Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

February 07, 2011 12:36 ET

We Rise Together-OFL Statement on Black History Month, 2011

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Feb. 7, 2011) - Canada's colonial history has left deep scars upon generations of people who have been marginalized and exploited through the settlement, growth and development of Canada. Often obscured in our history books is the vital role played by Black workers in Canada since the early 1600s. Whether as free men or slaves, 19th century frontier builders or soldiers, or their many other roles, Blacks helped to forge and defend a country that has become the home to many peoples from around the world. As the Ontario Federation of Labour celebrates February as Black History Month and 2011 as the United Nations' International Year for People of African Descent, it does so in recognition of the contributions that Black workers have made to our society, our politics, our culture and our economy.

Now is a time to recognize Ontario's proud tradition of Black activists, such as Fred Upshaw, Ann Newman, Herman Stewart and June Veecock, all of whom have helped to advance the struggle for social and employment equity, while building community and inspiring leadership. The political landscape was also changed by trailblazer Zanana Akande, who overcame systemic barriers to become the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the first Black woman to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada.

"The resilience and perseverance of Black workers, in the face of racism, prejudice and discrimination is an inspiration to all workers in Ontario – an indeed for equity and social justice advocates everywhere," said Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour. "No one can sit on the sidelines while others fight for rights. We must rise together in solidarity to celebrate our diversity and to challenge racism and inequality in all of its forms."

In 1793, the government of Upper Canada passed the Anti-Slavery Act and, in doing so, became a destination for thousands of enslaved Africans seeking freedom through the Underground Railroad to Canada. However, despite such advancements, racial segregation continued in some Ontario schools through the 1960s and federal immigration barriers restricted Black newcomers from the Caribbean and Africa. Today, racial profiling by authorities continues to subject many Blacks to state-sanctioned racism at our borders and in our criminal justice system. 

According to the most recent Census data from Statistics Canada, Black workers continue to earn roughly two-thirds the income of "non-visible minority" workers – a reality that is in danger of being obscured from activists, researchers and policy makers because of the Harper government's recent decision to cancel the long-form census. Other systemic forms of discrimination, such as the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), continue to allow the exploitation of categories of foreign workers, most of whom are racialized and escaping desperate circumstances, and prevent their permanent immigration.

"We still face many challenges, but ours is an incredibly diverse and united movement of Black trade unionists and community activists," said Terry Downey, Executive Vice-President of the Ontario Federation of Labour and the first OFL officer of African origin. "Innovative community-led initiatives like the Africentric school program in Toronto are a testament to our ability to come together to inspire and empower new generations of Black community leaders in Ontario."

As trade unionists committed to human rights, equity and social justice, the Ontario Federation of Labour is committed to challenging prejudice, racism and discrimination in our workplaces and in our communities. Representing over one million workers in Ontario, the OFL will be working in partnership with the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) to celebrate the achievements of Black activists in Ontario and to create a society that recognizes and rewards the achievements of all.

Contact Information

  • Ontario Federation of Labour
    Terry Downey
    OFL Executive Vice-President
    416-578-3230 (mobile)
    Ontario Federation of Labour
    Joel Duff, OFL Communications Director
    416-443-7665, 1-800-668-9138
    416-707-0349 (mobile)