Undeterred by Canada’s history of discirimination against people of colour, efforts have been made on the road to recognition and reconciliation. Due to these efforts, Canada is now multicultural on an international scale. The conditions for black Canadians have improved, making it possible to prosper in Canada. Certain events and people in history have played a big role in the growing recognition of the Canadian black community. Influential people from all walks of life and races soldiers, politicians and activists were a part of significant events throughout history and assisted with the ongoing struggle for equality.
World War II advanced multicultural recognition in Canada. During 1938-1945, black Canadians were accepted into armed forces and served in World War II, working alongside white soldiers. By the end of the war, thousands of men were serving in the military in non-segregated Army and Air Force units. This was a big step towards recognition, as there were commendations and praise to these soldiers for their bravery and help during the war.
Retired Army Colonel, Bill De Shields, founder of The Black Military History Institute of Annapolis, Maryland, stated, ‘The symbol of black participation at that time was ‘the Double V’. In other words, ‘Double V’ meant two victories: victory against the enemy abroad, and victory against the enemy at home. The enemy at home of course being racism, discrimination, prejudice and Jim Crow’ (VOA, 31 Oct 2009). By participating in the war, and winning, they did not only win on the field, but they won the battle against racism, positively changing views upon black Canadians.
In addition to soldiers heroism leading to recognition, there were also groups of African-Canadian activist women who raised funds for war-related charities. These women also helped out by working as home front labourers. The groups of women put aside previously-held discriminatory beliefs that were in place about black people. Their work as campaigners and labourers helped the reconciliation and peace that Canada needed during this time, “For some women campaigners, international work—whether through established national women’s movements or via separate, radical pacifist organisations—was crucial for the prevention of war and the maintenance of world peace” (Sharp and Stibbe, 30 Sep 2016). Additionally, there was an organisation was called War Mothers’ Protective League. This group of women helped the black Canadian servicemen all over the world by delivering care packages and letters, brightening soldiers days, letting them know that they are not forgotten about by the people back home.
In 1946-1984, governmental progress started to be seen in government representation. In 1963, Leonard Braithwaite became the first African-Canadian to be elected into a Canadian Parliament. Braithwaite ran as a Liberal member for Etobicoke and won. Government representation was being seen, increasing recognition. As there were no black parliamentarians before him, Leonard Braithwaite was a very important figure. He also spoke out for black rights and gender equality, which was not spoken of much at this time. A very bold move for Braithwaite, but it worked out for the best, for according to Associate Managing Director of the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Braithwaite was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1971. In 1998, he was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada. In 1999, he was elected a bencher of The Law Society of Upper Canada, becoming the first Black bencher in the Society’s 200-year history. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2004” (Yarhi, 4 Mar 2015) becoming a very significant figure for years after his death in 2012.
Leonard Braithwaite was not only known for being the first African-American in parliament, but also for speaking out for what he believes in. As a liberal, he fought for black rights and gender equality. As the municipal member of parliament, he spoke out against racial segregation, putting down the Separate Schools Act. The Separate Schools Act as Eli Yarhi, Associate Managing Director of the Canadian Encyclopedia stated is “a law that permitted racial segregation in Ontario schools. One month later, education minister and future Ontario Premier Bill Davis introduced a bill that repealed the 114-year-old provision and amended the Act” (Yarhi, 4 Mar 2015) This means that Braithwaites efforts were not for nothing,the law was later abolished, another step towards reconciliation. Later in the 70s, Pierre Trudeau introduced a multicultural policy, including other ethnic groups into the mix, moving towards a society of recognition of other cultures and respecting the multiculturalism that is present in the country.
In 2012, the 17 year old boy named Trayvon Martin was tragically killed by George Zimmerman. Martin was placed on trial for his own murder, sparking up the movement of #BlackLivesMatter. Black Lives Matter came into existence the same year of Martin’s death in 2012, founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. This movement has moved all over the world, including Toronto. It is a platform where people can share their stories and work together to take back their basic human rights, bringing people together through equity and love for Black lives, creating a political project. As BLM (Black Lives Matter)’s vision is “To be a platform upon which black communities across Toronto can actively dismantle all forms of anti-black racism, liberate blackness, support black healing, affirm black existence, and create freedom to love and self- determine” (BLM – TO, 2016). This organisation is very important for recognition, reconciliation and appreciation towards black people.
The Black Lives Toronto continues to bring racism out in the open. In 2016, during Toronto’s pride parade, they arranged a sit-in to protest Toronto pride’s ‘anti-blackness’. The parade held a spot for a police float, which BLM did not agree with. The organisation signed a document, removing the police float in future parades. “BLM-TO made a number of demands of Pride Toronto in order for the parade to get moving again. Among them was a ban on police forces marching in uniform or full regalia and carrying guns at the parade. All of BLM-TO demands were agreed to and later endorsed by Pride’s membership and board” (Walcott, June 28 2017). BLM is a very powerful organisation, fighting for black rights and fighting for reconciliation and the appreciation that black lives deserve.
The struggle for equality is still ongoing, however, over the years, recognition of the Canadian black community has improved. Many people have assisted with making Canada a more comfortable place for black people. These people helped make events significant, by leaving behind a mark that would change society’s view on the black community. Especially through representation, you can finally see that Canada is multicultural, multiracial, and beautiful because of that. Representation means that the country sees more to minorities than stereotypes. Representation can make deprived groups become real people.