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.



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

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