By LENNOX FARRELL
In Canada, there are three levels of government: federal, provincial/territorial and municipal. There is, however, one level of governance: communal.
While government protects residents’ rights and enjoins on them the responsibilities expected, governance determines the power base which any demographic group can leverage in its own interests.
The federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments determine how all levels of the country are to be taxed to pay for services, and how the benefits from these services are distributed to the populace.
Under the British Empire, municipal government became the first form of representative government, responsible for the Magna Carta freedoms achieved in 1215. While municipal governments can vary by name – cities, towns, boroughs etc. – in Canada, municipal laws are approved at the provincial levels. Unlike municipal governments, federal and provincial governments are more explicitly represented by political parties (e.g., Conservative, Liberal, New Democratic, Green, etc.). Each of these has definitive political agendas on which they build campaigns and win elections.
While services can sometimes overlap – for example, policing by the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Toronto Police Service – some services are unique to their different levels. The federal government is responsible for issues of citizenship, while the provinces provide fundamental services like health care, welfare and property rights.
Under the Constitution of Canada, citizens and legal residents are entitled to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. In theory, they also have equal access to the above benefits provided by each level of government. What is not explicitly written into the Constitution is that the services and benefits provided at every level of government are not equally distributed.
Though inequality is strongly opposed, it is nonetheless influenced by the unelected presence of ‘communal governance’. This form of leveraging power and benefits is itself influenced by the country’s multicultural demography. According to this multi-racial, multi-ethnic phenomenon, more than 95 per cent of the population in some rural areas was not only born in Canada, but so too were their grandparents. In major urban areas, 15 in all, more than 90 per cent of the populace was either born abroad or have parents who were.
After the indigenous First Nations, then the colonizing Anglo- and Francophones, African Canadians have lived in Canada for centuries, yet we have no effective level of governance as is available to more recently arrived communities such as the Chinese, East Indians, Jews, Filipinos, etc., each of which is represented by at least one national organization.
Is there any similar organization, be it national, provincial, municipal or even local, that can attest to being of, by and for African-Canadians?
Based on ‘communal means of governance’, these organizations indicate that their communities have leverage. Thus, in order to obtain what, according to the Constitution of Canada, is theirs by right, these communities no longer need to function in an activist mode. They no longer have to agitate for their rights, especially for the rights of their youth.
Unlike these communities, African-Canadians still have to agitate for such basic rights as effective education in Africentric schools; agitate against such blatant injustices as police profiling, over-representation in the criminal justice system; and agitate within our communities to stop the carnage of Black youth killing Black youth. Which other communities experience similar or even comparable needs to organize and agitate?
Communal governance means being undeniably “status quo”. Being status quo effectively means others can no longer freely and negatively profile your community without serious consequences. Being status quo means you can positively influence society’s expectations of your community and its members.
Therefore, African Canadian communities, lacking effective forms of governance, also lack social, political and financial leverage. We do not have control over how each member, especially our youth, is publicly profiled by service providers like the police or service depicters like the media.
So far, we have been unable to effectively create and maintain organizations of governance. Is it that under enslavement and because of subsequent marginalization we were explicitly and implicitly denied the right to belong to communities and instead only given the right to belong to institutions such as auction blocks, cell blocks, public housing and public employment?
Whatever the reason, lifting ourselves and leveraging power in our interests are entirely our responsibility. Doing so will require, for example, a National Assembly of African Canadian Women, or an Ontario Commonwealth of African Canadians. Let us then ask ourselves what it might take for us to build national, regional and local means of governance with which to leverage a future where our youth will be doing well and not doing time.