Multiculturalism Day at the UNE

August 14 is Multiculturalism Day at the Union of National Employees.

Last summer, our members passed a resolution to celebrate our union’s diversity each year on August 14. This year will be our first ever Multiculturalism Day.

We hope you take the opportunity to find out more about the rich cultural mosaic in which we live.

There are many ways to celebrate our diversity! Members of our Human Rights Committee have proposed the following activities:

  • Games
  • Barbecues
  • A potluck where each person brings a traditional dish from their country of origin

As part of the festivities, the Union of National Employees is holding a drawing competition. The theme is “Multiculturalism in the Union of National Employees”. For more details, click here to download the contest rules and entry form.

Nelson Mandela International Day

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” [1]

–      Nelson Mandela

July 18 is Nelson Mandela International Day – a day when we’re urged to think of ways to be of service to others. This year, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is asking all citizens of the world to devote 67 minutes to community service in honour of the 67 years Mandela spent helping others.

Nelson Mandela led the resistance against apartheid in South Africa after 1948. In 1964, Mandela and other leaders of the African National Congress were brought to stand trial for plotting to overthrow the government by violence; acts that were designed to overthrow the apartheid system. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, effectively becoming a prisoner of conscience.

Nelson Mandela’s time in prison, which amounted to just over 27 and a half years’, was marked by many small and large events which played a crucial part in shaping the personality and attitudes of the man who was to become the first President of a democratic South Africa. Many fellow prisoners and warders influenced him and he, in his turn, influenced them. While he was in jail his mother and son died, his wife was banned and subjected to continuous arrest and harassment, and the liberation movement was reduced to isolated groups of activists. [2]

After his release, Mandela represented the African National Congress in negotiations that finally led to South Africa’s first multi-racial elections. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president during the nation’s first democratic elections.

“We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.” [3]

The 1993 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Nelson Mandela (along with Frederik Willem de Klerk) “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.” [4]


May is Asian Heritage Month

May is Asian Heritage Month. Let’s encourage everyone to learn more about this month and celebrate the contributions Asian-Canadians have made – and continue to make – to Canada!

As B.C. Minister of State for Multiculturalism John Yap recently wrote, the definition of Asian is fairly broad and inclusive. “Asian Heritage Month celebrates a long list of people who come from, or whose ancestors came from; East Asia – China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan; South Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka; Central Asia – Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan; and Southeast Asia – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam,” wrote Yap.

As a person who came from Brunei Darussalam, in Southeast Asia, and who is of Chinese ancestry, Asian Heritage Month is especially meaningful to me. I had a lot to learn when I first arrived in Canada; its vast geography, its people, its government, its education system and, of course, human rights.

On the other hand, my immigration to Canada has given others a chance to learn about the unique aspects of Southeast Asian and Chinese culture. Today, as Canadians, we appreciate our country’s rich Asian-Canadian diversity and its many different ethnicities, languages and traditions.

Finally, as an Asian British Columbian, I am pleased to share with you that on Monday, May 7, 2012 – after 70 years – the Province of British Columbia formally apologized to the Japanese-Canadian community for the internment of thousands of people during the Second World War. For more details, please refer to this article by the CBC.

Enjoy reading and have a great week.

International Day Against Homophobia – May 17

I expect that we’ve all heard the story about the small town gay boy or lesbian who moves to the city in order to escape the constraints of small-minded bigotry. That was my life and homophobia was just a regular part of it – like eating, sleeping and walking the dog. Imagine living with a persistent fear of being discovered that lingered under the surface of every activity. No one knew my secret – except every boy in my high school who managed to sniff out my fear like hungry dogs.

In grade 10, the son of a rich business owner in my town held me in a headlock while he demanded that I tell him that I loved him. Several of his friends watched me confess my love. I’m not sure if the love was mutual. One of my friends was also there to witness the spectacle. Saying those words was humiliating because it exposed me for what I really was – a boy who loved other boys. There was also another guy in high school that called me “Klinger”; a reference to a character from the TV Show Mash who dressed in women’s clothes in order to get a psychiatric discharge.  He was a friend. I’ve never told him how much that name hurt me.  We’re no longer friends and I’ve never told him why.

After graduating from high school in 1985, I moved to Vancouver and never looked back. I was free to reinvent myself, but without the extravagant hand gestures and exuberant joy that made me who I was in high school. I lost a piece of myself because of homophobia.

I know that my story may seem a little dated, given that many kids are coming out in high school now. But this fear of gay and lesbian people persists in religion and within our governments and institutions. Many of our workplaces are safe, but some are not. I think there are still many people out there like my friend – the one whose nickname made me feel so unsafe and exposed. He didn’t know how to act or what to do when confronted with someone different.

We all need to make ourselves aware of what homophobia is and how it can be fought.  It can be brutal and it can also be subtle…  either way, it hurts.

– Rodney Hynes

Rodney Hynes is the National Equity Representative for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People.

Homophobia comes in many forms. To find out more about the various ways it can manifest, follow this link to Fondation Émergence’s website.

Are you an Ally? The Canadian Labour Congress has a guide for allies that answers many questions about LGBT issues.

We see things as we are

“We don’t see things as they are,
we see them as we are.”

Anaïs Nin
American diarist and author, 1903 – 1977

What does the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination mean to me?

This is our day to reflect. It’s a day for us to look back at how far we’ve come, while acknowledging how far we still have to go. We may not always be able to eliminate the deep roots of racism, but profound change does happen.

In 1960, 69 people were killed while peacefully protesting apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa. The Sharpeville Massacre shocked the world. In 1966, the United Nations declared that the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would be observed each year on March 21.

Some argue that racism will never be eliminated. However, I believe it’s a matter of being patient! It’s unfortunate that, in the meantime, we need to endure struggles, segregation, and scrutiny.

Racism won’t disappear after March 21, nor will it be eliminated overnight. We need to take the extra step; we must continue to reflect on our actions, behaviours and perceptions of others.

On March 21, let us learn from our own biases and be brave enough to critique them.

– Mary Jeyananthan

Mary Jeyananthan is the National Equity Representative for racially-visible people. On March 26, she will also participate in the following event to combat racism:

March 26th – Empower London: The Roots of Racism and Moving Forward
It is an event based out of London, is a collaboration of organized labour, community groups and community members to open up an on-going dialogue around racism.  The event has a dynamic panel, along with food, beverages, and amazing entertainment. For more information, click here – to register, please email Mojdeh R. Cox at

International Women's Day

It’s International Women’s Day! Today, we honour and celebrate the achievements of women across the world. This year, Status of Women Canada recognizes the important work of women in rural areas:

Women and girls are contributing to economic prosperity in these regions through innovative projects such as business networks and training in non-traditional occupations. Leadership initiatives for women and girls in rural and remote areas can also be found across the country.
To find out more about the theme, please visit Status of Women Canada’s website.

To find out more about the theme, please visit Status of Women Canada’s website.

We also invite you to consult Amnesty International’s website. They have asked their supporters to take action on behalf of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian woman considered to be a prisoner of conscience.

Pink Shirt Day

Pink Shirt Day

Wear a pink shirt on Wednesday, February 29 for the fifth annual Pink Shirt Day. By wearing a pink shirt, you’re saying that bullying won’t be tolerated.

Pink Shirt Day is inspired by the actions of David Shepherd and Travis Price of Nova Scotia, who took a stand when a Grade 9 boy was bullied for wearing pink. Shepherd and Price got 50 fellow students to wear pink shirts the very next day. According to the Pink Shirt Day website, “the bullies were never heard from again”.

Will you be wearing pink?

A day of heartbreak

A day of heartbreak

Each year on Valentine’s Day, people smile, hug and greet each other with a joyful “Happy Valentine’s Day!” — for others, it’s a day of heartbreak.  For them, February 14 is a day to commemorate their lost loved ones and take part in memorial marches across Canada.

This year marks the 21st Women’s Memorial March through the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, an area where many First Nations women have fallen victim to violence. Nationwide, there are over 600 women on the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s missing or murdered list.

“In January 1991, a woman was murdered on Powell Street. Her name is not spoken today, respecting the wishes of her family. Her death was the catalyst to move women to take action leading to this special Valentine’s Day March,” wrote organizers of the march at the Carnegie Community Centre.

Unlike last year’s rainy day, our members were fortunate to have some great weather. I was pleased to be joined by sisters from the UNE BC Region, along with sisters and brothers from the PSAC Vancouver Regional Office, the PSAC Women’s Committee, the PSAC Human Rights Committee and other grassroots organizations.

When we first arrived, we were greeted by a First Nations sister who gave each of us a beautifully decorated card. Each card had a unique proverb honouring the murdered women. Mine read, in part, “death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Before the march started, we gathered inside the Carnegie Community Centre Theatre, where families of the missing and murdered women shared their stories. The speakers showed tremendous strength as they did so. Someone said, “our loved ones are in a better place; they don’t have to suffer anymore. They may be looking at us, from wherever they are, and wanting to tell us that they are alright.”

Outside the center, there were drums, chanting, singing, praying and greetings. A First Nations brother generously gave fresh bannock to activists of all ages; he was content to see smiles it brought to their faces. Close by, an elder conducted a smudging ceremony to attract good spirits and positive influences.

Among the crowd, I saw a woman crying. I placed my hand on her shoulder to comfort her and was rewarded with a giant hug. The emotions were contagious. We cried, hugged, shared stories and supported each other. We were all there for the same reason.

As the march started, thousands filled the streets, carrying banners, pictures, ribbons, posters and handmade quilts in commemoration of those who were taken from us. While most marchers were aboriginal, many others, of all ethnicities, young and old, marched in solidarity.

The crowd stopped at sites where women were last seen or were found murdered. Each stop was acknowledged by a cedar smudging ceremony. The crowd attracted others who joined the march as it moved along. And just like they do each year, eagles joined the march from above.

The march ended with a candlelight vigil to commemorate the missing and murdered women of the Downtown Eastside.

Being part of this was a great and unforgettable experience. It’s a reminder to keep fighting for women’s rights and for justice for our stolen sisters.

Jennifer Ho
Regional Vice-president of the B.C. and Yukon region
Union of National Employees

February: Black History Month

This year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History chose Black Women in American Culture and History as their theme. In their description of the theme, they wrote, “in slavery and freedom, [Black women’s] struggles have been at the heart of the human experience, and their triumphs over racism and sexism are a testimonial to our common human spirit.”

Black history, especially Black women’s history, has historically been overlooked.

“Black women’s history has been in the shadows for too long,” said Audrey T. McCluskey, Professor of African-American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington. “While the work by noted historians such as Darlene Clark Hine and Deborah Gray White, is helping to move it into the mainstream, so much more needs to be done to bring this history of struggle, courage, disappointment, and overcoming—continually overcoming—to a broader audience. Black women’s history needs to be engaged beyond Black History Month, and become a part of the curriculums of schools everywhere. Students lives will be fortified and enriched by its telling.”

The story of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a pioneering Canadian black woman, is one that has been sadly overlooked. Like many free Blacks and fugitive slaves, she came to Canada shortly after the U.S. passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The Act meant that fugitive slaves were no longer free in the North. The vague language meant that even free Blacks were threatened. Many saw Canada as a place where they could escape the clutches of slave-catchers and the laws that empowered them.

Continue reading “February: Black History Month”

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

My name is Dave Burchell and I am the Union of National Employees Representative for Persons with Disabilities.

I wish to remind you that today, December 3, is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons was held between 1983 and 1992. It urged governments and organizations to make the necessary changes to improve the lives of disabled persons all over the world.

In 1992, as this decade drew to a close, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 3 as the International Day of Disabled Persons.

In 2007, the assembly changed the name from the “International Day of Disabled Persons” to the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. The new name was used the following year.

This year’s theme is “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development”. My personal favourite was in 2004 when the theme was “nothing about us, without us” made a bold statement which rings constantly in my ears.
Canadian census data reveals that the number of persons who reported having a disability reached 4.4 million in 2006, or 14.3 per cent of the Canadian population at the time.

Persons with disabilities face many disadvantages and are still subject to stigma and discrimination. They are largely excluded from civil and political processes and remain overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them.

I hope that you will join me and all other Union of National Employees and PSAC members, persons with disabilities and their allies in remembering the daily struggles we go through to achieve what able-bodied and sound-minded individuals take for granted. It is indeed a challenge for us, but with your help and the assistance of individuals who care, we can all be identified as ‘people, rather than persons with disabilities.