‘ It’s important that we move forward with the knowledge of the past ‘ Jean Augustine

By Lincoln DePradine

Jean Augustine

Generations of African-Canadian and Caribbean nationals, who actively struggled against racism and for genuine inclusion in society, have established structures to allow today’s young people to carry the baton, according to former Canadian MP Dr Jean Augustine.

“We need to see that work continue,’’ Augustine said Sunday in addressing an event of the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton (CCAH).

The online event marked the launch of 2021 Black History Month (BHM) activities of CCAH, which offers programs to residents of Oakville, Milton, Halton Hills and Burlington.

The Coronavirus pandemic, which has limited person-to-person group gatherings, also has forced many organizations to resort to hosting virtual events.

The Ontario Black History Society (OBHS), like CCAH, kicked off its annual BHM commemoration Sunday via social media.

“History… Who We Are’’ was the theme of the first virtual Black History Month launch of the OBHS, which lists the number of online participants at more than 2000 people.

“The Ontario Black History Society is passionate about the rich history of Black Canadians and in sharing the experiences and contributions across the country,’’ OBHS president Natasha Henry said in remarks Sunday.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, in a statement Monday, encouraged everyone in the province “to take a moment and participate in the many virtual events available to celebrate Black History Month’’.

The events “will allow us to learn more about the important role Ontarians and Canadians of African descent have played in the history of our great province’’, Ford said.

“Black History Month takes on even greater meaning with the events of the past year. It strengthens our resolve and our commitment to fight racial discrimination and intolerance in all its forms,’’ the premier added.

“By shining a light on the injustices committed against the Black community, both past and present, we can begin to heal wounds, promote intercultural understanding, and ultimately build bridges between communities.’’

The OBHS, following the founding of the organization in 1978, embarked on a campaign that resulted in the City of Toronto issuing the first proclamation in 1979 recognizing February as Black History Month in the city.

In 1993, the OBHS successfully filed a petition in Ontario to proclaim February as Black History Month. The next step was an effort at a Canada-wide observance of BHM that culminated in 1995 when Augustine, then Liberal MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, was a member of the Liberal Party government. The House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion, piloted by Augustine, calling for Black History Month to be recognized across Canada

Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month was completed in 2008 with the unanimous approval and adoption of the “Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month’’. The motion was introduced by African-Canadian Donald Oliver, who served in the senate from 1990 to 2013.

Augustine, speaking at the CCAH’s virtual event, recalled that the generation of her day and before, started organizations – with out-of-pocket personal funding – in places such as “church halls and in basements, at people’s apartments, to bring us together to talk about issues’’.

“It was important for us to do the activism and the advocacy in order to make some changes; to see people of colour in every section in our society, including media, in corporate board rooms, in leadership in schools,’’ said Augustine, who arrived in Canada in 1960 from Grenada.

The unavailability of resources, to ensure organizational sustainability, has been a problem for community groups, Augustine said.

“We, in the African-Canadian community, in the Caribbean community, are very good at building organizations, getting organizations off the ground. But sustainability has always been a deterrent to those organizations blossoming and surviving and creating the kind of synergies that they must create,’’ she argued.

Grenada-born Augustine, 83, a former school principal, was parliamentary secretary to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien from 1994 to 1996. She also served as minister of state for multiculturalism and the status of women.

Augustine noted that in order to overcome the resource deficit, community groups now must apply for government and private sector funding to maintain the work of seeking systemic change and greater inclusion.

“We’ve written reports upon reports. We have so many things that we can now look to and see how can we push forward,’’ Augustine said. “, so that we can make some really god decisions as we go forward into the future.’’

The Black and Caribbean community is at a “good point’’ and in a “reflective time’’ to move forward, said Augustine, who was recently named Maclean’s magazine’s recipient of its Parliamentarian of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.

“We have moved the needle a bit; but, we have not moved the needle far enough or fast enough. It’s like a work in progress,’’ said Augustine. “Each year, each time the issues come up, we move an inch; we work on it, we come up with a report, we come with some recommendations and then we sit back and then it comes up again.’’

In 2008, after Augustine reetired from frontline politics, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education was established in the Faculty of Education at York University.

The former MP also has set up the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment, which is founded on the belief that “an empowered young woman can improve her life and have a positive impact on the world around her’’.

The centre, which offers programs  focused on arts, life skills, academic success and leadership, has been impacted in its operations by the COVID-19 pandemic, Augustine said.


It lost its major funder but has been receiving “really good community support,’’ said Augustine. Further assistance from the community would be welcomed, she added.

Augustine was surprised by the unexpected announcement on Sunday of a $1,000 donation to the centre from the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton.