‘Historic’ congress of Black Canadian politicians gathered in Ottawa

Black politicians from all levels of government, representing different political parties and including both francophones and anglophones, gathered in Ottawa this week for what they called a “historic” meeting.

The Canadian Congress of Black Parliamentarians met over two days, with the goal of building consensus and proposing solutions to improve the lives of Black Canadians. 

45 politicians signed a values statement — among them school trustees, municipal councillors, MPs, senators, provincial MPPs and MLAs. 

“This is a historical event in Canada,” said federal Liberal MP Michael Coteau. 

“It’s the first time politicians from the African community, people of African descent have come together to identify issues that impact their community.” 

The group says they are committed to continue to meet quarterly to ensure that their mission and vision “are being actioned across Canada,” said Charmaine Williams, Ontario’s associate minister of women’s social and economic opportunity.

They committed to advancing issues such as health care, education and economic development. Among their other priorities will be combating anti-Black racism and systemic racism.

The meetings in the nation’s capital come as some say the Black Lives Matter movement and the activism that followed the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. in 2020 are beginning to fade from the headlines. 

The meetings are also happening during a time when the makeup of provincial legislatures and municipal councils is changing. During a Thursday night reception, congress attendees spoke about how they were the first Black person ever to serve in their region — among them Prince Edward Island MLA Gord McNeilly.

Despite the cross-country and cross-party unity, they did openly disagree on some issues, but they said a key focus of the discussion was concentrating on the areas that unite them. 

“When we look at any community, especially the Black community, the division has been the one thing that has kept us from advancing and moving forward,” said Tony Ince, Nova Scotia’s former minister of African Nova Scotian affairs. 

CBC News: The House6:21Parliamentary Black Caucus pushes for better supports for Black Canadians

The Parliamentary Black Caucus held its own extensive consultations and has now sent a letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to make sure their priorities are reflected in the federal budget. Ontario Liberal MP and co-chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus Michael Coteau joins Catherine Cullen to discuss.

Black class action lawsuit discussed

The ongoing proposed Black Class Action lawsuit was among the issues discussed. Federal Black employees are attempting to sue the Canadian government. 

They allege Black civil servants endured decades of systemic racism and discrimination. Since the 1970s, the lawsuit alleges, roughly 30,000 Black employees have lost out on opportunities and benefits afforded to others because of their race. 

The proposed lawsuit seeks compensation for decades of damages, a mental health fund, a diversity plan and changes to the Employment Equity Act to recognize the exclusion of Black people. 

Unions and former governor general Michaëlle Jean have called on the Canadian government to resolve the dispute. 

The Black Parliamentary Congress did not go so far as to endorse the proposed lawsuit, but members of the congress said employees are not alone in their fight. 

“We see. We hear. We understand the plight of Black employees across the country,” said regional Waterloo councillor Colleen James. 

“We recognize there have been systemic barriers, racism, anti-Black racism within various employment sectors, not just within government,” James said.

“We understand. We know. And for some of us, we are actually navigating the same things they are.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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