What Does Black History Mean to Me?

O’Siyo ᎣᏏᏲ “o-si-yo,” (Cherokee: I see you) Hello and Bonjour!

Happy Black History Month Union Siblings,

I’m often asked, what does Black History mean to me?

I’m happy to see Black Canadian historic figures celebrated, in whom I see myself, and our contributions to Canada brought to the forefront. Yet I worry that this is the only time the next generation sees themselves highlighted and that one month isn’t enough for Canadians to learn of our roles within our country.

I’ve always made it a point to uplift our impacts on Canada year-round.

This year’s theme for Black History in Canada is Black Excellence. There is much of that in our Ancestors to celebrate as Canadians. However, too many are individuals that are not much older than I am. There are stories of the over two hundred years of Slavery in Canada and nearly one hundred and seventy years of segregation told by those such as Viola Desmond. There is also the closing of last segregated school for Black children in 1983. The enslavement and segregation of Black Canadians back-to-back means Canada has been robbed of too much Black ingenuity, art, originality, creativity and so much more. This has exacted a heavy price on Black Canadians but they have still found ways to contribute to Canada.  We can do better and we can  be better. My members have shown us all how.

I join an elite group of Black Women such as:

1825 – Rose Fortune Considered by many Canada’s 1st Female Police officer

1853- Mary Ann Shadd Cary First Female Publisher in Canada and a Black Women

1983 – Shelly Peters Carey 1st Black Woman RCMP Officer

1987 – Andrea Lawrence 1st Black Woman Regular Member of the RCMP

1996 – Jean Augustine Canada’s 1st Black woman Elected to the House of Commons

2005- Michaelle Jean Canada’s 1st Black Head of State as General

2007 – Lori Seale-Irving 1st Black Woman Commissioned Officer of the RCMP

2022 – Caroline Xavier First Black Woman Deputy Minister

I also sit among the ranks of union Black excellence firsts such as the likes of the Sleeping Car Porters, Cal Best, Muriel Jean Collins, Livingstone Holder, Mervis White, Craig Reynolds and Larry Rousseau. I will do my utmost to live up to the trust members have put in me and to make my communities proud. 

I hope you will take some time this month to think about and share a few of the stories of Black Excellence historically within Canada but especially those making a contribution within your place of work, community and beyond.

Thank you, Merci, ᏙᎾᏓᎪᎲᎢ “di-da-yo-li-hv-dv-ga-le-ni-s-gv,” which means “Until we meet again”

Pronouns: She/her

Alisha Campbell
National President
Union of National Employees

A History of Black History Month

By Sam Padayachee

Black History Month traces its origins back to the early 20th century, when honoring African American history was first proposed by the historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African American figures.

Woodson, often hailed as the “Father of Black History,” was committed to promoting the study of African American contributions to American History. He believed that history was more than just political and military achievements; it embodied the social, intellectual, and cultural highlights that painted a detailed picture of a people’s history.

In 1926, Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, started the first iteration of Black History Month, then called “Negro History Week.” The second week of February was selected to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both key figures in the history of African Americans.

Woodson’s aim was to encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools. The week was met with enthusiastic response, prompting schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs, and host performances and lectures.

Black History Month has since grown from a single week to being observed for a month. It has become a globally recognized celebration, observed not only in the United States but also in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries around the world. It serves as a reminder of the struggles for racial justice and equality, and it spotlights the achievements and contributions of African Americans to science, education, literature, art, and the cultural development of society.

Today, Black History Month continues to be a time for reflection, recognition, and education. It’s an opportunity to engage in dialogue about race and equality, and to commit to understanding the rich history of people of African heritage. Through exhibitions, documentaries, readings, workshops, and seminars, Black History Month inspires individuals and communities to learn about and appreciate the history that helped shape the world we live in today.

During this Black History Month, we should all take the time to reflect on the struggles and achievements of Black people, which is essential in supporting social progress. Each of us has the obligation to raise awareness about the ongoing issues of racial injustice and inequality, encouraging society to engage in meaningful dialogue and action. Active participation promotes unity and solidarity, not just within Black communities, as people come together to celebrate and recognize Black history.

Celebrating Black History Month not only honors the past but also shapes our collective future by promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Sam Padayachee is the UNE Regional Representative for Human Rights, Ontario.

Menstrual Products to be Made Available in All Washrooms in Federal Workplaces

As of December 15th, 2023, all federally regulated workplaces are required to ensure free access to menstrual products, as per the Canadian Labour Code (CLC) Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) will undertake the following in washrooms located within controlled areas accessible to federal employees, including those within tenant space:

  1. Installation of menstrual product dispensers in female, male, all-access and gender-inclusive washrooms;
  2. Installation of and maintenance of covered disposal receptacles in all male washroom stalls;
  3. Procurement and restocking of menstrual products to meet usage levels in each building.

Exceptions: PSPC notes that every workplace is unique and there may be situations where installation of product dispensers may not be feasible in all washrooms. This includes installation concerns, space constraints, washrooms shared with private sector tenants, etc. Alternative solutions may be necessary within tenant space.

The National Accommodations Directorate will be responsible for liaising with PSPC on their implementation of this new requirement in all departmental workplaces in Crown-owned and PSPC-leased buildings across the country.

If your federally regulated workplace has not completed this important upgrade to washrooms, please contact your manager and, if necessary, follow up with a member of your Local Executive.

Environmental Injustice in Indigenous Communities

By Sam Padayachee

Canada is recognized for its natural beauty and rich resources, yet it grapples with a hidden crisis: the failure to provide clean drinking water to some rural and Indigenous communities is a stain on the nation’s global standing for human rights and equality.

Ironically, for a country that has the largest number of freshwater lakes in the world, the reality that numerous Indigenous peoples lack access to this basic necessity is beyond unsettling. These communities experience water advisories regularly. These advisories can last for months, even years, becoming fixtures of daily life that highlight the systemic inequalities.

The lack of clean water is not merely an inconvenience but a severe health hazard. It perpetuates socio-economic disparities as it impedes childrens’ ability to learn and adults’ ability to work. Moreover, indifferent access to water reflects a historical pattern of neglect and broken promises, inflicting continual damage on trust between Indigenous communities and the Canadian government.

Some might argue that the geographical challenges of remote areas contribute to the problem. However, while these challenges are undeniable, they should not be challenging for a country with Canada’s wealth and technological resources. The federal government has made commitments, indeed, but the pace of progress is painfully slow, often delayed in bureaucratic red tape and budget constraints that appear lacking when contrasted with the swiftness of response to urban infrastructure needs.

This undermines not only Indigenous rights but casts a long shadow on Canada’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, https://www.undp.org/sustainable-development-goals , especially Goal 6, which ensures availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

With climate change threatening water supplies through contamination and unpredictable supply, the government’s lackluster response jeopardizes not just current, but future generations of Indigenous peoples. It is a glaring example of environmental injustice where the most vulnerable populations bear the most significant ecological risks without comparable gains or protection.

A multi-faceted approach is essential. Investments need to escalate dramatically in infrastructure. But beyond the tangibles, a paradigm shift in governmental attitudes must occur. This isn’t merely an infrastructure issue; it’s about autonomy, respect, and ultimately, honoring treaty rights. Indigenous communities must be considered partners in developing solutions, ensuring that these solutions are culturally appropriate and economically sustainable.

It’s also crucial that Canada commits to a clear timeline for resolving these water crises. Setting and adhering to strict deadlines would signal the government’s acknowledgment of the urgency of the matter and its dedication to resolving it.

For a country that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, Canada’s shortfall in providing clean water to all its peoples is a contradiction that needs immediate and forceful attention. This is a question of human rights, and the government’s actions henceforth will be a testament to its commitment to upholding these not just in principle but in practice.

Resolving this failure is not charity; it is a long-overdue act of justice. As the world watches, it’s critical for Canada to live up to its image by ensuring that every member of its society enjoys the fundamental right to clean water. I’m concerned that today, with so many issues consuming our nation’s attention, the problem of solving water insecurities for Indigenous Communities will fall even lower on the public agenda. We all need to keep pushing forward on this issue, because solving environmental injustice hasn’t lost its urgency for Canada’s Indigenous Communities.

Sam Padayachee is the UNE Regional Representative for Human Rights, Ontario.

Black Class Action: Government spends millions fighting lawsuit while shortchanging mental health fund for Black workers

The federal government has already spent nearly $8 million fighting to dismiss the Black Class Action lawsuit ten times more (in French only) than it has invested implementing the mental health fund for Black federal public servants promised in the 2022 federal budget. 
 
The ballooning legal costs underscore how the federal government continues to publicly claim it is addressing racism and discrimination in the federal public service while continuing to deny justice for Black, racialized and Indigenous workers.  

“It’s disheartening to see the government spending millions fighting Black workers in court, despite having harmed them, rather than investing significantly in implementing solutions to combat discrimination,” said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat. 

The Liberal government set aside $3.7 million over four years in Budget 2022 to develop a Black-led Mental Health Fund for Black federal public service workers, with an additional commitment of $45.9 million in Budget 2023. 

However, order paper documents requested by the NDP show that Treasury Board has so far only spent $787,207 to develop and implement the plan. Black public service workers who face systemic barriers have yet to see actual support provided to them or a concrete plan outlining how the government plans to establish dedicated career development programs, including initiatives to prepare Black public service leaders for executive positions.  

Millions to fight Black workers in court  

Instead, released documents confirm the government spent approximately $7.85 million since 2020 for services by Department of Justice lawyers, notaries, and paralegal professionals to fight the class action lawsuit. 

Those legal costs are likely just a fraction of the cost the government will ultimately spend fighting the lawsuit since the Black Class Action has yet to be certified. A certification hearing date has been set for May 3, 2024. 
 
“Despite multiple measures announced over the past three years, there’s been no tangible change for these workers; discrimination persists, and the harm continues. We strongly urge the government to come to the table with these workers and cease wasting taxpayers’ money on prolonged legal battles,” said Thompson. 

PSAC has repeatedly called for the government to settle the Black Class Action lawsuit, and directly address decades of anti-Black discrimination in the public service. 

“It is devastating for Black workers to find out that this government – their employer – has spent millions fighting to deny them justice in court while at the same time dragging their feet implementing programs meant to eliminate systemic barriers for Black public service workers,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.  

As Canada’s largest federal public service union, PSAC represents the largest portion of the nearly 1,500 plaintiffs. PSAC has contributed $80,000 to the Black Class Action and is committed to seeing justice carried out for Black federal public service workers. 

Black Class Action: Auditor General Slams Public Service for Continued Discrimination

OTTAWA – The Auditor General released a scathing report on diversity and inclusion in the federal public service. The report takes serious issue with the failure of leaders in the public service to enforce existing laws, mandates, and requirements relative to diversity, equity, and, inclusion in order to ensure fairness and equality for Black and racialized workers throughout the Federal Public Service.

A major theme emerged from the confidential interviews conducted with racialized employees. They felt there was a lack of commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and there was a perception that meaningful change was not being achieved. Some employees reported that they did not know the status of initiatives from action plans or what progress toward outcomes had been made. As a result, many believed that equity was an empty word in their organizations, and plans and committees were devoid of the potential to bring about meaningful changes.

The Report found that out of the six organizations reviewed none had established comprehensive reporting mechanisms on progress against specific outcomes relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives relative to racialized employees in their organization. As a result, the 6 organizations did not know whether their actions had made or would make a difference in the work lives of racialized employees.

The report further revealed that just 44% of the Black visible minority subgroup felt free to discuss racism without the fear of facing reprisals, in contrast to 55% of its visible minority survey respondents and 67% who felt similarly across the entire organization. This stark disparity underscores the presence of persistent anti-Black racism within the federal public service and highlights the deep-seated mistrust of internal processes by those who have experienced racial discrimination.

A landmark class action brought by Black public service workers against the Government of Canada was launched on December 1, 2020, to address patterns of systemic discrimination and negligence experienced by Black workers within the Federal Public Service and by Applicants who were denied hiring and promotion based on their race.

The claim challenges the visible minority category of the Employment Equity Act as masking disparities contrary to the equality rights and anti-discrimination guarantee to Black people under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The claim further seeks compensation and damages for the significant discrimination, harassment, and barriers experienced by Black applicants and workers throughout the Federal Public Service.

The report of the Auditor General lays clear the truths experienced by Black workers across the Federal Public Service in terms of racist and discriminatory treatment and significant fear of reprisal in circumstances where employees seek to raise these concerns.There is a woeful lack of accountability and measurement of actual outcomes on diversity, equity, and inclusion for Black workers. Despite years of reports and studies rehashing the same concerns, the reality is that Black workers continue to be ghettoised in the lowest levels of the Federal Public Service and excluded from the upper levels of management at consistently higher rates than other workers. This most recent Report is just one in a series that recognises this reality of the experience of Black public service workers. Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Representative Plaintiff

The Black Class Action Secretariat is calling on the Prime Minister, the newly appointed Minister of Justice, and the Court to intervene to ensure that Black Canadians do not continue to experience the same kind of institutional barriers, systemic discrimination, bad faith, and unfair treatment rooted in their race and skin colour, which concerns are validated by the Auditor General’s Report.

These employees deserve better. Canada deserves better, states human rights lawyer Hugh Scher.

Unions representing millions of workers across Canada have united in a collective call for the government to settle the lawsuit on behalf of thousands of Black federal public servants. This united call comes in the wake of findings indicating that the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) discriminated against its Black and racialized employees. We urge the government to consent to certification and engage in meaningful discussions to resolve the landmark class action filed on behalf of Black workers, who continue to face severe and pervasive systemic discrimination and negligence, a matter that is underscored by the Auditor General’s report published today.

For media enquiries, please contact media@blackclassaction.ca

For more information, please visit https://www.blackclassaction.ca/

The Echoes of Injustice: Gaza, Canadian Aboriginal Reservations, and South African Black Townships

By Sam Padayachee

Aboriginal people on reservations in Canada, the hardships faced by Blacks in South African Townships, and the population of Gaza may seem disparate, yet their struggles mirror each other. It’s a harsh truth that humanity has yet to fully conquer its historical inequities; instead, they echo around the world, distinct yet strangely alike.

The historical and present-day social and economic conditions of these communities reveal a common story: one of marginalization, discrimination, poverty, and an alarming lack of basic services. Even though these injustices take place thousands of miles apart, this comparison invites us to consider the global resonance of historical and structural inequality.

Invisible walls confine and encapsulate the people of Gaza, similar to the restrictions Aboriginal people face within the boundaries of Canadian reservations. For the Black populations living in South African Townships, there are unseen divides that permeate every facet of their lives, acute reminders of a socio-political system that for years valued separation and subordination.

While on different continents and born into different cultures, the people of Gaza the Aboriginals on Canadian reservations, and Blacks in South African Townships face unfathomable challenges including inadequate healthcare, lack of quality education, systemic poverty, and enforced isolation.

It is this commonality of adversity that serves as a window into the perseverance, resilience, and determined human spirit of these individuals and communities. Yet, to only highlight their resilience misses the point—it distracts us from the fact that they should not have to be resilient to such conditions in the first place.

There is an urgent need to extend compassion, support, and decisive action across geographical borders to these marginalized communities. They have already endured the brunt of human-made barriers and systems of oppression for so long. It’s time we shed the spotlight on these glaring global inequalities, amplifying the voices of those who have historically been silenced, promoting socioeconomic reforms to eradicate poverty, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and recognition of indigenous rights.

In understanding and highlighting these similarities, we create space for empathy, change, and solidarity. Let us remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and it is our collective responsibility to challenge and transform these echoes of inequality.

Sam Padayachee is the UNE Regional Representative for Human Rights, Ontario.

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty: Everyone deserves access to basic needs

Access to basic human rights including water, food, and housing – is increasingly at risk or out of reach for many communities in Canada and countries around the world. As a union, our fight today and every day is to raise the standard of living for all workers, secure decent and safe working conditions, and  help build equitable communities everywhere.  

PSAC’s Social Justice Fund has been supporting the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity since 2013 following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed over 1,200 workers and injured thousands of others.   

Bangladeshi garment workers are the lowest paid garment workers in the world – earning a minumum wage equivalent to 46 cents an hour, hardly enough to live on.   

Under constant pressure to meet production targets, garment workers take on excessive hours while their wages barely allow them to meet their basic needs. Workers are also subjected to physical and mental abuse on the production line.  

Today, we re-commit ourselves to the global fight for workers, human rights and access to basic needs for all.  

Search the landfill: PSAC welcomes new funding commitments

PSAC is pleased to see the federal government has committed funding to further study the feasibility of a search of the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of two First Nations women. 

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree announced $740,000 would be used to determine the feasibility of a study on how to store and transport the hazardous materials during the search and the construction costs related to this undertaking. An initial study showed that although the search is possible, toxic materials may be hazardous to workers. The new Premier of Manitoba, Wab Kinew, has said that he hopes to work with the federal government to search the landfill quickly, but safely. 

While this is a step forward, a commitment is not action. Families deserve to mourn their loved ones with respect and dignity, and this country’s commitment towards Truth and Reconciliation is empty if we continue to perpetuate colonial violence towards Indigenous women. Continued inaction disregards the humanity of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran and their families. 

“PSAC welcomes the government’s commitment to a study, but more must be done in support of a full search of the landfill to bring justice to Morgan, Marcedes and their families,” said Sharon DeSousa, PSAC National Executive Vice-President. “We need to ensure that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people are treated with the utmost respect and dignity, and that all levels of government and the authorities are doing everything in their power to find them.” 

PSAC continues to urge all levels of government and the city of Winnipeg to search the Prairie Green Landfill for these women and will continue to do so until they are found. 

Join UNE National Officers on the Hill for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Commemorative Event

We invite all UNE members in the area to join us on Saturday, September 30th, for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour children who never came home and survivors of Residential schools as well as their families and communities. 

Wear your orange shirt in solidarity as we remind our government that this is only part of the reconciliation process and there is still much work to do. 

Event details:

1:00 PM – Parliament Hill, Ottawa

 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Commemorative Event 

At 1:00 PM, we will gather on Parliament Hill to participate in the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Commemorative Event. This solemn occasion offers an opportunity to acknowledge and honor the historical and ongoing impact of colonization on Indigenous communities. Together, we will stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in the pursuit of truth, healing, and reconciliation.

If you’re not in the Ottawa area, chances are there’s an event near you. Check out the website as well for daily online events and workshops – https://nctr.ca/education/coming-soon-truth-and-reconciliation-week-2023/