By PATRICK HUNTER
There was a forum this past weekend in Toronto looking into the condition of persons of African descent living in Canada. The forum was a joint effort by the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) and Osgoode Hall Law School.
Dr. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine (a Trini) is the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and Against Racial Discrimination. She represented the OAS Commission.
It should be pointed out here that, normally, this would have been listed as a state visit by the Rapporteur. For that formality, Canada’s government would have had to extend an invitation. As the ACLC pointed out, its request to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to extend the invitation was not acted on. Thus, the forum was created in its place.
There have been several rapporteurs who have come to this country, mostly from the United Nations, to examine the conditions of various groups – Indigenous, women, children, African descendants. Their reports are fact-finding and more often than not, the facts found were – to put it mildly, embarrassing to Canada.
As a community, we have become quite good at this – making presentations to various bodies. Presenters are articulate, knowledgeable and passionate. Last Saturday’s day-long forum was no different. The only shortcoming of the whole exercise is that one day is not enough to detail the full extent of how racism and racial discrimination affect our community and, in particular, the anti-Black nature of the discrimination.
But those that presented and those that attended made a valiant effort and succeeded in presenting a picture of our state of affairs that should allow the Commissioner to make representations on our behalf through the OAS, an international body to which Canada belongs.
Obviously I cannot do justice to the volume and the details of the presentations in this column. In many cases, a lot of it we do know. We may have lost track of the up-to-date details of some of it. In addition, we may have lost track of some of the other details completely. So, in some sense, this was a “refresher course” for many of us. However, there are a couple of presentations that add a different light to what we know.
Rosemary Sadlier, the President of the Ontario Black History Society, led off the presentations providing a historical context of people of African descent in Canada. One point that stood out asked the question: Sure, we know the name of Mathieu de Costa as the first recorded free Black person in Canada. But, weren’t there other Black people around?
This dovetailed into Michelle Williams’ presentation. Williams is an African Nova Scotian lawyer who heads up the Indigenous Blacks and Mi’kmaq Initiative at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. Her position is that the African presence in Canada is more foundational and should be included in the context of Canadian “founder”, which is still limited to the British and the French. This, of course is not to ignore the First Nations’ position. She is proposing that a legal framework be developed to establish that concept and context which has the potential of, at least, reinforcing our constitutional rights.
The Midaynta Community Services also made a couple of presentations that stood out for me. This organization, which largely supports the Somali community in Toronto, was passionate in its presentations. Many in their community have largely been the targets of police raids. The result is that the community, and its youth in particular, are sometimes categorized distinctly for criminal behaviour apart from the Black community.
The fact that some 50 young people from their community have been murdered in Calgary, Alberta and have not been resolved is a testament to that designation, suggesting that detailed investigations are not worth the effort.
One of the objectives of last Saturday’s forum was to promote the International Decade for People of African Descent which begins on January 1, 2015. This is a declaration by the United Nations that has also been adopted by the OAS. The central theme of the Decade is: “People of African Descent: recognition, justice and development.” In part, it is to implement the Durban Declaration and Program of Action coming out of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which was held in South Africa in 2001.
We have a duty to ensure that our governments, at all levels, recognize that Declaration and initiate the program of action, including the fact of complicity in anti-Black racism.
A significant demand should be the establishment, certainly at the federal and provincial levels, of a ministry of African Descendant Affairs that would initiate and co-ordinate the implementation of programs that address the situation of people of African descent. It is no longer acceptable for us to be “members of the visible minority class”. That does not address the specific needs of our community.
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