Over the past few months, we have seen mass protests in Canada and the US against racism, Doug Ford, and against pipelines being built in Wet’suwet’en territory. There is a lot of anger in our communities over racism, discrimination and the future of our respective countries. We have been united but also divided in how we respond to these issues. Building on previous movements, there have been protests by Wet’suwet’en citizens and Indigenous and Canadian allies to protect Indigenous environmental rights in Canada. Black Lives Matter protests took place and are continuing to take place in Canada, the US, and all over the world after the highly publicized death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers. As the protests continue, sometimes fatigue sets in with activists and it leads us to wonder, in the face of continuing cut-backs and systemic racism, if we even have the energy to continue. But the work we do is important. And we don’t have to look far to find inspiration from previous times.
Over the years, many of us have joined together through OPSEU and our local organizations to advocate and make space for BLM and Indigenous voices demanding societal change. As we look to make our union and the labour movement stronger, we can continue to partner with our allies in racial justice movements. As our recent tele-townhall showed, many of our members are deeply affected by anti-black racism. As a racialized person, I can also point to my own experiences with racism. We all have a part to play in dismantling systemic racism. We can support these movements and also take lessons from how they started and how they continue to mobilize. The Black Lives Matter movement crystallized in 2014 after the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Oka Crisis, in which the Canadian Forces, the RCMP, and Quebec provincial police were called to put down a peaceful protest by the Kanien’kehà:ka community of Kanesatake. In 2020, a lot of us may be questioning the point of activism when things seem to be so bad, especially in a COVID-19 world, but we don’t have to look far to see that success of activism.
Protests work. Activism works. Even in 2020 alone, we have been able to come together and advocate for our rights. OPSEU successfully negotiated pandemic pay and enhanced protections for their workers during COVID-19. The Wet’suwet’en protests and solidarity protests by Indigenous peoples and Canadian allies resulted in a memorandum of understanding being signed that Canadian and British Columbian governments recognized the rights and titles that are held under the Wetʼsuwetʼen’s own system of governance. The Canadian and BC governments also committed to a 12 month process to negotiate land and resource planning, and child and family wellness. The BLM protest in the US and across the world resulted in the officers involved in George Floyd’s death being arrested, multiple jurisdictions committing to defunding the police and reallocating funds to social services that can better serve community needs, numerous other areas have committed to police reforms, and non-governmental organizations have also recognized the importance of ending institutionalized racism.
There is still more work to do. There are numerous other incidents that need to be addressed. We still need to continue to fight for our frontline members who face on-going labour issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous Toronto woman fell to her death during a police wellness check. Although recently cleared of any wrongdoing by Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, her family believes that the police still had a duty of care when they entered her apartment. The death of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in her sleep during a raid on her house, still has not resulted in charges for anyone involved. Two oil spills occurred on Wet’suwet’en territory in late May, just as their people feared. The death of Chantel Moore, a member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, during a police wellness check, shows that so much work needs to be done.
Collective action works. Protests this year alone showed that when people across Canada and the world come together to stand-up for all of our rights, we can accomplish great things. We must continue to build upon our accomplishments and stand up for the rights of racialized and Indigenous peoples in Canada and all over the world to dismantle systemic racism and protect our rights and the rights of our children to live in a world free from environmental damage and discrimination. We must continue to stand up for our members in the workplace. The price of inaction is too high. We can and will accomplish great things together if we stay with the fight.
Riese Stuber, they/them/ils, Local 649 Shop Steward, Local JHSC Member, Region 6 Provincial Young Workers Committee Rep, Ministry of the Attorney General Ministry Employee Relations Committee Member