By RON FANFAIR
Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) president, Nigel Barriffe, has called on Pride Toronto to do more than just the apology they issued last month to Black Lives Matter (BLM) for its handling of their protest at this year’s Pride parade.
“That’s a good thing,” said the Toronto District School Board educator. “But Urban Alliance, working in a supporting role, encourages Pride to speak directly to BLM. Apologies are not enough. They must be followed by action.”
Barriffe made the remarks at the UARR 41st anniversary awards dinner recently.
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 Black people 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 over the last four decades.
They have made deputations to the Toronto Police Services Board expressing concerns about the expanded use of Tasers and the disproportionate negative impact of carding on racialized young people. They also intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Wood v. Schaeffer.
Three years ago, 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.
Barriffe said the UARR is looking forward to participating in public consultations on the future of policing in the city and police oversight in the province.
“We hope they will bring about the required systemic changes and will not be a venue for airing grievances without the required action in response,” he said.
Activists Desmond Cole and Min Sook Lee were feature speakers at this year’s event.
Cole demanded accountability from politicians and officials in positions of authority while Lee – an award-winning film-maker – said next year’s 150th anniversary of confederation is an opportunity to put the brakes on the collective amnesia Canadians adopt when it comes to telling stories of how the country emerged.
“Unless we have an honest reckoning of our past, we cannot move into a future that embraces our collective interests,” said Lee who is also an assistant professor at the Ontario College of Art & Design University. “We need to dream collectively and this requires imagination because, after all, we are an imagined community.”
As part of their fundraising dinner held every two years, the UARR presents awards to anti-racist leaders in the community.
Veteran reporter and columnist, Royson James – who retired from the Toronto Star last week after 35 years’ service – and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Ontario chapter president, Yolanda McClean, were the recipients of Race Relations Awards.
“This is really yours,” said James who migrated from Jamaica in 1969 and received his journalistic training at Andrews University in Michigan. “I just want to thank the Toronto Star for giving me the platform and a megaphone to speak about these issues. Thank you for being there for people like Desmond Cole and all the other activists. We get a lot of hate mail, but we also get a lot of love and that is what sustains us.”
McClean thanked the Urban Alliance for addressing inequality and empowering communities, and the Toronto & York Regional Labour Council (TYRLC) for nominating her.
“I want to thank you for believing in me,” she said. “I want you to know that I am only able to do this work because of the strength that I receive from my union, my colleagues and so many other organizations that are here tonight.”
In addition to being an active TYRLC delegate, McClean is also the Canadian Union of Public Service Employees (CUPE) Ontario second vice-president and the union’s national executive diversity vice-president.
Nicholas Keung, who writes about immigration, refugees, migration and diversity issues for the Toronto Star, was presented with the Ashok Chandwani Media Award.
Montreal-based Chandwani, who died 13 years ago, wrote extensively about his immigrant experience.
“This award belongs to the people who have the faith and trust in me to share their stories,” said Keung who graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a communication and psychology degree and was a general assignment reporter with Sing Tao Daily – a Chinese language publication based in Toronto – before joining the Toronto Star in 1997. “It takes a lot of courage for vulnerable and marginalized people to speak up and share their stories and to be photographed.”