As she prepares to step down as the province’s human rights commission’s chief commissioner, Barbara Hall is concerned that a few nagging issues, including anti-Black racism and unfair treatment of Aboriginals in Ontario, continue to persist.
She vacates the post in November after nine years.
“We have seen a lot of progress and we have also seen a lot of things that don’t seem to change that much,” the former mayor of Toronto said at the Urban Alliance on Race Relations’ (UARR) 39th anniversary awards dinner last week. “It does seem like we have been talking about racial profiling for a long, long time and we are still talking about it, particularly as it relates to Black men and their parents and communities who are fearful about what will happen when they are out of their homes at night.”
While racial profiling has long been a concern for members of racialized communities, it was not until December 9, 2002 – the eve of International Human Rights Day – that the Commission announced that it would conduct an inquiry into the effects of racial profiling on individuals, families, communities and society as a whole.
The Commission emphasized that racial profiling is a human rights issue by stating that it is wrong and contrary to the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
“We knew it existed, so we developed a policy setting out the details of it and then started to intervene in cases,” said Hall.
In 1975, a group of seven that included the late Dr. Wilson Head established the UARR after a meeting to discuss the increasing frequency of hate-motivated violence against Blacks and South Asians on city streets, subways and in shopping plazas.
Despite opposition, the small grassroots organization has relentlessly fought against racism and inequality in the city in the last four decades.
In the last year, the UARR – under the leadership of its president Gary Pieters – has provided deputations to the Toronto Police Services Board expressing concerns about the expanded use of tasers and carding’s disproportionate negative impact on racialized young people. The organization also intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Wood v. Schaeffer.
Last December, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers involved in Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigations are prohibited from consulting with lawyers prior to the preparation of their notes.
Human rights lawyer and bencher, Julian Falconer, singled out founding member, Audi Dharmalingam; former president, Sri-Guggan Sri-Skanda-Rajah and long-time board member and vice president, Tam Goossen, for the instrumental role they have played in embracing the organization.
“Anyone who understands the Urban Alliance on Race Relations will know that they kept the lights on in the darkest days,” said Falconer.
As part of their fundraising dinner held every two years, the UARR presents awards to anti-racist leaders in the community.
This year’s recipients are Lloyd McKell and Debbie Douglas.
McKell attended Queen’s Royal College in Trinidad & Tobago and taught Latin and Spanish for three years at St. George’s College in Barataria before coming to Canada as a foreign student in 1967.
After graduating with an Economics degree from the University of Toronto at Scarborough, he worked as a program director with the now defunct Harriet Tubman Centre and was the first chair of the Scarborough Black Community Education Committee before joining the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). He was promoted to co-ordinate the community relations program in 1986, a position he held for two years before assuming the role of community services central coordinator.
He provided system leadership for parent and community involvement at the TDSB and wrote the board’s equity foundation statement that provides the basis for ensuring fairness, equity and inclusion are essential principles of the school system and are integrated into the policies, programs, operations and practices.
McKell also advocated for an Africentric Alternative School long before parents Angela Wilson and Donna Harrow approached the board in the summer of 2007, requesting that they consider the establishment of the school to reach students who were not doing well in the mainstream system.
While at the U of T, McKell developed a strong interest in South Africa as a result of his association with fellow exiled students. He chaired the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Foundation, organized annual student conferences on apartheid and was a member of the organizing committee that hosted the late South African president Nelson Mandela’s first visit to Canada in June 1990.
He was instrumental in the planning of an event at Central Technical High School for students and teachers of Toronto schools to listen to an address by Mandela, he coordinated the participation of 45,000 students to attend the Mandela and The Children event at the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) in 1998 and he spearheaded the re-naming of Park Public School in Regent Park to Nelson Mandela Park Public School.
The educator, activist and community leader said the award will find a special place in his home.
“The Urban Alliance on Race Relations was the first organization in our city to focus on the issue of race and race relations and address those things in ways that made decision-makers sit up and take notice,” said McKell. “They are to be commended for their role.”
An active feminist and anti-racism activist, Douglas is the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and a former co-chair of the National Working Group on Immigration & Settlement at the Canadian Council of Refugees.
“For the Urban Alliance, which has done such tremendous work around issues of racial and economic justice in the city, to recognize me for the work I do with marginalized communities is heart-warming,” said Douglas. “I was born a socialist and my role is to make a difference. I have been fortunate to find a group of individuals and organizations that are just as passionate as I am about political and social change.”
Toronto Star reporter, Jim Rankin, who in 2002 led a team of reporters, editors and researchers involved in a Michener Award-winning investigative series into race, policing and crime in the city, and NOW Magazine senior news editor, Enzo DiMatteo, were presented with the Ashok Chandwani Media Awards.
Montreal-based Chandwani, who died 11 years ago, wrote extensively about his immigrant experience.