OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

We stand together in the midst of terror: Black History Month 2017

OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus logo

A Statement from the Workers of Colour Caucus

This Black History Month, we grieve the lives of six Muslim men – newcomers and immigrants from North and West Africa – who were killed during evening prayers this past Sunday in Quebec City: Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti.

“We are in a state of heightened shock and fear,” says Peter Thompson, chair of the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC). “Members of our communities were gunned down at a sacred time and in a place of worship. The message that sends is extra-terrifying. It’s a reminder that our family and friends are subject to extreme measures. We are vilified, surveilled, and even in our holy places, we are perceived as threatening.”

It is no accident that the shootings at the mosque in Quebec City coincided with Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban. The ban, announced last week, suspends the entire U.S. refugee admission system, already one of the most rigorous in the world, for 120 days. The anti-Muslim travel ban further suspends the Syrian refugee program indefinitely and bans immigrants and refugees entry into the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“This is very real for many of us who have neither Canadian nor U.S. passports,” says WOCC member Elizabeth Ha. “This includes those of us who remain undocumented, or whose friends and families are stuck unable to cross borders or to seek refuge from unbearable conditions in our home countries.”

The United Nations is already calling for repeal of the travel ban, stating the ban is “clearly discriminatory” because it is based on nationality, leads to heightened stigmatization of Muslim communities, and will put refugees at increased risk of torture and inhumane and degrading treatment.

“The fact is, there is a myth of tolerance and multiculturalism in Canada,” says Thompson. “It’s not only that lives can be disposed of so easily such as in the Mosque shooting in Quebec, but the reality of our lives is that we are targeted every day. We have been subject to Islamophobic rhetoric, extreme security measures, security certificates, and anti-terrorism legislation. Hate crimes against Muslims have increased many times over since at least 911.”

The Workers of Colour Caucus says that recurrent and institutional forms of Islamophobia and racism mean that acts of violence against Muslim communities are not only justified in the criminal justice, immigration and other systems; they have also become normalized. To be Muslim increasingly means you are automatically perceived as a danger to national security. Yet, the truth is that none of the measures enacted by Trump and by governments in Canada are really about security or safety. Discriminatory laws and systems increasingly set up a false premise: some lives matter and must be protected at all costs and other lives – those of racialized and Muslim men and women – do not matter at all.

“For those of us from targeted communities, we know we are less free to move and travel and simply exist without being subject to some kind of coercion or an act of terror,” says Ha. “This is the legacy of global systems like slavery and also current labour trends. Black and Brown migrants are only permitted to cross borders so long as they can fulfill a cheap and exploitable source of labour, but even then we have always been subject to security measures like the Chinese head tax or the Japanese internment, and to acts of racial violence.”

The WOCC’s goals for Black History Month and beyond

The WOCC highlights the importance of continuing to confront the legacy of racism and Islamophobia in Canada that has led to the very real crisis today. In its statement last year, the caucus drew attention to the way in which racial profiling – the targeting of Muslim and racialized communities for unwarranted scrutiny and the failure to hold members of the criminal justice system accountable – increasingly means that black lives do not matter. The caucus has also examined the policies and practices that continue to contribute to Islamophobia and racism such as Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, and Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Bill C-24 effectively created two tiers of citizenship, permitting the Canadian government to strip refugees and immigrants of citizenship if they were dual citizens, landed immigrants or eligible for citizenship in another country. The Anti-Terrorism Act introduced a series of sweeping and unnecessary new powers such as increasing CSIS powers of disruption in Canada and overseas and a new no-fly list scheme lacking in adequate due-process provisions. It also created new speech-related offenses which violate basic Charter rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

Actions you can take

This Black History Month, the WOCC calls on OPSEU members to  examine the broader social and political context in which Trump’s anti-Muslim ban emerged and the shootings at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec occurred. But we must also publicly grieve and politically demonstrate. We must be uncompromising in our demands for a future in which we reclaim our places of worship and in which we organize and mobilize in the face of terror.

Black History Competition and Forum

WOCC also asks OPSEU members to join our Black History Month Competition and Forum planned for later this month. Please check here for the Black History Month competition and for updates on the Black History Month forum.