Thursday, November 11, 2010


Colored men!
Your King and Country need you!
Now is the time to show your patriotism and loyalty.
Will you heed the call and do your share?
Your Brothers of the Colonies have rallied to the Flag and
are distinguishing themselves at the Front.
Here also is your opportunity to be identified in the Greatest
War of History, where the Fate of Nations who stand for Liberty
is at stake.
Excerpt from advertisement posted in the September 1916 issue of The Atlantic Advocate

The advertisement placed in The Atlantic Advocate encouraging African Canadian men to enlist in the military came after hundreds of African Canadians were turned away when they first tried to enlist in 1914. By 1916 the military higher-ups were ready to accept the services of African Canadians because the war had been raging for two years and the Allies had suffered heavy casualties. The authorities realised that they may have been a bit hasty when they told eager African Canadian men willing to enlist that the war was a “white man’s war” and there was no place for “coloured men” in what was essentially a European tribal conflict. In 1914 when the first major European tribal conflict of the 20th century broke out white Canadian recruiters turned away African Canadians and other racialized men who were eager to become involved in the battles raging throughout Europe.

The history books tell us that the cause of what became known as the Great War or the War to end all Wars was the killing of Franz Ferdinand (first in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne) and his wife. The unfortunate Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were killed on June 28, 1914 by a group of disgruntled Serbs and war broke out between Austria and Serbia. Apparently the disgruntled Serbs were part of a group opposed to the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and seized the opportunity to get rid of the next in line for the throne when the couple visited Sarajevo (capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina.) After hostilities broke out between Austria-Hungary and Serbia other Europeans quickly picked sides (Britain, Russia and France on the Serbian side with Italy and Germany on the Austro-Hungarian side) and the war was on. By the conclusion of this “War to end all Wars” in 1918 there were more than 30 countries involved including the countries that had been colonized by the Europeans.

The advertisement urging “colored men” to enlist to serve King and Country is reproduced in the 1987 published book The Black Battalion, 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret written by Calvin Ruck. Documenting the struggles to contribute as they faced white supremacist policies and the contributions of African Canadians to the War, Ruck writes: “From the onset of World War I African-Canadians began to volunteer to serve their country in the conflict overseas. Many who volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) were turned away at the recruitment offices. In November 25, 1915 Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Fowler, Commanding officer of the 104th Battalion, requested permission to discharge twenty black recruits on the basis of race. He wrote I have been fortunate to have secured a very fine class of recruits and I did not think it fair to these men that they should have to mingle with Negroes. This rejection was met with protest in the African-Canadian community.” The Canadian military was eventually forced to include large numbers of African Canadian recruits after enormous casualties among the white men fighting in Europe. However, these men served in a segregated African Canadian battalion where they were forced to serve under the jurisdiction of white officers.

Although African Canadians have been actively involved in every armed conflict in Canadian history there is no recognition of this fact. In The Black Battalion, 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret, Ruck writes: “Black Canadians have a long and honourable tradition of patriotism, sacrifice and heroism in the British and Canadian armed forces. From the American Revolution (1775-1783) to the Korean War (1950-1953), Blacks fought, bled and died on behalf of Empire, King and Country.” As quiet as it is kept, Africans have been living in this country since the 1600s (enslaved and free) and many African Canadians can trace their family’s history in Canada back seven and eight generations. In 2001, members of the African Canadian population who could trace the history of their ancestors in Canada back several generations represented significant numbers in the overall African Canadian population in several provinces. In New Brunswick (41%), in Newfoundland and Labrador (22%), in Nova Scotia (57%), in Prince Edward Island (31%) and in Quebec (31%). In spite of this history it is disappointing how little is known about the history and contributions of African Canadians because that history is not included in the curriculum from which Canadian children are taught.

On November 11, when there are images of those who are remembered and praised for fighting to maintain democracy and liberty for the free world those images hardly include racialized people. There is usually no mention of the African Canadian men who Calvin Ruck wrote about in The Black Battalion, 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret.

African Canadian men returned from fighting for Liberty, King and Country to find that their living conditions had not improved. They still were treated as third class citizens in the country of their birth where their ancestors’ blood, sweat and tears had contributed to the wealth and privileges that others could enjoy. In his book The Black Battalion, 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret, Ruck acknowledges this by writing: “Following the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, Black soldiers were sent home. They returned, without fanfare, to their homes in cities, towns and villages across the country – from Cape Breton Island in the East to Vancouver Island in the West. The Blacks who were prepared to serve and die in defence of freedom came home to many of the same restrictions they had left behind. The Great War did not end all wars, it did not make the world safe for democracy, and it did not signal an end to racial prejudice. Blacks were still subjected to segregated housing, segregated employment and even some segregated graveyards.”

On Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. we will once again pause to remember the men and women who served in various capacities and even lost their lives during the several armed conflicts in which Canada as a colony of the British Empire and as a sovereign nation were involved. Ruck wrote with great optimism: “The authorization on July 5, 1916, of a segregated Black battalion exposed the latent prejudice in this country. In all likelihood, such a discriminatory policy shall never again be repeated. The Human Rights Act of the late seventies and more recently, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibit discrimination based on race, colour etc., apply to all facets of Canadian society, including the armed forces.”

Ruck who transitioned to join the ancestors on October 19, 2004, would have been very disappointed to see the recent image of a white man dressed as a member of the KKK leading another white man in blackface with a rope around his neck at an event held in a Legion Hall where they won first prize for their “costume.” The fact that people at the event did not understand that the “costume” was racist illuminates how far we have come since the days when African Canadians were relegated to third class citizen status in this country. The following quote from an African Canadian man who attended the event at the Legion Hall in Campbellford, Ontario which appeared in an article from one of the white daily newspapers speaks to the harm that we experience when subjected to such racist incidents: “When I saw it and put down my beer and left and was walking out — I never felt as alone as I have in my life,” Mark Andrade said of the troubling spectacle he witnessed at a Campbellford, Ont., legion on Saturday night.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010



Canadians believe the myth that Canada is not a racist country or at least not as racist as the USA. In reality Canada is just as racist with Canadian racism being more subtle than the racism in the USA. White people in Canada prefer a more polite form of racism. It is less likely that in a big city like Toronto there would be a group of white men physically attacking an African Canadian man while taunting him with racist language than it would happen in a small town in Canada.

On July 3, 2009, African Canadian Jay Phillips was physically attacked by three white men hurling racist slurs. The video of the attack was posted on youtube and embarrassed the City Council of the small town in British Columbia.

According to the city’s website: The City of Courtenay is a culturally diverse, scenic city of approximately 22,500 people. Courtenay is on the east coast of Vancouver Island and located within the traditional lands of the K'√≥moks First Nation. The Mayor and city council had just a few days before this racist attack was made public, refused to sign on to a protocol that would help fight hate crimes which apparently had been a problem in the city in recent years. After the attack was aired on youtube the police were forced to react to keep alive the myth of the non-racist Canada but one has to wonder what the reaction would have been if Jay Phillips had turned up at a police station bruised and bloodied to make a complaint about the attack.

According to a report in the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s daily white newspapers: Mr. Phillips, who escaped with two stitches above his right eye and a couple of bruised ribs said Tuesday the incident is yet another example of the racism he's battled all his life, despite being a born and raised in B.C. He said he remembered being four years old in preschool and his teacher telling him to shut up, using a racial epithet.

In spite of the evidence from the video, many are defending this behaviour claiming it is not racist. I am just surprised that one of them did not claim to have a black best friend. No such reticence from the people in the next story.

A former police officer who donned blackface on October 31, 2010, for a Halloween party and was led around by a rope around his neck held by a friend dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman says it was a stupid mistake.

Terry Nunn, who was Toronto’s police officer of the year in 1981, said last week Thursday he is in “no way, shape or form” a racist and neither is his friend Blair Crowley.

“I don’t believe in the KKK. It was a Halloween mistake is what it was,” he told Toronto radio station AM640.

The pair won 1st prize for most original costume at the Royal Canadian Legion party in Campbellford, Ontario.

“Blair admits it was in bad taste and he should have thought more about it before he did it,” his wife Marsha Crowley said from their home in Hastings when interviewed on Thursday November 4, 2010.

Both she and Nunn, the ex-police officer in blackface, said no one at the party complained about the costumes. “It was just a last-minute ‘Well, what am I going to wear? There’s a bedsheet. Well I’m not going as a ghost.’ And we had a piece of bristol board and kind of rolled it up and that was his costume,” said Crowley.

Her husband who was dressed in KKK gear also wore a Confederate flag on his back. Crowley said her husband is not a racist, adding his best friend is black.

As an African woman living in the city of Toronto where the motto is: Diversity our strength: If I received money for every time I have been subjected to racism since I have lived in Canada I would be an extremely wealthy woman today. The most recent experience was last week Thursday November 4, 2010, at the Baby Gap store located at 80 Bloor Street West in Toronto. I was told by the cashier that I needed to provide photo identification to purchase an item that cost less than 17.00 when using my credit card which does not even need a signature but the use of a PIN number. I informed the young white woman that I had never been asked for photo ID when using a credit card although I had bought items from several Gap stores including the 80 Bay Street West location. She then began to jab her finger at my name on the card and said in a stern, scolding, patronizing tone: You cannot use someone else’s card.

In a state of shock I asked: Are you assuming that is not my card? She then blathered some remarks of being surprised at the name on the credit card at which point I asked for her name and told her that I needed to speak with a manager. To my surprise she said that she was a manager; however I asked to speak to another manager.

She left and a few minutes later another young white woman came and identified herself as a manager. I introduced myself, asked for her name (Shauna) and relayed the incident to which I had been subjected by Michelle. Shauna apologized and shared with me that while Michelle may have been wrong in the way she handled the situation she did it for my protection. Amazing that in trying to protect my credit, if someone had stolen my credit card and tried to buy an item for less than 17.00 dollars, Michelle had accused me of trying to use someone else’s credit card. I asked Shauna for a name and mailing address where I could send a complaint but she instead gave me two phone numbers and three coupons for 40% off regular priced Gap merchandise.

I left the Baby Gap store at 80 Bloor Street West feeling a bit shell shocked that I had been racially profiled by a manager of a department store in downtown Toronto where the motto is: Diversity our strength. Calling the 1-800-427-7895 number that I had received from Shauna, I spoke with Thomas who told me that it is the policy of Gap stores to ask all customers for photo ID if they paid for their purchases with a credit card. I informed Thomas that if I had the time and the inclination I could prove him wrong by visiting various Gap stores in the Toronto area and observing who if anyone was asked to produce photo ID if they paid for their purchases with a credit card. I later spoke with Lynsie from the corporate office in Ohio, because I was not satisfied with Thomas’ handling of the situation and needed another opinion. Lynsie apologized and promised that I would receive a call from their district manager within 10 days.

Michelle assuming that an African woman could not have a European name speaks to ignorance of the reality of Africans in the Diaspora. We bear the names of the members of the European tribes that enslaved our ancestors. Africans in the Diaspora bear names that were forced on them by the English, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Portuguese, Scottish, Spanish, Welsh etc., who enslaved Africans and stripped them of their belief systems, culture, language and names. Although this is also the history of white people because they were the enslavers there is a dedicated effort to ignore this history.

Then there is the white supremacist culture of North America that encourages people like Michelle to accuse racialized people of imaginary wrongdoing, with impunity because they feel it is their right to do so without consequences. The same mindset that encourages people like Terry Nun and Blair Crowley to think that they can dress in a “costume” that reminds Africans in North America of the four hundred years of slavery and the more than one hundred years of white people lynching Africans in North America. And in the case of Crowley’s wife claim a “black best friend” when confronted with public censure for white supremacist behaviour.

In the next two months we will be in the year 2011 designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the "International Year for People of African Descent." In the next three months we will be recognizing African Heritage Month (February) in North America. While in Canada the recognition of the month is usually superficial celebrations of food and dance, it is time that there is serious analysis of the white supremacist culture of this society and concrete plans to address and eliminate it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


The 2010 Toronto municipal election held on October 25, 2010 is over and we have a new Mayor and 14 new city councillors among the 44 city councillors who will occupy Toronto City Hall for the next four years. The position for mayor of Toronto was open for the first time since the 2003 Toronto municipal election because David Miller decided not to seek a third term; so there were 40 candidates running for that position. Very early in the race, the white media decided that there would be five white men and one white woman who were worthy of becoming Toronto’s next mayor. They did not consider any racialized mayoral candidate worthy of their attention. By the end of the campaign period there were three candidates who the media included in public opinion polls and mayoral debates: Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone and George Smitherman. Rocco Rossi, Sarah Thomson and Giorgio Mammoliti, who were considered major candidates when they launched their campaigns dropped out of the race. Rob Ford was endorsed by the Toronto Sun and the National Post while George Smitherman was endorsed by the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Torontoist.

Although the mayoral race seemed to be the only race on which the media concentrated, there was much drama in the campaign for city councillors and trustees in the various wards. Five incumbent councillors were ousted and in some of the wards where there were no incumbents there were between 12 and 15 candidates. Although 14 new councillors were elected only one is a racialized person in this city where the motto is “diversity our strength.”

The situation was not much better with the elected trustees for the four boards of education. Trustees were elected to the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Conseil scolaire de district du Centre-Sud-Ouest and Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is the largest school board in Canada and the 4th largest in North America. There are more than 270,000 students in the TDSB’s 558 schools. The 22 trustees of the TDSB are each responsible for schools in two city wards. Any candidate running for a position as TDSB trustee had to campaign in two city wards and some candidates running for trustee at the Toronto Catholic District School Board had to campaign in three city wards.

As a public school trustee candidate in the 2010 municipal election in ward 14 Toronto Centre-Rosedale I campaigned in city wards 27 and 28. There were some alarming moments, including a phone call from the campaign manager of another candidate encouraging me to “drop out” of the race. In hindsight the suggestion should not have come as an unpleasant surprise but since this was the first time I had ever been approached to “drop out” of a race I was alarmed. Visions of unsavoury characters lurking and confronting me at inconvenient moments ran through my mind, especially after I was told that another female candidate had been persuaded to drop out of the Ward 14 race. However, after noting the number of candidates who “dropped out” of this Municipal race for various reasons, I understand that this is nothing unusual.

Another slightly less alarming moment came when I was told by a security guard at a condominium building in the revitalized and gentrified Regent Park that the upmarket Cole street building was out of bounds to my volunteer and I because it was a private building. I explained that as we were distributing campaign literature for the upcoming October 25 Municipal election we did have the right to access the building but he insisted that we leave because those were his orders. Recognizing that the man was only doing his job we went over to the Daniels Corporation office just across the street from the condominium where we were told by the man at the front desk after he consulted with his boss that we could not go into the building to distribute campaign literature but we were welcome to go to the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings nearby. My volunteer and I left but the next day I was at City Hall to clarify the situation where I was told that legally I had the right to canvass the building and distribute my campaign literature.

With the letter from the elections office at City Hall, I eventually returned to One Cole Street where I was pleasantly surprised to find that the security guard who was there did not try to prevent our entry. My volunteer and I distributed the campaign literature without hindrance.

On October 25, I eagerly followed the results as the ballots were counted and the numbers of votes for each candidate was displayed. By Tuesday morning when all the votes had been counted I knew that 5, 351 citizens living in ward 14 had cast their ballots in my favour.

My campaign was run on a budget of less than $2,000 and two dedicated volunteers Maria Garrick and Myrtle Rudder. I sincerely thank the other people who volunteered to distribute my campaign literature in buildings where they live and those people who volunteered an hour or two to help at various times but I cannot thank these two sistren enough. They were with me whenever I went out to campaign. We were like the three musketeers; Maria, Murphy and Myrtle. We walked for miles campaigning in wards 27 and 28, sometimes in buildings with 50 storeys, but never a word of complaint from Maria and Myrtle; even when dogs tore campaign flyers out of their hands as the flyers were pushed through mail slots. We also had fun during the campaign. At one point after campaigning for hours, tired and practically limping we went to Ritz Caribbean Food at Yonge and College to recharge with curry chicken. We did more than eat; ending up dancing to oldies but goodies (Michael Jackson, Anita Baker, Rick James etc.,) The DJ was in his element and so were we and we did leave recharged from the great food and music.

Maria went the extra mile as my temporary replacement (for the past two months) as co-host on Frequency Feminisms at CKLN 88.1 FM, every Sunday morning from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Myrtle went the extra mile storing my lawn signs at her home and helping to pull them up from where I had put them around wards 27 and 28. That was such joy! Driving around the neighbourhood trying to remember exactly where I had put all those lawn signs. It was an amazing learning experience because running for school board trustee is slightly different from running for city councillor or MPP. This experience will stand me in good stead for 2014. My election blog is still up and running at

Tuesday, November 2, 2010