By Lincoln DePradine
Jean Augustine, the retired Black educator, former Member of Parliament and cabinet minister, has received numerous awards including honourary doctorates. She’s also been made a member of the Order of Canada and recognized by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth with an appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
However, Augustine still was thrilled to be presented with an award last Friday by the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA), a diverse group representing professionals in print, broadcast and web journalism.
“I feel very honoured by it, simply because a lot of people in this room, I worked with them when we were first talking multiculturalism,’’ Augustine told the Caribbean Camera at CEMA’s 41st Annual Awards’ Gala at the Holiday Inn Toronto, Yorkdale.
CEMA was founded in 1978 by Sierhey Khmara Ziniak, editor and publisher of the Byelorussian Voice.
Augustine, born in Grenada in 1937, left as a qualified teacher and arrived here in 1960 under the Canada-Caribbean Domestic Program. While employed as a domestic worker, she upgraded her qualifications and later became a school principal and supervisory officer.
Toronto in 1960, Augustine said on Friday, “was a different place’’, with little or representation of ethnic voices and faces in the media, including at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
After complaints and lobbying, the federal government sponsored a 100-hour “media education’’ program at Ryerson for members of ethnic communities. Augustine was one of the program participants.
“Many from the group became the first commentators, journalists, writers and television people,’’ Augustine said, adding that in Canada the public now can see “the many faces, we hear the many languages and we see people working together’’.
CEMA presented Augustine with Sierhey Khmara Ziniak “Lifetime Achievement Award’’. Ziniak’s daughter, Madeline, is chair of CEMA’s board of director. She called Augustine “the media’s friend’’, saying the award is “for dedication to multiculturalism and its expression through activism and media’’.
A panel of CEMA judges, who included Tobago-born journalist and media instructor, Jules Elder, also selected seven other winners for awards for outstanding work in radio, television documentary, film documentary, internet, podcast, innovation and print.
Gertrude Ngozi Ugoh, founder and publisher of The Nigerian Canadian News, captured the print award. “This means a lot to me,’’ said Ugoh, a mother of five. “I want to dedicate this award to all hardworking immigrant women out there.’’
The award recipients were applauded by a wide cross-section of people including members of the Ontario New Democratic Party; Liberal Party MP for Eglinton-Lawrence, Marco Mendicino; Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown; former Mississauga Mayor, Hazel McCallion; and Trinidad-born Emmanuel Dick and other members of the Canadian Ethnocultural Council.
Dick, a retired educator like Augustine, said she is “highly deserving’’ of the Lifetime Achievement Award from CEMA.
Augustine said it was “great to reconnect’’ with Dick and others at the event, including CEMA members, whom she had not seen for a long time.
“I see a lot of old timers and I’m really very honoured that they remember me over all these many years,’’ she said.
Augustine lauded CEMA, saying “the founding-members were visionaries with a mission to ensure that there were fairness, equity and inclusion of all the voices’’.
Although Augustine, 82, is “very pleased’’ that many things have changed in Canada over the last half-century, she warned that “we have work to do’’.
“We have to continue to lend our voices; we have to continue to be activists in our own right,’’ said Augustine, a former Ontario Fairness Commissioner, who served as Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Jean Chretien and also was Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women.
“We have to continue to do this innovative work for which tonight we have applauded,’’ said Augustine. “Hopefully, Canadian society is all the better for your work, for CEMA and for all those who were visionaries at a time when we needed visionaries.’’