“We cannot miss this opportunity,” Margaret Parsons says as she watches delegates at a major conference discuss issues troubling blacks in Canada.
“We cannot waste it.”
Like many black Canadians, Parsons is frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of progress in recent years on everything from jobs to action on ending racism and anti-black hate crimes. That’s why she was in Ottawa last week attending the three-day National African Canadian Policy Conference.
Over the three days, 200 legal experts, academics, youth and community leaders went to workshops and listened to speakers on poverty, education, health and the media.
Organizers, including Parsons, who heads the Toronto-based African Canadian Legal Clinic, hope the conference will lead to a national policy with co-ordinated strategies to address critical concerns within the black community.
The timing of the conference was ideal because many black Canadians are feeling increasingly ignored and let down by their public institutions, including schools, governments, the police and the media.
Indeed, for some, this is a community under stress.
In many ways, blacks in Canada have made great strides in recent decades. But in other ways, they’ve seen little progress since the 1950s.
As a group, black Canadians are poorer, less educated, less healthy, more likely to be unemployed or in jail than virtually every other racial or ethnic community.
Nowhere is this lack of progress more evident than when it comes to racially motivated hate crimes.
Blacks are the third-largest visible minority in Canada, exceeded only by the Chinese and South Asian communities. And yet 48 per cent of the victims of racially motivated hate crime are black. By comparison, at a distant 13 per cent, South Asians are the second most frequent victims of such crime.
What’s worse, anti-black hate crime is on the rise, according to Statistics Canada data.
Hate crimes can include graffiti, oral comments, vandalism, arson, assault, even murder. Incidents can take place at work, in schools, shopping malls and hockey arenas.
Det. Gary McQueen of the Toronto Police Services hate crime unit told delegates they likely will see the numbers increasing even more as blacks come forward to report such cases. Currently, legal experts estimate barely 10 per cent of incidents are reported.
If this is new to readers, then the delegates would be right when they suggest most media outlets downplay or ignore such stories.
During the conference, the organizers gave each delegate a “tool kit” designed to help individuals and community groups recognize and deal with hate crimes.
The 78-page manual included tips and strategies ranging from media advocacy to how to raise community awareness and lobby law enforcement agencies to recognize and deal more effectively with incidents of anti-black hate.
It also suggests ways for public institutions to develop training and protocols specifically aimed at handling cases of anti-black hate.
For some older blacks, however, all of this has a sense of déjà vu.
It’s an understandable attitude, brought on by multiple years of attending such hopeful conferences, followed by multiple years of pain and disappointment.
And it’s easy to see how their feeling of despair develops, given that not a single federal or provincial politician showed up, even though the conference was being held just two blocks from Parliament Hill.
Some didn’t even bother to reply to their invitation.
Parsons calls the politicians’ failure to attend or reply to the invitation a slap in the face to all blacks.