Thursday, July 29, 2010


August 1 is Emancipation Day in Canada and other countries that were once British colonies. Africans who had been enslaved in Antigua, Canada and South Africa were freed on August 1, 1834. Africans who had been enslaved by the British in several Caribbean islands including Barbados, Dominica, Trinidad and Jamaica, in British Guiana (Britain’s sole South American colony) and in British Honduras (Britain’s sole colony in Central America) were subjected to a system of “apprenticeship” which lasted from 1834 to August 1, 1838. Africans were forced to continue living on the plantations of the people who had enslaved them and worked 40 hours a week without pay (paid a pittance for work over 40 hours) as “apprentices.” They were forced to pay taxes and rent for the dreadful hovels in which they dwelled on the plantations. In 1838 two British men Thomas Harvey and Joseph Sturge documented the brutality of the “apprenticeship” system when they published The West Indies in 1837: Being the Journal of a Visit to Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados and Jamaica, Undertaken for the Purpose of Ascertaining the Actual Conditions of the Negro Population of Those Islands. Harvey and Sturge wrote;
“A new kind of slavery under the name Apprenticeship; an anomalous condition, in which the negroes were continued, under a system of coerced and unrequited labour.” They also observed that “the planters have since succeeded in moulding the Apprenticeship into an almost perfect likeness of the system they so unwillingly relinquished. An equal, if not greater amount, of uncompensated labor, is now extorted from the negros; while, as their owners have no longer the same interest in their health and lives, their condition, and particularly that of mothers and young children, is in many respects worse than during slavery.”

While the Africans were suffering in slave like conditions under the apprenticeship system, white people in Britain were in self congratulatory mode. The Guardian, a British newspaper, published the following piece dated Saturday August 2, 1834:
“Throughout the British dominions the sun no longer rises on a slave. Yesterday was the day from which the emancipation of all our slave population commences; and we trust the great change by which they are elevated to the rank of freemen will be found to have passed into effect in the manner most accordant with the benevolent spirit in which it was decreed, most consistent with the interests of those for whose benefit it was primarily intended, and most calculated to put an end to the apprehensions under which it was hardly to be expected that the planters could fail to labour as the moment of its consummation approaches. We shall await anxiously the arrivals from the West Indies that will bring advices to a date subsequent to the present time.”

Meanwhile on Saturday August 2, 1834, a group of Africans were on their second day of demonstrations in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad because they were furious that complete freedom was still 6 years away. Africans in the Caribbean had learned that those who worked in the fields would be apprenticed until 1840 and those who worked in the homes of the slave holders or were skilled tradesmen would be apprenticed until 1938. It is hardly surprising that on August 1, 1834 a group of angry Africans had gathered at Government House in Port of Spain. Governor George Fitzgerald Hill sent the militia out to intimidate the group but the furious Africans stood their ground recognizing that the “apprenticeship” system was a scam used by the white plantation owners and the government representatives in the Caribbean to use free African labour for a further 6 years. In spite of the presence of the militia, the protest continued until nightfall when the protesters strategically withdrew because they were not allowed to be in the town during the night.

On Saturday August 2nd, when the group of protesters returned to Government House, Hill gave the order to arrest them. There were scuffles with the militia and some of the protesting Africans were arrested, tried, sentenced to hard labour and flogging and taken to the Royal Jail. Their incensed compatriots were forced to flee but returned on the Monday to continue the protest. The numbers had swollen by Monday and there were more clashes with the militia. Some of those who were arrested on the Monday were publicly flogged in Marine Square. The protests continued the entire week before it was quelled, but several of the Africans refused to return to the plantations and instead “squatted” in districts known today as Belmont and East Dry River.

On July 25th, 1838, Governor Hill called an emergency session of the Council of Government to seek approval of a special proclamation he had drafted which ended the apprenticeship period for Africans in Trinidad on August 1, 1838 whether they worked in the fields, homes or were skilled workers. Africans throughout the region protested their continued enslavement under the Apprenticeship system and on August 1, 1838 slavery was abolished in all the British colonies.

Since the abolition of slavery Africans have celebrated August 1st as Emancipation Day or August Monday. British author J.R. Kerr-Ritchie in his 2007 published Rites of August First: Emancipation Day in the Black Atlantic World: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World has written about the global impact of August 1. In her 2010 published Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada, African Canadian author Natasha Henry has researched and written about the history of August 1 celebrations throughout Canada including the connection of Caribana (modeled on Trinidad’s carnival) to Emancipation Day. The government of Trinidad and Tobago was the first of the former British Caribbean countries to declare August 1 a National holiday in 1985. In 1997 the Caribbean Historical Society (CHS) of Trinidad and Tobago, supported by the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) advocated for global recognition of August 1st as Emancipation Day. The OBHS has been successful in gaining recognition of August 1st as Emancipation Day at the Municipal and Provincial level and close to gaining recognition at the Federal level. On August 1st the OBHS will host an Emancipation Day event at Nathan Philips Square.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.
Quote from Ethiopia’s Emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I

One of Africa’s most significant historical figures was born 118 years ago on July 23, 1892. The child who was born Tafari Makonnen was also given the name Haile Selassie at his christening. Born in Ejersa Goro, in the Harar province of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) he was the son of Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the governor of Harar and Woyzero Yeshimebet Ali Abajifar. His paternal grandmother, Princess Tenagnework Sahle Selassie, was an aunt of Emperor Menelik II. On November 2, 1930 in a ceremony of great pomp and splendour His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia with titles including Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, Elect of God. The Ethiopian royal family traced its roots back to Makeda Queen of Sheba and King Solomon whose story appear in First Kings chapter 10 verses 1-13 and Second Chronicles chapter 9 verses 1–12 of the King James version of the Bible. The coronation of His Imperial Majesty was attended by leaders or representatives of 72 countries

Ethiopia and His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I fired the imagination of countless Africans in the Diaspora. Ethiopia as the sole African nation that had never been colonized by Europeans was a beacon of hope for those who had been separated from the continent for generations and knew that Europeans had carved up the continent to exploit the people and resources of the continent. Ethiopia was the Promised Land for those generations who had been born of enslaved Africans and only knew of Ethiopia from what they had read in the Bible. Since most Africans in the Diaspora had been Christianized, the Bible and what it contained was of paramount importance. The messages in the Bible comforted generations who had forgotten that their ancestors had been forced to accept Christianity. As a very spiritual people Africans adopted and adapted Christianity. When the white supremacists sought to convince Africans that they were less than human they could read in the Bible that Africans had been included in this Christian holy book since Ethiopia and Ethiopians are mentioned in several meaningful ways. Ethiopia being one of the earliest nations to embrace Christianity was also highly regarded by Africans in the Diaspora.

Apart from the Queen of Sheba, Ethiopia and Ethiopians are mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible several times. In Numbers chapter 12, verse 1, we read that Moses married an Ethiopian woman much to the displeasure of his siblings Aaron and Miriam. If as in some cases European Christians tried to make Ethiopians white there was proof in the Bible that this was not so. In Jeremiah 13, 23 the question is asked “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” We could also read about African royalty: Tirhakah king of Ethiopia is mentioned in Isaiah 37, 9. In Psalms 68, 31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” Chronicles 2, 16, 8 has documented proof of the might of Africans in those ancient times: “Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen?” and also in 2 Chronicles chapter 14 verse 9 “And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and came unto Mareshah.”

In 1993 William R. Scott published The Sons of Sheba's Race: African-Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1941 where he documents the support that many African Americans gave to Ethiopians when the Italians attempted for the second time to colonize Ethiopia. In 1994 Joseph E. Harris published African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941 where he discusses the efforts of African Americans to support Ethiopia. African Americans lobbied the reluctant United States government to support Ethiopians as they struggled to maintain their independence and freedom from the Italians who were brutally attacking Ethiopians in a desperate effort to claim the country as their colony.

In doing research for this article I read several other books about His Imperial Majesty where he was both revered and reviled. However, after all that he is still the regal figure posed in various framed photographs in my grandparents’ home whose eyes seemed to follow us around the room especially after we learned that he was descended from a common ancestor with Jesus (King David). Whatever information we may read about His Imperial Majesty or hear from people who knew him or think they knew him the fact is that he inspired generations of Africans in the Diaspora who looked to Ethiopia for proof that we are a great people capable of defending and maintaining our freedom. In his royal bearing we saw evidence that the images of Tarzan movies that sought to denigrate our heritage was just fiction and this Emperor from Ethiopia was the reality. His Imperial Majesty visited Trinidad and Tobago on April 18, 1966 for a three day visit and spoke at the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago On April 21, 1966 he visited Jamaica where he received an overwhelming welcome as he arrived for a three day visit His Imperial Majesty visited Haiti on April 24, 1966 ending his three Caribbean island visit.

The reception that the Ethiopian Emperor His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I received when he visited the Caribbean islands in 1966 and the support from Africans in the Diaspora when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1936 proves that there is hope for us to unite as African people. This hope of unity was recently demonstrated at the Forum that took place on July 18, 2010 at OISE where members of the African Canadian community and allies attended and began organizing to address the issue of racial profiling. We refuse to be inactive and allow the evil of racial profiling to silence the voice of justice.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


We’re hungry!
We’re angry!
We won’t go away!
Stop the war, on the poor!
Make the rich pay!

Chant heard at several G8 – G20 rallies in Toronto June 2010.

The Group of 8 or G8 as it is popularly known had its start as the Group of 6 in 1975. From November 15 to 17, 1975, French President ValĂ©ry Giscard d'Estaing hosted the heads of states and governments plus three other delegates each from West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to a summit in his country. The oil crisis and subsequent worldwide recession of 1973 brought these countries together to coordinate their macroeconomic policies. They also felt the need to formulate a common strategy to deal with the developing countries which were becoming less dependent on these superpowers. Canada joined the group in 1976 making the group the G7 and Russia in 1997 making the group the G8. The G6, G7 and eventual G8 came together in a united front against the developing countries, putting their considerable weight behind the neoliberal structural adjustment policies imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) on more than 90 developing economies. In the 1990’s, this group of developed nations became the main promoters of corporate-driven globalization and radical privatization that happened in developing countries under “structural adjustment.” These Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) caused a decline in the economic gains that had been made in developing countries during the 1950’s and 1960’s and gave rise to absolute poverty, increasing inequality and the consolidation of economic stagnation in developing countries.

With many of the developing world’s population becoming wise to the effects of globalization, resistance began to build against the destructive policies sanctioned by the G8. Poor and working class people in industrialized countries were also negatively affected by the policies sanctioned by the G8 and that recognition caused mass opposition to the G8. By the new millennium activists were organizing huge demonstrations against G8. In July 18-22, 2001, approximately 300,000 people took to the streets to protest when the G8 met in Genoa, Italy. They were viciously attacked by security forces who even raided two schools where activists from several European nations including Britain, France, Germany, Poland and some from the USA were staying. Close to midnight on July 21, 2001 the police invaded the school buildings (Diaz-Pascoli and Diaz-Pertini) which had been provided by the Genoa city council as a base for the activists. Some people were already asleep, wrapped in their sleeping bags while others already dressed for bed were lined up waiting to brush their teeth when they were attacked by baton wielding, helmeted members of Italy’s security force. Besides the late night raid on the school, people were beaten on the streets and when the smoke cleared hundreds of activists had been seriously injured and one killed by police.

Several police officers were brought to trial due in no small part to the videotaping of the brutality to which they subjected unarmed defenceless men and women. Hamish Campbell videotaped the carnage from his hiding place on a roof across from the Diaz school building. In October 2005 the trial of Italian police and medical staff began and ended in November 2008 with only 16 police found guilty in spite of the images of brutality captured by Campbell who speaks here
Even more distressing none of the convicted police will spend any time in jail because of the length of time it took to bring the trial to a conclusion. Italy’s statutes of limitations law ensures that none of the convicted police will have to pay for their crimes.

Protesters at G8 gatherings have brought attention to the lives that are affected of the people who have no voice at these summits. Even when leaders of developing nations are invited to the fringes of the G8 summits they are there as window dressing and the voices of people living in grinding poverty are nowhere on the agenda. These are the people on whose backs the wealth of the countries that make up the G8 can continue to mount. The debts that the citizens of developing countries are forced to incur keep the industrialized countries rich. In her 1988 published book A Fate Worse Than Debt: The World Financial Crisis and the Poor political scientist Susan George wrote :
Debt is an efficient tool. It ensures access to other peoples’ raw materials and infrastructure on the cheapest possible terms. Dozens of countries must compete for shrinking export markets and can export only a limited range of products because of Northern protectionism and their lack of cash to invest in diversification. Market saturation ensues, reducing exporters’ income to a bare minimum while the North enjoys huge savings.”

In 2005 the G8 met in Gleneagles, Scotland accompanied by great media hype of the Live 8 concerts and the slogan Make Poverty History. The promised aid for developing countries where most people live in dire poverty never materialized. Instead developing countries are forced to contend with unfair trade terms that keep the prices of their export items very low while the prices of their imports continue increasing. The G8 countries insist on developing countries opening up their markets while industrialized countries continue protecting their products (especially agriculture products and textiles) and their labour markets through high subsidies and tariffs and by keeping their countries closed to foreign workers. With developing countries pressured to cut their tariffs, cheaper imports flood their markets and local farmers and industries lose their markets and business, causing huge unemployment and poverty.

The police violence that we witnessed in Toronto over the duration of the G8 is standard for the attempts to suppress the voices of those who recognize the gross unfairness of the process that is used to keep industrialized countries exploiting mostly racialized developing countries. While many people watched in horror as mostly young white Canadians were brutalized by police as they protested the G8, this treatment is meted out to racialized youth in Toronto especially those who live in lower income communities.

The reality of over-policing and brutalization of racialized communities is well known and has been acknowledged by members of these communities including Chris Ramsaroop of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance (ACLA) who writes:
While we abhor this weekend’s police violence, ACLA reiterates that these actions reflect the realities experienced by low-income, indigenous, and racialized communities across this city on a daily basis. Illegal searches, entries without warrants, large-scale police and immigration raids, the use of excessive and arbitrary police powers are ongoing experiences of our communities, perpetuated through unjust socio-economic structures and institutions that at the same time exploit the labour of indigenous and racialized communities. Instead of addressing chronic underfunding, inadequate resources and systemic unemployment that impoverishes our members, the police and elected officials persist in marginalizing and criminalizing our communities. The resolve of the G20 will deepen this crisis through its focus on deficit and debt reduction and not on economic and environmental justice. Regressive and racist immigration policies, inadequate labour protection and the absence of resources for housing, day care, healthcare and numerous other entitlements further perpetuate a cycle of precarious existence for racialized communities across the city, the province and the country.

Ajamu Nangwaya who is one of the organizers of a July 17 Forum (6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at OISE 252 Bloor Street West, Room 5-170) to address racial profiling writes:
Some mainstream activist groups and individuals have been referring to the police violence during the G20 Summit as an "unprecedented" or "abnormal" attack on civil liberties. Based on the evidence, I can say without fear of contradiction that that's not the case. This type of police repression is a rather normalized affair in racialized communities in the city of Toronto and other areas in this country...for many years. Police violence has merely reared its hideous head in the full glare of a part of the public that is not used to this form of treatment from the armed might of the racist, patriarchal and capitalist state in Canada. We must disrupt this "unprecedented" narrative by having the stories of the African community and other racialized and working-class peoples at the centre of this discourse on police brutality and repression. The February 2010 three-part series by Jim Rankin of the Toronto Star speaks to the intense surveillance and containment of the African community by the Toronto police. Rights are being massively violated and class, race and gender are very much implicated in this state-sponsored violence against racialized peoples.

The issue of violence in society has been given a higher profile on radar of Canadians since the police display of naked aggression against demonstrators on the streets of Toronto during the recent G20 Summit. Canadian state violence, through its security forces, is a daily feature of this society. We need a broad-based alliance of progressive forces to push back against police violence. This work must be done while we struggle to transform this society based on private ownership of the means of production. There cannot be any sense of neutrality or indifference in the face of targeted racist, sexist and/or homophobic violence against despised sectors of the population.

Meanwhile a government that claims it cannot afford to ensure its most vulnerable citizens have a healthy diet spends upward of 1.2 billion on “security” for the G8 party.

We’re hungry! We’re angry! We won’t go away!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Canada Day has been officially celebrated on July 1, since 1982. The holiday was first established in 1879 under the name Dominion Day to recognize the formation of the Dominion of Canada. The Dominion of Canada had been federated 12 years before on July 1st, 1867 through the North America Act and included New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. In 1870 Manitoba and the Northwest Territories joined the Dominion of Canada followed by British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Yukon in 1898, both Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905, Newfoundland in 1949 and in 1999 Nunavut was created from the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories.

According to the Kids Book of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada published in 2005: The word "Canada" is derived from the Huron-Haudenosaunee word "kanata," which means "our village." Apparently when the French explorer Jacques Cartier first heard the word “kanata” he mistakenly thought the word was Canada and that it was the name of the country. Cartier’s first voyage to Canada was documented in 1534. Cartier’s discovery eventually led to other Europeans settling here bringing with them enslaved Africans to do much of the backbreaking work needed to exploit the resources of a new world. When European adventurers first came to North America (Canada, USA, Mexico) they found thriving well organized communities of people who had lived here for millennia. In less than a hundred years most of the original people of this land had been reduced to living in restricted areas (reservations) their communities decimated by the theft of their land, the murder of their people and diseases brought from Europe to which their bodies had no immunity.

Columbus is documented as the first European who accidentally found his way (as he searched for India) in 1492 to this part of the world which Europeans named America. Other Europeans quickly followed and spread across the Americas claiming land by force and trickery. In spite of the centuries of European efforts to break the spirit of the people who were here first there has always been those who kept their culture alive. Canadian singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie’s poignant 1966 performance of My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying ( could be about any group of indigenous people in these Americas, including Canada. The Saskatchewan born Sainte-Marie is a Native Canadian activist who co-founded Canada's "Music of Aboriginal Canada" Juno Awards category and her performances have been acclaimed internationally.

On Thursday, June 24 Torontonians got an up close and personal look at thousands of Native Canadian activists, community members and their allies as they took to the streets to bring attention to the plight of their communities. The indigenous groups organized this rally and march in Toronto to protest the G8 and G20 meetings. The Native Day of Action protest demanded recognition of Native rights within Canada including urging the government to sign the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. The dreadful conditions in which Native communities live on reservations were also addressed during the rally and march. With people gathered at Queens Park several members of the Native community spoke about the issues of concern before the group of 2500 set out on the march that went down University Avenue to Queen Street then east on Queen Street, north on Bay to Wellesley to Yonge, south on Yonge to Gerrard and east to Allan Gardens.

Mark Corbiere of the Ojibwe Nation condemned the G20 and its role in marginalizing indigenous populations: “The G20 are not respecting indigenous rights across the world. They’re bending over backward, so that way corporate colonialism can control indigenous lands and its indigenous people, who are directly affected by the decisions made at the G20. So, being in solidarity with Palestinians and liberation armies from southern America, we’ve felt the need to come out here today and represent the warrior’s voice.”

Darlene Ritchie of the Toronto Council Fire spoke about Canada’s failure to address the issue of “disappeared” Aboriginal women: “In Canada today there’s over 500 missing women—584, to be exact, determined by the Native Women’s Association. In March 2010, Stephen Harper cut the funding to the Native Women’s Association - the money that was going to go to the Sisters in Spirit Campaign to identify ways and means of protecting women and ways and means of making sure that we don’t lose any more. Those missing women have gone as a direct result of the Indian Act and the Indian Act is alive and well here in Canada today in 2010. Racism is legislated.”

Shandra from Manitou Rapids First Nation had this to say about her experience as one of the children who were the victims of what some have termed cultural genocide: “Canada can’t hide genocide. And that means you can’t put a pretty face on top of the state-sponsored violence that has been done to people like me and my family, generations of children kidnapped, taken to residential schools where they’re imprisoned and tortured, for the longest time, generations of those people and then generations like me, that are taken by the Children’s Aid and adopted out into non-Native families to become non-Native Canadians and it’s an amputation. It’s an extremely violent act and it’s genocidal and Canada just can’t sweep that under the rug.”

On July 1 when Canadians are celebrating Canada Day some of the descendants of the people who welcomed Jacques Cartier and his crew to this land in 1534 will be boiling water to bathe, cook and drink in at least 75 Native communities (reserves) where they dwell in conditions similar to those that prevail in many developing nations. That is after the Harper government has finished spending more than a billion dollars (last count was steadily going past 1.2 billion) of Canadian taxpayers’ money for “security” of the G8-G20 party.