African Heritage Month/Black History Month
Black History Month recognizes the contributions and achievements of Black people in Canada.
Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to Parliament proposed recognizing February as Black History Month and in December 1995, Parliament unanimously adoped her motion.
People of African descent were first brought to Canada as slaves. Slavery existed in Canada from 1628 until it was abolished in Upper Canada in 1793 and throughout the entire British empire in 1833.
After slavery was abolished and with the huge influx of European immigrants, Black workers were restricted to the jobs that no one else wanted – the lowest, most servile positions. Black women often worked as domestic servants. Railway porter came to be considered a good job for Black men. Racist immigration policies ensured only a few people of African heritage came to the country.
Railway porters played a significant role in the fight for civil rights in Canada. Starting in the late 1880s, they became leaders of their communities. Through their unions, such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Order of Sleeping Car Porters, they gained recognition for Black workers.
The Second World War opened up greater work opportunities for Black workers. Black workers were given jobs left behind by servicemen who fought overseas. For the first time, Black workers became involved in labour unions, fighting for better wages and working conditions. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, African Canadians sent delegations to Ottawa and Queen's Park, staging test cases such as the right to eat in restaurants or sit in movie theatres (Viola Desmond), etc.
This movement for civil rights led to the Fair Employment Practices Act in 1951, the Fair Accommodation Practices Act of 1954 and, ultimately, the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1962. Caribbean immigration tripled in the 1950s, increasing even more in the next decade as the Black civil rights movement also forced changes to immigration laws.
After the Second World War, the porters were part ofthe campaign for human rights, particularly to end discrimination in railway employment.
And by 1975, every Canadian province had Human Rights Commissions, and in 1977, a federal commission was established to oversee the Canadian Human Rights Act. The federal Employment Equity Act was enacted in 1995.
All of this, however, is at risk. With changes to various human rights legislation or operations, human rights agencies are not able to deal with racism and discrimination in an accessible, fair, and timely manner.
Regressive changes immigration and refugee law, reduced services to racialized communities and attacks on basic workers' rights threaten the gains disadvantaged groups have made.
These rollbacks are made in the name of fiscal responsibility and security but they run against the vision that early civil rights activists struggled so hard to realize.
The PSAC would like to take this opportunity to recognize the important sacrifices and contributions of the people of African decent to the nation-building and within our union.
Date Modified : 2013/01/31