In December 1995, the House of Commons gave its unanimous consent to, “take note of the important contribution of black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of Canada, the diversity of the black community in Canada and its importance to the history of this country, and recognize February as Black History Month.”
It is month to acknowledge a history that dates back in Canada to 1603, and the four centuries to follow, as Canadians of African descent helped build and defend the country we all call home. It is a month for all Canadians to recognize the diverse contributions that Black Canadians have made, and continue to make to our politics, culture, science, business, and the social justice and the trade union movements.
As one of the world’s most diverse nations — and better for it — the history of our Black brothers and sisters is a part of Canadian history we should all know. We should know that in 1793, Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe pressured the government of Upper Canada to pass the Anti-Slavery Act. This action catalyzed an anti-slave movement that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery throughout the British Empire. But, equally as important, we should also be aware that as late as 1965, some schools in Ontario were still segregated, and federal immigration barriers existed to restrict Black newcomers from the Caribbean and Africa.
While such overt legislative racism is considered legally unacceptable, racism lingers in numerous other ways to note some examples: in wage and promotion discrimination in Canadian workplaces; racial profiling by authorities; and systemically as Black Canadians, as with other racialized Canadians, fail to be proportionately represented in leadership and decision making roles in almost all Canadian organizations and business. It is not a surprise that a third of Black Canadians report they have experienced blatant racism at work or in the community.
An odious barrier to racialized immigrants also appears in the form of the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker program (TFWP). The tentacles of the TFWP lures workers to Canada, mostly from the Global South, and often creates an environment of indentureship but prohibits these workers from permanently immigrating to Canada if they so choose.
So the fight for justice continues. We must all celebrate and learn from a history that has spanned the deepest of inequities to the highest of achievements. We must stand with together in solidarity to work towards a future where inequality is a thing of the past. Not just in February, but everyday.