By RON FANFAIR
Social apartheid is alive, well and embedded in Toronto in our public housing and school system as well as in all our government offices, claims York Centre city councilor Maria Augimeri.
“It successfully divides people along categories and technologies that act as comfort zones,” the Italian immigrant said in her keynote address at the 14th annual J.S. Woodsworth awards last week at Queen’s Park. “The wealthy remain in reassuring conclaves and the least enfranchised continue their miserable cycle of poverty.”
Augimeri said governments have a responsibility to provide for the well-being of immigrants by offering health care, security, services and other opportunities.
“And if we don’t provide these very necessary things – basic rights and needs – we create desperate situations,” she said. “We confine immigrants to certain pockets in our city and neighbourhoods that are already housed by many equally desperate situations and we only breed hopelessness. We have in Toronto methodically created a ghetto system and it works real well.
“What opportunities can possibly be attained when we offer little accessibility to real jobs, real education and real social interaction to the children confined to living in these ghettos?”
The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) administers the awards which commemorate the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which is celebrated on March 21. On that day in 1960, a large crowd of Black South Africans assembled in front of the Sharpeville police station to protest the pass laws imposed by the apartheid government.
The pass laws were statues requiring Blacks to carry a reference (pass) book with them when they traveled outside of their homes. The protest escalated into violence, resulting in the police killing 69 protestors — many of whom were shot in the back — and wounding 180 in what has come to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre.
This year’s winners were university professor Dr. Uzma Shakir who helped organize the Colour of Poverty campaign and served as the executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario; professor emeritus Dr. Chandrakant Shah who has worked to promote a better understanding of the plight of aboriginal people through his teaching, research, clinical service and advocacy and the late Julius Deutsch who was a community leader, mentor and passionate activist on social justice issues. He died earlier this year.
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath congratulated this year’s winners and nominees, adding they are true leaders that have made Canada a stronger and more inclusive society.
“In my view, tonight’s awards are also a reminder of why we identify as New Democrats,” she said. “Our commitment to building a society that opens the door of opportunity equally to all has never wavered. Tonight we recognize those who are at the forefront of that extremely important work.”
The awards honour the memory of J.S. Woodsworth who was a powerful advocate for Ontario’s working class in the early 1900s. In 1932, he created the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political party that was the forerunner of the NDP.