by John Delva in Montreal

Blacks make up Montreal’s largest visible minority. According to the 2011 census, 147,100 live in the city. Why, then, are there so few in our media?

As far back as the 1930s, black journalists in Montreal have been creating and fighting for space for their voices.

Dorothy Williams, strategic development director at Collective Community Services, a local non-for-profit community organization, traces back to 1934 Montreal’s first newspaper aimed at black readers. The Free Lance, which folded in 1941, was meant "to counter the pervasive negative portrayals of Blacks in their city's media [sic]."

Community newspapers similar to the The Free Lance are still where the black media presence is strongest in the city. In fact, Community Contact, which has been around for more than 20 years, has been home to the first bylines of many reporters who went on to high-profile roles in the news business.

Shelley Walcott is one of them. Some 50 Canadian news organizations had turned her down before CNN came knocking in 1997. During her stint there, which ended in 2003, she was first a video journalist for the network, then a reporter for the children’s show “CNN Student News.”

Initially, she attributed the rejection letters to the province’s political climate, still searing over the 1995 referendum—being part of the province’s anglophone minority felt “like I was on the outside looking in,” she said.

Since 2013, Walcott has been a main anchor at New Hampshire’s WMUR-TV. Experience has deepened her hindsight.

“I’ve been in the business for 20 years and when I see people [coming out journalism school] and how green they are, I understand what an employer is looking for. To be successful at anything, you can’t blame anyone else, because it’s very competitive out there."

Breaking into the business 

It can also be lonely. Shari Okeke, a writer and broadcaster at CBC Montreal’s “Daybreak,” recalls being the only black reporter in the Montreal newsroom when she arrived in 1999. She had reasons to be optimistic, though, she said via email.

"I landed a paid internship … at a newspaper in Ontario straight out of journalism school. After that, I was unemployed for about two months while I searched full-time for a job in television."

That’s when Okeke began at CBC’s national newsroom in Toronto in 1997. As an editorial assistant she was “splitting scripts, delivering scripts and rolling teleprompters,” she said. “Even changing toner in the printer.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[V]isible minorities need to push harder, do more networking and really advocate for themselves."[/quote]

She became a chase producer four months in. The producer who hired her later revealed how she had stood out.

“He chose me because while working as an EA [editorial assistant] on his show, I paid attention to the program, contributed as much as I could and demonstrated a clear interest in being more than an EA.”

But while making it in journalism is difficult for hopefuls of all backgrounds, those from non-white communities shoulder heavier expectations, said CTV Montreal’s Maya Johnson via email.

“I do think visible minorities need to push harder, do more networking and really advocate for themselves. And once they get their foot in the door and pay their dues, they need to take initiative and ask for advancement opportunities."

Networking is an obstacle Shani O. Hilton, executive editor for news at BuzzFeed, also talked about—namely how many underestimate it.

"Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement,” she wrote on Medium in March 2014. 

Understanding the Quebecois mentality

But networking does not explain the shortage of blacks in Québec media, said Reginald Rivette. The editor-in-chief of Souche magazine thinks the insular mentality of Quebecois black communities is what restricts their media visibility.

He said media organizations’ disinterest with black communities starts with the latter’s entertainment choices. He explained that while a Denzel Washington or an Oprah may appeal to many demographics in America, this kind of crossover appeal is rare in Québec.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The idea of ‘multicultural' makes for nice speeches, but it’s a different story in everyday Montreal."[/quote]

This is because second-generation Quebecois blacks favour U.S. celebrities, in addition to stars from their family’s home country—but reject local Québec culture and its celebrities. Rivette said this self-seclusion directly affects who media companies and advertisers covet.

"Québec show business should be bending over backward to sell us products, but if we’re not paying attention to local celebrities, why should they make the effort to reach out?”

He initially targeted a multicultural audience, handpicking Algeria-born Lynda Thalie, who’s based out of Montreal, for the cover of the first issue of Souche. Lack of interest shifted the magazine’s focus to a black-only readership.

“The idea of ‘multicultural' makes for nice speeches, but it’s a different story in everyday Montreal. People from different backgrounds don’t really just come and blend together."

Those who complain about the lack of black representation in the media, he said, should get more involved in local culture. Government grants available to top Québec producers are at every creator’s disposal.

“We can’t ask for the ‘establishment’ to look for us, find us, then give us work as we sit there waiting."

One glance at Johnson’s bio, and you would be hard-pressed using words like “sit" or “waiting.” The recipient of a Canadian Women's Press Club scholarship began at CTV Montreal as an intern in 2005. She was 21. The network hired her in 2012 permanently after close to a decade of freelancing, part-time and substituting work.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Neglecting minority issues comes with serious consequences.[/quote]

Johnson, who begins her job as CTV Montreal's Québec City bureau chief this February, mused that none of this might have happened had CTV not reached out.

"I was hired through a visible minority internship program. There’s no shame in that. The news director and executive producer made it clear to me: I wasn’t there to be a token. They had high expectations."

Shifting the reluctance to publicly address race 

Okeke thinks minority reporters are essential to newsrooms, not just for the stories they can contribute, but what they can contribute to other reporters.

"It's...really important for journalists of colour to share what we're hearing and experiencing in our communities with colleagues in our newsrooms, in order to bring attention to those issues."

Neglecting minority issues comes with serious consequences, she said.

"When people do not feel the media reflects their reality, they can be hesitant to talk to the media at all," said Okeke.

Jean Numa Goudou, editor-in-chief of In Texto, said that ultimately the reluctance to address race publicly falls back on the shoulders of Québec officials. Goudou collided with the race wall first-hand when he asked for numbers related to blacks in the education system. The Québec government referred him to the province’s school boards. They, in turn, ignored his calls. He got an answer after approaching a non-profit organization.

“I was told that the government thinks the Haitian community would be stigmatized if such numbers were released. They do this to be politically correct—but this approach doesn’t help the community,” he said. “The mainstream media has to cover these topics, amongst others, so that people from different races learn more about each other."

Last August, Goudou broke a story on Héma-Québec, the province’s blood services agency, after it began accepting a larger pool of black female donors. The story received no attention in the mainstream media. This disinterest will affect the well-being of all Canadians, including future ones, he said.

“As more immigrants arrive, the public health system has to adapt. Blacks consume media too [and this helps] Héma-Québec to find more donors. This is a public health issue."

This article first appeared on Republished with permission.

Published in Arts & Culture

by Patrick Hunter (@pghntr) in Toronto

A huge wave, represented by about 50 high-profile Canadians, rocked Mayor John Tory’s proverbial boat this week. The “wave” consisted of a former chief justice of Ontario, three former mayors (one of whom is a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission), several former politicians and business leaders.

Identifying themselves as Concerned Citizens to End Carding, they held a news conference steps away from Mayor Tory’s office at City Hall to denounce the controversial police practice.

The result is that the mayor has changed his tune, reversing his position on “carding,” the controversial practice by the Toronto Police Service (TPS) of collecting and retaining information about individuals with whom they engage, but who are not being detained or under suspicion of committing a crime.

In his announcement, the Mayor said: “The issue of community engagements, or carding as it has become known, has eroded public trust to a level that is clearly unacceptable.As mayor, it is up to me to do whatever I can do to restore that trust . . . And so I am announcing today my intention, at the next meeting of the police services board on June 18, to seek the permanent cancellation of carding once and for all.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We believe carding violates the human rights of citizens, it goes against the principles of our Charter Rights ..." - Concerned Citizens to End Carding[/quote]

It is not often that political leaders reverse their positions so openly. Early reaction has been mostly positive. The damage, however, may have already been done. That will become clearer when Tory faces the electorate in another three years.  

The Use of Carding

The carding practice was revealed in a Toronto Star investigative report in 2012 under the banner headline “Known to police.” It uncovered the fact the majority of persons stopped by the police whose information was taken were young black males, and their information was being kept in a database, apparently for future reference when a crime is committed.

Earlier this year, the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) had approved a policy on community engagement, which required police officers to inform individuals who are not under suspicion of any criminal activity that they have the right to end the engagement. If officers took a person’s information, they would also be required to provide a “receipt” indicating why the person was stopped.

William (Bill) Blair, then the outgoing chief of police, had a problem with the requirement and managed to get a watered-down version – without the above requirements of the policy – approved. The reaction and subsequent heat from the black community increased.

Desmond Cole: A Catalyst

In May, Toronto Life published a cover story by Desmond Cole, “The Skin I’m In.” It catalogues his experiences with the police, and outlines the emotional impact that they had and have on him – an impact that is shared by many black men, young or old.

The article became a sensation and was, indeed, a catalyst for the Concerned Citizens group to declare its opposition to carding.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Saunders'] stance, if continued, will certainly erode any goodwill he may have earned from the black community, and the wider community, as demonstrated by the Concerned Citizens group.[/quote]

In its statement, the group notes: “We all need to oppose carding vehemently … We are offended by the notion of casually and routinely stopping citizens, outside of police investigations of actual criminal acts that have occurred, to question and record, and then store personal data in police files … We believe carding violates the human rights of citizens, it goes against the principles of our Charter Rights ..."

Last Friday, the chair of the TPSB, Dr. Alok Mukherjee wrote an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star: “We are at risk of turning into a surveillance society” in which he also declared a change of heart.

“I believe the Toronto Police Services Board must now declare unequivocally that information generated from informal contacts with members of the public, which are not related to any criminal investigation or likelihood of a criminal investigation, must not be recorded in any police database,” he wrote.

Where the Police Chief Stands

Mark Saunders, who is black, is the recently appointed chief of police, succeeding Bill Blair. He has picked up the ball, voicing support for carding as a legitimate investigative tool. He has tried to cushion this support by suggesting that there would be changes in implementing the policy by eliminating random stops.

The community is not buying it.

His stance, if continued, will certainly erode any goodwill he may have earned from the black community, and the wider community, as demonstrated by the Concerned Citizens group.

Adding to the community’s concern about Chief Saunders’ position, a recent report in the Toronto Star that revealed an internal memo prepared by Saunders while he was a staff superintendent.

In the memo, he essentially tried to debunk the notion of racial profiling and carding, suggesting that analyses did not support “notions or activities of racially biased policing practices.” According to the Star, his then-superior officer, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, also black, took issue with Saunders’ analysis and conclusion.

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, in the wake of Mayor Tory’s conversion, has also reaffirmed the association’s position, and that of the chief’s: getting rid of carding would have a negative impact on “community safety.” Exactly how is unclear.

It would appear that both Chief Saunders and the police association fail to make the connection that their defence of carding’s use and the fact that the majority of the carded residents are black imply that they believe that members of the black community are responsible for most of the crimes and criminal activities in the city.

If the black chief of police believes that, what chance do we have to change relations between the police and the black community?

Patrick Hunter is a communications consultant and a columnist for Share Newspaper. He is a former communications director at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and has worked in government and the news media.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
Monday, 08 June 2015 15:56

Ending Police Carding Is Just Step One

by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough

“I’m afraid for my son to grow up.”

The words come via a 23-year-old woman, who sits with her six-month-old son in her arms. These words – words that no mother should have to say – drive home a heavy point.

She’s one of a dozen or so members of the Say Word youth journalism program that runs weekly in Scarborough, out of East Metro Youth Services – a group I’ve been privileged enough to coordinate since 2008.

Her comment comes after she and the group are asked to read Desmond Cole’s recently published Toronto Life article, “The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times – all because I’m black.” Raising her son in the over-policed and often negatively stigmatized neighbourhood of Kingston-Galloway in Scarborough, the young mom doesn’t want her son to grow up and be victim to the racial profiling Cole’s article brings to light.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][A] student – albeit a young Caucasian man who self-identified as a resident of Richmond Hill – asked the teaching assistant, very seriously, “Does racial profiling actually exist?” I answered, out of turn: “Yes, it does exist – just not for you.”[/quote]

Reading Cole’s work shifted almost the entire afternoon’s program to an open sharing circle – nearly every participant had a personal account (or several) of being carded, negative encounters with the police or witnessing disturbing interactions between police and youth in the community.

Stories of “fitting the description” and of being searched without cause, questioned and arrested abounded.

The Say Word group analyzes articles on a weekly basis so that the participants are able to think critically about how they will write their own pieces for the annual by-youth, for-youth magazine they put together for Scarborough. The consensus on Cole’s work: he hit the nail on the head – everything he wrote in that article resonated.

Racial Profiling Is Real

The afternoon’s discussion made me reflect on the many instances of negative experiences with the police I myself have had over the years growing up in Scarborough.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The disproportionate carding of young black men adds yet another layer to a narrative Canada – a country often touted as an inclusive, diverse, multicultural mosaic – seems all too comfortable with. It’s the narrative of racial profiling, over-policing and criminalizing racialized people and communities.[/quote]

It also made me flash back to a moment in one of my Intro to Criminology classes at York University, when a student – albeit a young Caucasian man who self-identified as a resident of Richmond Hill – asked the teaching assistant, very seriously, “Does racial profiling actually exist?”

I answered, out of turn: “Yes, it does exist – just not for you.”

If only he could have been with me on that Wednesday afternoon, he could have heard first-hand from the young people most affected: yes, racial profiling does exist – in a big way.

Racial profiling by Toronto Police runs deeper than the highly controversial, and deeply troubling, carding practice – which disproportionately targets young black men. So while Toronto mayor John Tory’s announcement this past weekend that he would like to put an end to carding is a step in the right direction, he’s not going to be let off the hook that easily.

The disproportionate carding of young black men adds yet another layer to a narrative Canada – a country often touted as an inclusive, diverse, multicultural mosaic – seems all too comfortable with. It’s the narrative of racial profiling, over-policing and criminalizing racialized people and communities.

Tory often speaks to the fact that carding is disrespectful and hurtful and has caused him a lot of internal conflict since he took over office, but I’ve yet to hear him really explore the deeply entrenched systemic racism that is the root cause of the deplorable practice.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

It’s not enough to just say, “Let’s end carding.” Tory, the Toronto Police Services Board, and newly appointed Police Chief Mark Saunders, need to dig deeper and take a hard look at the city’s police force. They need to do a lot of unpacking. They need to start asking the tough questions; they need to start listening to the community.

Perhaps most importantly, they need to hear, in a very real way, from the youth and young adults that I spend Wednesday afternoons with (and others with similar stories). And when they do, they need to not dismiss their experiences. They need to seriously take into consideration the irreparable scars each of those experiences leaves on a select population of our city’s young people, and the black community at large.

If that doesn’t happen then I guarantee that, even if Tory and the Police Services Board move to officially end carding at the June 18 board meeting, the real changes that Toronto’s black community deserves also will not happen. The disproportionate targeting, the racial profiling, will persist. The only difference is that it won’t be documented.

A native of Toronto’s Scarborough community, Priya is a journalist and editor with a passion for mentoring young people and thinking critically about matters of social justice. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Urbanology Magazine, a part-time instructor at the Humber College J-School and coordinator of Scarborough’s Say Word youth journalism program, a program she was integral in getting off the ground. She is NCM's production editor.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 26 April 2015 13:15

A Black Chief of Police for Toronto

by Patrick Hunter (@pghntrin Toronto

The largest municipal police service in Canada has a new chief. A first for the City of Toronto, Mark Saunders is of African descent – born in England to Jamaican parents. A 32-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service (TPS), Saunders succeeds William Blair.

Saunders, of course, is not the first Black police chief in Canada. That honour went to Winnipeg’s Devon Clunis. But, for Toronto, it is still an historic achievement, as Saunders’ 10-year-old son noted.

That Toronto was in line to get its first Black police chief was not so much a big surprise.

Two of the leading contenders for the job were of African descent, Peter Sloly and Saunders. Both were two of the three deputy chiefs to retiring Chief Blair. What was most surprising, particularly to the Black community in Toronto, was that it was Saunders who got the job, not Sloly.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The expectation was that the new chief should have a complete understanding of the challenges and tensions that exist between the police and the Black community in particular. The appointment of a Black chief could be a step in the right direction.[/quote]

Sloly was more known to the community, in a way that Saunders was not. Shortly before the announcement, the publisher/senior editor of Share, Arnold Auguste, wrote: “… our endorsement was based on our knowledge of Deputy Chief (DC) Sloly over many years and the expectation that he would bring, not only the right skillset, but the right attitude and sensitivity to this important job.

We couldn’t say the same for DC Saunders, because we don’t know him as well as we know Sloly. For all we know, he might make an even better chief, but we don’t know that.”

That, in many ways, summed up the general feeling of Toronto’s Black community.

The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), a civilian oversight body, had launched what it called a “global search”, using a recruiting agency, to find the right fit for the City of Toronto. It would have been a serious error if the new chief were someone from another part of Canada, let alone another part of the world.

The expectation was that the new chief should have a complete understanding of the challenges and tensions that exist between the police and the Black community in particular. The appointment of a Black chief could be a step in the right direction.

And herein lies one of the main challenges facing Saunders.

The Black Community and the Police

In 2002, the Toronto Star published a series of articles that highlighted the racial profiling of Blacks by the Toronto Police. The chief of police at the time, Julian Fantino, denied that the Service, with the possible exception of “a few bad apples”, practised racial profiling. When Blair took over as chief, he was more forthcoming in admitting existence of racial profiling and a pledge to stop it.

In March, 2012, the Toronto Star published “Known to Police”, articles that showed that not only was racial profiling continuing, but it had morphed to the point where individual young, Black men were being stopped, documented and entered into a database, supposedly as part of future investigations. This practice is commonly referred to as “carding”.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chief Saunders will have very little time to get comfortable in his new chair... he has to put this carding issue to rest. That will not be easy.[/quote]

Very shortly after the Star’s revelation, Chief Blair ordered an internal review of the service’s community engagement practices. This resulted in a 90-page report: Police and Committee Engagement Review (PACER). DC Sloly coordinated the review with contributions from several members of the service, including DC Saunders.

The PACER report was to form the basis of a policy that, among other things, would inform individuals of their right to “walk away” from an engagement if they were not under suspicion or being detained. That recommendation was dropped from the policy that has just been approved by the TPSB.

Hardest Challenge: Building Trust

Chief Saunders will have very little time to get comfortable in his new chair. Apart from finding ways to deal with an ever-increasing budget, assessing and dealing with the day-to-day activities of a 5,500 “uniform strength” service and adapting the organization to better suit his vision, he has to put this carding issue to rest. That will not be easy.

Fundamentally, it will be a case of trust. The police argue that engagement with residents is an essential part of “intelligence-led” policing.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Being Black is fantastic, but it doesn’t give me superpowers.” - Mark Saunders[/quote]

The community – specifically, the Black community – is very suspicious of the police, and with good reason. Several reports over the years have acknowledged harsher treatments of Black people in the criminal justice system than their White counterparts.

Saunders comes to the office with the branding of being “a cop’s cop”, a well-respected officer among his fellow officers who has held, and excelled in, several critical command posts. As chief, he would be expected to defend and advocate for the men and women in his command.

But he is Black. As such, he should have an intimate knowledge and, perhaps, experience that none of his predecessors have. The community will therefore be watching closely to see how he balances those two realities. At his introduction to the public as the chief-designate, Saunders noted: “Being Black is fantastic, but it doesn’t give me superpowers.”

Patrick Hunter is a communications consultant and a columnist for Share Newspaper. He is a former communications director at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and has worked in government and the news media.

{module NCM Blurb} 


Published in Commentary

Faiza Hassan, a trainee lawyer in Ottawa, reflects on the importance of professionalism for young professionals from Black and Muslim backgrounds navigating workspaces where there are still not many people who look like them. This article is based on

Published in Economy
Saturday, 01 November 2014 21:07

Ontario's Teaching Diversity Gap

By Tana Turner (@DiversityMusing) in Toronto

This year is the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, that desegregated American public schools. To mark this anniversary, Americans are reflecting on the progress that has been made for Black students since that time. This anniversary has also focused attention on the Teacher Diversity Gap and the need for more racialized teachers.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of a similar milestone in Ontario. In 1964, Leonard Braithwaite, Ontario's first Black MPP, led the repeal of the 114-year-old provision of the Separate Schools Act that allowed for segregated schools for racialized students. Unfortunately this milestone has gone largely unnoticed in Ontario.

The benefit to students of closing the gap was evident in the wake of the shooting death of Abshir Hassan, a supply teacher with the Toronto District School Board. News reports quote administrators, students and parents calling Hassan a "good" man and "beloved" teacher. They noted that he was able to connect with students in the priority neighbourhood in which he worked largely because he was from the community and of the same ethno-racial background as many of the students.  Students felt that he was committed to their success and understood the challenges they face growing up Black and Somali in Toronto.

The provincial government's 2009 Equity and Inclusive Education policy recognizes the need for greater diversity among teachers. It requires that school boards "implement positive employment practices that support equitable hiring, mentoring, retention, promotion, and succession planning." However, while the policy notes that board staff "should reflect the diversity within the community," there is no requirement that boards collect data, analyze the diversity gap or implement efforts to close the gap.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The gap could get worse as the population becomes more diverse. While we currently face a large Teacher Diversity Gap, the province is rapidly becoming more diverse.[/quote]

So, how well are Ontario schools doing to reflect the increasing diversity of the student population? And, how does the Teacher Diversity Gap compare to the United States?

Reflecting diversity

To answer these questions we have calculated the Teacher Diversity Gap for Ontario and the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), and compared these to the gap for the United States overall and for a number of states. The Teacher Diversity Gap is the comparison of the percentage of racialized teachers to the percentage of racialized students. A value of 1.0 indicates that there is no gap and that the diversity among the teaching population reflects the diversity among the student population. The smaller the number, the more significant the gap.

The challenge in conducting this analysis is that while data is available for the United States, the same data is not readily available in Canada. For the United States, teacher and student demographics are available by state and race. While there is data on the number of teachers in Ontario and the Toronto CMA, the figures include all teachers, including those working in private schools. The data on the number of racialized students is not readily available, so the proportion of racial minorities in the total population is used instead.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Students felt that Abshir Hassan was committed to their success and understood the challenges they face growing up Black and Somali in Toronto.[/quote]

The chart shows the Teacher Diversity Gap for Ontario and the Toronto CMA, and compares it to the gap for the United States and specific states.

The data shows that:

  • The demographic divide between teachers and students in Ontario and the Toronto CMA is large. In Ontario, racial minorities represent 26% of the population, yet make up only 10% of the 70,520 secondary school teachers and 9% of the 117,905 elementary school and kindergarten teachers. In the Toronto CMA, racial minorities represent 47% of the population, yet make up 20% of secondary school teachers and 18% of elementary school and kindergarten teachers.
  • The Teacher Diversity Gap is worse for Ontario and the Toronto CMA than for the United States overall. While Ontario and the Toronto CMA are doing a slightly better job of reflecting the diversity of the student population than states such as Ohio, we are also doing worse than other states, including New York, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. The Teacher Diversity Gap for the United States as a whole is slightly smaller than the gap for Ontario and the Toronto CMA.
  • The Teacher Diversity Gap is no better for the Toronto CMA than it is for Ontario. The Teacher Diversity Gap in the Toronto CMA is .40, while the gap for Ontario is .38. This means that the demographic divide between teachers and students is just about the same for students in the Toronto CMA as it is for students in the rest of the province.
  • The gap could get worse as the population becomes more diverse. While we currently face a large Teacher Diversity Gap, the province is rapidly becoming more diverse. Statistics Canada data shows that racial minorities currently represent 26% of the Ontario population and 47% of the Toronto CMA population. Statistics Canada projects that by 2031 racial minorities could make up 63% of the Toronto CMA population. As such, without significant changes to the composition of the teaching population, the Teacher Diversity Gap may widen.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In the Toronto CMA, racial minorities represent 47% of the population, yet make up 20% of secondary school teachers and 18% of elementary school and kindergarten teachers.[/quote]

There are many reasons to close the Teacher Diversity Gap and a lot of evidence that shows that racialized students do better academically with racialized teachers. There are also many policy options to close the demographic divide that exists in Ontario schools. Given this, why aren't the province and the school boards doing more to bring more racialized teachers into the classroom?

Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group Inc., an equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy firm in Toronto.

Published in Commentary

by Priya Ramanujam (@sincerelypriya) in Toronto

It is vain to talk about a community without understanding the issues of the community. Benn Adeoba, a candidate for Toronto city councillor in Ward 2, shared these powerful words in his one-minute speech to a packed room of community leaders, business professionals, youth and elders, gathered together for the Black Canadian mayoral forum presented by the Diversity Advancement Network in North York.

With his one statement, Adeoba, who immigrated to Canada in 1998, shed light on a central underlying theme of the forum. With six speakers at the podium – the incumbent Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, David Soknacki, John Tory, Dewitt Lee and D!ONNE Renée – the basis of the evening was to see who could get the heart of very specific matters pertaining to the Black community in a way that resonated.

Through five questions ranging in breadth from “police carding” to Africentric schools, moderator Hodan Nalayeh (founder/host of Integration TV on CITY) provided the candidates with an opportunity to share their platforms and promises to a packed audience. Amongst the many rounds of applause, some heckling, some boos and some grumbling, this is what transpired.

$876 million in backlogged repairs

Getting the evening underway, each candidate was asked to share his or her position on social housing and how the decision would directly impact the African-Caribbean Canadian community. After making a bold statement that nobody has done more for Toronto Community Housing (TCH) than he has, Rob Ford pointed out that he would not increase affordable housing units until the current status of $876 million in backlogged repairs that leaves residents living in what he called “deplorable” conditions is cleaned up. He also went on to say that as much as he would love to increase social programs, he will not, because doing so would mean higher taxes. That being said, he noted that in his four-year term he has created 59,000 jobs, and a job is what he calls the “best social program.”

The rest of the panel strongly opposed Ford. Olivia Chow made it clear that the time is now to invest; not only did she promise 15,000 new affordable housing units, but she also promised after-school programs and most importantly, vowed to return the power and control to the residents to renew their own TCH communities.

During the entire conversation, there was little talk about the impacts on the Black community, though, until Dewitt Lee reminded the audience of the original question, and pointed out that what is really needed is a mayor who will ensure that after the smoke and mirrors of the campaign trail disappears, he or she will follow through on campaign promises. He pointed out that with over $2 billion in backlogged infrastructure expenditures overall, the city has its work cut out for it, and until someone deals with that challenge, low-income families living in TCH will not see the results they need. Picking up off a concept David Soknacki introduced of “sweat equity”, Lee challenged the candidates: “Let’s get some of the people living in the communities with small businesses working on their own buildings … I heard the words sweat equity – that’s something we are born with.”

A complete police services review

It is no secret that the history of race relations between the Black community and the Toronto Police Services has been strained to say the least. Racial profiling, particularly of young Black men, is a constant issue. Upon hearing from the moderator of the disproportionate number of Black people who were subject to police carding in Toronto last year, candidates were asked to speak to whether or not they would abolish the practice. Although no candidate came out and said he or she would completely abolish “carding” per se, Chow promised to sit on the police services board (on which the mayor is given a seat, but can appoint someone else – councillor Michael Thompson currently represents Ford) and stop racial profiling, which she called “demoralizing” and said alienates people of colour. Lee said he supports carding, because it keeps us safe, but he did point out the initial process was brought about with a major promotional incentive for police officers, which resulted in a disproportionate number of incidents involving Black people and for that he felt the community deserved an apology.

A second issue of policing – why the city is searching across North America for a replacement for Police Chief Bill Blair, when Toronto has three highly respectable and competent deputy chiefs, two of whom are Black (Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders) – divided the candidates. Ford, Soknacki and Tory agreed that an international search would garner the best person for the position. Chow took a different stance: go to the public and find out what the people want from a new chief and use the data to guide the process in seeking the best candidate. Lee and Renée agreed that increasing the diversity on the police services board and the frontlines would, in turn, decrease racial profiling, police brutality and ensure fair hiring practices were put in place for positions like the police chief. Perhaps, amongst all of the discussion surrounding the controversial topic of policing, Soknacki’s quiet voice rang through most prolifically: “We need an entire review of the police services board in this city, we have not changed how we look at policing for 25 years.” The applause in the room signaled that no matter who is elected mayor, this is one change members of the community are demanding.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A second issue of policing – why the city is searching across North America for a replacement for Police Chief Bill Blair, when Toronto has three highly respectable and competent deputy chiefs, two of whom are Black (Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders) – divided the candidates.[/quote]

A brighter future for children

Children and youth were discussed often throughout the evening. Chow stressed the importance over and over again of investing in children – more kids are living in poverty and going to bed hungry than they were four years ago, she pointed out. She is dedicated to bringing more after-school programs into the communities that need them the most. When the topic of education arose, specifically the question of expanding the current Africentric schools that the Toronto District School Board is operating, she also said she would ensure the TDSB got the resources to maintain and expand the programming. In fact, the entire panel was in agreement on the issue – if it’s working and engaging children, the Africentric curriculum needs to be honed and expanded. That is, with the exception of Ford. He made his position clear. “I don’t believe in segregating communities in a multicultural community,” he declared. He followed that up by adamantly claiming that no one has done more in the city for Black youth than him. To which, some applauded and others grumbled, but Lee had this to say: “There’s no way this administration did what it could have done for this community; we are not going to accept BBQs, football teams, fly by night promises – we need education, we need jobs, we need change.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I don’t believe in segregating communities in a multicultural community,” Ford declared.[/quote]

Reading between the lines

Through all the rhetoric that was delivered during the forum, it seemed that at times some of the candidates lacked the type of understanding of the community’s issues that councillor candidate Adeoba first spoke of. While the right words were used and generated applause and cheers, the promises made only scratched the surface of the complex issues Black Canadians face daily. Whoever is elected, as Lee and Renée pointed out numerous times throughout the night, needs to be held accountable. Most importantly, the new mayor needs to ensure that the underrepresented and marginalized voices of Toronto are heard at the decision-making tables.

Perhaps where more poignant messages were delivered and relevant experiences shared was during the one-minute councillor candidate speeches prior to the mayoral candidate discussion. Munira Abukar, who is running in Ward 2, spoke about knowing what it’s like to grow up the middle child of nine, travel two hours each way to get to school and sit on the TCH resident board. One of her opponents, Andray Anthony Domise, challenged the audience to understand its own power. For so long the community has been stripped of that power, he said. And perhaps most memorable of all, Ward 1 candidate, Patricia Crooks said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” If everyone in the room felt the way she did, the odds are that change is on its way.

For once, the visible minority vote (a demographic that doesn’t typically make it out to the polls) will be heard on October 27.

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Published in Top Stories

by Jessica M. Campbell

Jessica M. Campbell

“Sssstttt.” I looked back. Unlike in Canada, a forceful push of breath through open lips and locked teeth is socially acceptable in Ghana. The intended targets of the hissing are often cab drivers, street hawkers, waiters or waitresses. And it gets you service, not a dirty look.

But even though I don’t roam the streets of Accra, the country’s capital, driving a taxi or selling goods, I get hissed at all the time. My supposed “service” is valued and noticed primarily by Ghanaian men.

As common as the hissing is, I still turned to see a not-so-common punter running toward me the other day. He was a policeman with a gun strapped to his back. “Am I in trouble?” Far from. 

“Obruni, I want to marry you,” he said, trying to catch his breath from both excitement and his light dash. Obruni is the Ghanaian term for a person from outside of Africa, usually white.

This was the fifth such proposal that day. And all asked before hearing me speak. The policeman’s ticket number, issued by me and not him, and his disregard for the supposed authority role, marked this as a watershed moment. 

Reasonable visa process

It’s when I started investigating why some Ghanaian men obsess over marrying obruni. My guess was that it might be their easiest way to get out of Africa, considering how difficult it is for Ghanaians to cross into more prosperous countries. I made my way to the Canadian High Commission to confirm my suspicions.

There, Michael Opoku Gyebi, 21, was nearly in tears after a man handed him his passport with his student visa for Canada pasted inside. Gyebi had dropped it off two weeks earlier as he planned to study accounting at the University of British Columbia. He wasn’t sure of his application being approved.

“I’m just excited,” he said, staring closely at the keypad on his cellphone to compensate for his trembling hands trying to dial home. “My dad is going to be so happy.”

Although meticulous, he said the process to get his visa was reasonable. He had to verify his school’s acceptance, and that his family can financially support his education. He spent $125 (Cdn) on an affidavit to confirm the above information.

His medical exam, about $100, had to confirm he is in good health. This included an x-ray of his chest and blood tests. Finally, he paid his CND$150 application fee when handing over his passport for a multi-entry visa.

U.S. universities too had accepted Gyebi for admission. “I chose Canada because I know it is peaceful,” he said after being told by friends already studying across North America. They also value Canada’s education system, he said. “It’s practical.” Gyebi wants to return to Ghana to run his family’s road construction business when he completes his degree in four years.

Like Gyebi, other Ghanaians stood in line at the mission waiting to retrieve their passports. Aside from the common grumble about paperwork, all had positive feedback on Canada’s visa application process.

Anthony Teye, accompanying his brother applying for a visa, said he has already been to Canada three times: “I didn’t go through any hassle.” A few years ago, he obtained a single entry visa to attend a conference on water management in Ottawa. “It was approved the same day,” he said.

Teye has also been to the U.S. and said he prefers the Canadian application process. In-person interviews are mandatory for U.S. visas, unlike the Canadian system.

“I usually don’t compare apples with oranges, so I take a country on its own” said Teye, who has been interviewed for both countries’ visas. “But the U.S., sometimes they don’t really want to listen to you and look at your actual circumstances. They base their decision on how they feel. I find the Canadian interview to be much friendlier because the questions were related to personal issues.”

Despite this subtle difference, both processes are quite similar and fair, said Teye.

‘White is better than black’

Evidently, you don’t need to marry an obruni to travel to Canada or the U.S. Not knowing what I was still missing, I swallowed my pride and headed to Ghana’s Immigration Service to interview the head of public affairs, Francis Palmdeti, the next day. We shared a laugh when I told him about my investigation. But, his response wasn’t as funny.

“A black man’s fascination is a result of seeing a white lady as of a certain prestigious level,” Palmdeti said. “To have a white woman is of ultimate status. He thinks that white is better than black.”

This outlook, stemming both from the country’s demoralizing involvement in the slave trade centuries ago and now poor education, leads to myths about white women, said Palmdeti. A lot of “unpolished” men think obruni women come to Ghana looking for husbands, he said. “It has to do with upbringing.”

Gulp! I would almost rather if my potential fiancés were motivated by unrealistic visa processes. They’re a lot easier to remedy than views on race.

But, realistically, tighter border controls would only further perpetrate the problem as travel is a part of the solution.

Sitting at his desk in his military-like uniform, Palmdeti’s face lit up when I told him my nationality. “My wife wants to move to Canada!” he said.

And seeing she has visited Canada and is married to a Ghanaian, it’s not to find a white man. It’s because every time she returns from Canada she raves about how friendly people are and how everyone there is treated equally, Palmdeti said.

Perhaps something she wouldn’t have learned without travelling there, and now something I aim to show my hissers during my travels here. How a person is valued should never be based on race. 

“For me, if I were to settle with a white lady, I must love her. I should find qualities in her that I wish to spend the rest of my life with,” said Palmdeti. Closed borders won’t let my hissers realize exactly that.  -- New Canadian Media

Jessica Campbell is a passionate freelance journalist based in Africa. While on the continent, she has had affiliations to Farm Radio International and jhr: Journalists for Human Rights. In 2014, the Carleton University journalism and political science graduate from Brampton, ON, will relocate her career to South America.

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Published in Africa

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved