Sunday, 22 April 2018

New Work by Jamaican Artist Includes Archetypal Ginnal and Mythical African Anansi

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed.      Daniel Jelani Ellis, creator of 'speaking of sneaking' at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, May 2-11, 2018.

A new theatre piece by emerging artist, Daniel Jelani Ellis, will debut in May as part of Why Not Theatre’s The RISER Project in Toronto.

“speaking of sneaking” is inspired by Ellis’ experiences of growing up queer in Jamaica and finding home in Canada. It runs at The Theatre Centre from May 2-11.

It is about displacement, desperation and deception, and described as “a multidisciplinary mash-up of dance, poetry and pantomime where the archetypal Jamaican ginnal and the mythical African Anansi meet.”

Ellis, 28, is interested in investigating the complex relationship between immigration and displacement, yard and foreign, home and abroad.  

He says the piece started in what is now called the Emerging Creators Unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2010/2011.

Ellis had taken some time off from the University of Toronto where he was a student to take advantage of as many opportunities as he could in theatre.

He said initially his creation was very biographical, a meditation on his life.

It examined language and the ways in which Ellis code-switched, speaking Jamaican nation language to his family but at work and school using a Canadian accent.

As a result, he created a 25-minute piece to explore questions like “do I have a language?” and “what is my voice?”

That experience in Buddies’ new works festival, Rhubarb, inspired him to pursue further training.

He also got support from some mentors who recommended that he attend the National Theatre School of Canada (NTS) in Montreal, which he did.

As the only black person in his class, the artist says he had to negotiate that in ways that were not always “nourishing for education.”

“It just made me want to continue to explore this idea of displacement or trying to root yourself if you’ve been displaced, and I was working on it through NTS.”

He continued to work on it after graduating, sought support in dramaturgy and his application to The Riser Project was successful. 

Photo contributed.   The poster of 'speaking of sneaking.'

 Ellis says he has always been drawn to Anansi from as early as 7 years old when he was a member of the Jamaican performing arts troupe, the Little People and Teen Players Club, (now Cathy Levy Players).

During that time he received the Anansi award twice, an annual recognition presented to one of the younger players for their work in a show or in their classes.

“Even before I knew who Anansi was, other people were attributing Anansi to me,” says Ellis, noting that, “Sometimes I feel like I have to be a ginnal to survive.”

While growing up in Jamaica, Ellis was always in the company of artists, including his father, poet, actor and director Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis who was teaching at the Jamaica School of Drama.

He said artists are a bit more sensitive and open to otherness so he did not experience any overt homophobia, but he still felt the need to “pretend and put on, to ginnal, to play a character in social situations at school or at work.”

Having immigrated here, he felt this was something he could leave behind but soon found out otherwise.

 “In a heteronormative society, especially as a black man, it’s just assumed that you are heterosexual. So then I felt like I had to either assert that I wasn’t or I was being perceived as a threat because of my blackness. My assumptions of what I would encounter after having moved were all wrong and that’s part of the investigation.”

Ellis, who was a student at Campion College, moved here in 2004 with his family and completed two years of high school at Mother Theresa Catholic Secondary in Malvern, Scarborough.

“I don’t even know if I had a choice. It feels so much like a calling that I’ve just answered,” he says about choosing theatre as a career and being from a very creative family.

“speaking of sneaking” is directed by di’b.young anitafrika and the choreographer is Brian Solomon.

Ellis says he is using African American feminist Audre Lorde’s biomythography and anitafrika’s monodrama methods in his work.

“I’m starting with my own experiences and my own journey through immigration and experiences of homophobia and all of that.”

He says his father loved using alliteration in his poetry and prose and he adopted that too in naming the piece “speaking of sneaking.”

“On one level, I like the rhythm and the sound of it, ‘speaking of sneaking,’ and it is text taken from the play.”

Ellis is currently appearing in “Risky Phil” at Young People’s Theatre, recently appeared in “Lukumi: a Dub Opera” at Tarragon Theatre, and has several other theatre and film credits.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, April 19-25, 2018 issue.]

Canadian Reggae Music Conference Focuses on Building Music Industry

Photo contributed.    Lloyd Stanbury, entertainment lawyer, music business consultant and author of 'REGGAE ROADBLOCKS: A Music Business Development Perspective.'
By Neil Armstrong

Organizers of the second annual Canadian Reggae Music Conference (CRMC) say it will address issues that contribute to the building of the reggae music industry in Ontario.

The inaugural conference was held last August at York University as part of Rastafest, Canada’s largest celebration of Rastafarian heritage and culture.

This year’s event will bring together musicians, entertainment lawyers, promoters, producers, publicists, funding agents and more in presentations and discussions at Metro Hall in downtown Toronto on April 27 and 28.

Masani Montague, founder of Rastafest, says the inspiration for the Canadian Reggae Music Conference came about while attending the Jamaica Music Conference in 2016.  

“I found the wealth of knowledge and information on the reggae music industry to be very rewarding.  While brainstorming with Lloyd Stanbury in Jamaica about the reggae music industry the idea for the CRMC in Toronto was created.”

Stanbury, an entertainment attorney and music business consultant, is hailed as a Caribbean pioneer in the field of entertainment law.

In August 2017, he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government of Jamaica for service to the music entertainment and media industries.

His expertise and experience span a wide range of related activities in the entertainment industry, including the practice of law, artist management, music production, event promotion, research, creative industries policy development, and lecturing.

Stanbury started his journey in the business of music in 1983 when he organized and presented the Sly and Robbie 10th anniversary concert in Kingston, Jamaica.

His impact on the international music scene began in 1990 with his role as co-founder and vice-chairman of the world’s first all-Reggae radio station, IRIE-FM, established in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

The veteran consultant, who was the keynote speaker at the CRMC in 2017, says the idea to stage the annual Canadian Reggae Music Conference in Toronto is an excellent one.

He says Montague should be applauded for her commitment to this initiative, but like many conference projects, the inaugural CRMC suffered from the inexperience of the organizers. 

Masani Montague, founder of the Canadian Reggae Music Conference and the annual Rastafest, which celebrates its 18th anniversary in the summer.

“I think there is need for an experienced conference manager for the Canadian Reggae Music Conference,” he says, noting that emphasis should be placed on pre-event publicity and the tight running of the daily activities during the conference.

Last year a few sessions were cancelled at the last minute, some invited speakers were not able to deliver their presentations and the turnout was less than it should be, he notes.

For the second conference, Stanbury is hoping that the issues that had a negative impact on the outcome of the inaugural event will be addressed.

He also hopes that the reggae music community in and around Toronto will come out to learn and network. 

“Properly organized and presented annual music conferences are a tried and proven means of music industry development globally. I am hoping that persons in the Canadian reggae music community will use the Canadian Reggae Music Conference as an industry developmental tool, and work in partnership with the local state and private agencies that support development of the arts and culture sector,” he says.

In 1999, Stanbury established the Caribbean Music Expo (CME), and served as executive chairman.

Between 1999 and 2004, the CME held a series of international music business conventions and training workshops which resulted in the participation of hundreds of musicians, music and media business representatives, and organizations from more than forty countries.

As the keynote speaker again at the CRMC, Stanbury will participate in a one-on-one interview and question and answer session that will be focused on his book "REGGAE ROADBLOCKS, A Music Business Development Perspective."

Published by Abeng Press in 2015, the book’s objective is to “generate relevant discussions and facilitate new thinking and approaches to address the various challenges faced by creative, technical and management practitioners of Reggae inside and outside of Jamaica.”

“I hope to use my session at this year's conference to share the experiences I gained and the lessons learned from working as a researcher, consultant and representative of reggae music business practitioners around the world,” says Stanbury.  

His consultancy services include research and presentations to and on behalf of Jamaican, and international entities, such as the Government of Jamaica; the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and more.

The conference will address issues such as the influence that reggae producers/promoters in Ontario have on the music industry; the contribution of reggae festivals in the province to the music industry; and explore how reggae musicians/artists contribute to the cultural media industry.
It will also examine global trends in the music industry and their impact on the reggae music industry.
There are plans to develop a 5-year action plan for the Canadian Reggae music industry.  

Among the participants at this year’s conference are: Kwasi Bonsu, entertainment lawyer and founding member of the Jamaica Music Conference; singers Nadine Sutherland, Jay Douglas, Donna Makeda and Michie Mee; media personalities Ron Nelson, Sweet T and more.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Ontario Premier Urges Black Community to Hold Doug Ford Accountable

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Eddie Grant   Ontario provincial party leaders: Kathleen Wynne of the Liberal Party, Andrea Horwath of the New Democratic Party and Mike Schreiner of the Green Party at the Black Community Provincial Leadership Debate on April 11, 2018.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, wants the Black community to listen attentively to what Doug Ford, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is saying on the campaign trail leading up to the June 7 general election.

“Doug Ford should be here and he should be held accountable,” she said in her closing remarks at the Black Community Provincial Leadership Debate – the first provincial leadership debate of the 2018 election – held at the Jamaican Canadian Centre in Toronto on April 11.

Earlier, she noted that: “The person who has said that he’s going to bring back carding and stop even trying to sort this out isn’t even here tonight, so that we have to recognize.”

There was an empty chair at the head table for Ford who was invited but declined, saying he had a campaign tour planned for northern Ontario.

Wynne alongside Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party and Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party fielded questions from moderator, Toronto Star columnist Royson James, and from several members of the large audience in the auditorium.

Schreiner said the conversation was too important for anyone to skip and he sincerely wished all four party leaders were there.

Wynne said public funded education was the battleground for her work as a school trustee and informed her work when she became minister of education.

She said the Mike Harris government removed the word ‘equity’ out of all education documents and had put in place policies around student expulsion and suspension that were seriously disadvantaging black kids in the system.

The Liberal Party leader acknowledged the NDP’s establishment of an anti-racism secretariat when Bob Rae was the premier but noted that Harris removed it.

“We’re building back that capacity in government so that’s the work that I’ve been engaged in; it’s been really central,” she said.

Horwath said the election is about change, noting that too many people are not sharing in the prosperity in Toronto.

“When people see governments that ignore this reality for years on end, institutions that continue to fail to change and politicians who deliver nothing more than sound bite, well’ it’s no wonder that people become cynical about politics.”

 She said the NDP can deliver change in Ontario.

Schreiner noted that none of the leaders, who are all white, have experienced what it’s like to live as a black person in Canada.

“We don’t have to deal with carding or profiling. We don’t have to deal with the systemic racism that is part of the Black experience in Ontario.”

He said the Greens put social justice at the heart of what they do and “seek to find ways to connect and be allies with the people of colour in this city and across this province fighting for justice.”

Horwath described the Black community as a “pillar of strength” having a rich legacy of leaders who have built the province.

She said her platform will include a new Ontario anti-racism fund that will support community organizations doing work on the ground to fight racism and foster equity.

The NDP plans to invest $20million and Horwath believes the next premier must “stop arbitrary and discriminatory policies and that means ending carding.”

“The next premier must work to reconcile the injustices of generations of anti-Black racism and make sure that the anti-racism directorate has the resources it needs to do good work,” she said, noting that the directorate should have been doing that work since the 1990s.

Horwath noted that over the last five years, 48% of the students who were expelled from the Toronto District School Board were black, just 10% were white.

She said this was totally unacceptable and a product of anti-Black racism in schools.

Wynne said much of the work that she and her colleagues have begun is an acknowledgement of the realities that are underpinned by the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent.

She said the work that the anti-racism directorate is set up to do across government includes an allocation of $47 million going into seventy-four community organizations to do the work in community to facilitate better outcomes for young people and for families.

Horwath said she does not disagree with what Wynne talked about and if she becomes the premier, the NDP “won’t get rid of the good work that’s going on but we know there’s a lot more work that needs to happen.”

“I think one of the things that we need to do is remove the barriers to success, remove the barriers that are preventing people from achieving what they want to achieve their dream,” said Schreiner.

He said carding has to be eliminated and what he has heard from people is that the current restrictions are not enough.

“Carding is still happening and that data that was collected from carding needs to be destroyed so that data is never used again,” said the Green Party leader.

Schreiner also identified the streaming of black students out of academic programs in schools as an issue.

He said one of the reasons he got involved in politics was to fight to change the status quo because the statistics James quoted are unacceptable.

James noted that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT Project is “a terrific project that will add wonderful improvements to our community but the construction is threatening to destroy Black businesses in the area around Oakwood Avenue, also known as ‘Little Jamaica.’

He said many business owners who have been around since the 1970s are seriously considering closing shop – which could remove a vital and historic portion of Toronto’s Caribbean community and usher in gentrification.

“Did the province do enough to insulate these businesses, and as premier, what would you do retroactively and immediately to salvage these businesses and prevent their displacement?”

Horwath thinks the Community Benefit Agreements that are put together when these major infrastructure projects are undertaken need to be effective.

This means making sure that local communities are benefiting from the jobs that are being created on these projects, she said.

Schreiner said it is critical to start having a fund that is part of the infrastructure fund that provides cash flow relief to small businesses to help them survive these major disruptions.

“I think that, honestly, we got off to a very bad start, in terms of the relationship between Metrolinx and the local community. I think its gotten better, there’s a better understanding, there’s learning and the Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) that are in place are improving,” said Wynne.

She said there is more that the government can do but the concept of the CBA developed in partnership, is a good thing and they need to develop on it.

Denise Jones said advocacy to establish a museum of Black history and culture in southern Ontario has come from the Black community for many years.

“If elected, what will you do to make the museum not just a dream but a reality? And, more urgently, what plan do you have for sustained funding and promotion of black arts and culture to the benefit of Ontarians for the 1.4 million visitors we bring into this province every year?”

Schreiner said there needs to be more funding for the Ontario Arts Council and directed specifically to minority communities.

“The economic benefits for our local businesses of cultural activities is huge and so financial support to those activities not only benefits the communities whose culture we’re celebrating but it also can benefit those communities economically,” he said, giving support for the museum.

Wynne said the government has just increased the funding for the Ontario Arts Council by $50 million over the next few years and part of that money is targeted at racialized communities.

“I love the idea of the museum. I think it’s a great idea,” she said.

Horwath said the commitment to arts and culture needs to be started in schools and carried on throughout community.

“The other thing that we need to talk about is not just the Ontario Arts Council or the Ontario Media Development Corporation. What do those organizations look like? Who are on the boards of those organizations? Do they reflect the community? Is there a mandate for equity? Is there a commitment that every year of granting dollars there needs to be an equity lens put on those grants? These are the kind of systemic changes that we need to look at,” she said, noting the museum is long past due.

The debate was organized by Operation Black Vote Canada and a coalition of black organizations including: the Jamaican Canadian Association, Black Health Alliance, Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, Black Business and Professional Association, Ontario Black History Society, Black Artists’ Networks Dialogue, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, First Fridays and Generation Chos3n.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

'Risky Phil' Play Features Two African Canadians in Lead Roles

By Neil Armstrong

Ordena Stephens-Thompson               Photo contributed

Daniel Ellis                   Photo contributed

Young People’s Theatre (YPT) presents the world premiere of “Risky Phil,” a comedy-drama about fathers and sons by the award-winning playwright Paula Wing, from April 9 to 27 in Toronto.

Two of the main actors in the play are Jamaicans Ordena Stephens-Thompson and Daniel Ellis. Sharing the limelight on stage are Brian Bisson, Jamie Robinson and Tal Shulman, directed by Stewart Arnott.

 Phil, the young protagonist, is extremely cautious and has always been very calculated in the choices he has made in his life. He has always lived with his colourful Aunt Gigi, a hairdresser with a flair for the dramatic.

When a new client shows up, the story of Phil's history starts to unravel and he discovers he isn't the orphan Aunt Gigi always said he was.

As Phil works to build a relationship with his father, he is forced to navigate concepts of trust, truth, and risk-taking. The play also involves issues of parental
neglect, abandonment, and mental illness.

In line with YPT’s season theme "finding yourself”, “Risky Phil” challenges you to consider how much of you is actually determined by your roots, notes a media release.

 Stephens-Thompson, who plays Aunt Gigi, has worked extensively in television and is a veteran of the theatre.

The Jamaican actor is happy to be making her YPT debut in “Risky Phil.”

“I love the role of Gigi because she is so complex. There is a lot that she
doesn't want to reveal for reasons that she deems very serious. I really connect with her mama bear qualities being a mother myself,” says Stephens-Thompson.

She says working on this play has been awesome so far.

“Our director Stewart Arnott is an actor's director and this is fortunate because he gets to the heart of the story and peels back the layers and complexities of the characters.”

The actor’s most recent theatre credits include “Other Side of the Game” (Cahoots/Obsidian Theatre); “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf “ (Soulpepper Theatre) and “How Black Mothers Say I Love You” (Factory Theatre).

Her film and television credits include “The Handmaid's Tale,” “Designated Survivor,” “‘Da Kink in My Hair, “ “Rookie Blue,” “Committed,”
and “The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.”

Ellis, who plays Phil, is a Toronto-based artist raised in Jamaica by a village of theatre artists, poets and educators.

He is thankful to be grounded in their community strength and honoured to carry their creative legacy forward.

“I feel grateful for this role. Phil’s journey is exceptional but holds many
universal truths. It’s an honour and true delight to present this story to
youth whose experiences may be similar,” says Ellis.

Like Stephens-Thompson, this is his first time working with YPT.

“The experience so far has been incredible. I’m grateful for this opportunity
to be amongst this stellar team, who I am constantly learning from.”

Ellis says he has long admired the work of Stephens-Thompson and Robinson who are members of the cast.

His theatre credits include “Lukumi: A Dub Opera” (Watah Theatre), “The Circle”
(Tarragon Theatre) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Pacific Opera Victoria).

A graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, Ellis is an alumnus of the playwrights unit at Obsidian Theatre and the emerging creators unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

He will be in the upcoming production “speaking of sneaking” (Why Not Theatre).

The set and costume designer is Rachel Forbes; lighting designer, Jareth Li; sound designer, Lyon Smith; assistant director, Luke Reece; stage manager, Michael Sinclair; and apprentice stage manager, Ada Aguilar.

 Wing is a playwright, actor, teacher and translator. She is a resident artist educator with YPT this season. The main character of Risky Phil originated in her popular play “Number One and Jamie,” which was produced by YPT in 2003/04.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Former Toronto Police Services Board Chair Still Advocates for Reform in Policing

By Neil Armstrong

Alok Mukherjee hopes that his new book, Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing, will be a resource to the community as it continues to advocate for “a different model of policing, about transformation, about change.”

“It’s an effort to raise a public discussion of a service and institution that I think has outlived its utility,” he says.

To write Excessive Force, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) teamed up with Tim Harper, a veteran Toronto Star journalist and former national affairs columnist, to produce a book that the general public would read, written in accessible language.

Mukherjee, who served as chair from 2005 to 2015 and is now a distinguished visiting professor, equity & community inclusion, and department of criminology at Ryerson University, says in 2005 when the TPSB began its work it was without a big plan.

It was more a question of dealing with some specific issues that the board felt would be tackled through a new policy, better trust and relationship with community, greater diversity in recruitment, hiring and promotion, and more focus on human rights.

Mukherjee says some years after doing all of that he realized that the results were not what the board was expecting.

“People like the first black deputy chief, Keith Forde, did an amazing job in transforming how the organization looked. Peter Sloly, who became a staff superintendent and then a deputy chief, did some amazing work on police-community engagement, on some alternative ways of engaging with the community. But, those were good efforts but they were not really producing the fundamentally different result that we wanted,” says Mukherjee in his office at the university.

The former head of several provincial and national associations of police boards says he began to think about where was the mismatch.

He says there was a mismatch between what the police was really being asked to do and what the model was.

“So, the model that has been inherited from nineteenth century is that you rely on this armed uniformed police officer for everything, but the everything these days has many parts. A small part of it is dealing with what I call conventional crime, violence, murders, theft, etc. But the major part of what police do these days includes social issues, medical issues, issues of age, safety and wellness in a big kind of way. And I began asking if relying on that armed uniformed police officer was the best way to serve in those areas.”

Published by Douglas & McIntyre, Excessive Force is described as rare, “not only in Canada but in the western world,” because it is written from the community’s perspective. There are many books about policing but written either by academics or former police officers.

As someone from the community who was not a career cop, and as an ordinary citizen member of the TPSB -- not a politician -- Mukherjee had a particular take on the issues in the backroom of Toronto’s policing, which he elucidates in each chapter.

There are no books that he knows of that articulates the community perspective in this model of civilian oversight existing in Canada.

“That’s because, partly, civilian oversight of policing is not given the status that is given to the mayor or the police chief, and yet, it is the cornerstone of community-based policing in Canada much more so than in the United States,” he says.

He is hoping that one of the things the book will do is bring more prestige to the role of civilian oversight, “the fact that you can use public interest as the lens through which you govern the police.”

“When you involve yourself so deeply with an important organization you also want to learn from it and you also want to think about it,” says Mukherjee about his reason for writing the book.

Being chair of the TPSB was a profound experience for him as he lived through “some of the most difficult challenges that we faced both as a community and as a police organization.”

These included the troubles around the G20 Summit; the police killings of Andrew Loku and Sammy Yatim; and racial profiling and carding, which disproportionately targeted blacks.

 “It was during my time that we began to talk about the need for a new model of policing, not only because the cost of policing was rising but also because we began to realize that the way we provide services is a nineteenth century model that we’re imposing on twenty-first century.”

Toronto became a laboratory for him of looking at, thinking about, and trying to implement change.

After he left the board, it seemed to him that there were some questions that mattered to the community and although he wrote newspaper articles it seemed important to put all of that together in a book.

Mukherjee and Harper knew of each other but had never met and were brought together by a mutual friend to discuss this book.

“We worked together quite well and I’ve really come to know him as a friend and I certainly respect his views and the work he’s doing,” says Harper noting they collaborated for 21 months.

Mukherjee notes that each chapter is signed off by both of them and is truly a joint-effort.

Harper has been a journalist for forty years, thirty-four of which were spent with The Toronto Star. He ran bureaus in Vancouver, Washington and Ottawa and spent more than five years writing a national affairs column syndicated from coast to coast.

One of the reasons he took on this book was because he had never written about policing, having built a career around writing about politics, so he wanted to tackle something different. 

 “I think it gives you a very good idea of how policing over the years has fallen into patterns that can be best summed up by ‘because we always did it that way,’” says Harper.

He thinks the book provides a fantastic overview on what needs to change and how to change it. 

“The fact that he was able to endure ten years there and never waiver from his principles, I think, is quite valuable and provides a very valuable read of ten years of reform and a look forward as to how reform should continue,” says Harper about Mukherjee.

In Chapter 7 entitled “New Mayor, New Chief,” Mukherjee notes that after much thought he is left with two disturbing conclusions about the selection of Mark Saunders as police chief instead of Peter Sloly in 2015.

“One that the fix was in. It seems work had begun on grooming an alternative to Sloly soon after he was made a deputy chief by the board against Blair’s wishes. Saunders’s rise through the senior ranks – a meteoric rise – began almost immediately after Sloly’s appointment and the public speculation about Sloly being the next chief.”

He notes that unlike Sloly, Forde, McLeod and other black officers, “Saunders had kept his head down, had never spoken about or involved himself in issues of discrimination, had made the right friends and had not rubbed the chief or the police association the wrong way.”

Mukherjee’s second conclusion was that this is an example of the insidious ways in which racism manifests itself.

He notes that there had been a general sense that Toronto was ready for a chief who was from a racialized background, preferably black.

“It would have been extremely problematic, in light of the deep concerns about the relationship between the police service and the Black community, if the board had not selected a Black chief.

“But this had to be balanced against the interests and comfort level of those who exercise social, economic and political power. A Black chief who was seen as too invested in the Black community, too radical, too independent of the establishment –  not “one of the boys” – would not have been acceptable. But a chief who was Black and yet “one of us” would fit the bill.”

The 295-page book also examines the police treatment of its own members in mental health distress and the battles with an entrenched union that pushed back on Mukherjee’s every move toward reform.

“In spite of, or as a result of all this, Mukherjee played a leading role in shaping the national conversation about policing, sketching a way forward for a new type of policing that brings law enforcement out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty-first century,” notes a synopsis of the book.

Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing was launched at Ryerson University on April 5, 2018.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Black Canadians Welcome Budget Allocation Recognizing Challenges

By Neil Armstrong

Dr. Christopher Morgan, founder and board member of the Black Health Alliance. Photo contributed

Kwesi Johnson, a community engagement strategist. Photo contributed

Black Canadians are pleased with the allocation in the recently announced 2018 federal budget recognizing the challenges faced by them.

On February 27, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced funding to strengthen multiculturalism and address the challenges faced by Black Canadians.

“As a first step toward recognizing the significant and unique challenges faced by Black Canadians, the government also proposes to provide $19 million over five years that will be targeted to enhance local community supports for youth at risk and to develop research in support of more culturally focused mental health programs in the Black Canadian community,” notes the budget.

It further notes that: “In addition, with the creation of the new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics, the government is committed to increase the disaggregation of various data sets by race. This will help governments and service providers better understand the intersectional dimensions of major issues, with a particular focus on the experience of Black Canadians.”

Dr. Christopher Morgan, founder and board member of the Black Health Alliance (BHA) says it welcomes this first step investment in the critical areas of mental health research and programming for Black youth. 

“Clearly more investments and initiatives will have to be made to address the broad social determinants of health (income, education, housing, violence, etc.), but this is a step forward which has the potential to bolster and compliment provincial and municipal initiatives where they exist and stimulate initiatives where they do not yet exist.”

Dr. Morgan says the BHA remains committed to working with community stakeholders and all levels of government “to bring about the transformational cultural and systemic changes needed to improve the health and well being of Black Canadians and our diverse communities throughout Canada.”

He says the country is in an era of reconciliation in which Canadians and all levels of government must work towards a level of atonement for the historical and ongoing mistreatment and oppression of racialized populations. 

The BHA founder noted that the recent federal budget announcement is a direct result of effective organizing and advocacy efforts on the part of organizations and leadership in the Black community.

These not only increased the level of awareness and understanding of the challenges being faced by Black Canadians but also put forth solutions. 

He says this announcement represents putting into action the Prime Minister’s recent recognition and Canada’s commitment to the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent and his public admission of the existence and impact of anti-black racism.

Meanwhile, Kwesi Johnson, a community engagement strategist, feels the budget allocation is a step in the right direction.

“When I read that the PM shared some remarks about anti-black racism I thought to myself, well that's nice but I would have liked it more if they come with some funding to address it. Then, I saw the funds and there was the reaction, well, they can always do better, in terms of the amount but this is a start.”

Johnson says he would like to know more about the metrics around what success looks like.

“What supports are going to be put in place to help community activists, animators and activators who have locally developed solutions, but may lack the capacity to build in evaluation or sustainability components that can allow their solutions to evolve rather than capitulate after funding runs out?”

He is not sure if anything has been suggested in term of archiving the projects but says it could be beneficial if part of the evaluating metrics.

He thinks funding should be attached to “a very purposeful and intentional and culturally tailored outcome, research and archiving metrics.” 

The budget notes that diversity is Canada’s strength and a cornerstone of Canadian identity.
“Recent domestic and international events, like the rise of ultranationalist movements, and protests against immigration, visible minorities and religious minorities, remind us that standing up for diversity and building communities where everyone feels included are as important today as they ever were.”

The government proposes to provide $23 million over two years, starting in 2018–19, to increase funding for the Multiculturalism Program administered by Canadian Heritage. 

This funding would support cross-country consultations on a new national anti-racism approach, would bring together experts, community organizations, citizens and interfaith leaders to find new ways to collaborate and combat discrimination, and would dedicate increased funds to address racism and discrimination targeted against Indigenous Peoples and women and girls, the budget notes.

On January 30, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Government of Canada would officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent.

“The Government of Canada has heard from concerned citizens and organizations from across Canada, including the Federation of Black Canadians, that we need to do more to work with and support Canadians of African descent,” he said.

“In recognizing the International Decade, the Government of Canada commits to a better future for Black Canadians. This means learning more about the issues that affect Black Canadians, including improving research and data collection, so we can better understand the particular challenges they face. Mental health challenges and overrepresentation in the corrections system have been raised in particular by community leaders as barriers to Black Canadians experiencing full and equal participation across society,” Trudeau said.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, April 5, 2018.]