By Althia Raj
OTTAWA — Blacks in Canada need to unite, rise up and address the deep racism in this country that keeps them out of positions of power, a Conservative senator says.
“What will it take for our collective Afro-Canadian family to unite — to rise up and claim our rightful place in Canadian society?” Conservative Senator Don Oliver recently asked in keynote speech to black professionals.
Despite being the fourth largest visible minority group in Canada, blacks continue to be victims of racism and are under-represented in high-level positions including on Parliament Hill, Oliver said Monday, Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
“Racism still holds us back, both in the public and the private sector . . . Our co-workers do not accept us, do not treat us fairly, that equality is wanting and diversity is not a reality as it should be,” he said.
Oliver said he’s experienced overt racism throughout his life.
“From the days that I started going to school, age five, six and seven, right up until today, and I’m almost 73. I encounter racism at almost every turn,” he said.
Even on Parliament Hill, Oliver said, racism is the reason there are few visible minorities in executive positions.
“In Parliament is there racism? In the Senate, in the House of Commons, in the library of Parliament are there barriers? There certainly are. In the past, I have met with the clerk of the Senate, with the clerk of the House of Commons and with the head of the library of Parliament and have had very candid and frank talks with them about the barriers that exist.”
Oliver blames Canada’s experience with slavery for much of the black community’s inability to support each other and for the stereotypes old-stock Canadians continue to show.
“It really flows from the days of slavery . . . because of the slave mentality,” he explained, when someone got ahead, they would get dragged down by the group.
Blacks need to learn to support each other and stick their hand up and lend a hand when their brothers and sisters are in need, Oliver said.
“It’s like we are a family,” Oliver said. “(But) unlike a lot of other groups, organizations, cultural groups, and ethnic groups, we do not pull together as a group. We do not assist and help one another as we should . . . Until we reach out to our fellows, it is going to be hard for us to make the kind of upward movement that I would like to see us have as a group.”
Many Canadians don’t realize that slavery existed in Canada, he said. A number of legislators in Ontario, which was then called Upper Canada, were slave owners, as were a number of eminent people in the province of Quebec. In Nova Scotia, where Oliver is from, black people were sold at public auction.
“I still have an ad for a ‘buxom young female, 14 years of age, for sale,'” he said.
Blacks are well accepted by new Canadians but “it is more the Canadians who are already here that it comes from,” Oliver said.
And blacks, the senator argues, have it worst off than other visible minority groups.
The senator, who formed last week a new caucus for other Conservatives from visible-minorities groups, said he believes blacks should have their own category for Canadians in need of special measures: along with the disabled, aboriginals, women and other visible minorities.
“They should be in a category of their own because it is the black component of visible minorities that hold visible minorities back because blacks are always the last to be hired and the first to be fired,” he said.
For a long time, “because of this latent colour-thing,” blacks were not represented in Canada’s major institutions, such as universities, and are excluded from being police chiefs or the top levels of the armed forces and the public service, Oliver said.
His message as Canadians head toward Canada Day celebrations is for all citizens to embrace diversity warmly.
“Be prepared to accept difference. Because difference is our strength,” he said.