The number is unbelievably staggering. Just one African-Canadian occupies the corridors of power in the federal and provincial governments, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ontario Court of Appeal.
There are no Blacks in the 37-member federal cabinet, the nine-member Supreme Court or the 23-member provincial Court of Appeal. Of 25 Ontario cabinet ministers, Margarett Best is the only Black provincial minister and member of the 107-seat parliament.
“If you total up the power parties, there are 94 officials capable of changing our lives and we have just one representative,” lawyer Julian Falconer noted in his keynote address at the Ontario Black History Society’s (OBHS) Black History Month kick-off brunch last Sunday. “One in 94 is wrong and unacceptable.
“Members of the Black community need to be part of the decision-making process. There are very good stories like Toronto Police Service Deputy Chiefs Keith Forde and Peter Sloly, Ontario Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Jay Hope and Margarett Best, but one in 94 is not right. It means that those who have the power to put people who care in place aren’t doing it and it also means our community is not rising to the challenge. This is not a one-way street. I can’t emphasize how much I believe in my heart that it’s also up to us to take control as it is for them to seize control.”
Falconer, who has built his reputation by arguing issues of human rights, racism and public interest, said change requires perspective, debate and participation by groups of people who are affected by change.
“Change will not happen if people with varying social experiences, realities and perspectives are not at the table,” he added.
Best, the Minister of Health Promotion, brought greetings from Premier Dalton McGuinty and acknowledged the OBHS for being at the forefront of celebrating Black history and culture.
“The OBHS is the keeper of our history and its function is to remind us to consider the successes of members of the African-Canadian community by engaging, enriching and empowering them with acts of kindness, words of encouragement and unwavering support. The OBHS serves to remind us of our responsibility to uplift each other and that the time is now to positively impact our community as we journey through our lives as members of the African Diaspora.”
Wellington-Halton Hills Tory MPP Ted Arnott who, with Liberal MPP Maria Van Bommell co-sponsored Bill 111 which is an Act to proclaim August 1 as Emancipation Day, represented Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader Tim Hudak while Scarborough teacher and former New Democratic Party provincial candidate Yvette Blackburn represented the party’s provincial leader, Andrea Horwath.
Black History Month evolved from the work of American scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson who, in an attempt to spread the concept of African-American history, suggested its celebration during a week in the middle of February.
He selected February because it was the chosen month of the birth of Frederick Douglass who was born a slave and therefore was unsure of his actual birth date.
Former Member of Parliament and current Ontario Fairness Commissioner Jean Augustine read a motion in the House of Commons in 1996 to formally declare February Black History Month in Canada.
The theme of this year’s Black History Month celebrations is “The Time is Now”.
“This theme is connected to the significance of this year in our history,” said OBHS president, Rosemary Sadlier. “It marks the launch of our new logo reflecting the colours of the entire African-Canadian Diaspora and the coming into being of new strategic partnerships to enhance and improve the effectiveness of our organization.”
This is the 31st year that the OBHS is officially celebrating Black History Month.