PM Trudeau announces Canada’s recognition of International Decade for People of African Descent
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us. Today I want to talk about something that oftentimes gets overlooked when we tell the story of Canada’s history. I’m talking about the essential contributions of black Canadians to our national fabric. Mathieu de Costa, Lincoln Alexander, Jean Augustine, Viola Desmond, Dany Laferrière. These are just a few of the people of African descent who have shaped Canada into the country it is today. And still, their stories too often go untold, relegated to the footnotes of history textbooks. And why? Because centuries of inherent oppression, systemic racism and discrimination have taken root. Yes, even in Canada progress is not felt by all people equally. Unconscious bias certainly does exist, and black Canadians are particularly vulnerable to this inequality. It is too common to hear stories of young women and men across the country who are first judged by the colour of their skin. Hearing about these individuals lived experiences with racism and intersectional discrimination underscores that we must always strive to do better as Canadians.
All over Canada, people of African descent want to have good, well-paid jobs, more education, and a chance to participate equally in all facets of Canadian society. But the reality is that far too many of them live in poverty, experience health problems, have less education, and are over-represented in the criminal justice system. We can and must do better.
This is why today we join leaders from across the international community in taking an important step forward. Today we announced that Canada is officially recognizing the International Decade for People of African Descent.
This decade spanning from 2015 to 2024 allows us to highlight and celebrate the important contributions that people of African descent have made to Canadian society. But perhaps more importantly, it outlines a framework for recognition, justice and development for our citizens. Acknowledging this decade is a recognition that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected, and whose history, culture and contributions to society must be respected.
In October 2016, our government invited the United Nations Working Group of experts on people of African descent to Canada. The group visited Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax and Montreal. They saluted, among other things, our new initiative to establish a judiciary that reflects the competition… composition of our country. That said, even though Canada has a reputation for promoting multiculturalism and valuing diversity, the working group expressed concern about the situation of many black Canadians. In particular, on the scourge of anti-black racism, there is clearly a lot of work that still needs to be done.
Here in Canada over one million Canadians identify as black. The words we use and the actions we take matter. Our government’s key priority is to deliver for the middle class and those working hard to join it. The investments we’ve made will improve the lives of all Canadians, including the lives of people of African descent. Programs like the Canada Child Benefit are helping parents with the high costs of raising children. An expanded Canada Pension Plan will help seniors retire with security and dignity. More generous student grant programs are helping low and middle-income students attend college and university and we’re investing billions in affordable child care. Our National Housing Strategy is going to address housing insecurity for a lot of vulnerable Canadians, and big investments in the Canada Summer Jobs Program help teens and young adults get their start in the working world.
We’ve heard from people and organizations from all over Canada like the Federation of Black Canadians and other groups who are telling us that, as a government, we have to do more to support black Canadians specifically. The UN International Decade for People of African Descent proposes to increase research capacity and data collection so that we have a clearer big-picture view of the specific issues faced by black Canadians. And that makes sense because the way we’re collecting and communicating the data is insufficient. For us to establish policies that are evidence-based, the current system has to be improved.
We’ve heard about the need for increased community engagement and development projects. Just last year as part of the multiculturalism program, our minister of Canadian heritage announced $5.5 million funding for community projects that prioritize working towards the elimination of discrimination, racism, and prejudice. These projects seek to promote diversity and intercultural understanding all while championing an integrated, socially inclusive society. We must do more to empower community organizations to educate people about anti-black racism, unconscious bias, and inherent privilege.
Supporting these local grassroots efforts is one important way that we can build more inclusive workplaces, schools, and communities. We know that the interaction between black Canadians and the corrections system as a whole faces a host of challenges, from discrimination and policing to overrepresentation in our prisons. The percentage of inmates in federal prisons who are black is 8.6% despite black Canadians accounting for only 3.5% of the general population. We’ve heard about these challenges from the Federation of Black Canadians among others and we know that these issues must be addressed.
And finally, concerned citizens and groups have engaged us on the unique mental health challenges facing black Canadians. Our recent investments in mental health care, as negotiated in the provincial and territorial health accords, will start this work and help us support black Canadians. As we embark soon on the start of black history month, it is important to recognize that black history is Canadian history. Thus, addressing the challenges facing black Canadians requires participation from all Canadians. In recognizing the International Decade for People of African Descent, Canada commits to a better future for black Canadians, a future where they experience full and equal participation in society across political, social, and economic life. By working together we can combat anti-black racism and discrimination and deliver better outcomes for black Canadians.
Before closing, I would like to salute the caucus members here beside me this afternoon for the incredible leadership they’ve demonstrated, and I obviously also want to thank the community leaders who are here with us today, and thanks as well to all the women and men who are working so hard to promote the rights of the black community and those of Indigenous and racialized persons all across the country. Thanks again for joining us on this important day. We’ve done a lot of work to get this far, but we still have a lot more work ahead of us that we’re going to do together.