2nd Session, 43rd Parliament
Volume 152, Issue 31
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Speech from the Throne
Motion for Address in Reply—Debate
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I too rise today to speak to the Speech from the Throne. I know many of us attended the speech where the Governor General outlined the government’s plan to forge a new, more progressive Canada in the midst of the ongoing global pandemic posed by COVID-19.
First, the government enshrined its commitment to prioritizing the health and safety of all Canadians as we continue this fight of our lives. Second, they illustrated the need to support Canadians and their businesses as they brave the worsening economic storm presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government made big promises to “build back better,” with the goal of creating a stronger, more unified and resilient nation. Finally, and most importantly, the government vowed to stand up for equality, walk the road of reconciliation and fight all forms of discrimination.
Honourable senators, I am confident that the government is sincere in its desire to build a better Canada, in which all Canadians — and I stress all Canadians — can feel they’re accepted and included. They can feel that they are part of our great Canadian society.
However, in order to truly achieve this, we must all work together. Especially in the Senate, we are guardians of the rights of the marginalized people, and we as senators have to stand up and speak out for those who are most vulnerable around us.
MP Greg Fergus, who you all will know is the chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, kindly provided me with some information on the federal government’s current financial commitments to address these ongoing and daily crises which racialized — namely Black and Indigenous peoples — continue to experience. He stated:
Since 2018, the government has provided $25 million to build capacity in Black Canadian communities, $45 million for a new Anti-Racism Strategy, $9 million to support Black Canadian youth, $10 million for culturally focused mental health programs, and $221 million to help thousands of Black business owners grow their business as we recover from the COVID-19 crisis.
85 projects, worth $15 million, have been selected through a call for proposals to support the ARAP’s objectives, which will help combat all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Indigenous racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia.
On the global stage, Canada is recognized as being a pluralistic, inclusive and forward-thinking nation. While we have made great strides to combat racism, honourable senators, much work still needs to be done. We need to walk our talk. We need to remain committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination.
We especially, senators, cannot lose sight of or omit the fact that our country is founded on a history that has dispossessed and continues to discriminate against racialized people, particularly First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. We have much work to do as Indigenous communities face —
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Jaffer, I have to interrupt you because it is six o’clock.
Honourable senators, it is now six o’clock, and pursuant to rule 3-3(1) and the order adopted on October 27, 2020, I’m obliged to leave the chair until seven o’clock.
We are suspended until seven o’clock. Senator Jaffer, you will have 10 minutes remaining in your speaking time when we return.
(The sitting of the Senate was suspended.)
(The sitting of the Senate was resumed.)
Motion for Address in Reply—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Gagné, seconded by the Honourable Senator Petitclerc:
That the following Address be presented to Her Excellency the Governor General of Canada:
To Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.
MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY:
We, Her Majesty’s most loyal and dutiful subjects, the Senate of Canada in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Excellency for the gracious Speech which Your Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, we must not lose sight of or omit the fact that our own country is founded on a history that has dispossessed and continues to discriminate against racialized people, particularly First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
We have much work to do as Indigenous communities face an unprecedented health crisis, while many are simultaneously living on old, policed and underfunded reserves, the conditions of which many scholars and academics refer to as akin to those of underdeveloped countries.
Canadians, we expect the federal government to deliver on the promises made in the Throne Speech, which must be followed by tangible action and unequivocal condemnation of ongoing normalization of racism. Over the past few years, I have worked alongside many activists, including the African Descent Society in my home province of British Columbia. As you know, senators, many of the first African Canadians settled in British Columbia. When I think about this, it saddens me that a lot of Canadians do not know that Sir James Douglas, the first Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, was born in Guyana and emigrated to British Columbia in the 1870s. Indeed, people of African descent settled in British Columbia long before the province joined the Dominion of Canada and before the incorporation of Vancouver in 1886.
When they arrived, many of the first immigrants built amazing African-Canadian communities in the heart of Vancouver. They built successful businesses, and made Vancouver their home. One of those communities is often called Hogan’s Alley but is correctly known by locals as Strathcona.
I have vivid memories of driving around Vancouver and seeing Strathcona, as well as many other communities that are the cornerstone of Vancouver’s strong values of openness, inclusivity and diversity. Tragically, too many of these communities have been forced to endure the terrible impacts of development and urban renewal projects that have been imposed on communities of African descent in Vancouver, particularly in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In Strathcona, following far too many development and gentrification projects, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation stated:
Over the years, blacks endured efforts by the city to rezone Strathcona making it difficult to obtain mortgages or make home improvements, and by newspaper articles portraying parts of the neighborhood, such as Hogan’s Alley, as dens of squalor, immorality and crime.
In response to this, by the 1960s, many of the homes and businesses that made Hogan’s Alley what it was were demolished and replaced by the Georgia Viaduct, and in 1971, it was joined by the Dunsmuir Viaduct.
The year 2021 is a part of the International Decade for People of African Descent. United Nations resolution 68/237 calls for all UN member states, including municipalities and provincial and civil societies, to recognize the many contributions of people of African descent around the world. In that vein, while the community is still not what it once was, it warms my heart that there are plans to redevelop Strathcona and return the community to a hub for the people of Vancouver, regardless of their race, class, ability and ethnic background. It is my honour to work with Yasin Kiraga Misago and Rita Margaret Buwule, fellow Ugandans, to revive and better acknowledge the African communities that were living in this area before.
Honourable senators, as I said, I continue to work alongside local and provincial activist organizations, such as the African Descent Society BC, and it is my hope that these communities will be rightly recognized for their invaluable contributions to Canada. I stand on the shoulders of Rosemary Brown, the first Black MLA in B.C., and Emery Barnes, the first Black Speaker in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, who set the path for all of us to succeed.
Honourable senators, I have set out all the programs the government is going to establish. Those programs mean nothing if the community doesn’t feel part of our great country. Therefore, I reach out to you and say that it will take the effort of those of us who can harness the highest levels of parliamentary power and privilege to continue to hold our leaders’ feet to the fire and ensure that they recognize their accountability to all Canadians.
Honourable senators, we have heard various speeches today that raise issues from different parts of our country, but we come to you with one voice to ask that we not forget what happened last July and to remind you that we can never go back to that place. Thank you very much.
(On motion of Senator Gagné, debate adjourned.)