Prime minister speaks of ‘systemic racism’ in kick-off of Black History Month

February is Black History Month in Canada, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement inviting all Canadians to honour the legacy of Black Canadians and to reflect on their contributions to the country. 

“Black people have helped shape our history and collective identity, and stood proud as leaders in communities across the country,” said Trudeau in a statement. “Despite all this, systemic anti-Black racism still exists in Canada, and has undermined the livelihoods of Black Canadians and caused deep pain. Many in our communities continue to face discrimination, hate, and a lack of opportunity and resources every day. This needs to stop.”

Anti-Black racism must stop, says Canada’s prime minister. (iStock)
First Black female legislator pressed for Black History Month

Trudeau noted that it was 25 years ago that Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons, introduced a motion to officially mark every February as Black History Month. The year 2021 is also the 75th anniversary of Viola Demond’s resistance to racial segregation and her fight against injustice in the eastern province of Nova Scotia, which was home to a large Black population.

Waves of Black migration to Canada

Between 1765 and 1783, Americans fought for independence from Great Britain, but there were settlers who remained loyal to Britain who fled to what would become Canada. Some of these loyalists brought about 2,000 Black slaves with them and an additional 3,500 Blacks who had won freedom through their loyalty to Britain emigrated as well. Many of them settled in Nova Scotia and the neighbouring province of New Brunswick. 

In that same period of time, many Blacks came to Canada to flee slavery in the United States. The biggest source of Black immigrants to Canada was the U.S. until the 1960s when people began arriving from the West Indies. The number of Blacks arriving from Africa has steadily increased since 1981. Between 2011 and 2016, 65 per cent came from Africa and 27 per cent from the Caribbean and Bermuda. 

The 2016 census shows there were 1.198 million Blacks in Canada accounting for 3.5 per cent of Canada’s total population. 

Prime minister refers to Black anger, heartbreak, frustration

There are many events taking place across the country to mark Black History Month. Because of the pandemic, many will take place online. Trudeau noted the theme for 2021 is The Future is Now and he highlighted the importance of learning about Black experiences, injustices and building back better together. He invited all Canadians to take part in online events.

“This is…an opportunity to highlight the incredible impact of young Black change makers who took to the streets last year and continue to fight to make a difference,” said the prime minister. “We felt their anger, heartbreak, and frustration, and heard their calls for accountability, justice, and equality. With the pandemic further highlighting social, health, and economic disparities for racialized Canadians, religious minorities, and Indigenous peoples, we know we must act now to address these complex and long-standing issues.”istoc

Trudeau listed efforts the government has made to address the issues including a Black Entrepreneurship Program and an official Anti-Racism Strategy

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