Announcement

Black History Month: Black facts for February 20

Publication Date

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 9:00am

This Black History Month, the Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) reflects on the tremendous shifts in public discourse, policy and legislation that have had significant impact on black workers and racialized communities.

These changes are the result of the decades of activism of Black activists, human rights and labour advocates who continue to play a key role in securing rights and in building movements for social change. To this end, in 2018, the WOCC highlights the achievements and the legacy of anti-racist and human rights movements in its black history project, Black Facts.

February 20: The Anti-Apartheid Movement

Between 1980 and 1990, major anti-apartheid protests took place across Ontario and activist groups expanded rapidly. During this time, inquiries into Canadian businesses with ties to South Africa multiplied and demands for consumer boycotts and disinvestments gained currency. The campaigns were varied, targeting everything from racism in the Toronto Sun to divesting City Hall employees’ pension funds from South African companies.  Groups like the Montreal Center for Information and Documentation for Mozambique and South Africa (CIDMAA) and the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of South Africa (TCLSAC), produced educational materials that became critical resources for the anti-apartheid movement. The CLC and groups like: “ South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) created Organize or Starve and Trafficking in Apartheid: the Case for Canadian Sanctions against Apartheid also guiding documents for the movement.”

In the early 1980s, the International Defence and Aid Fund for South Africa (IDAFSA) was established in Canada and by 1984, the organization had more than 10,000 Canadian supporters. IDAFSA along with groups like TCLSAC continued to lobby all four of Canada’s big chartered banks to end lending to South Africa (finally achieved in 1984!) and applied similar pressure to security firms and credit unions, as well as taking up action to monitor banks’ compliance to no-loan policies and disinvestment to South Africa.

Between May 7- 9 1982, the largest anti-apartheid conference in Canada took place in Ottawa. More than 500 people representing a cross-section of Ontario and Quebecois organizations and labour unions met to discuss the latest developments in South Africa and Namibia and investigate the role of the Canadian government in South Africa. They also planned a course of action for future solidarity work. The stated purpose of the conference was to “Mobilize support for the African National Congress (ANC) and the South West African Peoples Organization (SWAPO) on a Canada-wide scale and to analyze the role of the Canadian government as part of the ‘contact group’ mediating between South Africa and SWAPO.” The speakers at the conference included Alfred Nzo and Thabo Mbeki from the ANC, and Hidipo Hamutenya from SWAPO.

Black organizations doing anti-apartheid work like the Anti-Apartheid Coalition of Toronto and Canadians Concerned about Southern Africa (CCSA) took the lead in raising black consciousness and critical dialogue about the role of Canadian institutions in supporting apartheid.

“There was just a spontaneous eruption of solidarity. In the future, wherever people rise up against injustice, (Nelson) Mandela’s name will be brought up.”

  • Lennox Farrell, Anti-Apartheid activist

These groups were especially active across university campuses, staging protests at the University of Toronto when Glen Babb, the South African Ambassador was invited to speak under the guise of free speech. Prominent human rights lawyer, Yola Grant said: “for a lot of us that was viewed as a provocation.”

The Anti-Apartheid Coalition of Toronto and CCSA also challenged racism within the existing movement. Grant described how CCSA’s annual celebration of African Liberation Day drew the ire of black activists for being an overwhelmingly ‘white affair.’ The groups also organized underground protests. A key Anti-Apartheid activist, Lennox Farrell would attend local stores in his community and at the check-out at Jane and Finch Mall, he would suddenly “discover” that a ‘Made in South Africa’ product was among his groceries. He’d then leave an entire cartload of food on the conveyor belt.

February 16: The Black Women’s Collective

The Black Women's Collective (BWC) was active in Toronto between 1986 and 1989 and denounced both sexism and racism, as well as being active in several other feminist organizations. The Collective consisted of community and labour activists including: Faith Nolan, Dionne Brand, Afua Cooper, Patricia Hayes, Grace Channer, Debbie Douglas, Pauline Peters, and June Gabriel.

The group was involved in the creation of the Women's Coalition against Racism and Police Violence to condemn the police shooting of Sophia Cook (October 27, 1989), as well as the shootings of Lester Donaldson (August 9, 1988), and Michael Wade Lawson (December 8, 1988). All the shootings occurred within a 15-month period.

At a rally against racism and police violence on December 16, 1989, the Collective issued a public  statement:

“It has been two months since the shooting of Sophia Cook and ten years since the Black Community has asked and agitated for an independent civilian investigative body. In the ten years since the first spate of police killings, the Black Community has paid in blood and brutality for a policing system which refuses to acknowledge racism as part of police practise in the Black Community...”

To read the 1989 statement PDF iconblackwomenscollective-dec1989

The Collective also published “Our Lives: Canada’s First Black Women’s Newspaper.” The purpose of the newspaper was to provide a forum for black women to discuss issues they encountered in their daily lives, to share their experiences, and to express their demands. For example, in its March 1989 issue, the Collective argued for a higher minimum wage because “black women suffer economically from low-paying and low status jobs which remain unaffected by affirmative action or pay equity…”; the right to work; universal daycare, and amnesty for non-status “underground” women.

While the group campaigned to highlight the specific issues affecting black women, its members struggled for black women’s equality recognition in Canadian society, but also within the women's movement itself. The group proposed a dialogue to change the feminist activism of the 1980s, largely represented by non-racialized middle-class women, towards greater openness and understanding of  racialized communities. The Coalition stated: “We feel the contradictions raised at this year’s Coalition were/are necessary steps in building the base of sisterhood. There was no going around it…It had to be lived in order to be analyzed and understood. In other words, sisterhood had to be struggled for.” In collaboration with the Coalition of Visible Minority Women, and the Toronto Branch of the Congress of Black Women, the group became involved in the organization of the 1989 International Women’s Day, and proposed the theme of poverty as the main theme for this day.

•             Compiled with information from the Archives and Special Collections, University of Ottawa http://biblio.uottawa.ca/en/archives-and-special-collections/blog/document-month-feb-2018 and the RiseUp! Fenimist Archive http://riseupfeministarchive.ca/publications/our-lives-canadas-first-black-womens-newspaper/

February 15:  Alliance for Employment Equity

The Alliance for Employment Equity was formed in 1987 as a province-wide coalition of more than one hundred community groups and labour organizations. The main goal of the Alliance was to achieve and ensure mandatory employment equity legislation was implemented and enforced by the Ontario government.

The Alliance staged protests, conferences, and one year, it interrupted the breakfast hosted by the Secretary of State for Canada on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to highlight the urgency of enacting employment equity legislation.

“The Labour-community alliance was effective. Labour got to hear the community’s perspective. It was helpful in understanding the challenges…”

  •          June Veecock, labour rep on the Alliance

The Alliance worked closely with Bob Rae to formulate the framework for a Private Member’s Bill--Bill 176--which would later be legislated as the Employment Equity Act.  The legislation guaranteed that employers and employees would identify and remove barriers to employment opportunities for certain groups facing historic disadvantage in employment –women, racialized and Indigenous workers, and workers with disabilities. The Alliance pressed for principles of equity and for the types of workplaces in which employees did not just fit into existing workplace culture but were valued for the diversity of their contributions and their experience and qualifications.

In 1995, the Tory government began the process of dismantling employment equity legislation. The Conservative government began by expunging reference to “designated groups” in the legislation and introduced Bill 8—an Act to Repeal Job Quotas and Restore Merit-based Employment. The Alliance fought back. They argued that Bill 8 was a way to discredit employment equity event before it was fully enacted. The characterization of a “quota system” was simply wrong because employment equity legislation never called for it; rather, it required employers to set attainable goals and the full representation of designated groups in order to end the discrimination they had faced.

  • Adapted from Eds. Gayle MacDonald and Rachel L. Osbourne (2005) “An Attempt to Save Employment Equity: Community Advocacy Versus the Ontario Government” in Feminism, Law, Inclusion: Intersectionality in Action. Sumach: Tooronto and from Salome Lukas and Judy Vashti Persad (2004), Through the Eyes of Workers of Colour: Linking Struggles for Social Justice. A project of Women Working with Immigrant Women and the Toronto and District Labour Council

February 14: The Coalitions against Racism

In the early 1980’s , a proliferation of anti-racist organizations emerged in response to the shooting of Andrew “Buddy” Evans by a police officer at a nightclub on King Street West and the shooting death of Albert Johnson who was killed in his apartment by two police officers.  Organizations like the Committee for Racial Equality, the Riverdale Action Committee against Racism, and the Parkdale Coalition against Racism called for greater police accountability. In addition, given the sudden rise of far-right hate groups across Canada, the Coalitions mobilized to publicize and demonstrate against Neo-Nazi attacks of racialized, new immigrant, and LGBTTIAQQ2S communities.
 
In 1993, the formation of a new group, the Toronto Coalition against Racism (TCAR), a collective of women, racialized people and gays and lesbians, immediately responded to the near fatal assault of Sivarajah Vinasithamby. The Sri Lankan Tamil and Refugee worker was left brain-damaged and paralyzed by the violence he suffered in the attack by Neo-Nazis. At the time, TCAR also organized demonstrations against the police shootings of two black men-- Ian Coley and Albert Moses, raising concerns about systemic racism in policing.
 
In the same year, TCAR was involved with exposing the racially-motivated events that were later dubbed the “Somalia Affair.” At the time, shocking photographs surfaced of the murder of Somali teenager, Shidane Arone,  at the Canadian Airborne Regiment base in Somalia. TCAR along with other community, labour and civil rights organizations led the call for a public inquiry. Eventually, evidence uncovered by the investigation reveales a culture of racism and hate in the Airborne Regiment—evidence of racist hazing rituals, degrading photos and videotapes, and evidence of Neo-Nazi statements and hate group affiliations of members of the Regiment.
 
The Toronto Coalition against Racism also did broad advocacy work to change policing, immigration, and economic systems. When Bill C-44 was enacted in 1993— proposed in that aftermath of the “Just Desserts” shooting, TCAR mobilized to challenge public perception and the legislation. Since the media presented the shooting as the fault of Jamaican immigrants significant “moral panic” ensued and the shooting led to serious misconceptions of criminality unfairly blamed on the black community.
 
Bill C-44 proposed new policing of immigrants that allowed the Minister of Immigration to determine that a permanent resident constituted a “danger to the public” and therefore a removal order could be issued without the right to appeal. Community and labour activists argued that Bill C-44 demonstrated how stereotypical perceptions of racialized communities intersected with the criminalization of Blacks, specifically Jamaican immigrants, in order to justify their deportation.  At the time, the number of criminal deportations from Canada was at an all-time high. Between July 1995 and December 1997, Jamaicans represented the majority (more than 40%) of removals from Canada of those who had been declared a danger to the public.
 

February 13: The Committee against the Deportation of Immigrant Women

The Committee against the Deportation of Immigrant Women emerged after increasing numbers of black women from the Caribbean were deported in 1976. At the time, the Committee dealt with the cases of nine women from the Caribbean who were charged with misrepresenting information on their original immigration applications for status in Canada as domestic workers. Black community workers and labour activists began to mobilize around the issue including members of CUPE, OPSEU, and labour activists like Carolyn Egan, Deb Parent, Dionne Brand, and Makeda Silvera.

The Committee also developed a position paper that argued that immigrants were being used as a source of cheap labour by Canadian corporations: Noranda Mines, Inco, Falcon Bridge, Alcan and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Racialized workers were being forced to work for wages that were unacceptable to most Canadian workers. In addition, past efforts towards unionization had been threatened by the workers’ immigrant status. Immigrant workers were used as the “scapegoats” for Canada's high unemployment. Finally, while Canada generously handed out aid to Jamaica, it also simultaneously deported large numbers of Jamaican women and their children, thus increasing that country's economic problems.

  • Reproduced from: Sherona Hall (1977), “Position Paper: Committee Against the Deportation of Immigrant Women” and Salome Lukas and Judy Vashti Persad, Through the Eyes of Workers of Colour: Linking Struggles for Social Justice. A project of Women Working with Immigrant Women and the Toronto and District Labour Council.

February 12: The 34 Milrod Metals Workers Fired Committee

The Keith Milrod Metals strike stands as an example of racialized communities taking a leadership role in mobilizing support for workers of colour involved in a major labour dispute.

In 1976, Canadian-based Keith Milrod Metals Company, which employed a large number of black workers, was taken over by a U.S. company. The new employer set production levels at such a high standard, most employees couldn’t attain it. The plant manager who called himself “007” after the James Bond character, went so far as to call the workers “mules.” To set an example to other workers, management fired thirty-three black workers and a South Asian worker who was singled out as most militant. Black community activists including Owen Leach, Lennox Farrel, and Sherona Hall formed the 34 Milrod Workers Fired Committee and spearheaded the organizing of community and labour support for the workers.  Many union activists and community groups joined the struggle.

“We picketed the plant one winter day in the blistering cold, when the ground was all white, with the sun shining bright and cold as hell.”

- Sherona Hall, Community Activist

A complaint was filed with the Labour Board but the Board determined that the actions taken by Milrod Metals were high-handed but legal. The decision was appealed and lost. Finally, action at the Ombudsman led to small awards for the workers for “inconveniences.”

February 9: Resistance in Africville

Africville was a black community located at the South shore of the Bedford Basin on the outskirts of Halifax that existed from 1848 until it was demolished in 1964. Hundreds of individual black families had settled there, and the community was extremely close-knit. The community had its own store, school, post office and church until its destruction by the City of Halifax.

Residents in Africville protested the conditions they were forced to live in because the city failed to provide residents basic necessities that others in Halifax took for granted-- sewage, access to clean water, and garbage disposal. It was said of the community: “Where the pavement ended, Africville began.”

The city also began to encroach on the settlement and environmental concerns about the community were compounded by undesirable development in and around Africville. The developments included an infectious disease hospital, a slaughterhouse, a prison and the City’s garbage dump. The residents of Africville continued to protest calling for the establishment of basic services and challenging the industrialization of the neighborhood. Residents also foraged the dump to sell back useable items to the very people who had thrown them away.

Instead of providing Municipal services, the City of Halifax eventually decided to relocate residents. The city commissioned various reports that called for “urban renewal” in order to take advantage of the “highest potential and use of land, and the elimination of over-crowded areas.” In other words, the reports supported the goals of building industry and infrastructure in the area at the expense of black residents who had been living in the community for over a century.

The decision to relocate Africville was made between 1962 and 1964. Sadly, the language of human rights was used to justify the relocation. Residents and the government was advised that relocation would improve standards of living for most residents. Yet, decisions were made about the community without meaningful consultation with the residents. It was later reported that 80 per cent of residents never had any contact with the Halifax Human Rights Advisory Committee which was the group charged with consulting the community.

When the relocation began, only 14 residents had clear title to land. They were offered payment equal to the value of their houses. Those without title were given 500 dollars and a promise of follow-up services that never materialized. Residents resisted eviction and the process took over three years.

Today, advocacy by the residents of Africville has led to one of the longest-standing civil rights cases in Canada. In 2010, a settlement was reached and the Mayor of Halifax made a public apology for the razing of Africville and the Seaview Church was re-built on the grounds of the old Africville community. A current class action suit seeks individual settlement and reparation for residents as compensation for the expropriation of their land.

For more information about the story of Africville, see “Remember Africville” https://www.nfb.ca/film/remember_africville/

February 8: The Sir George Williams College Protests

An outcome of the Black Writers Conference that took place in Montreal in 1968 is what is widely regarded as the “Sir George Williams College Affair.” The Black Writers' Conference, dedicated to the late Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, emphasized that blacks in Canada were a colonized people who must seize independence partly through self-determination, and economic self-sufficiency, and a commitment to struggle for a non-racist society without 'class distinctions and privileges.'

Blacks at Sir George Williams College (now called Concordia University) alleged that a white professor—Perry Anderson was discriminating against Afro-Caribbean students by routinely awarding them lower grades. The Biology lab that Perry Anderson taught was a prerequisite for medical school; thus the failing grades handed to black students curtailed not only their academic advancement but any hope of professional careers in medicine.

“When it came to the black students, Perry Anderson called us Mr. Fredericks and Mr. Mossop, He called the white students John and Mary. Eight or nine of the black students, he failed regularly. The assumption was that the black students were somehow intellectually inferior but we only hit the brick wall of failure when it came to Mr. Perry Anderson’s class.”
- Original complainant, Rodney John in the documentary, the 9th floor

In response to their belief of racism by Perry Anderson and the university’s lack of response to their complaints, the students organized a non-violent demonstration which escalated to a 400 person sit-in in the College Computer Lab.

The 14 day student sit-in was the longest in the country’s history and led to the arrest of 97 students. After more than 10 months of non-action on the part of the university administration, the university agreed to establish a committee to investigate the allegations. The hearings were a source of controversy among the students because they were not consulted on the representatives appointed to the committee. In addition, the students charged that the university had developed no clear guideline or established procedure for conducting the hearings.

On January 29 1969, six of the original complainants and about 200 other students walked out of the hearings to the Director’s Office to demand that the hearings be discontinued. When their demands were not met, the students went to the 9th floor to a room that housed the main computer of the school. The occupation later spread to a Faculty Lounge on the 7th floor. Students were met with racial epithets from some students, faculty and the public who stated, “Let the n..s go home”

On February 10, negotiations between the students and the administration’s lawyers led to a settlement in principle. News of the settlement caused a number of students to leave the premises, leaving fewer than 100 students to maintain the premises when at the 11th hour, negotiations fell apart. The remaining protestors barricaded the stairwells and shut down the elevators and telephones and threatened to destroy the lab if police were called in.

The next day, students protesting on the side-walk faced assault and arrest by police and ordinary citizens.

“I was outside the university and I understood for the first time what it was like to face a white mob where your life was in the balance.”
- From the documentary the 9th floor

While protesters were still in the lab and the riot squad was beginning arrests, a fire mysteriously broke out. Millions of punched computer cards and other documents were sent flying through windows to Maisonneuve Boulevard below. Police stormed the lab arresting 97 people. Those with the most serious charges—kidnapping, conspiracy to destroy property, extortion—were black students, and for some, the charges carried a penalty of life imprisonment.

For raw archival footage of students walking out of the protests, click here
https://concordia.accesstomemory.org/prelude-to-sir-george-williams-university-computer-centre-riot

To view information about the award-winning documentary about the Sir George Williams protests, the 9th floor, click here https://www.nfb.ca/film/ninth_floor/

• Compiled from the 9th Floor documentary by Mina Shun and Selwyn Jacob and CBC News (February 15, 2014), “A look back at Montreal's race-related 1969 Computer Riot” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/a-look-back-at-montreal-s-race-related-1969-computer-riot-1.2538765

February 7: The National Black Coalition of Canada

The National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC) emerged from the Black Writer’s Conference that took place in Montreal in 1968. The conference dedicated to the late Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, emphasized the need for equity in education and employment and for a national housing policy to eliminate housing discrimination. It argued that economic power was the only means to political power and called for the formation of a black national coordinating organization.

By 1969, the NBCC included 28 organizations whose objectives were eradicating all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society, developing self-identification through the inclusion of Black Studies in educational curricula, and fostering communication and co-operation with blacks of other nations in matters of common interest such as Pan Africanism and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

“The National Black Coalition was very, very vibrant…We worked very hard to bring groups together, to bring the black community together…We [hoped to] advocate on behalf of the concerns of black Canadians right across Canada…”

NBCC was based in Toronto and its first President was Howard McCurdy, a professor at the University of Windsor. McCurdy was the first tenured black professor in Canada. Jean Augustine (later the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons and the first to serve in the federal cabinet) also served as Treasurer for the Toronto Chapter and co-Chair of the Media Committee.

Wilson Head, then President of the NBCC, testified before the Joint House Senate Committee on the Constitution regarding the Canadian Constitution of 1981, and pushing for possible amendments. Until that time, national organizations (with possibly the exception of Japanese Canadians) representing the interests of racialized communities had not participated in Constitutional discussions before.

The NBCC also spoke out against police violence in racialized communities, for example, in 1979, the NBCC called for the suspension of the police officer who shot Albert Johnson in Toronto.

In 1980, the NBCC provided a brief to the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), arguing against the lack of representation of blacks on Television and Radio and the lack of employment opportunities for blacks in the media.

The NBCC is reported to have disbanded in 1984 because of internal divisions and funding issues.

• Compiled from the Clara Thomas Archives, York University at archives.library.yorku.ca/exhibits/show/pushingbuttons/black--caribbean-community/national-black-coalition-of-ca and Agnes Calliste (1996) “Anti-Racism Organizing and Resistance: Blacks in Urban Canada, 1940s-1970s” in City Lives and City Forms: Critical Research and Canadian Urbanism (edited by Jon Caulfield and Linda Peake).

February 6: The National Unity Association

Blacks in Toronto and Montreal were actively involved in the struggle for the enactment of anti-discriminatory employment policies, the Fair Employment Practices Act in 1951 and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act in 1954.

Hugh Burnette, Secretary of the National Unity Association – a black civil rights organization in Dresden, Ontario—and Bromley Armstrong, who was then Chairperson of Local 439 of the United Autoworkers Congress of Industrial Organizations Fair Practices Committee and representative on the Toronto and District Labour Council—were instrumental in desegregating restaurants in Dresden, Ontario.

In 1943, Hugh Burnette sent a complaint to the Federal Minister of Justice about discrimination at Kay’s Café in Dresden—a restaurant owned by a prominent local citizen. When Burnette was advised that the government could do nothing to address the discrimination, he joined with other Dresden-area blacks to form the National Unity Association.

The role of the National Unity Association was especially crucial in Dresden. The town was at the end of the underground railway and was made up of a significant community of fugitive slaves. At the time, 1,700 blacks lived in Dresden. Yet, restaurants and barbershops denied Blacks service and the town was one of the most segregated communities in Canada.

The NUA lobbied town council for a non-discrimination policy that would be a condition for local business licensing, similar to the ones that many municipalities had already passed.

In 1949, the NUA and other human rights and labour organizations like the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Toronto Labour Committee and the International Ladies Garments Union took the issue to the Premier to demand the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act.

In 1951, the first Fair Employment Practices act was passed and Hugh Burnette and Bromley Armstrong began to visit restaurants to test for racial discrimination and to collect hard evidence.  When Burnette and Armstrong continued to find that restaurants denied them service, they filed complaints with the Department of Labour under the Act. The Ontario Minister of Labour was reluctant to press charges, claiming that “communist-sponsored negroes” were behind the trouble in Dresden.  The NAU with the help of labour organizations pressured the Minister of Labour to charge the defendants and to carry out the eventual convictions and fines of $50 plus costs. The advocacy of the NUA, human rights and labour organizations would lead to the passage of the Fair Accommodation Practices Act in 1954.

February 5: Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People (CLACP)

With the assistance of A. Philip Randolph, President of the U.S. Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), divisions of the BSCP in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver began to organize chapters of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People (CLACP) in the 1940’s. The BSCP and CLACP continued the hard struggle for a civil rights bill, and provincial and federal fair employment practices. As a direct result of this advocacy, blacks began to break the ‘colour bar’ in employment. For example, the Vancouver Association for the Advancement of Coloured People reported that a chemical engineer, Mr. Cromwell was appointed to the Junior Board of Trade in Vancouver and a black woman obtained employment in one of Vancouver’s fashionable dress shops. 
 
The BSCP, community organizations like the Negro Citizenship Association and branches of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People in Toronto and Nova Scotia also worked to liberalize classed, racialized, and gendered immigration policy, and to fight for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.
 
The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NSAACP) played a prominent role in Viola Desmond’s challenge to segregated seating at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 1944, Desmond was arrested for sitting on a downstairs seat in the theatre instead of in the balcony seats to which blacks were relegated. Desmond was convicted for attempting to defraud the state of one cent in entertainment tax and sentenced to a fine of $20 plus costs or thirty days in prison. The NSAACP organized public meetings and raised funds for an appeal which was lost on a legal technicality (failure to file notice within the required ten days) but which led the courts to acknowledge that a public statute had been misused to justify a Jim Crow rule—illegal racial segregation.
 
In the 1950s and 1960’s CLACP and its provincial associations were instrumental in getting blacks employed, and for litigating discrimination in employment, housing and services that eventually led to the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act in 1951 and the creations of human rights commissions in every province and territory in Canada.
 

February 2:  The Negro Citizenship Association (1950’s and 1960’s)

With the support of the Toronto Labour Committee for Human Rights and other black organizations, in the 1950s and 1960’s, the Negro Citizenship Association challenged Canada’s discriminatory immigration policy.

The Negro Citizenship Association and other activists argued that current immigration policy perpetuated the second-class status of blacks.  In 1954, a delegation of the Negro Citizenship Association and members of the Toronto Labour Committee for Human Rights presented a brief to Prime-Minister Louis St. Laurent with explicit proposals for policy reform such as equal treatment of applications from the British Caribbean, and the opening of an immigration office in the Caribbean. The Negro Citizenship Association also assisted Caribbean immigrants who were threatened with deportation and facilitated the immigration of many workers, including nurses and domestic workers.

Activists did not fully challeng the racial, patriarchal and class biases of immigration policy. At the time, immigrants from the Caribbean were subject to “exceptional merit” criteria which specified that one of the conditions for admitting black workers such as nurses was that the employer had to be “aware of workers’ racial origin.” Unlike non-racialized nurses who were usually from Europe and who were admitted to Canada on the basis of general admissibility, black nurses were admitted solely on the basis of their nursing qualifications. Only those eligible for registration with the Provincial Registered Nurses Association were given landed status; and other black nurses were treated as temporary migrant workers.

February 1: The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP)

During the late 19th century until the mid-1950’s, there were few job opportunities open to blacks other than that of a sleeping car porter. This was a direct result of racist hiring practices and prevailing discriminatory attitudes that deemed blacks fit only for jobs as “servants.” Though most porters were educated in science, medicine and business administration, they were prevented from pursuing jobs in their fields of expertise. For this reason, even though a job as a porter meant that blacks faced conditions of industrialized racial servitude, a job with the Canadian Pacific Railway was the best option for most. As former porter and labour activist Stanley Grizzle describes:

“The only job a black person could get was on the railroad as a porter, for a man. And for a woman, domestic. You could walk up and down Yonge Street, you never saw a black person working in a restaurant or any of the stores. That’s just the way it was.”
- “Veteran Stories: Stanley Grizzle” from The Memory Project

Most porters faced harsh working conditions including long hours and low pay and omnipresent supervision,. The typical run on a train lasted 72 hours and porters were not provided with sleeping quarters. Facilities for sleeping and eating were racially segregated. Porters’ livelihood often depended on the tips from the first-class passengers they served who often subjected them to racial epithets, such as derogatory names like “Boy” or “George.”

To improve their working conditions and because of “whites only” clauses in the Constitution of most unions, porters began to organize their own unions and support organizations.  Though early attempts at unionizing Canadian Pacific Railway porters were unsuccessful, this changed in 1939 when porters began organizing with the support of the US-based Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). For the next few years, porters across the country began organizing in secret so they would not lose their jobs. The BSCP also continued to pressure the trades and labour congress for recognition and charter status.    Finally, in 1942, porters voted to unionize and a collective bargaining agreement was finalized in May 1945.  This was the first time in Canadian history that a union of Black men had signed an agreement with a white employer.  Some of the gains made included a monthly salary increase, one week’s paid vacation, and overtime pay.

    • Profile from Salome Lukas and Judy Vashti Persad (2004), Through the Eyes of Workers of Colour: Linking Struggles for Social Justice. A project of Women Working with Immigrant Women and the Toronto and District Labour Council.
    • Compiled from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights https://humanrights.ca/blog/black-history-month-story-africville; “Africville: Nova Scotia's string of broken promises”
    • Adapted from Salome Lukas and Judy Vashti Persad (2004), Through the Eyes of Workers of Colour: Linking Struggles for Social Justice, a project of Women Working with Immigrant Women and the Toronto and District Labour Council.
    • Modified from Agnes Calliste. (1996) “Anti-Racism Organizing and Resistance: Blacks in Urban Canada, 1940s-1970s” in City Lives and City Forms: Critical Research and Canadian Urbanism (edited by Jon Caulfield and Linda Peake).
    • Modified from Agnes Calliste. (1996) “Anti-Racism Organizing and Resistance: Blacks in Urban Canada, 1940s-1970s” in City Lives and City Forms: Critical Research and Canadian Urbanism (edited by Jon Caulfield and Linda Peake).
    • Compiled from the web-sites Canadian Museum for Human Rights https://humanrights.ca/blog/sleeping-car-porters; the memory project http://liberalstudiesguides.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/04/The-Me... ; as well as from Grizzle’s autobiography, My Name is not George: The Story of the Sleeping Car Porters.