Thursday, 25 October 2018

Leading Black Studies Scholar Says New Program Will Imagine Futures

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: York University   Professor Christina Sharpe, who teaches African Diaspora Studies at York University, presents the keynote lecture "Still Here" at the launch of new programs and research in Black Studies at the university on October 18, 2018.

Christina Sharpe, a leading scholar in Black Diaspora Thought and Cultures, says there are several people who have been doing work that inspires hers. Some are still here, others are not, but “their works continue to be read and felt and continue on in us.”

She thanked professors Andrea Davis and Leslie Sanders who worked hard to make Black Canadian Studies a reality, and also thanked the students who made it possible.

Sharpe, professor of African Diaspora Studies, Humanities at York University delivered the keynote lecture entitled “Still Here” at the launch of new programs and research in Black Studies at the university on October 18.

The Black Canadian Studies Certificate provides an integrated examination of the historical, cultural and various expressive productions of people of African descent in the America through the lens of Black Canada and four specific humanities and fine arts approaches: cultural studies, history literature, and music.

Sharpe started with three epigraphs from -- Saidiya Hartman “The Terrible Beauty of the Slum,” Tavia Nyong'o’s “Black Survivor in the Unchromatic Dark” and Dionne Brand’s “Ossuaries” -- hoping that they would help “orient us both to the logic of the title ‘Still Here’ and to the ongoing and necessary work of the imagination.”

This semester she is teaching an undergraduate and a graduate seminar “Imagining Slavery and Freedom” with the intent to make it clear that African chattel slavery, the abduction of Africans, Middle Passage and more involved the work of imagination – “involved the work, in fact, of many imaginations in the service of brutality.”

She noted that, “our freedom, but more precisely, our liberation needs all of our beautiful imagination to usher it into being.”

Sharpe quoted from or referred to the works of Dionne Brand, Rinaldo Walcott, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Hamilton, Camille Turner and other writers and artists noting that their work underscore the imaginings of Black people living in the diaspora.

“It is difficult work writing blackness, difficult work to bring together strands and histories and lives without collapsing them into each other. But that is part of the work that we do and that the new Certificate in Black Canadian Studies will do – the work of seeing these strands and holding these histories and presents. This is the work of thinking from Black, the work of imagining futures, the work of making Black life live on and off the page.

“These writers live and work in Canada and their work articulates our lives but not in the interest of nation building. I think blackness cuts nation, particularly in the Americas. The one thing that has remained consistent is the state’s response to the appearance of blackness. The state responds to Black people with a violent managing of blackness. Our job is to really look at and describe and apprehend the multiple ways that Black people make life.  How to describe that living in the face of the state’s malevolence, our work is to imagine and inhabit otherwises that are already being lived, otherwises that allow for and sustain black life,” she said.

In part three of her lecture -- the coda -- she thanked the following people: Sylvia Hamilton, M. NourbeSe Philip, Juliane Okot Bitek, Dionne Brand, Beverly Bain, David Chariandy, Ama Ata Aidoo, George Elliott Clarke, Wayde Compton, Toni Morrison, Warren Crichlow, Carl James, Afua Cooper, Rinaldo Walcott, Mariam Kaba, Ruth Gilmore, Makeda Silvera, Canisia Lubrin, Clifton Joseph, Lillian Allen, Claire Harris, Camille Turner, Angela Davis, Grace Channer, Carie Mae Weems, Abdi Osman, OmiSoore Dryden, Andrea Fatona, Sandra Brewster, Sandy Hudson, August Wilson, Katherine McKittrick, Akua Benjamin, Maryse Condé, Kamala Kempadoo, Marlene Green, Sherona Hall, Angela Robertson, Idil Abdillahi, adri zhina, Peggy Bristow, and Andrea Davis.

She noted that her thank you is provisional, incomplete and continuing.

“I want to give special thanks to Andrea Davis for her beautiful imagination and her beautiful vision for this evening. That vision and her commitment and her imagining and good company have made possible the Black Canadian certificate program at York University as well as my own presence here.”

Photo credit: York University   Andrea Davis, Chair, Department of Humanities at York University

Professor Sharpe’s work in African American and Black diaspora literatures, Black feminist theories, queer diasporas, Black visual cultures and North American multiethnic literatures positions her within the most exciting and cutting-edge research in Black Diaspora studies and establishes her as one of the most impactful scholars shaping the field from the perspective of interdisciplinary humanities, notes a brief biography of the scholar who joined Department of Humanities in June.

Sharpe is the author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects (Duke UP 2010) and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke 2016).

She came to York from Tufts University where she taught in the Departments of English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and was the former director of American Studies.

The lecture was presented by the Department of Humanities, Department of Music and the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora.

Photo credit: York University   York University Gospel Choir, directed by Karen M. Burke, Department of Music performs in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall Accolade East, York University

It opened a two-day event recognizing these new programs and research in Black Studies at York:
-       Black Canadian Studies Certificate Program
-       Black Studies and Theories of Race and Racism Graduate Stream
-       Black Child and Youth Studies Network
-       Network for the Advancement of Black Communities
-       Jean Augustine, Inez Elliston, and Beverly Salmon library fonds

The lecture was followed by “Struggles and Possibilities of Black Studies in Canada: A Workshop” on October 19 in Founders College at the university.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Black Community in Brampton Wants to be Fully Included in the City

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed   Patrick Brown is running for mayor of Brampton in the Oct. 22, 2018 municipal election.

Several Black, African and Caribbean residents in the city of Brampton want to see visible representation in the mayor’s office, on interview panels and in the selection of job applicants, among other things.

They shared their concerns at the second Black, African and Caribbean Community Town Hall with mayoral candidate, Patrick Brown, held at his campaign office in Brampton on October 9.

Apart from not feeling representing by the present municipal government, some of the other issues they raised included property taxes, homelessness and poverty alleviation, gridlock on the roads and economic development to match the burgeoning residential projects.

Black African and Caribbean residents in Brampton represent the second largest group of visible minorities in the city, with South Asians being the largest and Filipinos in third place.

“Visible representation matters. I am committing to ensuring that the Mayor’s Office will engage and reflect the diverse mosaic of communities in Brampton,” said Brown who is a candidate in the October 22 municipal election.

On September 17, he held his first meeting with the community to develop a 10-point commitment to Brampton’s Black, African and Caribbean-Canadian community.

 The commitments include ensuring the mayor’s office staff reflects the cultural mosaic of the city and to create the first-ever Black/African/Caribbean-Canadian Mayor’s Advisory Council.

On the matter of equality of opportunity, Brown wants to ensure hiring practices give all candidates a fair chance to be hired. 

“The panels interviewing/selecting applicants must also reflect the cultural make-up of our city. And jobs at City Hall will be shared with the community through the advisory council,” notes the commitment.

The mayoral candidate plans to have a dedicated staff position in the mayor’s office that will focus on outreach and engagement, and ensuring that the office is accessible to community members.

Tenders for city projects will be shared with Black-owned businesses through the advisory council to encourage fair and equal opportunity.

Brown has also committed to ensure there is support for the summer festival, Jambana, “and their continued, successful presence in Brampton.”

He wants the Congress of Black Women, Brampton and the United Achievers’ Club annual Black History Month to have city space provided free of charge, and to  provide them with office space to operate out of as they continue to develop their programs fostering youth success in Brampton.

There is also the plan to “create the Brampton City Council Making Black History Awards for Black History Month to encourage and celebrate greatness in our city.”

At the recommendation of the Black Community Action Network of Peel, we will review and, where needed, develop education programs and other tools to address issues of anti-Black racism, inclusion, and equity in the City of Brampton workspaces,” says the ninth commitment.

Brown notes that: “We will work alongside small and large community organizations to ensure they have space and support to continue to serve the community, with a special focus on Black/African/Caribbean-Canadian youth employment opportunities, seniors issues, mental health resources, and business supports.”

Photo contributed   Garnett Manning, former councillor, City of Brampton

Jamaican, Garnett Manning, a former city councillor of Brampton and a member of Brown’s campaign team, said the former provincial leader of the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park was the first Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader to host a Black History Month event.

Referencing the names of black candidates running in the October 22 municipal election in Brampton such as Everton Campbell, Princess Boucher, Michael Farquharson, Michelle Shaw and others, he said in his estimation “this is the best stack of candidates from our community.”

Manning said there are two constants in Brampton regarding elections: a 30 per cent and less election turnout and the city elects mayors in big numbers.

He believes that the Black vote “could be the x factor to send a message that we will not be taken for granted” and that the community should vote strategically. Manning is proposing that the community should vote as a block.

Brown has served two terms municipally as a city councillor in the city of Barrie and three terms in the federal parliament representing Barrie. He is a former Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Simcoe North.

He was planning to lead the Ontario PC Party in the June provincial election but was forced to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct, dating back to when he was a member of parliament. He has strongly denied the allegations and is suing Bell Media and CTV News which first reported the accusations.

Brown currently practices real estate law in the GTA and sits as managing partner at Callian Capital Group, as well as vice president at Tortel Communications.  He and his wife, Genevieve Gualtieri, live in downtown Brampton.  

The other mayoral candidates are:  incumbent Linda Jeffrey, Mansoor Ameersulthan, Baljit Gosal, Wesley Jackson, Vinod Kumar Mahesan and John Sprovieri.

Responding to the question of how in her four years as mayor she has engaged the Black, African and Caribbean-Canadian community in hiring practices, tenders for city projects, among other things to ensure inclusion and community engagement in the City of Brampton, Jeffrey said “it’s very arrogant of Mr. Brown to try to address an issue that he himself has not been here long enough to understand and appreciate.”

“Since the beginning of my term, every group - no matter their race or faith - has been welcome to City Hall. Under my leadership we've opened up City Hall to make everyone feel more welcome. We've done more events, more flag raisings for groups than any previous council has done. We've initiated the Inclusion and Equity Committee and currently City Staff are working on implementing their recommendations,” she said.

Jeffrey says she was part of a board that initiated an equity audit for Peel Regional Police.

“I listened to residents and took a firm stance against carding practices and moved a motion at Peel Regional Council, along with Mayor Bonnie Crombie to stop carding.

“I was part of a team on the Police Services Board that hired two deputies from the Black Community to serve on Peel Regional Police.”

She said she has been outspoken in her criticism of hiring practices at City Hall and
will continue to advocate for more equity.

“We are a City that needs to pull together and celebrate our diversity. The policies I push forward, whether on crime, seniors, taxes or transit, will continue to address the wide variety of issues affecting Bramptonians.

“If you don't have political will, nothing can happen. I am here and ready to listen to Bramptonians and work hard to address their concerns. I always have and I always will,” said Jeffrey who is seeking a second term as mayor.

[Due to space constraints because of two features in the current issue of the North American Weekly Gleaner (Oct. 18-24, 2018), this story was not published.]

Black Canadians Want to Benefit from Legalization of Marijuana

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Tyler James, director of Ontario Cannabis Consumer & Retail Alliance (OCCRA) and community outreach coordinator for Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty.

With just six days to go until the use of cannabis is legalized in Canada on October 17, some African Canadians have varied opinions about what it means for the Black community.

On October 4, the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) justice critic, Murray Rankin, tabled a groundbreaking bill that would immediately expunge simple possession records for all Canadians.

The party says too many people with criminal records for simple possession still face real hardships that affect their job opportunities, their ability to travel, and as a result, their livelihood. 

“Too many good people face unnecessary barriers and hardships for simple possession of cannabis, from difficulty finding a job, renting an apartment, to not being allowed to volunteer on a child’s soccer team,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

“These barriers are felt even more by marginalized communities, including Black Canadians and Indigenous Peoples, who are 3 to 9 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession. All this while many other members of society are less likely to even get charged, and are far more likely to be able to make those charges go away,” he said.

Tyler James, director of Ontario Cannabis Consumer & Retail Alliance (OCCRA), says he has heard a “mixed bag of sentiments and emotions” from Black Canadians.

“Some individuals are very elated by it because they’re looking at opportunities that they can participate, both on the retail side and then also the cultivation side. They’re very adamant about their participation and how they want to be involved and included.”

James says others are more concerned around “the piece of how or if we will even be included in the first place, so the piece around amnesty and those that they know or if they've personally been affected has really been kind of a driving force around what they want to address prior to legalization.”

Many felt that before legalization they could have had decriminalization, says James, “cause as it stands there is still currently people being charged with possession offences.”

He said people of colour and Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately affected by the criminalization of the use of cannabis.

People were concerned if there would be the allowance for participation in retail or cultivation as background checks are required.

They wonder if their previous encounter with police or conviction would preclude someone from participation either on the cultivation side through a “licensed producer (LP) or if they were to start up their own LP or if they wanted to start up their own micro, in addition to that on the retail side if it would also preclude them as well.”

In the lead up to the vote on the Cannabis Act in the senate, independent Senator Wanda Bernard –  one of two black senators then -- held a public discussion on legalization at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in March to hear from the Black community which she described as being silent on the issue.

Commenting on the perceived silence of the community, James attributed this to “the stigmatization that comes with cannabis itself, and unfortunately with the war on drugs and with [Stephen] Harper’s tough on crime bill it increased the cost for pardons and it increased the penalty for possession offences.”

He said although there isn’t any more disproportionate use, “unfortunately in the news in the media it’s disproportionately shown that black individuals consume cannabis or it’s shown as if we disproportionately consume cannabis more than any others.”

He attributes the silence to “that trepidation from individuals in our community to step out because we’ve been stigmatized for consumption of it for so long.”

James also said the public consumption or public support of cannabis is frowned upon especially “within our own communities.”

As of October 17, the Ontario Cannabis Store website will be the only legal option for purchasing recreational cannabis in the province. It will follow strict rules set by the federal government.

The Ontario government has also introduced legislation that, if passed, would help the province move forward with a tightly regulated private retail model for cannabis that would launch by April 1, 2019.

The legislation would establish the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) as the provincial regulator authorized to grant store licences. The Ontario Cannabis Store would be the exclusive wholesaler to these stores. Private stores would be introduced with strict controls to safeguard children and youth and combat the illegal market.

James says this is what OCCRA has been advocating for because it is creating an allowance for individuals who have been advocates to transition into a legal market.

He also welcomes the inclusion of lounges into the cannabis framework as well.

James says amnesty and the inclusive nature of the Ontario government’s approach allows for fair market competition and the market itself will become more fragmented before it won’t be just large “companies and LPs being able to just buy up a whole segment of the market. It will allow for more diversity in retailers.”

He said this would also allow for in the future more diversity of cannabis lounges as well so “the tourist piece is going to be a next big step along with the ability to retail and have micro icensing.”

Micro licensing will allow for individuals who want to become edible manufacturers and processors or individuals who want to have their own kind of craft cannabis brand to be included in the market. 

He said those with cannabis convictions are not necessarily excluded and can participate.

Akhaji Zakiya, a community advocate, feels that the Black community has borne the burden of this burgeoning industry “without any indication that we’ll get to enjoy the rewards.”

She says the community is overrepresented in the criminalization and completely underrepresented in benefiting from any investments or returns from this industry.
Zakiya is aware of a few retailers who have shut down in anticipation of the change in legislation.

There are three things that she would like to see regarding the community: for people to not be incarcerated, being able to participate in the enterprise, and the third is a quality issue “whether it’s fentanyl or other substances, I’m really concerned that people can enjoy the benefits of this product,…I’m concerned about the quality of these products that are increasingly being mass produced -- just so people can be healthy in their consumption.”

Photo contributed     Michael St. George, reggae and spoken word artist

Meanwhile, Michael St. George, a reggae and spoken word artist, says he has mixed feelings about the legalization of recreational use of marijuana.

“I think the abuse of anything is not good and I tend to see some of that. I think part of it is education and culture. It’s a different culture from how we drew up using marijuana, and particularly because on one level I’m concerned about the younger generation not really knowing real marijuana and the overuse of anything synthetic.”

From an Afrocentric cultural perspective and from a Rastafari perspective, he says: “Knowing that we have been at the forefront of leading this charge for a long time and being victimized by its use by a system of governance around the world, it is sad to see that this is happening and people are still suffering from incarceration and being victimized by its use.”

He said farmers who have seen this as a produce for a long time have not benefitted from it, noting that it is very expensive to get a license in Jamaica.

“I think that there should be concessions made for Rastas to have an integral part in this to profit and to be involved from profiting from this.”

St. George said if there is a culture that will hold this product in high regard it is Rasta.

The federal NDP says so far, the Liberals have put forward no plan to help Canadians convicted of something which will no longer be a crime after October 17. 

“No one should continue to suffer the negative impacts of outdated legislation. Under current rules, Canadians must wait 5 to 10 years and must pay over $600 just to apply for a pardon which does not make their record disappear. Convictions for trafficking and other drug-related crimes that remain illegal will not be affected by Rankin’s Bill.”

“Simply put, Canadians shouldn’t be punished for what will soon be a completely legal activity,” said Rankin. “I hope to see the Liberals support this common-sense legislation.”

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Oct. 11-17, 2018.]

Friday, 12 October 2018

A Tribute to Walter Rodney, Scholar and Activist

By Neil Armstrong

This weekend, 50 years ago, Black intellectuals, Pan-Africanists, activists and students gathered in Montreal for the Congress of Black Writers, from Oct. 11-14, 1968 at McGill University. These were heady days of the Black Power Movement in the USA and critical discussions about colonialism, imperialism and racism in Canada. The Congress was organized mainly by Black West Indian university students and featured people such as Roosevelt ‘Rosie’Douglas (one of the organizers who later became the prime minister of Dominica), Rocky Jones of Halifax, Nova Scotia; C.L.R. James, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Rodney, and many more.

David Austin explores the significance of this event and time in which it happened in his Casa de las Americas Prize-winning book, Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal, Moving Against the System: The 1968 Congress of Black Writers.

After attending the Congress, Walter Rodney was banned from re-entering Jamaica on October 15, and as a consequence his post as lecturer in History at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus was revoked. The ban resulted in protests on Oct. 16 in what became known as the “Rodney riots” when “thousands took to the streets in protest against the ban and against their condition of living.”

On Tuesday, October 16, 2018, starting at 6:30 p.m., the Black and Caribbean Book Affair at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, 777-779 Bathurst Street in Toronto will present  “A Tribute to Walter Rodney: 50 Years Later.”

The speakers include: Norman Otis Richmond, journalist and founder of the Biko Rodney Malcolm Coalition; Alissa Trotz, associate professor of Women and Gender Studies, and Caribbean Studies, New College, University of Toronto; Wazir Mohamed, associate professor of Sociology at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana; and special guests live and via Skype.

In her book, Being Black, Althea Prince notes that: “The late 1960s and early 1970s saw unprecedented community work in Toronto. Black students from York University, the University of Toronto, and Ryerson Polytechnical Institution contributed much time and energy to this work.”

She views the Congress of Black Writers held in Montreal in 1968 as a precursor to this period and noted the attendance of people like Miriam Makeba, Alfie Roberts and Walter Rodney.

“The Congress was a defining moment in the political education of many young African Canadian people. My consciousness, awakened by Malcolm X and the Black Muslims, was informed by the unending and unerring wisdom of C.L.R. James, coupled with the fire that leapt from Stokeley’s tongue. Walter Rodney’s work on Africa and on the Rastafari, are legendary tomes,” she writes.

Rodney was the author of several books, such as How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, The Groundings with my Brothers, A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 and more.

Rodney was born on March 23, 1942 in Georgetown, Guyana and was assassinated on the evening of June 13, 1980. He was 38 years old.

A brief biography of Rodney in “Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual” notes that: “On the evening of June 13, 1980, agents of the government succeeded in executing what they were promising to do all along. Walter was assassinated by a bomb in the neighbourhood of his childhood haunts.”

After attending primary school, he won an open exhibition scholarship to Queens College and excelled academically and in athletics. In 1960, he won an open scholarship to the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, graduating with a first-class honours degree in history.

From there a scholarship took him to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. At the age of 24 he was awarded a Ph.D. with honours.

“Rodney left London in 1966 to take up his first teaching appointment in Tanzania. He returned to the University of the West Indies to teach in January 1968,” notes Walter Rodney Speaks.

It notes that, “the 1960s saw a resurgence of the mass movements in the Caribbean which had their roots in the rebellions of the 1930s.”

“Walter did not confine his activities to the cloisters and lecture rooms at the university, but shared his knowledge and exchanged ideas with the most despised and rejected elements of the Jamaican society – the Rastafari brethren.”

As a result of being banned from Jamaica in 1968, he returned to Tanzania where he lectured from 1968-1974.

In 1974, he decided to return to Guyana and accepted an appointment as professor of the university but the Burnham government rescinded the appointment.

Rodney later joined the Working People’s Alliance, which was founded in 1974 and which became a political party in July 1979.

Scholar, Rupert Lewis, in his book, Walter Rodney’s Intellectual and Political Thought, notes that: “His assassination on 13 June 1980 by an ex-officer of the Guyana Defense Force put an end to the life of one of the most creative Caribbean scholar-activists of the 1960s and 1970s and enabled the PNC regime to continue in power for over a decade with negative social, economic, political and moral consequences for the Guyanese people.”

The book is described as “an intellectual and political biography of one of the leading black intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s.”

“ A West Indian, Pan-Africanist and Marxist, Walter Rodney functioned in the intellectual tradition of C.L.R. James, Henry Sylvester-Williams, and George Padmore of Trinidad and Tobago, Theophilus Scholes and Marcus Garvey of Jamaica, and the collective force of the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica during the 1950s and 1960s – although his post-colonial-era perspective also set him apart from those earlier figures and movements,” the book notes.



On Friday, October 19, 5:00 p.m. to Saturday, 7:00 p.m., there will be the “Congress of Black Writers and Artists: An Argument for Black Studies in Canada” at the William Doo Auditorium, New College, University of Toronto, 45 Wilcocks Street, Toronto.

Black Congress is a two-day transdisciplinary symposium organized by graduate students at the University of Toronto. This event is hosted by the Women & Gender Studies Institute and funded by the New College Initiatives Fund, Canadian Studies (UTSG), Department of History (UTSG), Centre for Media and Culture in Education, Caribbean Studies (UTSG), Faculty of Arts & Sciences, School of Graduate Studies and the Canada Research Chair in Canadian and Transnational History.

“2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Montreal, Quebec. Created as a meeting place for Black intellectuals, activists and artists, Congress offered an opportunity to engage in Black radical scholarship, to display Black creative production, for Black people to gather in communion and most importantly, to continue the work towards Black liberation. This work was transnational in its lens as Black people worked through what another world, another life, might look like for Black people the world over,” notes a description of the event.

The keynote on October 20, 5:30-6:45 p.m. will be historian and academic Robert Hill in conversation with Dr. Alissa Trotz.


On Thursday, Oct. 18, 7:00 p.m., the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies presents the launch of new programs and research in Black Studies at York University. The keynote will be presented by Professor Christina Sharpe at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, York University.

Professor Sharpe, one of the most important contemporary scholars in Black Diaspora Thought and Cultures, joined the Black Studies program at York University in June. To read more about her, visit


On Thursday, Oct. 18, 6:30 p.m., Arts and Culture Jamaica Inc. presents A Literary Evening with three authors: G. Barton-Sinkia, By the Next Pause; Jermel Shim, The Long Road to Progress for Jamaica; and Esther Tyson, Ah Suh Me See It, Ah Suh Me Say It  at the Consulate General of Jamaica, 303 Eglinton Avenue East, Toronto.


On Saturday, Oct. 20, 2:00-5:00 p.m., Naomi M. Moyer, a self-taught, multidisciplinary artist and writer, will launch her book, “Black Women Who Dared,” about “inspiring and indomitable Black women whose stories need to be told.”

Profiled are: Chloe Cooley, The Coloured Women’s Club, The Hour a Day Study Club, Rosa Pryor, Mary Bibb, The Black Cross Nurses, Sylvia Estes Stark, Jackie Shane and Blockorama.

Also featured is Sherona Hall, who was very active politically in Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s and who was a founder of the Black Action Defence Committee here in Toronto.  Here is Philip Mascoll’s piece about her written in the Toronto Star on January 9, 2007


On Tuesday, Oct. 23, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Wazee Kukusanya (Gathering of Elders) – a conference on elder abuse takes place at the Jamaican Canadian Centre, 995 Arrow Rd., Toronto. The keynote speaker: Floydeen Charles-Fridal, executive director of CAFCAN. Register at 416-740-1056/


On Wednesday, Oct. 24, 6:30-9:00 p.m., Black feminist writer, activist and educator, Robyn Maynard, will present the ECI Mandela Lecture "Toward 21st Century Black Liberation" during Social Justice Week at Eaton Lecture Hall, 80 Gould St., Ryerson University, Toronto.

Farm Workers File $30 Million Class Action Lawsuit Against Ontario

By Neil Armstrong

A group of migrant workers from Jamaica and Trinidad has launched a $30 million class action lawsuit against the province of Ontario regarding the retention of their DNA.

They have raised objections to the collection of their DNA by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the retention of their DNA by the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences (CFS).

The applicants have filed for this sum in compensation not only for themselves but for all other people who have been subjected to similar treatment for the period of June 30, 2000 to the present.

Filed by lawyers Jody Brown and Kirk M. Baert of Koskie Minsky LLP on behalf of plaintiff, Micky Granger, a migrant worker, and other class members in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on September 14, the statement of claim says in part that “a declaration that the Defendant’s storage and retention of DNA Results, including DNA profiles, created from the analysis of the Class Members’ bodily substances, is unlawful and contrary to section 487.09(3) of the Criminal Code

In addition to the $30 million being sought in damages, there is also a claim for $2 million in punitive damages.

Philip Klassen, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, says on September 17, 2018, Ontario was served with a statement of claim.
“Ontario will defend the action. As this matter is subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” he said.

Granger was among approximately 100 migrant workers who voluntarily provided body samples to the Ontario Provincial Police in the course of its investigation into a violent crime that occurred in Bayham, a municipality in Elgin County, Ontario in 2013. The bodily samples were provided to the CFS to obtain DNA results.

The OPP investigated a sexual assault of a woman who was attacked in rural Elgin County.
When she reported the assault to police, she described her attacker as a black migrant worker and provided a physical description. In the Elgin County OPP investigation that followed, police requested DNA samples from virtually every local migrant worker of colour regardless of their physical characteristics. The perpetrator was ultimately apprehended after he refused to provide police with a DNA sample. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
The statement of claim says the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences is one of the most extensive forensic science facilities in North America.

 “The CFS is operated and overseen by the Defendant through the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The CFS analyzes hundreds of bodily samples a year, extracting DNA, creating DNA Profiles and conducting comparative DNA analysis (collectively “DNA Results”).

It says the “CFS compares DNA Profiles obtained from criminal investigations to DNA Profiles of suspects. The comparative analysis can yield a match between two DNA Profiles to a degree of probability. The results of a comparative analysis are reported to law enforcement agencies for use in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences, amongst other matters.”

The statement of claim notes that the class members in this action all voluntarily gave a bodily sample which was ultimately analyzed by the CFS. “Every Class Member was voluntarily assisting law enforcement agencies in the execution of their duties. In every instance, the bodily integrity of the Class Members was engaged because a sample was taken directly from their person.”

It said the collection and retention of DNA is supervised by the courts and protected in the Criminal Code. “Only very specific criminal convictions give rise to the retention of DNA Results by the state. When a voluntary donor’s DNA Profile is not a match to a criminal investigation, section 487.09(3) of the Criminal Code requires the destruction of samples and results.”

“The legal obligation is clear; the Defendant is not entitled to the DNA or DNA Results of innocent citizens.

“The DNA Results for the Class confirmed their DNA did not match a criminal investigation. Despite this, the CFS unlawfully retained the DNA Results from Class Members. The DNA results were retained indefinitely or were not destroyed in a timely manner.”

The statement of claim said the conduct of the Defendant violates section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is also a breach of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act.

Chris Ramsaroop from Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) says this is the third action “undertaken by the migrant workers to address this

Previously, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) undertook a systemic review into the collection of the migrant workers DNA and there is an ongoing complaint at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario pertaining to the collection of the DNA by the OPP.

In July 2016, the Independent Police Review Director called on the Ontario Provincial Police and other police services in Ontario to adopt a policy to govern how DNA canvasses are conducted.
Public interest organizations and individuals had raised questions about how the OPP investigation had been conducted. 

"While I am satisfied that the OPP investigation was not motivated by racial prejudice, the nature and scope of the DNA canvass was overly broad and certainly had an impact on the migrant workers' sense of vulnerability, lack of security and fairness. A more focused DNA canvass could have reduced concerns about racial profiling. The model policy I am proposing can help ensure that future DNA canvasses do not result in concerns similar to those identified in this report," said Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director. 

The director also found that the Elgin County OPP investigation:
  • Failed to recognize the vulnerabilities of the targeted migrant worker community and how those vulnerabilities were relevant to whether the consents obtained were truly informed and voluntary
  • Failed to adequately take measures to ensure that decisions by workers not to provide DNA samples remained confidential, particularly from their employer
  • Failed to take steps to explain the destruction process to individuals asked to provide DNA samples