by Shan Qiao in Toronto

New writers are using mentorship opportunities to create and share more diverse and inclusive stories about Toronto’s history and culture. 

“What we want to do is to create a living history of Toronto through literature [and] make it as diverse as the city itself,” says Helen Walsh, the president of Diaspora Dialogues  – a charitable society made up of writers, artists and performers. 

“I’m not surprised that there are at least 50 to 60 countries represented through Diaspora Dialogues – lots of voices from Asia, Africa and Northern Europe,” Walsh adds. “Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.” 

Mentoring new writers 

Toronto’s iconic Old City Hall, a national historic site, was the stage for Diaspora Dialogues during Doors Open Toronto, an event that offers access to buildings with historical significance across the city.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”[/quote]

Jamaican-born and Ottawa-raised emerging writer Dianah Smith is one of 12 writers who presented their work at Old City Hall. As a teacher and arts educator, Smith joined Diaspora Dialogues in 2014 for its mentoring program, in which she paired-up with Jamaican-Canadian writer and media professional Martin Mordecai. 

“For about six months, he helped me to get into [a] schedule of my draft and first novel, finalizing some of the scenes of my manuscript to get it ready for publication,” Smith says about her experience as a mentee. 

“It’s a story about a seven-year-old girl, Jemela Campbell, and her experience in immigrating from Jamaica to Canada and her first year in Canada,” Smith explains. 

The excerpt she reads is from the novel, with a working title The Promise of Foreign, which explores some of the challenges newcomer parents face in Canada such as finding work and keeping jobs. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world.”[/quote]

Seeking recognition as writers 

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world,” Smith explains. “You have names like Margaret Atwood, mainly white and middle-class people.” 

She says that while Diaspora Dialogues does not restrict white writers from participating, it also tries "to have alternative voices to give immigrants and indigenous people the opportunity to share their stories.” 

Author Mia Herrera adds that working in the Canadian publishing and writing industry is precarious. 

“A writer who publishes regularly makes a salary of about $12,000 a year. You can’t make a living on that,” she says. 

Born to Filipino parents, Herrera now lives in Bradford, Ont. She works in communications and marketing and says she continues to write because it is her passion. 

Smith says she is still in the process of finding an interested publisher for her novel. While her mentorship program ended last fall, she continues to participate in other programs led by Diaspora Dialogues such as Lunch and Learn events, workshops about pitching to agents, as well as mentee book readings such as the one at Old City Hall. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.”[/quote]

Placing immigrants in Toronto’s history 

After working with her mentor, writer David Layton, Herrera had her first novel Shade published by an independent feminist publisher, Inanna Publications. 

Shade tells the story of a Filipino-Canadian woman named Benni from the small town of Georgina, Ont., and her trip to the Philippines to visit her father. 

“Georgina is a town in York region about an hour-and-a-half north of here that is somewhat notorious for racist acts – disputes about flying the Confederate flag in schools and repeated incidents of racially-driven assaults,” Herrera tells the audience at Old City Hall. 

Georgina was the site of attacks against Asian Canadian fishermen in 2007, which involved car chases, damaged fishing gear, and anglers of Asian descent being pushed into the water. 

The scene Herrera reads is from the beginning of the novel about a breakup between Benni and her long-time Chinese-Canadian boyfriend, Tom. Instead of hearing a proposal, Benni is shocked to learn that Tom has hesitations about their future together because he is concerned about how Benni’s race will affect him and his family’s business. 

“As you will find in this scene and throughout my novel, Benni deals with questions of race and what it means to be a visible minority and second-generation immigrant in Canada,” Herrera says. “These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.” 

“Her experiences in the Philippines allow her to take the long view of not just her life in Georgina, but of her life in Canada, and what it means to be Canadian,” she adds. 


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Published in Books

by Eternity Martis (@iratemixedchick) in Toronto

While Caribbean, black and ethnic media as a whole may never be mainstream, they offer a fundamental contribution to racial discussions in Canada by bringing together communities, tying Canada to other countries and establishing a minority voice on a visible platform.

Over the last few months here are just a few of the headlines Caribbean media outlets broke in Canada, that went under reported by the larger outlets.

Caribbean Immigrants Most Affected by New Canadian Citizenship Changes

According to CICS News, new data shows that changes in the citizenship process have caused a drop in the number of immigrants wanting to be citizens.

In 2008, only 26 per cent of permanent residents in Canada received citizenship. That is down from 44 per cent in 2007, and 79 per cent from 2000.

The decline is attributed to the harsher rules and fees established in 2010. The score to pass a citizenship test has increased from 60 per cent to 75 per cent (or 15 out of 20 multiple-choice questions).

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has also raised the citizenship application fee to $530 per adult, more than five times the cost in 2013.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The extra financial hurdle of the citizenship application fee may also deter certain groups of applicants more than others.[/quote]

What is most shocking is the ethnic breakdown of the test’s pass rates before and after the reform. While those from South Asian, Southern and East African communities all experienced a decline of more than 15 per cent, immigrants from the Caribbean had their pass rate go down by almost 20 per cent.

Andrew Griffith, former citizenship director-general who retired in 2013, found these trends through extensive research. While he does not give a reason why Caribbean immigrants experience less of a pass rate than other immigrants, he says education and income levels often determine who passes.

The extra financial hurdle of the citizenship application fee may also deter certain groups of applicants more than others.

Town Hall Meetings in Toronto Tackle Community Issues

According to Share News, the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Black Action Defence Committee and the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation have organized three town halls to discuss and work on community issues, education, unification of African and Caribbean communities and policing.

The meetings were held at the Jamaican Canadian Association in Toronto. The first meeting in January brought a smaller number; however, the following month drew in over 200 people. By the last meeting in March, fewer seats were filled.

Regardless, over a dozen community groups have signed up to partake in the town hall’s coalition group for future changes in the Black community, and activists and various members of African and Caribbean communities in the city have come together to help create solutions.

The town halls also featured discussion on the disproportionate number of Black people in Ontario public service sectors; violence and murder among young Black men and the impact on families; the lack of employment opportunities; and subsequent government policies that don’t reflect the experiences of Black communities.

Diabetes Expo Targets Caribbean-Canadians

Research on diabetes has shown many Caribbean-Canadians are diabetic, or are prone to developing the disease in their lifetime.

In order to raise awareness of diabetes in the Caribbean community, the Canadian Diabetes Association and its Caribbean Chapter hostedtheir sixth annual Black Diabetes Expo on April 25 at the Jamaican Canadian Association in Toronto.

This year’s theme was high blood pressure and its relation to diabetes. Dr. George Dresser, a clinical pharmacologist at Western University, delivered the keynote speech, “Taking control of your blood pressure will control your diabetes management.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The study found that diabetes is the leading cause of death amongst Caribbean-Canadians.[/quote]

Partners of the Expo included the Caribbean Camera, Rogers TV, and TAIBU Community Health Centre.

In addition to the research done on Caribbean-Canadians and diabetes, CERIS, an Ontario research group, conducted a study in 2013 on a group of Torontonians, both Black Caribbean and Canadian-born.

The study found that diabetes is the leading cause of death amongst Caribbean-Canadians. The study also revealed that Black Caribbeans were better at maintaining their physical health.

Black Canadians (and Caribbeans) You Should Know

Just because Black History Month has passed doesn’t mean we have to stop learning. A recent Share article by Murphy Browne titled “Blacks must learn about their history before enslavement” highlighted the importance of understanding African history – not in relation to slavery, but to the culture, progress and celebration of all Africans.

While Browne alludes to several well-known Black historical figures, as well as facts about African history, across the globe, he makes note that there is not much information available on the Caribbean community.

Here is a list of several Caribbean men and women that have contributed to Canadian history:

Lincoln Alexander (pictured above): Child of a Jamaican mother and St. Vincent father, Alexander was a politician and statesman who served as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, the federal Minister of Labour and the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Dudley Laws: A Jamaican-born Canadian civil rights activist and executive director of the Black Action Defence Committee.

Charles Roach: A Trinidadian-born Canadian civil rights lawyer and activist in Toronto.

Sherona Hall: A Jamaican-born Canadian Black feminist, activist, youth advocate and political figure.

Lennox Farrell: A Trinidadian-born community activist, retired Toronto teacher and head of the Caribbean Cultural Committee.

Herbert Carnegie: Born in Toronto to Jamaican parents, Carnegie was a Canadian hockey player who played despite racial discrimination. He founded Future Aces, one of Canada’s first hockey schools.

Calvin Ruck: Born in Nova Scotia to Barbadian parents, Ruck was an anti-racism activist and Canadian senator.

Stanley G. Grizzle: Born in Toronto to Jamaican parents, Grizzle was a citizenship judge and labour union activist.

Leonard Braithwaite: Lawyer and Liberal politician in Ontario, who served in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Bromley Armstrong: A Jamaican-born civil rights leader who played a prominent role in Canada’s civil rights movement upon his arrival in 1947.

Commentary: Can Ethnic Media Ever be Mainstream Media?

Last month, Premier Kathleen Wynne (pictured to right, credit: Share News) spoke in Mississauga about the importance of ethnic media in Canada. Wynne addressed the ethnic media organizations present, saying, “The stories that you tell and the work that you do are absolutely vital to shaping the society we all take enormous pride in today.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ethnic media has the simple key element that mainstream media doesn’t: the “ethnic” perspective. [/quote]

This discussion is both timely and fundamental to journalism surrounding Caribbean culture, and Black communities as a whole.

Ethnic media has the simple key element that mainstream media doesn’t: the “ethnic” perspective. These outlets can report from a position of personal experience and compassion, and are more likely to understand the complexity of stories on race. They ask the questions that mainstream journalists often overlook: What's beneath the surface? How do we cover race issue fairly?

Take for example the Ferguson protests – often poorly covered by Canadian mainstream media, painting protesters as violent, looting animals and anti-white racists, while Caribbean media has helped shine light on the reality.

Or the fact that in mainstream news outlets immigrant success stories are saved for weekend features, while Caribbean media frequently congratulates members of the community.

Caribbean media outlets take what little importance Caribbean issues may have in larger media outlets and place them at the forefront, making them a necessity, rather than a token issue.

That is, of course, if they follow independent reporting standards, and not the models set out in mainstream media.


Eternity Martis is a Master of Journalism student at Ryerson University. She currently writes for The Huffington Post and Bustle. Her work has also been featured on Salon.com, xoJane and Vice Canada with a focus on race and gender issues.

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Published in Caribbean
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.

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Published in Commentary

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