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Dixon is a single mom and lawyer with the Ministry of the Attorney General whose office deals with seized property stemming from illegal activity. Nelson, a married mother of three, most recently worked for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, where at one point she was “the only Black employee in an administrative role,” she writes in her claim.

Both women allege the racism they experienced took many forms, everything from bullying and micro-aggressions to racist comments, including from a white female manager who said she “feared” Black women and a colleague who complained about the “face” of the office changing after racialized women were newly hired.

Despite being diligent employees, they were denied professional opportunities, over-scrutinized and subjected to “anti-Black stereotypes and tropes,” according to their claim. Nelson, whose most senior role involved financial reporting and budget management, alleges she was once mistaken for janitorial staff and routinely given “office housework” that wasn’t assigned to non-Black staff — for example, cleaning a dirty basement storage room, or ordering taxi chits and monitoring print supplies, “while a white woman, junior to Hentrose, assumed more meaningful responsibilities.”

Dixon alleges she was also treated with unnecessary suspicion (for example, she was not trusted to maintain custody of valuable credit cards that had been seized for a case she was working on) and “unwarrantedly” labelled as “loud,” “rude” and “aggressive.” At one point, according to her claim, another Black lawyer told Dixon her office colleagues were “organizing or orchestrating acts of discrimination and harassment against her” and told him to “participate in marginalizing Jean-Marie or he would receive the same negative treatment.”

Both women sought help from managers, filed complaints with an internal workplace discrimination program, and grieved through their unions. But according to the claim, none of these measures were effective and speaking up only made matters worse.

Nelson alleges that “as a result of anti-Black racism,” she was demoted to a junior position in 2015 and ultimately forced from the workplace by “mobbing, harassment, discrimination, hostility and ongoing mistreatment.” According to her claim, she also became critically ill in 2011 and delivered her baby prematurely at six months.

Dixon alleges her complaints of anti-Black racism were interpreted as “reverse racism” against Caucasian people and caused her displacement across four ministries. According to her claim, managers eventually “engaged in reprisal” by initiating a workplace complaint against her on behalf of staff who “made false allegations” about her conduct — a complaint that led to her suspension in 2016.

Neither have since returned to work. Nelson is currently on an unpaid leave of absence and Dixon, despite being reinstated in October 2017, says she has been unable to return to work due to a workplace-induced disability. She is still being paid, however.

Both women allege they are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, loss of income and other harms, and are seeking $26 million in damages, along with several public interest remedies.

When reached by email, their lawyer Ranjan Agarwal with the firm Bennett Jones, declined to comment on active litigation.

In recent years, OPS leadership has acknowledged the equity challenges within its own ranks, where racialized workers comprise 23 per cent of the workforce but only 17 per cent of directors, 12 per cent of assistant or associate deputy ministers, and 9 per cent of deputy ministers, according to a 2017 “diversity and inclusion” report. “To create an equitable OPS, we need to recognize that there are systemic racism barriers that prevent people from reaching their full potential,” the OPS stated in its anti-racism policy, released last year under then-secretary of cabinet Steve Orsini, who retired in January.

The anti-racism policy found that 23 per cent of Indigenous employees and 25 per cent of Black employees reported experiencing discrimination, compared to just 13 per cent of the general OPS population. Employee survey results have pointed to systemic issues as well and in 2017, Black employees reported discrimination at nearly twice the rate of OPS employees generally. Last year, according to more than 3,600 survey respondents, race was the leading cause of discrimination next to age.

A Star analysis of data obtained through freedom of information legislation also shows that provincial ministries were named in at least 136 complaints filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario between mid-2008 and 2017, where someone alleged employment discrimination based on race, ancestry, colour, ethnic origin or place of origin. These accounted for roughly a quarter of all employment-related human rights complaints filed against the Ontario government during this time period.

Black employees have been particularly vocal in raising concerns through various forums, including town hall meetings organized by the Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network. On Jan. 18, 2018, more than 20 Black employees, including Dixon and Nelson, also confronted government officials face-to-face, including Liberal MPP Michael Coteau, who was then leading Ontario’s anti-racism directorate.

During the emotional meeting, the group of mostly Black women described experiencing racism on the job and being systematically passed over for opportunities. They said their concerns were ignored or mishandled by senior managers and, in many cases, led to their own suspensions or firings.

“These people that are putting us through this … none of them are ever demoted. We are fired,” one woman said in a video of the meeting posted online. “There’s a lot of Black people in the same position as I am, where they have ambition and they want to be promoted, and they’re not promoted at the same levels as our white counterparts.”

At the meeting, the group demanded a moratorium on the suspension of racialized employees — which was publicly announced the following day by Orsini. Behind the scenes, his office also emailed government ministries to request a list of cases where “someone we presume to be a racialized employee is suspended or off work,” according to internal documents obtained through a freedom of information request. About a week later, 52 cases had been identified.

Sumi said the moratorium allowed the government’s Public Service Commission to “assess the scope of the issue” while providing a central mechanism to assess new cases involving possible suspensions. It was formally lifted on July 27, 2018 after the government completed its review, he said.

In their statement of claim, Dixon and Nelson point to numerous reports, surveys and investigations that suggest the government’s efforts to address systemic racism within the OPS have “proven futile.”

Among them is a confidential 2017 report leaked to the Star, which described a “toxic” work culture within the Ministry of the Attorney General’s civil law division, where Dixon’s office is based. According to Leslie Macleod, a lawyer and former bureaucrat hired by the government to conduct the report, racialized staff within the division reported being marginalized, over-scrutinized, and “perceived and treated as less able than their white counterparts.”

Some racialized staff were told they “got in” because of their race and people felt “unsafe and targeted by colleagues and insufficiently supported by management,” Macleod found. Racialized women felt particularly disadvantaged, she added.

“It was said that when racialized women do get good files, there is an undercurrent of ‘why is she getting good files?’ — something that is not questioned when a senior white male is assigned a high profile case,” Macleod wrote.

In November, the government also publicly released an external review of the government’s workplace discrimination and harassment prevention (WDHP) policy and program “through an anti-racism lens.”

The program is meant to resolve cases of workplace discrimination within the OPS but in their statement of claim, Dixon and Nelson — both of whom launched WDHP complaints — criticized such internal processes as “ineffective in addressing racism.” Lawyer Arlene Huggins, who was hired to conduct the external review, said the government triggered the probe because of its “strong perception” the WDHP program was actually “exacerbating or perpetuating the challenges” of employees struggling with racism.

For her final report, Huggins examined 72 cases and related files; she also chose 13 cases for closer examination, which primarily involved Black women with “significant years of service.” She said employees reported several issues, including WDHP advisers who did not seem to understand the program, lacked training in unconscious bias and anti-Black racism, or pressured employees into excluding important details from their complaints. Some people said they were “yelled at, interrogated and treated like a criminal,” according to Huggins’ report.

Employees also described negative experiences that were “particular to them being Black women,” Huggins wrote; for example, labelled “argumentative, difficult and unco-operative” when they articulated career goals, accused of playing the race card when they complained about unfair treatment, and perceived as ineffective managers.

The WDHP policy does not apply to systemic barriers, yet those barriers played a “material role” in these WDHP complaints, Huggins concluded. Participants she interviewed complained of an “inherent and unconscious bias and anti-Black (or anti-racialized) animus.”

“One complainant with almost 20 years experience reported 58 unsuccessful (job) competitions since 2008,” she said.

In their lawsuit, Dixon and Nelson write that the provincial government is one of Canada’s largest employers, “entrusted with extraordinary power and influence that affect and impact the lives of all Ontarians,” so its actions are particularly consequential.

“Racism is a public health emergency,” they write. “But based on the actual and lived experiences of Black people, there is much skepticism about the commitment or ability of current institutions to address systemic and structural anti-Black racism in Canada.”

Source: Passed over, bullied, mistaken for janitorial staff. Black women sue Ontario public service alleging systemic racism

Diversity of the Black population in Canada: An overview

A really good an in-depth of the diversity in the Canadian Black population. Look forward to the next in the series, contrasting socio-economic outcomes. Important work:

There were almost 1.2 million Black people living in Canada in 2016. The Black population is diverse and has a long and rich history in the country. More than 4 in 10 Black people were born in Canada.

Among the Black population born outside of Canada, the source countries of immigration have changed over time. More than half of this population who immigrated before 1981 were born in Jamaica and Haiti. Black newcomers now come from about 125 different countries, mainly from Africa.

The vast majority of the Black population live in large urban areas. In 2016, 94.3% of Black people lived in Canada’s census metropolitan areas, compared with 71.2% of the country’s total population. Toronto had the largest Black population in the country, with 442,015 people or 36.9% of Canada’s Black population. It was followed by Montréal, Ottawa–Gatineau, Edmonton and Calgary, each home to at least 50,000 Black people.

To illustrate the growth and the diversity of the Black population, a first infographic was released on February 6, 2019. A booklet is now available to provide more information about the richness of diversity among the Black population in Canada. A number of topics are covered in this booklet including population growth, age and sex structure, place of birth, generation status, immigration, ethnic and cultural origins, languages and a few geographical highlights.

….

Conclusion

This portrait of Canada’s Black population from the Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics is based mainly on 2016 Census data. It provides a demographic overview of the Black population, as well as key statistics related to their ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity and a few geographical highlights. However, this portrait is not meant to be exhaustive.

Although it highlights the great diversity within the Black population, it does not present any result related to the several challenges and issues faced by many members of Black communities in Canada.

Challenges and issues such as those related to labour market integration, income inequalities, differential access to resources, health conditions, discrimination, school dropout, etc., may impact differently various groups within the Black population. Moreover, although the Black population generally has similar characteristics compared to the overall population, they often present different socio-economic outcomes. For example, the unemployment rate for the Black population is higher than for Canada’s total population.

Disaggregated 2016 Census data tables with selected demographic, cultural, labour market and income characteristics are available on Statistics Canada’s Census program website which can provide insights on similarities and differences within the Black population as well as between the Black population and other populations in Canada.

New analytical products will be released later which will describe in more detail the characteristics of Canada’s Black population, as well as their socio-economic outcomes.

Source: Diversity of the Black population in Canada: An overview 

ICYMI: They Call Me George, Cecil Foster’s history of black train porters, provides a different perspective on Canada’s past

Important aspects of our history to remember as Black History Month comes to a close:

Cecil Foster has told the stories of Canada in just about every format that exists. He’s been a journalist in both print and radio, as well as a professor, an essayist and a novelist. An immigrant who came to Toronto from Barbados, in the early days of Canada’s official foray into multiculturalism, Foster had the courage to examine the realities of race in this country long before it was commonplace to do so: In 1996, A Place Called Heaven took a long look at whether Canada had lived up to the idea of a peaceable kingdom imagined by black immigrants from the time of the Underground Railroad to the late 20th century.

His most recent work focuses on one of the many black Canadian stories that are suspiciously absent from most history books. It’s all there in the title – They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada. After Indigenous displacement and Chinese labour allowed a shiny new railway to link a newly formed Canada, black men denied other employment options rode them from coast to coast. These sleeping car porters spent weeks away from home tending to riders on Canada’s new trains, often for no wages other than tips. Most passengers declined to learn their names, simply calling them all “George.”

When white unions refused to allow black workers into their ranks, the porters formed their own organizations to demand respect for their labour. These organizations then advocated for black people who wanted to be joined by friends and family members, eventually forcing the relaxation of racist immigration laws. In Foster’s view, Canadian multiculturalism rests on the shoulders of the sleeping car porters. He spoke with the Globe about his passion for documenting their lives, and the ongoing need to reconsider Canadian history.

Why did you decide this is a topic that you wanted to write a whole book on?

There’s very little in Canada about the people who work on the trains, although there’s a lot about the trains. The more I dug into the matter, the more I discovered this amazing story about the time when the only people who worked as sleeping-car porters were black people, and the harsh life that they encountered. I became fascinated by how these men banded together and really changed Canada.

The sleeping-car porters challenged the limitations on immigration to Canada, specifically from the West Indies. I never knew that there was a push to include the British West Indies in Canada dating back to at least Confederation.

Remember, there were very strong links between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the West Indies and the trade that went on between those ports. The idea was that all of these possessions would come together under the single flag, obviously in opposition to the Americans. But Canada always balked at the idea. It could not get over the notion that Canadians cannot be black.

Strong lobbying went on until well into the 1950s and the 60s. But the idea that the West Indies were primarily black, or black and Indian, worked against it. They never fulfilled that dream, from about 1776, that all of these possessions should be under one British flag. One interesting book on the topic is Canadian-West Indian Union: A Forty-Year Minuet by Robin W. Winks.

Do you have other recommendations for people who want to learn more about black history in Canada?

Well, there’s other stuff that I have written. I really strongly would recommend Austin Clarke’s Toronto trilogy. Austin’s trilogy was set in about the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It tells the story of what happened once these porters got the government to allow black women [into Canada].

Canada opened its doors to West Indians by bringing in West Indian women as domestic workers. So Austin Clarke’s trilogy tells the story of how those women came and really struggled. It gives a different dimension to the narrative of what is Canadian literature.

Part of what Black History Month is about, I think, is reframing what we’ve been told. For example, the Black Loyalists: When I went to school, the story was that they wanted to come here during the war with the Americans because of their deep love for the British Crown.

I felt so silly when I first heard it presented a different way – those people did not want to be enslaved any longer, and the Crown promised them freedom. That’s why they came. It’s so obvious. And yet that framing has lasted for 150 years.

That’s what I hope that this book would do, challenge some of that framing, to say, look, here’s another perspective. Here’s another way of viewing of how Canada arrived at what it is today.

One of the things that [the sleeping-car porters] had to deal with was that they were never considered to be genuine Canadians. That is a legacy that many of us face today and that our kids have to face. Even though the demography has changed significantly, there’s still the question of who really is a Canadian.

It’s increasingly becoming an unpleasant issue, with the emergence of Maxime Bernier’s party, or some of the messages that the federal Conservative party conveys about immigrants.

Exactly. And that’s why we need to tell these stories, to remind Bernier and remind [Andrew] Scheer and others that what they are presenting as the true Canada is not really the full story of Canada. I’m presenting an unromanticized story of Canada. Blacks have always been part of the Canadian story, but Canada did not always recognize the contributions that blacks have made.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a lot of academic stuff right now that would bore your readers. Esi Edugyan’s book Washington Black is on my bookshelf. I have identified that as the book that I really want to be engaged with next.

Did you have any challenges putting this together?

Sometimes you have one shot at telling a story and you try to cover so much. The book could easily have been broken down into several different books.

I can see, for example, writing on the relationship between blacks and the Jewish community. Sometimes we tend to forget that there was a very strong relationship between the various smaller communities, the Jewish community, the Chinese communities, the black communities. Back in the 1950s and beyond they formed clear bonds where they rallied together. That is a story that I think is really worth telling on its own.

Source: They Call Me George, Cecil Foster’s history of black train porters, provides a different perspective on Canada’s past

Toronto’s Africentric school draws consistent praise — so why is enrolment flagging?

Interesting to have more information regarding the lack of interest:

When the recess bell rings at Toronto’s Africentric Alternative School, kindergartners file out of a classroom and past a bulletin board with their latest class project on full display.

In it, the five-year-olds were asked to list and explain, “the best part of me.” A quick scan of the board reveals the most common answer, which make up about half of the responses: “I love my hair.”

The answer isn’t surprising to longtime students at the school, which began accepting applications 10 years ago this month.

“They encourage us to love ourselves,” said Grade 8 student Kyeron Banton, who started at the school in September 2009.

“I can walk out, wherever I am, no matter who’s around me, confident in my skin and confident in who I am,” she added.

‘2nd home’ to students

The Africentric Alternative School is one of 19 alternative elementary schools run by the Toronto District School Board. It operates in a wing of the Sheppard Public School, but unlike its neighbour, the curriculum includes a focus on the perspectives, experiences and histories of people of African descent.

It is the only public school of its kind in Canada.

During their time at the school, students learn about African contributions to science and mathematics, and the history of black people in Canada.

In the school’s hallways, posters of Oscar Peterson, Viola Desmond and Colin Kaepernick dominate the walls. Its music room is filled with dozens of African drums and steel pans, which come alive in a rich medley during music class.

Michelle Hughes, who has sent all three of her children to the school, credits the teachers and curriculum for boosting their self-confidence while making her life easier as well.

Hughes enrolled her oldest daughter in 2009, after she experiencing racist bullying at her previous school.

“One thing I don’t have to worry about here is the racism,” she said. “That’s one less thing off my plate.”

Andwele Osbourne James, a boisterous and outgoing Grade 5 student, turns serious when asked about what the school means to him.

“This could be like my second home,” he said. “Students around here are really helpful. They might not be my real siblings but they treat me like it.”

Enrolment struggling after 10 years

Despite glowing reviews from students, graduates and parents, enrolment at the school appears to be declining as it approaches its 10th anniversary this September.

The school has also been dogged by funding challenges and critiques around its vision and mandate.

For the current year, a record-low 107 students attend the Africentric Alternative School, down from a high of 202 in 2012 and 128 in its inaugural year.

The TDSB says fluctuations in enrolment are common at alternative schools, which can generate buzz in their first few years of existence before interest sometimes tapers off. The board also does not provide busing service to its alternative schools.

Principal Luther Brown, who is entering his second year leading the school, says its mission remains as vital and ambitious as it was 10 years ago.

“A lot of people are afraid of the idea of racism and racists. It is a fact that we live in a society that projects a lot of that,” Brown said.

He moves around the school with what might be described as a gentle but unmistakable authority.

“The hope is that [the students] become truly productive citizens who are proud of themselves, who know who they are, who are not afraid to meet the variety of injustices that will come their way,” Brown explained.

While the reasons for flagging enrolment are complex, some parents point to the school’s location near Downsview Park as a major hurdle for families. Students attend the school from as far away as Pickering and Mississauga.

Go wider with Africentric lessons?

Parent Paul Osbourne, who lives in Scarborough, said other areas in the city would benefit from similar schools.

“It has been a huge barrier for those from around the city that want to access the learning,” Osbourne said. “If the model is successful, we should be trying to replicate it in as many spaces and places across the city that we can.”

The TDSB says there are no current plans to open more Africentric schools, but people at the school say the school’s progressive curriculum could instead be better incorporated across the board.

Doing so could help students of all backgrounds feel represented and included in the classroom, they say.

“It’s important, not only black culture, but Indigenous, all the minorities who are not being represented well, they should be learned about so people that come from that can have self-confidence,” said Sekou Osbourne James, a graduate who now attends high school in Scarborough.

Over the next 10 years, Brown says he’d like to see more Africentric schools open around the city, along with a transformation of the TDSB’s standard curriculum to better account for Toronto’s diversity.

At his own school, the goals is to reverse sagging enrolment and have multiple classes at each grade level, and to keep pushing for a more progressive, inclusive learning.

“This could be your lab school, this could be where you test things out,” he said.

Source: Toronto’s Africentric school draws consistent praise — so why is enrolment flagging?

MP says feds stall promise to act on anti-black racism one year after Trudeau pledge

Money was in the 2018 budget so it appears the issue is more with respect to implementation. Given the previous hollowing out of the multiculturalism program and the time needed to rebuild capacity, not that surprising expect perhaps to MPs and stakeholders:

Federal efforts to address systemic issues affecting black Canadians appear to have stalled one year after the prime minister made it an issue, says the head of Parliament’s black caucus as he put words to simmering frustrations with the slow pace of change.

It was a year ago that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for action to ensure equal opportunity and treatment for the more than one million black Canadians to address the “very real and unique challenges that black Canadians face,” including anti-black racism.

The cross-party caucus chairman, Greg Fergus, a Liberal MP from Quebec, described Sunday how the words were the culmination of a long lobbying effort that included politicians from different parties, political assistants and grassroots organizations.

Fergus said he thought the speech would mark a change in how the federal government interacted with black communities.

Instead, he said, the bureaucracy, which moves the machinery of government, doesn’t seem to have responded.

“I thought once you get the prime minister saying it, the whole system responds. But I have discovered how mistaken I was,” Fergus said during a panel discussion at a national summit Sunday.

“If there is not buy-in from the public service — if the public service, the machinery of government is not reflective of the diversity of the country, and doesn’t see that the black community is an important community that you want to deal with — it’s like Astroturf … it exists on the top but there are no roots.”

The two-day National Black Canadians Summit, which was the second one organized by former governor general Michaelle Jean’s foundation, kicked off Saturday.

The first summit laid out areas where the federal government needed to prioritize for work or strengthen efforts.

This time around, the aim is to connect different groups to mobilize the voices of the 1.2 million black Canadians to effectively lobby politicians as the country lurches towards a federal election in the fall.

Fergus’s comments put into focus frustrations voiced during the summit about federal efforts under the banner of the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent, which requires governments to address systemic barriers in laws, services and housing, for instance, for black communities.

Fergus suggested his experience over the last year shows that lobbying isn’t a one-time event, but a constant push.

The Liberals have promised $19 million over five years for mental health and youth programs for black communities, and $23 million more over two years that included money for a broader anti-racism strategy, as part of its efforts.

The election is a chance to amplify the voices of black Canadians, said Richard Picart from the Federation of Black Canadians.

“This community, my community, is becoming more active politically,” he said.

“It’s becoming more difficult to ignore the black elephant in the room.”

A lobby day is planned for Monday where dozens of representatives attending the summit will meet with cabinet ministers and MPs to put forward specific asks and put black voices into the political conversation.

“The message is nothing can happen without us. We’re in. We are in and we need to be considered,” Jean said.

“We’re saying here we are and you need to listen to what we are bringing to the conversation.”

The federal government has been able to hire more blacks into the public service, but once in, they don’t seem to rise to the upper ranks, said Liza Daniel, a founding member of the Federal Black Employees Caucus.

She said the employees caucus is finalizing a report about a gathering in Ottawa last month, where participants talked about ways to improve the system for black civil servants.

Source: MP says feds stall promise to act on anti-black racism one year after Trudeau pledge

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