Saturday, 22 February 2020

Report Calls for Analysis of Anti-Black Racism in Poverty and the Black Community

By Neil Armstrong
Photo credit: Francine Buchner    Dr. Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, York University, Toronto, Canada

A report released in late 2019 says responses and strategies to working poverty need to be rooted in an analysis of anti-Black racism, and be designed to address systemic and structural issues that continue to marginalize the Black community.
Using data from Canada’s long-form census, The Working Poor in the Toronto Region: A closer look at the increasing numbers” report by John Stapleton with contributions by Dr. Carl James and Dr. Kofi Hope for the Metcalf Foundation describes as troubling the high rates of working poverty persist among second and subsequent generations of the Black community.
In the Toronto census metropolitan area (CMA), in 2016, working poverty rates were highest (over 10%) for South Asian males, Black males, Black females, and Chinese males.
In a chapter entitled “Working Poverty in Toronto’s Black workforce” penned by Dr. James and Dr. Hope, two well-known African Canadian researchers, they note that the Black community members have the highest rate, at 10.5 per cent.
“And while racialized immigrants are over-represented among the working poor, their numbers tend to decrease in subsequent generations. Yet that number increases for second and third generation Black community members. What accounts for this situation?”
Both men note that a good starting place is to understand that aggregrating communities under the broad category of “visible minority” in Canada, masks the historical and social differences and unique challenges or barriers that Canadians within this category face.
“Understanding the life trajectories of Black Canadians specifically, requires acknowledging their historical and social context, the reality of anti-Black racism, and the reluctance of Canadians to acknowledge that this phenomenon has existed in our nation for hundreds of years,” they said.
“Anti-Black racism refers to stereotypes that are used in pathologizing Black people — for example, stereotypes around Black people having a poor work ethic. Anti-Black racism has been documented in many forms in Canada. We know that Black individuals face some of the highest rates of hate crimes in Canada, including the highest rate of those crimes motivated by race or ethnicity (37% of all hate crimes targeting ethnicity) and 16% of all hate crimes. In regards to employment, the Ontario Public Service — one of Ontario’s largest employers — is currently facing actions in the courts and within the Ontario Human Rights Commission exploring ongoing concerns about anti-Black racism faced by staff,” they write.
James and Hope said there are other specific factors to consider that drive the disproportionate rates of Black working poverty.
They said many of the factors they know to be drivers of working poverty for all citizens in the GTA, are seen in large numbers within Black Canadian populations.
These include being a young worker, having a low level of educational attainment, and residing in areas of Toronto outside of the downtown core -- Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York, and East York.

They note that the report also shows that gender and generational status play a significant role in the occurrence of working poverty within Black communities — a phenomenon which existing research can help contextualize.
The researchers said further research is needed to look more closely at the ways anti-Black racism manifests to produce barriers to Black people’s success in the labour market.
This research is critical to moving forward if we are to get a full picture of what is happening within Black communities, and what policy/community responses are necessary to change this situation, they said.
Dr. James says it is important to disaggregate the “racialized group” category where Blacks, South Asians, Asians and more are included and also to disaggregate the immigrant group.
He said when this is disaggregated it shows how Blacks are in relation to all those other racialized groups.
“It is in our interest to constantly ask for disaggregated information so that we can see how do we really look as a group in the society.
To address anti-Black racism, he said community members have to constantly use data to say how race is operating for Black people and how is it different for Black people compared to South Asians and Asians, noting that it operates very differently compared to the other groups.
He believes the Black community must develop the politics of using data to bring the necessary kind of attention and changes that the community wants.
Dr. James underscored the need to have data in order to have a comprehensive picture of the Black community and to determine where it should place most of its energies.

Black Legal Aid Clinic Critical of Ontario Government's Appointment of Commissioners

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed          Ruth Goba, executive director of the Black Action Legal Centre (BLAC)

Ontario’s only legal aid clinic mandated to challenge and eradicate individual and systemic anti-Black racism has written an open letter calling for support for human rights in reaction to two recent appointments that the Ontario government made to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).

In January, the Toronto Star reported that the government appointed Randall Arsenault, a 19-year veteran Toronto police officer who has Indigenous roots, and Violetta Igneski, an associate professor in philosophy at McMaster University.

Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the OHRC, expressed concern that they were not among the applications she reviewed. She was surprised by the news of the appointments.

Ruth Goba, executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC), says the appointment of the police officer comes while the OHRC is in the midst of its inquiry into racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service.

In December of 2018, the OHRC released its interim report on the inquiry called a Collective Impact: Interim report on the inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination by the Toronto Police Service.

The statistics it revealed were shocking to some, but for many in the Black community, the report provides critical data where our anecdotal evidence is disregarded or ignored, says Goba.

“The OHRC’s role with respect to human rights policy and education for all equity–seeking communities in our province is critical. This is an unacceptable development in our province – just one of many – that will only serve to further entrench the systemic anti-Black racism that impacts our community in every facet of our lives. These appointments make a mockery of the OHRC’s role, and are a direct attack on its integrity, on the work on anti-Black racism, and therefore, our community.”

In the letter, BLAC said on January 14, 2020, Premier Doug Ford seemingly circumvented the provincial appointment process to appoint two people to sit as commissioners with the OHRC.

It says a commissioner’s role is to govern the OHRC and to provide it with strategic direction, noting that the commission is supposed to be an independent and impartial organization that ensures all Ontarians are free from discrimination.

The OHRC’s independence from government and impartiality are necessary components for it to fulfill its mandate in a credible way, BLAC said.

“According to a Toronto Star report, though the Public Appointments Secretariat received 300 applications from people wishing to serve on the commission, the two individuals appointed on January 14 were, it was reported, not part of the pool of applicants shared with the chief commissioner for her review, which is standard procedure. As a result, it is unclear whether the individuals actually applied for the positions to which they have been appointed,” the legal clinic said.

BLAC said if they did not, to say that this is problematic is an understatement.

“If they did not, all those who value human rights and believe in the importance of the human rights system should be enraged. We at BLAC, as members of the Black community are alarmed, and extremely concerned, about the integrity of the OHRC and its ability to combat racism, anti–Black racism and all other forms of discrimination in this province. We should all be extremely concerned about Ford’s utter disregard to ensure representation of the diverse communities in this province on the governing body of the OHRC.”

BLAC noted that this seems to be one more step in Ford’s gutting of the human rights system in Ontario as the number of human rights adjudicators has significantly been reduced since he took office.

It also said that this is “further evidence of his complete disregard for a merit-based process with respect to public service in the province.

“Make no mistake that Black and other communities in Ontario rely on the human rights system and the community legal clinic system (also gutted by Doug Ford) in order to access justice.” 

In its response, the Attorney General's office said the appointments were made by the cabinet, a standard practice for OHRC commissioners.

Photo contributed     Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission

While agreeing that the appointments were legally valid, Mandhane said the process violated an agreement established between her office and the Attorney General in December.

Under that agreement, the government was to review her shortlist of candidates and consult with her before making appointments to the commission. She noted that this was not followed.
BLAC said since June of 2019, no commissioners have been in place. Ford did not reappoint any existing commissioners to their posts.

“This attrition of commissioners, his apparent failure to appoint any that actually applied (as reported), and then to appoint only a supporter, and an active duty police service constable, appears to be an attempt to undermine the OHRC’s credibility. The appointments come at a time when the OHRC is in the process of finalizing an inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination by the Toronto Police Service.”

The contracts of most former commissioners have expired and the government opened up applications to the OHRC in November. There are now only three commissioners at the agency, which has historically had about nine members.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 20-26, 2020.]

The Black Legal Action Centre will hold its Annual General Meeting on February 27, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Workers Action Centre Community Organizing Space, 720 Spadina Ave., Suite 202, Toronto.


Black Men's Health Group Seeks to Understand Alzheimer's and Caregiving

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Simon Samuel    Left to right: Danielle Farrell, public education coordinator, Alzheimer's Society of Peel; Primrose Mharapara, nurse practitioner, University Health Network; and Ken Noel, president, The Walnut Foundation

Being physically active, socially connected and mentally engaged are important for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This was the key message at a symposium about Alzheimer’s, dementia and caregiving held in the auditorium of the Bramalea Baptist Church in Brampton, Ontario to recognize Black History Month.

Organized by The Walnut Foundation, a men’s health interest group and prostate cancer support group comprised mainly of Caribbean men, the event attracted 125 people featuring presentations by Danielle Farrell, public education coordinator of the Alzheimer’s Society of Peel and Primrose Mharapara, nurse practitioner of the University Health Network.

There was also a discussion about the caregiving experience by Grace Hope, Lana Salmon and Charmaine McKintosh who offered glimpses into their lived reality of caring for their loved ones.

Ken Noel, president of The Walnut Foundation, said the idea for the event’s focus came out of the input from previous symposiums where people wanted to know more about diseases that affect the Black community that are not talked about within the Black community.

Mharapara, whose presentation was entitled “Dementia and Alzheimer’s – The long goodbye,” said people are living longer as technology has contributed a lot to improved health outcome.

She shared the experience of advising her Zimbabwean father to control his blood pressure and blood sugar level, of getting rid of salt from his diet, and the need to eat healthy, exercise and to sleep well. The recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate or high- energy exercise per day amounting to 150 minutes over five days.

Speaking of “Taking charge of your brain health” and “Caregiving,” Farrell said there is no place in the world where dementia does not exist but the lowest rate is in the Mediterranean and what reports have shown is that the diet of their lifestyle accounts for this occurrence.

She underscored the significance of eating healthy – fish, poultry, vegetables and fruits – drinking enough water to keep hydrated and getting adequate sleep because lack of sleep will “do horrible things to your brain.”

Farrell also recommended turning off the cellphone or television thirty minutes before going to bed because not doing so will negatively impact sleep.

The Walnut Foundation was established in 2007 to work with the Black community in identifying the needs of Black men in the areas of health and related issues, and to provide a forum for discussion in a safe and comfortable environment.

“Trying to get Black men to talk about prostate health was a challenge so we decided to extend it to health, in general, and that attracted a lot more people into the organization,” says Noel about the organization, which was founded initially as a prostate cancer support group.

At their monthly meetings men are invited to attend and to speak about their experience and the healthcare system.

“What are they facing? Are they facing racism? Speak about it, then what can we do about it as The Walnut Foundation? Who can we advocate to, to improve their experiences with going to the doctors?”

The organization collaborates with the Black Health Alliance, Prostate Cancer Canada, Princess Margaret Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Sunnybrook Hospital in an effort to “build relationships with those healthcare systems so that we can bring information to the men that will help them as well,” says Noel.

It also seeks to influence public policy around the needs of the Black community regarding specific diseases and to improve the quality of life, functional performance and psychological adjustment of individuals and families who have concerns about men’s health issues.

Acknowledging that the membership needs to outreach to young men to get them involved, Noel noted that in May of this year there will be a father-son day and the board of directors is planning to reserve a position for a youth in its management structure.

On June 6, it will hold its annual fundraising walkathon for its annual conference on men’s health, which happens in October.

In the meantime, the organization accepts invitations from community and other groups to present on subjects such as prostate cancer awareness and men taking responsibility for their health.

The symposium also recognized the contributions of its founder, Dr. Winston Isaac, who died on February 15, 2019.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 20-26, 2020.]

Monday, 17 February 2020

Toronto to Wrap its Iconic Sign to recognize Decade for People of African Descent

By Neil Armstrong 

Photo credit: Sophia Findlay      Mayor John Tory, City of Toronto

The City of Toronto will later this year wrap its iconic sign ‘Toronto’ in artwork featuring African fabric prints and symbols -- a representation of people of African descent -- as the beginning of a celebration and recognition of the UN Decade for People of African Descent. The design is by Toronto-based visual artist, Danilo McCallum.

“That wrap will be put on the sign and will remain there till 2021, the Year of Public Art, so it will stay there for the whole year so that every person who comes by will be reminded of symbols and of that achievement and that decade that we are celebrating the accomplishments of Black Canadians and people around the world of African descent,” announced Mayor John Tory at a Black History Month reception he hosted at City Hall in collaboration with Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson.

Mayor Tory said on the verge of introducing the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism he met with the senior staff from the Black community who work in the public service to discuss their career path. 

He said they told stories that he would not have thought of, “of the obstacles and of the extra mile and the mountains that they had to move in order to get to where they got in the city’s public service.”

“That completely motivated me to see the Anti-Black Action Plan through, to put the [Confronting Anti-Black Racism (CABR)] Unit in place,” he said, noting that they are a small but mighty team that has trained 4,000 public servants so far with many more to go. 

Tory said they have also trained hundreds of police officers and have gone out in the community to make sure that Torontonians know that the city can be a place of opportunity for everybody.

The mayor said he recently went to the Toronto Star to record a video in which he was asked what would Toronto be like in 2030. 

He was asked what was the one word that he would want to see describe Toronto in 2030 and he said “equitable.”

“I said because the biggest mountain that we have to climb, the biggest mountain we have to move is to make sure that people from every background, but including the historic and well rooted and loyal and dedicated and accomplished Black community here, are finding themselves in a situation, to a greater extent than they ever had before, where they can fulfill their own destiny.”

Councillor Thompson said he and the mayor recently joined the City’s Black Staff Network and the CABR Unit for the launch of Black History Month in the rotunda at City Hall.

“We recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent,” he said, noting that he and the mayor have been thinking about what the City could do to celebrate the decade.

He charged everyone to think about what they would like to do or to see and to email the mayor, himself and other councillors to share some ideas with City Hall.

“As a city and as a community we must do more to, in fact, recognize this historic decade which is dealing with and attempting to address some of the issues around the challenges that people of African descent have had for a very long period of time.”

The deputy mayor said in a city of 2.8 million people and with the City of Toronto having 50,000 staff who mirror the city, City Hall wants to get a handle on the challenges of systemic racism and some of the other problems that they deal with on a daily basis in the broader society.

“We want to get our own house in order first because I think that’s important so we’ve set up this group to deal with some of the challenges that we also face here in this organization,” said Thompson about the CABR Unit.

Anthony Morgan, manager of the CABR Unit at the City of Toronto, noted that while it has taken the City many decades to get to this point and strides have been made they have not arrived yet.

He said there have been gains but when it comes to issues of employment, education, healthcare, housing, transit, policing and the justice system there continues to be consistent barriers.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 13-19, 2020.]

Deputy Mayor Wants Torontonians to Share Ideas for Boosting City's Nightime Economy

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Deputy Mayor and councillor Michael Thompson

Councillor Michael Thompson, the City of Toronto’s first night economy ambassador, is urging Torontonians to share their ideas and thoughts on how to boost the nighttime sector.

Thompson, whose portfolio includes responsibility for economic development and community development, says a series of citywide community engagements will be held soon.

“As you think about nighttime activities from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. we’re talking about childcare, we’re talking about jobs, we’re talking about a variety of other things to do.”

Additionally, the councillor who is also a deputy mayor, is asking people to send in by email or voicemail or whatever means they prefer ideas to him and his team about how the City can advance the night economy.

“It’s a $4.2 billion economy. We want to take it to $10 billion. That means more jobs, more opportunities for the cultural sector right across the board for all of us so that we can actually advance ourselves and ensuring that prosperity is going to be available to all.”

Toronto is Canada's largest city, the fourth largest in North America, and home to a diverse population of more than 2.9 million people. It is a global centre for business, finance, arts and culture and is consistently ranked one of the world's most livable cities.

The deputy mayor is also encouraging Torontonians to look at City Hall’s agenda taking place at committees and at city council.

He told those gathered at City Hall to celebrate Black History Month that they should go online and take a look at what is in those reports to see how things may affect their neighbourhoods. Thompson wants them to offer thoughts on how the City can do things better.

“I want to implore you as we advance on this Decade for People of African Descent to get more involved because that’s how we change the environment to reflect our interests and all the things that we want.”

In November, Mayor John Tory announced the appointment of Thompson, the councilor of Ward 21 Scarborough Centre), as the City's night economy ambassador to be the champion on City Council for Toronto's nighttime economy.

The term "nighttime economy" describes the social, cultural and economic activities that take place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the city.

“As a vibrant nighttime economy has become a competitive edge for modern cities worldwide, Toronto sees local nighttime activity as an important part of the overall economy. A city that safely and effectively infuses music, entertainment and nighttime vibrancy into its civic culture attracts and retains young people, enhances livability for residents and increases tourism throughout the year,” notes the City.

The Toronto region's nightlife employs tens of thousands of people in many sectors.

Edmonton found that the economic impact stemming from its late-night entertainment economy was $1.4 billion in 2014 and a study of New York City's nighttime economy reported that it had an economic output of $19.1 billion (USD) in 2016.

Last year, Mayor Tory pledged to foster job creation and economic development by growing Toronto's evening economy.

City Council endorsed the Strengthening Toronto's Nighttime Economy report on July 16 and requested that the mayor designate a member of council as Toronto's night economy ambassador.

The council also directed staff to implement the Toronto Nightlife Action Plan to strengthen Toronto's nightlife over the next three years, using and in some cases re-aligning existing City resources.

The City is working across divisions and will be engaging further with Toronto nightlife industry leaders and residents to grow and foster this important sector.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 13-19, 2020.]

Sunday, 9 February 2020

A Roster of Activities to Celebrate Black History Month Launched

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Jerimi Jones/Jones & Jones Productions Ltd.         Artists Jully Black and Exco Levi at the TD Black History Month Series Launch at the Harboufront Centre

As Canada celebrates February as Black History Month, sixteen cities across the country will hold events that are part of the TD Bank series in recognition of the month.

Naki Osutei, associate vice president, partnerships and engagement, Global Corporate Citizenship, said the bank has invested more than $1.5M in 90 programs across the country and supports organizations throughout the year.

 “Our history is in our bodies, it’s in our faces, it’s in pain, it’s in our success; it’s in our struggles. It’s in everything that we experience but we understand so little of it. How can we then understand the world we are living in today, how can we build the equitable inclusive societies and futures that we say we want to see,” asked Osutei at the launch of the Black History Month Series held at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.

She said irrespective of the time there has always been a fight for equity and equality and while much progress has been made there is still a very long way to go.

Osutei noted that people can look at the stories of Black Canadian trailblazers, such as William Peyton Hubbard, Viola Desmond, Elijah McCoy and contemporary figures, to see their own stories.

“Celebrating Black History Month reminds us of our past. It helps us find a way to understand our present and maybe, just maybe, it will help us correct our future,” said Osutei, underscoring that this is the reason the bank has supported Black History Month for more than a decade.

Also highlighted at the event was “Royal,” a short film by Nathan Burland made possible by The Remix Project which helps youth who are trying to enter into the creative industries or further their formal education.

Burland said the community helped him with this project that celebrates culture.

Photo credit: Jerimi Jones/Jones & Jones Productions Ltd.    Naki Osutei, Associate Vice President, Partnership and Engagement, Corporate Global Citizenship, TD Bank

Actor Tonya Williams, who is also the founder, executive and artistic director of the Reelworld Film Festival, said it is important to recognize the past but also to realize that actions in the present will be the history of fifty years from now.

Williams said she started the film festival because she was distressed with what she was seeing in Canada.

The actor, who was born in England and grew up in Jamaica and Canada, had started her career in Canada in the late 1970s but moved to the United States – and was there for 20 years -- because there was such little opportunity here.

She said after finding success in the US she would come back to Canada and speak at different events and “all the young people I met, not just Black people but all people of colour, all they ever wanted to talk to me about was how they could get to the US and that was distressing for me.

“Why did they all have to leave this country – this amazing country – to go to another country to find the success that they should rightfully have here and Reelworld was really born out of that anger and determination that I had for that, that people can leave the country if they want to but they shouldn’t have to. There should be enough opportunities here.”

Photo credit: Jerimi Jones/Jones & Jones Productions Ltd.  Tonya Williams, Executive and Artistic Director, Reelworld Film Festival

Also in attendance was the JUNO Award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and actor Jully Black who is making her musical theatre debut in the lead role as
Caroline at this year’s run of “Caroline, Or Change.”

She joins internationally renowned Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, who plays The Moon, at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto in the production which opened on January 30 and ends on February 15.

JUNO Award-winning reggae virtuoso Jamaica-born Exco Levi, who will perform at the fifth annual Tribute to the Legends of Reggae tour, organized by Jones and Jones Productions for February 8 and 9 in Brampton and Montreal respectively, gave a preview of his performance.

The launch was hosted by Maestro Fresh Wes who recently became the first rap artist to ever have a song inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He encouraged artists at the event to create history instead of aiming to achieve records.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 6-12, 2020.]

Calls for Funding to Address the Crisis in Ontario's Correctional System Welcomed

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed     Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission

A call by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and a committee representing front-line correctional staff for the Ontario government to dedicate funds in the 2020 Budget to address the crisis in Ontario's correctional system is being welcomed by members of the Black community.

However, these Black community leaders have also identified other major issues that need to be addressed.

The unprecedented joint submission of the OHRC and OPSEU Corrections Management-Employee Relations Committee (MERC) was made as part of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs - Pre Budget Consultations.

The OHRC visited 10 correctional facilities to speak directly with front-line correctional staff and prisoners, and to see conditions first-hand.

It said prisoners are being held in inhumane conditions with gross overcrowding, inadequate physical and mental healthcare and addictions treatment and no meaningful access to programming or rehabilitation services.

At the same time, front-line correctional staff is working in extremely challenging conditions without the resources, training or support needed to protect their safety or that of prisoners. Most do not feel safe, and many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a direct result of their jobs, the OHRC said.

The joint submission identifies concrete investments that it says would immediately reduce violence and save lives.

These include addressing overcrowding by using alternatives to pre-trial detention and expanding access to parole, and making sure that custody in corrections is only a last resort.

It would also increase front-line staffing levels, support front-line staff by developing a staff mental health strategy and providing enhanced training on areas like human rights, de-escalation techniques, and Indigenous cultural competence.

The investments would also ensure that prisoners can access healthcare and rehabilitation opportunities, including by providing for sufficient healthcare staffing.

Funds would operationalize alternative units to get people out of solitary confinement, enhance oversight and accountability of correctional institutions, and
modernize correctional infrastructure and information management systems.

"By making these crucial investments, this government will not only be taking steps to meet its human rights obligations, but averting the very real risk of further deaths in custody and physical and psychological harm to correctional officers," said Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane.

"We cannot ignore that a very human cost is being paid every day by not addressing this crisis,” she said.
While he agrees with the call for funding to address the priorities identified, which are all important, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, also supports calls to reduce the number of people held in provincial detention facilities.
“Part of the overcrowding is caused by an increased remand population – people held in detention while awaiting trial. While I think it is important that both prisoners and correctional officers conditions and health/mental health needs be met, I think it is also important that we reduce our overreliance on imprisonment as a means of dealing with a variety of social problems,” said Dr. Owusu-Bempah whose work focuses on the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice, with a particular interest in the area of policing. 
Based on the 53,228 institutional admissions to custody in 2019, the Ministry of the Solicitor General says there were 6,710 admissions to custody in which the offender self-identified as Black in ethnicity (12.6% of all institutional admissions to custody).

Kristy Denette, a spokesperson for the ministry, said this is based on total admissions and the same individual could have been admitted more than once within the calendar year.

In 2010-2011, the percentage of Black admissions to provincial custody was 17.7 per cent compared with their representation in the general population -- 3.9 per cent.

Photo contributed   Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto

 Anthony Morgan, manager of the Confronting Anti-Black Racism (CABR) Unit of the City of Toronto, says the Unit is happy to see the joint submission but he noted that the crisis in corrections has been decades in the making.

 “We are happy to see it but also it’s important to know that this is long overdue.”

He said it is important to recognize that Black folks are just 4.7 per cent of Ontario’s
population so 12.6 per cent admissions rate is a dramatic overrepresentation.

Morgan said this is the natural and very negative outcome of decades of over-policing Black communities with carding, racial profiling, and over-resourcing police services and then at the same time under-resourcing communities, particularly services in the areas of social wellbeing – housing, transit, childcare, education, afterschool programs, and health and mental wellbeing programs across the board.

Morgan said because of this prisons end up being the place where many Black residents are getting access to education programs, mental health services, and other services that they should not have to go to prison to access.

While he believes the measures outlined in the joint submission are important and urgently needed, Morgan said there should be a movement towards decarceration and depolicing to avoid the overcrowding in prisons.

Morgan said this is an outgrowth of direct and systemic anti-Black racism that has gone on for decades.

Photo contributed   Anthony Morgan, Manager of the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, City of Toronto

Hayton Morrison, who retired in July 2019 after 30 years as a correctional officer, welcomes the call for investments but does not see how space can be reallocated within provincial correctional institutions to deal with the matter of solitary confinement, also known as segregation. He said segregation is used because there is no other resource available.

 “Although they might be averse to naming it, the number one challenge in corrections, in my view, is anti-Black racism experienced by Black inmates and Black correctional officers. I believe that if this is not named and tackled directly and forcefully, it’s a waste of time, “ says Nene Kwasi Kafele, a longtime advocate for African Canadian prisoners.

Meanwhile, Chris Jackel, co-chair of the OPSEU committee, said an investment in corrections becomes an investment for the safety of correctional staff and for the inmates under their care.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 6-12, 2020.]