December 8, 2020
Dear Premier Horgan,
As we begin the 42nd Parliament of the B.C. Legislature, the B.C. Green Caucus is calling upon the newly sworn-in Cabinet and government to recognize and fulfill the four requests from the B.C. Advisory Committee on the UN Decade for People of African Descent, and commit to taking immediate action to address the systemic anti-Black racism in our Province.
British Columbia’s Black communities have been integral to our province, dating back to before the colony was first founded. As legislators, it is our responsibility to take action on the systemic anti-Black racism that exists in British Columbia and support Black communities in our province.
As a concrete step, we expect the provincial government to formally recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD). We also echo the calls of advocates to government to create paid consultant positions in the communities of African descent and work with those consultants to create and implement a B.C. Strategic Plan for People of African Descent, within a six month period. The next step would be to develop an action plan to combat anti-Black racism in our province and invest in the existing grassroots organizations led by Black community leaders here in B.C. When the Federal Government recognized the IDPAD, they allocated $25M of the 2018 Federal Budget to support Canadian Black communities; however, the grassroots organizations in B.C. do not qualify for this funding because they are unable to meet the capacity and staffing requirements. This international initiative is meant to promote respect, protection, and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for people of African descent, and the provincial government can honour this with targeted investments to the grassroots organizations here in B.C. It is important we formally recognize this decade in the Legislature as B.C.’s Black communities deserve all of this and more.
We are now approaching the seventh year of the decade without formal recognition from British Columbia and it is long overdue that the provincial government take stronger action on systemic racism while acknowledging the contributions of Black communities, both past and present, throughout the province. Black entrepreneurship and Black communities need commitments of support because, as said by Richard Sharpe with the Dream Legacy Foundation, “the white community has had a 400-year head start.” Racist community planning has displaced Black people and erased the contributions of Black communities to B.C.’s history, like the vibrant, lively community of Hogan’s Alley that was demolished to make way for the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.
For far too long, anti-Black racism combined with the erasure of stories and culture have become embedded in our systems. The detrimental impacts of this erasure are pervasive in all levels of our societal structures, all stemming from the fact that the stories and history of Black people in B.C. have not been adequately included in our education system. Because of this, Black contributions are not given the respect and validation that they require and deserve. We saw some good initial first steps in the last year of the 41st Parliament like the creation of the anti-racism roundtable for education, but this is not enough; the mandate for the new Minister of Education does not even include or identify a specific need to work with the Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives or the anti-racism roundtable to reform our education system and add B.C.’s Black history to the provincial curriculum. It is also important to expand the scope of the anti-racism education roundtable - it currently only examines reforms within the grades K-12. The Province plays a key role with our post-secondary institutions and we need to take leadership in ensuring that they too make advancing racial equity a priority.
Another step we as legislators can take is to form an all-party parliamentary committee dedicated to addressing systemic racism against those that identify as Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Colour. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s report on Indigenous-specific racism in B.C.’s health care system is but one of the most recent reminders that institutional racism is everywhere. In consultation with communities, an all-party parliamentary committee can put together direct actionable items to begin the process of dismantling systemic racism, with a timeline to ensure action is genuinely being taken. Premier Horgan, during the election campaign and at your recent swearing-in ceremony you spoke about an inclusive approach; one of the benefits of creating an all-party committee is that it would ensure solutions and initiatives would be acted upon in a timely way. As I’m sure we agree, this issue is greater than partisanship.
The B.C. Green Caucus also calls upon you, Premier, and Minister of Finance Selina Robinson and Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon to ensure that B.C.’s COVID-19 recovery will prioritize targeted relief and support for Black communities in British Columbia. At the recent swearing-in ceremony of your cabinet, you also said: “this is a virus. It does not know economic status, it does not know race, creed, or colour. It is a virus and it affects us all equally.” However, this virus does not affect all equally; in fact, the effects of the virus are so disproportionate that the Black In BC Mutual Aid collective created a gofundme community support initiative to help hard-hit Black British Columbians with a low-barrier, emergency, micro-grant program and they have been overwhelmed with applications to their program. The Black In BC Mutual Aid collective has also requested the Province “collect disaggregated race-based data to put a spotlight on where help is most needed,” as “collection of this data will be important to identify trends and to see which communities are hit the hardest, and as a result need targeted relief in a just recovery.” The B.C. Green Caucus has and will continue to support the calls from community leaders for the collection of disaggregated race-based data so our health officials and government can have the information we need to deliver the best support to racialized communities in our COVID-19 recovery.
We hope that you take action on the four requests from the advisory committee and take steps to create paid positions for Black community contributors. Our collective history is diminished when communities and cultures are erased - we need to do everything we can to actively support the communities who have been intrinsic to who we have been,who we are today, and who we will be in this province.
Formal recognition of the IDPAD is vital to improve the lives of Black British Columbians. Systemic racism exists in B.C., and it will take systemic change to ensure that we move beyond words to achieve the outcomes that we all wish to see. Let’s take the steps to demonstrate that we truly do believe that Black Lives Matter in declaring the IDPAD and making a commitment to improving the future of all Black British Columbians.
Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the BC Green Caucus and MLA for Cowichan Valley
Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands