BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
For generations, Canada has been known as the land of opportunity. Individuals have immigrated from all over the world to share their various heritages and backgrounds to make up the diverse Canadian culture that we know today. These people have worked to accomplish so much and have contributed to our countries strong foundation building on an inclusive country where everyone is welcome.
The Government of Canada is committed to continuing building on this promise actively seeking to recognize the contributions of all and create better opportunities for more Canadians, and the next generation of trailblazers.
On January 30th the Prime Minister announced that the Government of Canada will officially recognize the UN International Decade for People of African Descent. This Decade, which spans from 2015 to 2024, is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the important contributions people of African descent have made to Canadian society. In addition, it outlines the framework for recognition, justice, and development to fight racism, discrimination, and the ongoing inequalities that Canadians of African descent face.
Around 200 million people in the population of the Americas identify as being of African descent, and millions more live in various parts of the world, outside of the African continent.
The International Decade for People of African Descent, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly resolution 68/237, began in 2015 and will be observed until 2024. The theme for the International Decade is “People of African descent: recognition, justice, and development.”
According to the UN, actions are being implemented on a legislative and international level by countries around the world.
Action plans are already being put into place and executed by many countries across the world. New policies and measures are designed to strengthen mutual respect among different ethnicities in the countries. There are plans against discrimination and plans specifically aimed at the promotion of the rights of people of African descent. The expectation is that these measures will serve as inspiration for other countries to effectively implement national and international legal frameworks, policies and programs to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by people of African descent.
A full list of actions taken listed by country can be found on the United Nations official website.
In joining this movement and committing to a better future for black Canadians, The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada shares, “Today is an important day for Canada. Our commitment to the International Decade will help us better address the very real and unique challenges that black Canadians face, and bring us closer to a more just and inclusive country.”
The black community in Canada has been very vocal in the concerns they have about the issues affecting black Canadians. Citizens and organizations like the Federation of Black Canadians have shared that we as a collective nation need to do more to work with and support Canadians of African descent.
Black leaders in the Government and members of caucus are responsible for bringing these concerns to the attention of the Prime Minister. Together, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Greg Fergus, Frank Baylis, Ahmed Hussen, Gary Anandasangaree, Emmanuel Dubourg, Marc Miller, Kamal Khera, Sen. Wanda Bernard Thomas, Adam Vaughan and many other esteemed leaders in the black community voiced these concerns as heard directly from their stakeholders and constituents.
“Our Prime Minister, the Hon. Justin Trudeau is the first Canadian Prime Minister to use phrases like systemic racism and anti-black racism,” shared Ahmed Hussen Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship for the Government of Canada at the Black History Month reception in Ottawa/Gatineau.
“We have taken two years to recognize The UN International Decade for People of African Descent, because we took the time to ensure that we were in the position, to make sure that we engaged black leaders from across the country, so that by the time we were ready that we would be in a position to take action and deliver on those commitments.”
Men and women of African descent have spent years feeling like underappreciated and underprivileged minorities outside of their homelands. Growing up they have often felt they need to work harder than the majority to achieve what they wanted in life because of the color of their skin. This has contributed to many stereotypes, mental health issues, an overrepresentation in the correctional systems and poses a great concern for upcoming generations of black Canadians who feel restricted by these barriers.
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.
In the past two years, the Government of Canada has worked diligently to fight inequality and improve the lives of all Canadians, including those of African descent. They have offered assistance to parents to aid with the high cost of raising kids through the Canada Child Benefit and expanded the Canada Pension Plan so more people can retire with security and dignity.
In addition, the Government have given special attention to investments in student grant programs, mental health initiatives, and affordable child care, as well as proposing a National Housing Strategy that will help to solve housing security for many vulnerable Canadians.
The objectives of the International Decade include promoting respect, protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent, as well as encouraging a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture, and contributions of these communities to society around the world. The Government of Canada will continue to build on these efforts and create a country where more Canadians have a real and fair chance at success.