During Black History Month, we pay tribute to the activists who, from the Underground Railway to the founding of the earliest Black trade unions – the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters – to those freedom fighters who, like Viola Desmond, sat in designated whites-only areas in defiance of racial segregation laws.
From the Abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights Movement, Black Canadians have secured the rights and freedoms that we take for granted today – the right to vote, the right to receive equal pay for work of equal value.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says Black History Month is an important opportunity to celebrate the activists who have championed civil rights and to think about the challenges that remain.
“Everyone takes pride in the example set by great Canadians like Viola Desmond,” said Thomas. “OPSEU also has a proud history when it comes to trailblazers. The late Fred Upshaw was the first Black president of a major union in Ontario.
“Fred was a mentor to me. He taught me the importance of education and dealing in straight talk to those in power. He was fearless but never reckless. A force but never forceful. Fred was a leader ahead of his time. I owe him much, because under his guidance, I was able to evolve into the leader that I’ve become.”
Thomas also pointed to the work OPSEU is doing today to combat racism and promote diversity.
“OPSEU takes great pride in the work of our committees and caucuses to combat racism and discrimination. We’ve made great strides, but of course we all realize there’s lots of work left to do.”
In 2019, the Coalition of Racialized Workers is heeding the call for equality today by drawing attention to the ongoing disparities in employment, education and health outcomes faced by Black and African Canadians.
“If we remain silent to the way past injustices continue to shape the present,” says Peter Thompson, Chair of the Coalition of Racialized Workers, “we risk the freedoms for all that we struggled so long to achieve.”
To take action this Black History Month, read below to learn about key issues facing diverse Black and African communities in Canada, and join the Coalition of Racialized Workers at Black History Month events in Toronto and in Hamilton.
The Coalition of Racialized Workers has adopted the Ontario anti-Black racism strategy and has recognized the International Decade for People of African Descent. Accordingly, the basis of the strategy is as follows:
“The impact and consequences of our history have created systemic barriers that prevent people from fully participating in all parts of society. This is especially true for Black Ontarians of all backgrounds. Whether they’re recent immigrants or descendants of people who were enslaved, Black Ontarians live a shared present-day experience of anti-Black racism.
“The stigma and stereotypes Black Ontarians and communities face have impacted public policies, decision-making and services. As a result, in nearly every measure of opportunity, security and fairness in our society, anti-Black racism is felt.”
It is well known that all racialized communities are impacted by systemic racism, but the data shows that it is in the Black and African (along with the non-racialized Indigenous communities) that it is most pernicious.
“Prejudice runs deep through our shared history. Where prejudices have shaped the policies, practices and procedures of institutions we use every day, we must work to eliminate them.
“Systemic racism can lead to the over-representation of racialized, Black and Indigenous people in our jails and children’s aid services. It can lead to Indigenous youth facing unfair economic challenges, and being unable to access healthcare. It can explain why Islamophobia and anti-Black attitudes persist, and often intersect.” – Kathleen Wynne, former Premier of Ontario.
And just because Ontario has a different Premier now does not mean that the facts entrenched in centuries of oppression, ill-treatment and racism simply disappear.
The Board voted in full support of the submissions thereby bringing about a milestone within our union.
The Decade for People of African Descent
Objectives of the Decade
The main objectives of the International Decade are as follows:
- Promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people of African Descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies;
- Adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks according to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to ensure their full and effective implementation.
The themes of the “Decade” are Recognition, Justice and Development.
It is also worthy of note the OPSEU Board has thrown its support behind both the “Strategy” and the “Decade” has indicated its full support in that regard.
For more in depth information please visit the United Nations Website below:
The Coalition aims to undertake projects and programs that will attack the invisibility of our communities with over 200 million People of African Descent in diaspora.
These programs will lead to a different way in which we will organize in our respective Communities. The Coalition now has three vice chairs representing diverse communities one of which is to lead on matters pertinent to Black and African affairs within and outside our union. We will be creating infrastructure that caters to issues concerning anti-colonialism in employment, child welfare, the criminal justice system, and access to equitable healthcare in particular and visibility in general.
Combatting Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System
The Coalition renews the call to labour to combat the systemic and institutional racism historically enshrined in the policies and practices of the criminal justice system and in racial profiling.
In recent months, the PC government stopped the implementation of Bill 175 – the Special Investigations Unit Act – that was intended to repeal and replace the Police Services Act and to create new police oversight legislation, including the Police Oversight Act and the Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunals Act. The legislation was unprecedented in policing history and was the direct result of years of community and labour activism following the death of black men and women at the hands of the Toronto Police Services, including the shooting death of Andrew Loku.
In 2016 the Coalition paid tribute to the black men and women who had been the subject of fatal police violence: Jermaine Carby, who was shot and killed by Peel police during a routine traffic stop in 2014; Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in New York City; and Andrew Loku, who was killed after a confrontation with police in his apartment in northwest Toronto in 2015. The Coalition also celebrated legal victories like Abbott v. Toronto Police Services Board, a case before the Human Rights Tribunal that led to the finding that “race” and gender played a role in the Toronto Officers’ failure to de-escalate the situation involving a young woman, Sharon Abbott, who was stopped by police while on her newspaper route. For more information: https://opseu.org/news/remember-reflect-and-take-action-black-history-month-2016
As a result of the widespread protests following the acquittal of the police of wrong-doing in Loku’s death and in the context of longstanding legal challenges like Abbott v. Toronto Police Services, the Ontario Liberal government appointed Honorary Justice Tulloch to lead an independent oversight and review of Policing. His recommendations formed the framework and legislation that was proposed in Bill 175 and that was to be the beginning of the largest policing transformation in Ontario in decades.
The Bill itself significantly addresses the systemic barriers faced by the black community who are disproportionately impacted by policing, racial profiling and imprisonment. The legislation for the first time recognizes and enshrines principles of the Charter and the Code as essential to effective policing. It also enhances accountability by mandating reporting of oversight agencies, allowing an independent Tribunal to oversee and impose meaningful disciplinary measures, and provided a pathway for culture change in policing, not just through training initiatives, but through demographic representation on boards and the creation of audits to address systemic discrimination. For more information: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/standing-committee-justice-policy-%E2%80%93-bill-175-safer-ontario-act-chief-commissioners-remarks
Righting the Wrongs of Economic Injustice
The Coalition of Racialized Workers have for many years urged action to challenge the economic disparity faced by Black Canadians.
A recent study conducted by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Persistent Inequality, shows that little has changed in over a decade.
The statistics are particularly alarming with respect to distinctions between racialized groups. Black and African Canadians on all measures of income inequality fared the worst – they faced higher unemployment rates and the widest gaps in income earnings than their non-racialized counterparts. This means that the specific impact of anti-black racism in Ontario workplaces has a significant, disproportionate and adverse impact on the income and earnings of black Canadians and warrants further action.
Addressing anti-black discrimination in the labour market will also require the implementation of bold policies like employment equity and challenges to the repeal of legislation like Bill 148. The dismantling of the legislation and increases in the minimum wage and pay equity provisions that reduce the gap between full-time, part-time and temporary workers – will likely contribute to increasing the racial income gap in Ontario.
Black History Month Events
Organizing for Migrant Justice
Following the sold-out screening of Migrant Dreams at OPSEU’s Human Rights Conference in December, the Coalition of Racialized Workers invites all members to an extended discussion of migrant justice issues.
Date: February 15
Location: Toronto Regional Office
Time: 6-9 p.m.
Snacks and Refreshments will be served. To RSVP, contact Patrick Riley Treasurer of the R5 Coalition of Racialized Workers, email: email@example.com
Region 2 Black History Month: “It Takes A Riot”
The Region 2 Coalition of Racialized Workers presents a screening and discussions of “It Takes A Riot” in commemoration of the Yonge Street uprising that took place on May 4, 1992.
Date: February 22, 2019
Location: Hamilton Regional Office, 505 York Blvd., 2nd Floor
Time: 6-9 p.m.
“It Takes A Riot” is a film about when a march against anti-Black police violence turned into a riot. The march was organized by black community activists, civil rights groups and police and criminal justice system watchdogs. While media and politicians called it a riot, others, including anti-racism activists, called it a “rebellion,” even an “uprising.”
“It Takes A Riot” is a documentary film exploring the events of May 4, 1992, its historical context, political impact, and relevance to contemporary struggles against anti-Black racism.
The film will be followed by discussion with Simon Black, professor of Labour Studies at Brock University, and Idil Abdillahi, professor in the School of Social Work at Ryerson University.
All members are welcome. Food and Refreshments will be served. To RSVP, contact Michael Kirlew, Chair of the R2 Coalition of Racialized Workers at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Black & African Health Month Series
Date: February 21, 2019
Time: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Location: Harriet Tubman Centre, York University
Many Black and African communities are wary of a month of a year where the system “allows” them to be Black and African for a month of the year, for obvious reasons and therefore a response in some quarters was to develop the Black and African Health Month.
This was coined by an OPSEU member, Kola Iluyomade, in Region 5 to highlight the health inequalities in the communities and to highlight the need to respond to the prevalence of disease that need to addressed.
It is also about the fact that the “history” is about the past and the communities are in the present and also have a future. Hence the tagline #WeAreMoreThanHistory.
The basis of the Black Health Month Series is steeped in the Community Health Centre care model and the vehicle of this service delivery is through health promotion and community capacity building.
The model states amongst other things:
“Services within CHCs are structured and designed to eliminate system-wide barriers to accessing health care such as poverty, geographic isolation, ethno- and culture-centrism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, language discrimination, ageism, ableism and other harmful forms of social exclusion……. This would include the provision of culturally appropriate programs and services, programs for the non-insured, optimal location and design of facilities, oppression-free environments and 24 hour on-call services.”
“The health of individuals and populations are impacted by the social determinants of health including shelter, education, food, income, a stable eco-system, and sustainable resources, anti-oppression, inclusion, social justice, equity and peace. CHCs strive for improvements in social supports and conditions that affect the long-term health of their clients and community, through participation in multi-sector partnerships, and the development of healthy public policy, within a population health framework.”
The Black Health Month Series is a health promotion program to address the health inequalities in the diverse communities of the Black and African Communities we serve.
Last year which was the first, the focus was on mental health and well-being with the communities, with a symposium at the Humber River Hospital. This year the focus is on youth with the launch of an anti-black racism youth leadership Program, in Jane Finch funded by the City of Toronto. (This Program is in partnership with five other agencies in five areas in the City of Toronto.)
Additionally, the “Free Up Yourself” program is a positive wellbeing eight week stint of physical activity through dance expression led by the renown Nathan Baya.
For more information please contact Kola at 416-249-8000 X2235.