By PATRICK HUNTER
As you probably know, I am a fan of the United Nations. Yes, I do have reservations about some of the things it does – especially at the Security Council. But, overall, I am glad it exists.
From time to time, the UN makes declarations and proclamations with the aim of highlighting a particular troubling situation about our society. They do this to urge member states to focus on the subject of that declaration – such as International Human Rights Day or the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – with the objective of making things better.
The UN has proclaimed the International Decade of People of African Descent. That decade begins on January 1, 2015 and ends on December 31, 2024. The central theme of the decade is: “People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development”. In part, it is a recognition that people of African descent are still caught up within the post-trauma of the transatlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism.
The objective of this declaration is in essence for member states to put in effect the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPoA) that was reached at the World Conference Against Racism, held in South Africa in 2001. Those proposals were renewed about five years later at the follow-up conference in Brazil.
The DDPoA is worth reading in its entirety. It is accessible on the UN website. There are a couple of key sections that bear repeating here. They speak directly to the condition of Africans and people of African descent: The resolution:
“Urges States to facilitate the participation of people of African descent in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society and in the advancement and economic development of their countries, and to promote a greater knowledge of and respect for their heritage and culture;
“Requests States, supported by international cooperation as appropriate, to consider positively concentrating additional investments in health care systems, education, public health, electricity, drinking water and environmental control, as well as other affirmative or positive action initiatives, in communities of primarily African descent.”
This is a request of all states that are members of the UN. And it is the state that is essentially required to respond. The state is therefore required to set in motion the conditions, if you will, for this response to take place.
In our system of government in Canada, the federal government is “accountable” to the UN while, to some extent, the provincial governments are “accountable” to the federal government.
Successive federal governments have not shown much interest in following the suggestions of this program of action, particularly as it relates to people of African descent. I am not optimistic that the current federal government will be any different. Thus far, it has not done anything, as far as I can see, that will change my mind.
But here, the provincial governments have a clear leeway, independent of the federal government.
Ontario has, for a number of years now, established a Women’s Directorate and Office of Francophone Affairs, an Office – and now a ministry – of Aboriginal Affairs, a Seniors’ Secretariat and an Office for Disability Issues.
Other provincial governments have established similar specific bureaucracies. One notable addition is that the Government of Nova Scotia was the first and only government to establish such an office – The Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs – for people of African descent in Canada.
The estimated population of Blacks or people of African descent in Ontario is well over half a million. Various reports on our community, sponsored by a series of governments, have confirmed that the condition of people of African descent in Ontario requires specific and targeted attention. Under the government of David Peterson, the Race Relations Directorate, led by the late Dan McIntyre, was established. The Rae Government, in the early 90s, redesigned the Directorate to become the Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat. That made a start in the direction of focusing more on the barriers faced by Blacks. That was reversed by the succeeding Harris administration. Since then the attention or attempt to address the condition of Blacks has been piecemeal and paltry at best.
One of the most well-known attempts, the McMurtry-Curling report on The Roots of Youth Violence, commissioned by the McGuinty Liberals, called for a more pointed attention through a ministry or similar entity. That has not yet materialized.
Here, at the start of the International Decade of People of African Descent, it would be a very fitting move by Premier Kathleen Wynne to establish such an office or ministry. As with the other entities mentioned earlier, the Office (or Ministry) of African Canadian (Ontarian) Affairs would coordinate a focus on a program of development and attention to the specific needs of the African Canadian community in Ontario, with an aim to addressing the barriers that anti-Black racism has installed – not necessarily the feelings that individuals and groups may have towards Black people.
It is fair to say that there are a lot of people in this province and city that would object to such a creation. This is where the Wynne government can show to what extent it has the political will to make such an “in your face” move. It is time.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @pghntr