Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 144, Issue 36

Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Black History Month

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today in celebration of Black History Month and to pay tribute to a Canadian political pioneer, Rosemary Brown. She was the first Black woman in Canada elected to a provincial legislature. She served British Columbians in this capacity from 1976 to 1986. In 1975, she was the first woman to run for federal leadership in Canada. Ed Broadbent defeated her on the final ballot for the NDP leadership that year.

Rosemary immigrated to Canada from Jamaica in 1951. She graduated from McGill in 1955 and went on to receive a master’s degree in social work from the University of British Columbia in 1965. She was a mother of three children who proved to Canadian women they could do it all as she skilfully found a way to balance the demands of motherhood and Canadian politics.

As a member of the NDP provincial government in the 1970s, she made a committee to eliminate sexism in textbooks and educational curricula. She was also instrumental in establishing the Berger Commission on Family and introduced legislation that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status. She was a founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women council and founding member and trainer of volunteers from the Vancouver Crisis Centre. Her importance to our country was acknowledged in 1996 when she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Honourable senators, Black History Month is very important in our country and vitally important for our youth. Our young people need to learn and be reminded of the remarkable achievements of Canadian trailblazers like Rosemary Brown.

I pay tribute to Rosemary. Many women, including myself, were inspired by her. I am but one of the thousands of women and women of colour who was moved by her achievements and became involved in politics through Rosemary’s work as an activist, educator and role-model.

Rosemary was strong and intelligent. She promoted justice and equality for all women in British Columbia and across Canada. She stood up for many voices in our society that never make it to the legislature or Parliament. Our country is better today because of all her work.

Honourable senators, I am proud of the way Canadians have embraced Black History Month. It speaks to the value we place on multiculturalism, a policy that makes me exceptionally proud to be a Canadian. Canada has made great progress in recognizing the contribution of Black Canadians but there is still much work to be done.

On the continued necessity of Black History Month, Canadian author Rosemary Sadlier has said:

When the contributions of people of African descent are acknowledged, when the achievements of Black people are known, when Black people are routinely included or affirmed through curriculum, our books and the media, and treated with equality, then there will no longer be a need for Black History Month.

As much as I enjoy this month of annual reflection, honourable senators, I look forward to a day when we achieve this goal.