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 28: Black Lives Matter-Toronto
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is currently one of the most significant global movements. Black Lives Matter originated on social media with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2014, in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter also became nationally recognized for its street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown resulting in protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. Since 2014, BLM has regularly held protests speaking out against police violence, and broader issues such as racial profiling, system racism in criminal justice and in immigration systems, and racism in education and employment.
In July 2015, BLM protesters in Toronto blockaded Allen Road up to Highway 401 after the shooting deaths of two black men —Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby—at the hands of Toronto police.
BLM Toronto (BLMTO) is probably best known for the sit-in it held in front of police headquarters on College Street in March 2016. The demonstration, which was supported by the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus was intended as a one-night protest, but extended into a two-week sit-in that challenged racial injustice on multiple issues. At the time, the City of Toronto announced a music festival, Afro-fest would be downsized due to alleged “noise” complaints. Alex Wettlaufer was shot dead by Toronto Police near Leslie Station and Ontario’s police watchdog the Special Investigations Unit released its decision in the case of Andrew Loku. The SIU determined that Loku had threatened the police and that the officers acted in self-defense. The Officers refused to be publicly named.
On day 15 of the sit-in at police headquarters, the protestors moved to Queen’s Park, shutting down traffic and calling for a review of the SIU. BLMTO also confronted Kathleen Wynne on the steps of the legislature and forced her to acknowledge the validity of BLMTO’s demands. Wynne conceded, “We still have systemic racism in society,” and she later brought a comprehensive review of the SIU as a result of its lack of transparency in addressing race-based policing incidents. For more information: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/black-lives-matter-toronto-loku-1.3508462
At the 2016 PRIDE parade, Black Lives Matter was selected by Pride Toronto as the honoured group in that year's parade, during which they staged a sit-in and issued a number of demands including stable funding and a suitable venue for the established Blockrama event, improved diversity in the organization's staff and volunteer base, increased accessibility of the Parade (for example in the provision of ASL interpreters for deaf and hearing-impaired participants). BLMTO also demanded that Toronto Police officers be banned from marching in the parade. Workers of Colour Caucus also supported BLMTO’s demands. As a result, PRIDE agreed to the ban on uniformed police and increased funding "for artists and black youth."
Since 2016, BLMTO has engaged in a variety of actions such as protesting outside SIU headquarters in Mississauga in response to the death of Abdirahaman Abdi, who died during an arrest in Ottawa. In September 2017, BLMTO also called for the reversal of Beverly Braham’s deportation to Jamaica, even though the mother of two had serious health conditions and was just one month away from completing her sponsorship application. Most recently, BLMTO supported the demands made by the Indigenous community because of the acquittal of Gerald Stanley—the Saskatchewan farmer who was charged with the second degree murder of Coulten Boushie
A few of BLMTO’s most recent and decisive victories, even if still incomplete, are the passage of regulations banning police from collecting identifying information "arbitrarily," or based on a person's race or presence in a specific neighbourhood and the ground-breaking decision made by the Toronto District School Board to ban School Resource Officers (SROs) from Toronto schools. The SRO program effectively created a two-tiered educational system, one that increasingly devalued racialized and indigenous students. According to the perception of students and teachers, SROs largely intimidated, harassed and criminalized Black, Brown and Indigenous youth, and threatened the safety of undocumented students
Most of all BLMTO has inspired a new wave of activism using models of racial justice and inclusive, decentralized leadership. Black women, young, Muslim, queer and trans-identified activists are at the forefront of the movement. BLMTO has definitively enacted tremendous shifts in public discourse, policy and legislation that continue to have lasting impact not only for black workers and racialized communities, but for all communities. Even more, BLMTO has demanded that all black lives are worthy of life, value and meaning and in so doing has called on every one of us to condemn practices, especially systemic practices, that support inequality and violence against racialized communities. The profound words of BLMTO founder, Sandra Hudson, encapsulates both the celebration of black lives and the call for justice:
“It’s a great time to be black is it not?…It’s magical that you can go through so much devastation over and over again and still believe you can win this magical future.”
February 27: Organizing Black Trade Unionists
The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists- Canada Chapter (CBTU-Canada) emerged when a group of trade unionists began advocating within their unions and central labour bodies to put issues of racism and discrimination–in the workplace and union –higher on labour’s agenda. For more information http://cbtu.ca/about/
In the early 1980’s the Coalition in Canada made a concerted effort to ensure that equity seats were designated for black and racialized workers on the boards of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).
At the 1987 OFL Convention, delegates elected Herman Stewart of the International Ladies Garment Union to the Board. He was the first worker of colour to ever be elected to the provincial labour organization.
In 1990, at the CLC Convention in Montreal, Dory Smith challenged the slate and was elected with over 1,000 votes. At the following Convention, the CLC was considering designating a seat for a “visible minority” worker but by the time, the Coalition was calling for two seats. As part of its campaign, the Coalition handed out buttons for members courageous enough to wear them: “One +One = Two.” By the end of convention, two racialized workers were elected to the CLC Board.
The Coalition also raised the issue of under-representation and systemic exclusion of black workers in the staff of unions and began a report card on the hiring and selection practices of unions across Canada.
In 1995, the Coalition sought formal affiliation with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and CBTU-Canada gained charter status in 1996. The parent union, CBTU, is affiliated with the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations, and by 2001, represented more than 50 chapters across the United States and in Canada.
According to the mission statement of CBTU:
CBTU seeks to fulfill the dream of those Black trade unionists, both living and deceased, who throughout this century have courageously and unremittingly struggled to build a national movement that would bring all our strengths and varied talents to bear in the unending effort to achieve economic, political and social justice for every American.
With this vision, CBTU-Canada has advocated for critical issues affecting racialized workers and their communities such as calling on the federal government to apologize for the atrocities committed through Canada’s role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, recently demanding that Justin Trudeau issue a formal apology to African Canadians alongside the implementation of an effective pathway to restorative justice. http://pridenews.ca/2016/06/28/african-canadians-apology-slavery/
CBTU-Canada has supported increased voter registration and has advanced policies in the interests of racialized workers and communities including universal healthcare, employment equity, fair employment practices, and social programs at all levels of government. For the upcoming elections, CBTU-Canada has created political report cards on issues facing racialized Canadians.
Issues such as mass incarceration remain high on CBTU-Canada’s agenda given that black inmates, among other alarming trends, have been the fastest growing group in Federal Corrections, with an increase of 75% over 10 years. In its education on mass incarceration, CBTU-Canada addresses the impact of mass incarceration on racialized communities, exploring the links between anti-black racism and incarceration and has encouraged the development of strategies to confront racism within the criminal justice system including examining the encroachment of private companies and contracting-out practices in prisons.
CBTU-Canada is also involved in a ground-breaking study on environmental racism that aims to engage labour and community on issues of climate change and the green economy. The project developed in collaboration with Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces Research Project, focuses specifically on drawing black trade unionists and other racialized communities into the fight against global warming. The project has so far launched a social media campaign to engage climate change activists and has crowd-sourced syllabi on environmental racism. For more information: www.adaptingcanadianwork.ca/acw-and-black-trade-unionists-launch-environmental-racism-project/
February 26: The Community Activists
An extraordinary local group advocating on behalf of community residents for racial justice and income security is the Jane Finch Action against Poverty (JFAAP) –a resident-led grassroots coalition of community residents, activists, labour and community organizations, addressing issues such as good jobs, decent housing, policing and food justice. The group was formed in October of 2008 following a rally at the intersection of Jane and Finch to commemorate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
“While individuals in this community are incredibly resilient, there are so many structural problems that resiliency alone will not overcome. Our schools have the highest expulsion rates in the city. We have more children in child welfare. And our residents are disproportionately subject to police carding and other forms of racism.” For more information
- Sabrina Butterfly Gopaul, JFAAP advocate and OPSEU member
JFAAP exposed the recent violence and anti-black racism of TTC fare inspectors, who assaulted a black teenager on a streetcar near St. Clair and Bathurst about one week ago. After the inspectors called police, more than 15 officers arrived on the scene. JFAAP called the incident an example of “chronic systemic oppression and racism in the city.” JFAAP’s actions led to the suspension of the fare inspector involved in the altercation and the TTC claims it will be investigating allegations that the inspector failed to treat customers equally without discrimination, assaulted a customer, acted uncivilly, discredited the reputation of the TTC, and used unauthorized force on a customer.
JFAAP joined Canada-wide protests to demand livable wages for Tim Horton’s workers, and successfully fought for the removal of Student Resource Officers from TDSB schools, calling attention to the over-surveillance, discipline and arrests of racialized youth as a result of the program JFAAP’s advocacy as part of the $15 and fairness campaign, calling for the raise of minimum wages contributed to changes in labour legislation and the passage of Bill 148.
JFAAP has also taken action against exclusionary zoning regulations in the Jane/Finch neighborhood. The regulations while providing incentives to developers, proposes only the purchasing, rather than rental of affordable housing units. The proposed regulation also stipulates that housing units will only remain affordable for a maximum of 30 years and that only five per cent of the number of units or gross floor area of any new building with more than 20 units can be set aside as affordable. JFAAP says that the proposed regulation does not provide an adequate solution to the housing needs of Jane-Finch residents nor does it address the systemic issues of faced by community members living in poverty.
Sabrina Butterfly Gopaul, a member of JFAAP and an OPSEU member was a key-note speaker at the Workers of Colour Caucus Black History Forum last Friday http://opseu.org/news/black-history-month-2018-forum-and-events
February 23: The Anti-Poverty Advocates
Since at least 2007, coalitions like the Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change (COP-COC) and research and policy organizations like the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives and the Wellesley Institute have advocated for a racial justice framework in the analysis of poverty, income and economic equality in Ontario.
Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change is a province-wide initiative made up of organizations like the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Service. COP-COC works to build community-based capacity to address the growing racialization of poverty and the resulting increased levels of social exclusion and marginalization of racialized communities across Ontario
In 2010, Grace Edward Gallabuzzi, COP-COC member and Professor at Ryerson University, co-wrote a ground-breaking study, The Colour-Coded Labour Market. It showed that even in the best of economic times, the pay gap between racialized and non-racialized Canadians is large: Racialized Canadians earn only 81.4 cents for every dollar paid to non-racialized Canadians. For more information about the gap
COP-COC has created Provincial Racial Justice Report cards, for instance, requiring candidates in the 2011 Federal Elections to be examined on the steps they would take to address problems such as discrimination as well as institutional and systemic racism
COP-COC has further advocated a racial justice analysis in the development of Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy including:
- explicitly identifying communities of Colour as among populations vulnerable to poverty
- tracking and measuring poverty rates for all racialized groups through the use of disaggregated data and
- introducing employment equity measures requiring employers to remove barriers faced by racialized people.
COP-COC has consistently held that Canada has failed to comply with its international human rights obligations and domestic human rights laws in its submissions to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
“This is not the first time we brought this concern to the CERD committee, and yet very little has changed in more than a decade of our submitting shadow reports”
- Debbie Douglas, Executive Director, OCASI
In its submissions, the COP-COC pointed out a “disproportionate number of black and Indigenous people are incarcerated.” It highlighted problems such as discriminatory immigration law that permits people detained for immigration purposes to be detained indefinitely. In 2016-2017, more than 6,000 people were held in detention although more than 90 per cent of them were not considered a security threat. The coalition is currently an intervenor in a case in the Federal courts that is challenging indefinite detentions.
In addition to immigrant detainees affected by law, COP-COC has also advocated that migrant farm workers and caregivers such as nannies —most of whom are racialized— are also adversely affected by current legislation since migrant agricultural workers do not have access to permanent resident status and since 2014, the pathway to permanent residence for care-givers was revoked.
The Colour of Poverty has called for a national action plan on racism for Canada that would commit to combating discrimination in hiring, and funding anti-racist organizations. In addition to the collection of disaggregated race-based data across governments, COP-COC also want the federal and provincial government to remove barriers to the recognition of international training, and to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to stop discrimination based on police data. A private member’s bill to amend the Code was introduced into the Ontario legislature in 2017. The Bill proposes that amendments would include social condition, police records, genetic characteristics and immigration status as prohibited grounds of discrimination.
COP-COC also put forward proposed legislation to inform the newly established Anti-Racism Directorate and the Act respecting Anti-Racism in Ontario, requesting that the Ontario Government develop a public Anti-Racism Strategy with specific, objective and measurable targets aimed at addressing systemic racism in the province; regular review of the strategy; and consultations with affected racialized communities
February 22: Transforming Immigration Systems
The sustained mobilizing of groups like No One is Illegal (NOI) and Justicia (Justice) for Migrant Workers has led to significant gains in immigration reform.
For more than two decades, NOI has organized to stop deportations and end detentions. It has challenged unjust immigration policies and called for the end of exploitative and temporary migrant work, drawing attention to the environmental and economic forces that have displaced temporary and migrant workers. Since 2000, NOI’s Education Not Deportation campaign and Shelter Sanctuary Status campaign won major victories in Ontario. As a result of the campaigns, The Toronto District School Board provided guidelines to ensure that students without immigration status are not denied access to schools. Similarly, organizing with migrant women has successfully protected women who are living in shelters for women surviving violence.
Justicia for Migrant Workers was formed in 2002 after activists intervened in a labour dispute in Leamington, Ontario. The labour dispute resulted in the early repatriation of over 20 workers. Grassroots organizing in Leamington drew the attention of several government officials from the documentation volunteers collected about workers’ housing, working conditions, and access to benefits. Their efforts formed the basis of the Migrant Farm Workers presentation to the Minister of Labour. Since then, Justicia has campaigned for migrant workers’ rights to employment insurance, the right to apply for citizenship, minimum labour standards, the right to appeal employer reprisals, and to collectively bargain.
As a result of relentless pressure from migrant workers and their advocates, major legislative challenges have been achieved. In 2013, a Quebec Superior Court found that agricultural workers excluded from collective bargaining on farms that have three employees or less working on a year-round basis is unconstitutional.
Recently, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has also changed the way it provides health care to injured migrant workers in Ontario and in their home countries. For more information, see http://iavgo.org/important-changes-to-wsibs-provision-of-health-care-to-migrant-farm-workers/
This means that Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and the agricultural stream of the low-skilled Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) can access health care benefits such as transportation to and from appointments, the right to speak with doctors privately and to have access to interpretation.
Just this month, in CNESST v. Caron, 2018 SCC 3, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal, and released a decision regarding the employers’ duty of reasonable accommodation when an employee suffers an employment injury. While all Ontario employers have a duty to co-operate with return-to-work efforts, only workplaces with more than 20 employees have an obligation to re-employ workers after an accident. The worker must also have been continuously employed there for at least a year before their injury. Migrant and temporary workers are most likely to benefit from a more rigorous application of the duty-to-accommodate principle, because they are often immediately terminated or repatriated after an injury, and because there is no realistic forum for the defence of their human rights except through WSIB.
February 21: The Yonge Street Uprising
On May 1 1992, four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the beating of an unarmed black motorist, Rodney King. Protests in Los Angeles were immediate and powerful.
Two days after the King verdict, another black man, Raymond Lawrence was shot and killed by an undercover Toronto police officer.
The shooting death of Lawrence also followed the acquittal earlier that year of two Peel Regional Police officers charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of black teenager, Michael Wade Lawson. There was not one black or racialized person on the jury.
The Lawson killing was just the latest in a series of shootings in the Toronto area of blacks that occurred within a 15-month period. Among the victims were Lester Donaldson and a man with mental health disabilities, Lester Donaldson, who was shot in his rooming house. He was unarmed.
On May 4, the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) organized a peaceful demonstration outside the U.S, Consulate in Toronto where protestors engaged in a 45-minute sit-in before moving to City Hall. After a series of speeches, the march moved on to Yonge Street. There, the crowd swelled to over 1,000. Demonstrators were joined by vandals and loiters who broke store windows and confronted police. Akua Benjamin, a BADC activist and Ryerson professor says:
“It was an uprising against police brutality, anti-black racism and the indifference to injustice displayed by the political establishment.”
In the aftermath of the uprising, the NDP government appointed former United Nations ambassador Stephen Lewis to investigate the state of race relations in Ontario. In his report Lewis used the concept of anti-black racism that community and labour activists had advanced to capture “the spirit and resistance of the black community.” The report also made recommendations on systemic racism in the criminal justice system, law enforcement, employment and education.
Some of the report’s recommendations were actioned within 12 months of publication. This included a three-year inquiry in Ontario’s criminal justice system. One year later, the province had also enacted employment equity legislation that covered provincially regulated private and public sector workplace—a hard-fought battle for many labour and community activists.
On the other hand, many of the gains were revoked under the newly elected Mike Harris government. For instance, by 1995, employment equity legislation was repealed.
The film, It takes a Riot: Race, Rebellion and Reform co-written by Simon Black, Assistant Professor of Labour Studies at Brock University, explores the events of May 4, 1992, its historical context, political impact, and relevance to contemporary struggles against anti-Black racism.
- Adapted from Simon Black, “Yonge Street ‘Riot’ Remembered,” Now Magazine, Toronto, May 2 2017.
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.
- Compiled from Chris Webb (April 30, 2014), “Hidden histories and political legacies of the Canadian anti-apartheid movement” in Canadian Dimensions https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/hidden-histories-and-political-legacies-of-the-canadian-anti-apartheid-move; and Kofi Hope (2011). In Search of Solidarity: International Solidarity Work between Canada and South Africa 1975-2010, St Antony’s College, Oxford University
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 blackwomenscollective-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
- Files from the OPSEU Equity Unit and “Remembering Anti-racism, This Magazine, January 1, 2003. https://this.org/2003/01/01/remembering-anti-racism/
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
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)
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-Memory-Project-Stanley-Grizzle.pdf ; as well as from Grizzle’s autobiography, My Name is not George: The Story of the Sleeping Car Porters.