Black Canadian groups call on feds to address economic inequities facing community

Will be interesting to see what, if any, concrete initiatives emerge from this meeting. The Federation of Black Canadians was successful in securing funding for anti-racism programming:

A collective of Black Canadian groups is appealing to the prime minister to address the barriers that prevent the community from achieving economic parity with the rest of the country.

The Black Political Action Committee’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), Diversity Minister Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.), and Liberal MPs Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.) and Emmanuel Dubourg (Bourassa, Que.), on Feb. 3 is part of a long-running lobbying effort during Black History Month to engage the government and other Parliamentarians in its efforts to tackle anti-Black racism.

With this year’s effort focused on the theme of economic inclusion, the collective brought together several groups and individuals—including Arielle Kayabaga, the first Black city councillor in London, Ont., Dahabo Ahmed Omer of the Federation of Black Canadians, and Michael Forrest of the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce—engaged in this field.

Economic inclusion is “the basis for all other aspects of what inclusion might mean,” said Tiffany Gooch, a Liberal strategist and principal consultant at Aurora Strategy Group, who spearheaded the effort for Black organizations to meet with Parliamentarians in Ottawa, which is in its fourth year. This year marked the effort’s first sit-down as a group with the prime minister, according to Ms. Gooch.

Among their asks was a call to increase Black representation across government and other arm’s-length institutions and to level the playing field in competing for federal procurement contracts. “We want it to be closer to the representation of Black Canadians in population,” Ms. Gooch said. “There’s often a lot of stages involved and red tape, and not a very large understanding of the processes.”

One proposal floated by the collective was to change the points system for awarding tenders, giving firms with a diverse workforce more points.

Black Canadians account for more than 3.5 per cent of the population and 15.6 per cent of visible minorities, according to Statistics Canada. The agency projects that, by 2036, the community might represent between five and 5.6 per cent of Canada’s population.

Public Services and Procurement Canada does not currently have disaggregated data that breaks down the contracts “awarded to specific groups, outside of Indigenous companies,” according to a departmental spokesperson. But the spokesperson noted its Office of Small and Medium Enterprises “is increasing activities across the country to diversify the Canadian bidders and suppliers represented,” and will be on hand at the National Black Canadians Summit in Halifax in March, organized by the Michäelle Jean Foundation, to offer workshops on the procurement process.

Anecdotally, Ms. Ahmed Omer said her organization has observed that Black businesses tend to employ two to three people. “If we’re able to increase that, from two to three, to four to five, that micro change would allow for a macro impact,” she said.

“We got a lot of time with the prime minister. We asked for a response on some of the metrics we’re looking to track the success in the work they’re doing,” Ms. Kayabaga said. “It was more than a photo-op.”

In 2019, the government committed to spend $25-million over five years “for projects and capital assistance to celebrate, share knowledge, and build capacity” in Canada’s Black Canadian communities. The previous year it also recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, which wraps up in 2024.

Mr. Fergus pointed to the funding, and the creation of an anti-racism secretariat to oversee the culture in the federal public service, as an outgrowth of the Black Canadian community’s efforts to press the government to respond.

In explaining why he helped facilitate the meeting, Mr. Fergus said, he did not set out to become a standard bearer for the Black Canadian community in its push for equity when he was first elected in 2015. “But when you see this lack of representation, and you hear from communities, ‘Thank God you’ve made it,’ you feel a responsibility to try to open doors.”

Ms. Ahmed Omer said the task before the government now is to ensure programs and services established to help Black Canadians’ businesses scale up have adequate resources, noting that the UN decade, which Canada adopted, outlines a commitment to advancing economic equality.

‘Elephant in the room’ 

The meeting took place several months after news broke in the middle of the federal election campaign that Mr. Trudeau had worn blackface on more occasions than he could recall. While some members of the community believe Mr. Trudeau’s actions reflected a lack of education on racial issues, others argue that the prime minister should have resigned.

Though Mr. Trudeau’s history did not affect the tenor of the meeting, Ms. Gooch said, “it’s always going to be the elephant in the room.”

“The work they’re [Liberals] doing is going to need to speak for itself,” Ms. Gooch said. “Education is likely coming from all the conversations he’s going to be having across communities. The measure of him as a leader is how he grows from that.”

Though the committee does not purport to be fully representative of the Black community, the Federation of Black Canadians faced scrutiny a few years ago from other prominent Black activists, including journalist Desmond Cole, for being seen as cozy with the Liberals after news surfaced that the group was founded by a sitting judge, Ontario justice Donald McLeod, and counted the wife of then-immigration minister, Mr. Hussen, as its member. Both eventually left the group amid criticism.

“You can find a few well-connected Black people and get into a private meeting with them, where we don’t see what you talk about, where we don’t understand which Black people even informed the agenda,” said Desmond Cole in an interview with The Hill Times on the release of his book, The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, in which he dug into the history of the Federation of Black Canadians. “The Liberal Party is completely capable of finding their handpicked, elite class to meet behind closed doors.”

Asked whether such criticism that their ties posed conflicts of interest, Ms. Ahmed Omer said she wasn’t a member of the federation at the time, but that one’s political connections should not bar him or her from participating in “civic duties.”

“We are Black Canadians; we all have a stake in this,” Ms. Ahmed Omer said, adding that the committee’s engagement extended to opposition parties. “I would not agree with the idea that we were too cozy with the Liberals.”

Mr. Fergus dismissed the notion that an individual’s political affiliation bears weight in deciding who he meets with. “I don’t see the relevance of that,” he said. “I have no idea who has ties to the Liberals. This is ridiculous.”

But Ms. Gooch acknowledged that her connections to the Liberal Party didn’t hurt in helping arrange meetings with Parliamentarians.

“All of our communities, political operatives have some sort of political partisan ties. … I try as much as possible to encourage all of these groups to have partisan ties,” she said. “My longtime volunteer and work with the party’s apparatus definitely means I have few numbers to follow up on the logistical side. But across parties, we’ve had a very wide interest in engaging [with us].”

Source: Black Canadian groups call on feds to address economic inequities facing community

Black advocates must put cause ahead of career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget 2018 invests millions in multiculturalism – iPolitics

Further to yesterday’s entry, Canadian Press article:

With one eye on ultra-nationalist movements appearing around the world, the Liberal government boosted funding in this week’s federal budget to address issues of anti-immigrant sentiment and racism bubbling up at home.

Funds for multiculturalism programs, initiatives for the Black Canadian community and a new centre to better analyze and collect data on diversity and inclusion were all included in Tuesday’s budget, a clear acknowledgment on the part of the Trudeau government that the current global climate is putting the prime minister’s “diversity is our strength” mantra to the test.

“Recent domestic and international events, like the rise of ultra-nationalist movements and protests against immigration, visible minorities and religious minorities, remind us that standing up for diversity and building communities where everyone feels included are as important today as they ever were,” the budget said in laying out the overarching goals of the funding.

The first piece: $23 million more over two years for multiculturalism programming that includes the formation of a new, national anti-racism plan, but that will also be spent through community organizations to assist with integration efforts in tandem with the Liberals’ decision to increase immigration levels over the next three years.

Details will be made public in the coming months, said Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

Joly said diversity and inclusion are fundamental for the government.

“We decided to really invest.”

Concerns about integration routinely surface in research conducted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“As much as participants valued diversity, many were concerned with our society’s ability and willingness to accommodate so many diverse cultures and whether our model of accommodation is entirely successful,” read a report on focus groups held last year ahead of the release of the immigration plan.

“A few general population participants were concerned with how some parts of Canada might be ‘losing their identity’ because of the volume and concentration of immigrants. They were also concerned with racism among some locals and how Canadian society is challenged by individuals who are not open to cultural diversity or who discriminate against specific ethnicities.”

It’s not all just talk. Following white nationalist protests in the U.S. this last summer, there was a sudden surge in activity by similar groups in Canada, though never on the same scale.

The second big piece for Joly’s department is $19 million over five years to support youth at risk and for research in support of more culturally focused mental-health programs in the Black Canadian community.

The specific allocation for that community represents the results of a concerted lobbying effort by the newly formed Federation of Black Canadians, along with members of the Liberal government’s own Black caucus, who’ve mounted a full-court press to draw more attention to a suite of issues facing.

Donald McLeod, an Ontario justice who heads the steering committee helping the federation get off the ground, said in his view, the money being allocated is part of a far bigger pot.

He also counts $214 million earmarked in the budget to remove racial barriers, promote gender equality and combat homophobia and transphobia, all issues that affect the quality of life for Black Canadians.

While the budget may reference the current global climate, McLeod said he sees the funding as reflective of a domestic moment in time.

“We need help,” he said. “And so I think because we need help it’s a voice that’s been echoing in the halls, in organizations, in supermarkets, in places of business, in educational facilities, so that, no matter where you go, you’re continuously hearing the fact that we need help.”

The funds for Black Canadians are also linked to an announced by Prime Minister Trudeau earlier this month that Canada will endorse the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent, obliging the government to take strides to ensuring the full and equal participation of Black Canadians.

The third major tranche of money comes via $6.7 million over five years to give Statistics Canada the ability to better analyze and collect data on diversity and inclusion.

That, along with the anti-racism strategy that will be built by Heritage, reflect two of the recommendations from a recent House of Commons committee study on combating Islamophobia and systemic discrimination and racism.

via Budget 2018 invests millions in multiculturalism – iPolitics