Black protest has given Canadians a standard of human rights, and a level of inclusion, equity and diversity. But there’s more to do | The Star
Overpoliced and underprotected. That’s the painful paradox of being Black in Canada.
That’s why Black protest is not just imperative for Black survival in Canada, but a precursor to Black successes that have benefited folks beyond Black communities. Defiant, daring and public resistance of Black people in Canada has led to many of the most significant legal and social reforms that have shaped Canada for the better.
It was the Black-led civil-disobedience campaign of restaurant sit-ins by Bromley Armstrong, Ruth Lor, and Hugh Burnett in Dresden, Ont., that caused this province to outlaw segregation in commercial and residential establishments with the passing of the 1954 Fair Accommodation Practices Act. This campaign was instrumental in inspiring the establishment of Ontario’s Human Rights Commission in 1962, leading other provinces to establish the same. Relatedly, while many Canadians beam at the fact that a Black woman, Viola Desmond, is on our $10 bill, few remember that her stand against segregation in Nova Scotia in 1946 was illegal and led her to be violently arrested, detained and jailed.
Canada now celebrates having one of the western world’s most progressive immigration and refugee systems, seeing it as a bedrock for the flourishing of a national policy and social ethic of multiculturalism. But Canadians forget that it was hundreds of Black Caribbean immigrants, many of whom were train porters, domestic servants and mine workers, who in the 1960s led public demonstrations and lobbied Canadian government officials to eventually get our country to significantly reduce the racist provisions that were meant to make and maintain this stolen Indigenous land as a “white man’s country.”
While now outdated and overdue for reform, Ontario’s current policing and police oversight laws, including the establishment of the Special Investigations Unit, were also born directly out of Black protest against recurring killings with impunity of Black people by white police officers. These protests were largely driven by fierce and fearless advocacy of the Black Action Defence Committee, commonly regarded as the Black Lives Matter-Toronto of the late 1980s through to the early 2000s.
The same point can be made about pivotal human-rights advances that have been made in education, sports, child welfare, healthcare and housing. Within these and other sectors, large and small Black protests beat the path for social reforms that have benefited all people. And yet still, Black folks remain overpoliced and underprotected by these very same institutions we helped make better. Overpoliced and underprotected by the very same non-Black communities that have directly benefited from having fairer schools, more equitable and representative workplaces, less aggressively invasive child-welfare societies, and somewhat less racist and more accountable policing systems.
Because of historically ardent and ongoing Black protest, Canadians enjoy a standard of human rights and level of inclusion, equity and diversity that would likely be substantially more deficient than they currently are if those protests never occurred. The irony is that this same social standard of well-being that formed out of Black struggle is used to delegitimize continued expressions of Black protest.
Whether it’s Black Lives Matter activists pouring pink paint on monuments to purveyors of Indigenous genocide and anti-Black racism, or Black parents protesting stubbornly systemic anti-Black racism at the Peel Board of Education, or Black employees of the provincial public service literally and figuratively being sick of having to be twice as good to get half as far as their non-Black counterparts, anti-Black pushback persists. This pushback is always a slap in the face to Black communities. It is a reminder that Canadians too easily forget that much of our country’s progress has been spurred by protests emanating from Black pain and suffering. If this fact was truly recognized and respected in our country, there would be no need for a Black Lives Matter movement in Canada.
Canadians seem to only want the fruit of Canada’s progressive successes without appreciating the Black struggle, suffering and sacrifices at the root of many of them.
But the tradition of Black people in Canada has never forgotten that “If there is no struggle there is no progress” as once said by Frederick Douglass. And so with Aug. 1 and Emancipation Day arriving, to support and inspire continued Black freedom fighting in Canada, I leave these words from a poem from one of Canada’s greatest civil rights lawyers, the late Charles Roach:
Struggle to be free
Stand fast for your right
To equal liberty
Live a life of sharing
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This content was originally published here.