What is Black History Month?
Black History Month is a time for critical reflection. It’s a time for organizing. It’s a time for mobilizing – against racial inequality, against discrimination, and against intolerance.
It’s a time to stand up for racial justice.
The OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus (WoCC) urges everyone to do something for Black History Month. Learn more. Pay attention to news reports where race is a factor. Think about all the ways racial injustice crops up – pay inequality, poverty, racial profiling, police brutality…. Recognize that racial equality can be a goal we all strive for.
Black History Month salutes generations of racialized Canadians who have struggled to build our democracy by reaching for justice and equality. It pays tribute to countless racialized Canadians who not only built Canada from its inception, but who were leaders of great vision, courage and conviction.
We honour the contributions of those who joined the struggles of everyday people — those who marched for freedom, who penned the first anti-discrimination legislation, who challenged unjust immigration laws and discriminatory policing. In 2016, we also acknowledge racialized Canadians with creative vision and moral imagination such as photographer Michael Chambers, singer Liberty Silver, artist David Woods and story-teller Sandra Whiting—all of whom are portrayed in the 2016 Legacy Poster created by artist Robert Small. We pay tribute to numerous Black activists and pioneers in Black Facts: A Celebration of Black History Month 2015
Yet despite many accomplishments – and breakthroughs – for racialized people, challenges still persist. Barriers still stand in the way of equity and justice for all. For Black History Month 2016, The Workers of Colour Caucus (WoCC) is focusing on three critical issues: racial profiling, discriminatory legislation, and economic disparity.
1. Racial profiling
Black communities have been at the forefront of challenges to racial profiling and racist police violence. They have exposed not only the ways in which racialized people are frequently stopped, questioned and searched, but the systemic racism that permeates the criminal justice system.
The Workers of Colour Caucus affirms the definition of racial profiling in research conducted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in its report, Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling.
According to the report, racial profiling is any action undertaken for the reasons of safety, security, or public protection that singles out individuals for greater scrutiny and different treatment based on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, place of origin or any combination of these.
Between 1978 and 1992, racialized communities and other activists protested the 14 shootings of black men and women in Ontario. Eleven of these shootings were fatal. Not only did racialized communities raise questions about the use of force and police brutality in the case of Buddy Evans and Albert Johnson as early as 1978 (and earlier); they also challenged the increased presence of police in black communities. In 1992, a new generation of activists protested in Toronto after an all-white jury acquitted two police officers in the shooting death of Michael Wade Lawson and Raymond Lawrence and in the U.S. after four police officers were acquitted in the brutal beating of Rodney King.
In a recent Toronto Star Report, “Racial profiling still has no place here,” John Sewell writes that racialized youth are three times more likely to be stopped by police. Forty-one per cent of all contact cards filled by the Ontario Anti-Violence Strategy to record information about persons who may be of interest are members of the Black community.
This Black History Month, the WoCC mourns the lives of those who were subject to fatal police violence: Jermaine Carby, who was shot and killed by Peel police during a routine traffic stop in 2014; Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in New York City; Andrew Loku, who was killed after a confrontation with police in his apartment in northwest Toronto; Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Texas after being stopped by police; and many, many others. The WoCC also celebrates legal victories like Abbott v. Toronto Police Services Board, in which it was determined that race and gender had played a role in the Toronto Officers’ failure to de-escalate the situation involving a young woman, Sharon Abbott, who was stopped by police while on her newspaper route.
2. Discriminatory legislation: Bill C-24 and Bill C-51
The WoCC affirms the actions taken by organizations like the Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International in calling for an end to discriminatory legislation – Bill C-24 and Bill C-54 – and for policies that exacerbate racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Aboriginal sentiments.
Bill C-24, called the Strengthening of Canadian Citizenship Act, gives immigration officials the power to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens. The Bill also increases the residency requirements for permanent residents, removes a person’s right to appeal a negative citizenship decision, and removes the right to oral hearing. Decisions normally restricted to criminal law courts are now in the sole discretion of the immigration minister. The Bill not only expands the minister’s judicial power to review and revoke applications; it also denies basic rights to a fair trial, such as the right to impartiality and natural justice.
For more information on Bill C-24 and recent changes to the Citizenship Act, click here.
Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act, brought in by Bill C-51 in 2015, redefines arrest and detention to a standard that is so low that any ordinary citizen may be detained in order to investigate his/her actions. Under Bill C-51, officers may act on mere suspicion that an arrest is likely to prevent any terrorist activity. The bill also permits a Canadian to be arrested on suspicion of criminal activity; it allows the Minister of Public Safety to add Canadians to a “no-fly” list with minimal rights of judicial review; and it creates a new speech-related offense of “promoting” and “advocating” terrorism. Of particular concern is that the right to free speech and peaceful assembly, as well as other rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, are now in danger: under Bill C-51, anyone can be guilty of an offense for communicating or advocating “terrorist” statements, even with completely innocent purposes such as provoking democratic debate or proposing solutions to political problems. According to the bill, a speaker’s purpose does not matter since they are liable to the risk that a listener may thereafter commit an unspecified terrorist act. The bill must be revoked in its entirety.
To download an excellent primer on Bill C-51, click here.
3. Economic disparity
Racialized Ontarians are more likely to live in poverty and to face barriers in Ontario workplaces. Even when racialized Ontarians are employed, they are more likely to earn less and to live in poverty than the rest of Ontarians. Even a university education doesn’t wipe out the wage gap between racialized and other workers. Disparities persist despite the fact that racialized Ontarians have higher labour market participation than non-racialized Canadians.
For more information, read Race and Gender: Ontario’s Growing Gap.
Black History Month Forum
Please join us for a discussion on Black History Month, “Today’s Events, Tomorrow’s History” with guest speaker Dr. Grace-Edward Galabuzi and special performance by Marcia Brown Productions. To download the event flyer 2016_black_history_celebration.pdf
Date: Friday, February 26
Time: 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Place: OPSEU Toronto Regional Office, 31 Wellesley Street East, Toronto
Please RSVP Haran Thurairasah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Actions you can take
Take action against racial profiling: join Black Lives Matter on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/blacklivesmatterTO/ or on Twitter through #SayHerName
Learn more about immigration policy from No One is Illegal. Click here.
Sign the Petition to Kill Bill C-51 https://killc51.ca/mp.