Canada is often described as a multicultural, tolerant and diverse society that welcomes new immigrants from across the globe. While there is no denial of its liberal immigration policies, there are going concerns and observations that the nation is becoming more exclusive than inclusive and the population facing the brunt of social exclusion are people of Afro Canadian and Afro Caribbean descent.
Why? Their novel and distinct feature gives them little or no opportunity to melt into the Canadian mosaic, as they remain the most visible of visible minorities in Canada. It is a fact and there is no need to continue sweeping it under the rug but rather to be boldfaced and comment about the challenges facing the Afro Canadian-Caribbean community.
According to available census data from the government of Canada, there are approximately 975,000 persons in Canada who described themselves as persons of Afro Canadian Caribbean heritage. Many of these self-identified individuals hail from Africa, the Caribbean and those born in Canada of parents with an African heritage background. What is not fully known is whether the above number is fully accurate, as many young Afro immigrants from Britain tend to identify themselves as British, the Afro Latino population continues to self-identify on the basis of language, while the Caribbean Indo and mulatto populations seek to identify themselves where they feel most comfortable.
In addressing the challenges of the above community, fairness and objectivity dictates that social inclusion will not be achieved in Canada without an aggressive and active advocacy strategy that encompass all strata of the affected community. Unfortunately, the growing and rapid decline of the community’s ability is hindered by several factors. They include an ageing population; the reluctance of young Afro Canadian and Caribbean persons to become engaged in advocacy and community engagement initiatives; regional and narrow perceptions that fail to recognize the importance of collectivity and efforts by the system to silence those with potential advocacy skills by appointing them to statutory boards and other institutions that automatically places a dragnet on how and what extent they should be engaged in advocacy and civic participation initiatives.
At the same time, the growing South Asian population in Canada has surpassed the numbers of the Afro Canadian Caribbean community; they seem to have more available resources and are willing to deploy these resources, as many of them recognize that it is a new opportunity for civic engagement and democracy. Therefore, it is not unusual to see them in the forefront of cheering right wing political leaders like Harper, Hudak, Vic Toews and Alberta’s Wild Rose far right leader. In addition to their newly found civic participation niche, many mainstream gullible institutions have found it necessary to align themselves with the South Asian interests in employment opportunities, corporate sponsorship and advertising depiction.
What is even more a challenge to the referenced community and those who purport to provide leadership is the blind acceptance of advice and ill-fated strategies from those at the pinnacle of power who tend to lump all ethno cultural groups in Canada into one basket. These ill-fated strategies are coming more and more from policy decision makers, as their institutions coin false perceptive terminologies such as partnerships, working together, limited availability of resources and in many cases outright racist behaviour.
As the Afro Canadian and Caribbean community continues to face social exclusion and opportunities for advancement, it is incumbent upon their institutions to realign efforts that would have a direct impact on the practices of institutional racism; greater efforts within regional municipalities given the growing demographic shifts of the challenged community, inclusive participation of individuals irrespective from which geographical area from Africa or the Caribbean they hail. Civic participation and inclusion are critical mechanisms in any strategy that will yield sustainable results.
This is not the time for vacillation or engendering thoughts and accusations about who might carry a chip on their shoulder. Chips are carried and preserved when inequality institutional racism fester themselves. Visible minorities and ethno-cultural populations are not homogenous groups so they should not be lumped together. Decision makers know full well that there are major problems with this approach. However, if they are not challenged, they are likely to slip through and often wind up becoming a policy plank.
The Afro Canadian Caribbean community in Canada needs to become more pro-active by reminding everyone about our long and historical presence in this nation; our past and present contributions to the mosaic and most important, the re-tooling and re-branding of an advocacy strategy that will have to take on much more in Canada. (Ian Francis)
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org