In B.C. election, party leaders urged to focus on anti-Black racism policies

In the wake of anti-racism and Black Lives Matter rallies across B.C. and the world, Black community groups are calling on party leaders to make anti-racism policies central to their election campaigns.

Dominique Jacobs, who represents a province-wide Black advisory committee made up of leaders from the business, non-profit, mental health and education sectors, is calling on B.C. NDP leader John Horgan, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau to address anti-Black racism during a virtual town hall.

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Jacobs, a Colwood mother, said so far, only Furstenau has accepted the invitation.

“They need to be talking to the Black community, they need to be engaging with the Black community,” Jacobs said.

The advisory committee, which includes the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour and the African Art & Cultural Community Contributor Society, is also calling on parties to commit to recognizing the International Decade of People of African Descent, which was proclaimed by the United Nations general assembly in 2014.

That, Jacobs said, would open the door for anti-racism education in schools and anti-racism training across a variety of public and private sectors to prevent provincial policies rooted in systemic anti-Black racism.

Whoever forms the next government should strike a paid advisory committee made up of Black community leaders who can advise on anti-racism strategies and programs that promote Black-led organizations and businesses, Jacobs said.

Too often, Jacobs has looked around the room at people in power and found “there’s not one Black face, there’s not one Indigenous face. It’s really distressing. We’re looking to get a seat at the table.”

Furstenau said before Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24, she was working with the two groups that make up the Black advisory committee to bring forward a letter to the NDP government calling on it to recognize the International Decade of People of African Descent. She was set to bring that letter forward on Monday when the election was called. Furstenau said the recognition is more than symbolic — it comes with federal funding that can support Black-led groups.

Furstenau said she’s committed to working with Black and Indigenous communities and people of colour to ensure they have a say on developing meaningful anti-racism policies.

The Greens are working hard to develop a slate of candidates that is diverse and reflective of the community, but she said a snap election makes that more difficult. “Snap elections are not good for democracy and they’re not good for diversity. It’s much more difficult to ask a person of colour or equity-seeking groups to pick up their lives on a dime to say you have 24 hours to make a decision that could be life-changing.”

Asked about anti-racism policy, Horgan touted the work of Ravi Kahlon, MLA for Delta North, who spent the summer meeting with marginalized groups for a series of anti-racism round tables.

He also pointed to Education Minister Rob Fleming’s co-operation with community members on developing anti-racism education for the K–12 curriculum. Horgan said his government reinstated the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, after it was abolished by Gordon Campbell’s Liberals in 2002.

If the NDP is re-elected, the party will “continue to advance the cause of anti-racism and eliminate discrimination in our community, and education is the ideal place to start for that,” Horgan said Friday during a campaign stop in Coquitlam.

In response to the town hall, Horgan said he’s “happy to participate in any forums” and talking to people in communities.

Asked about his anti-racism strategy during a campaign event in Yaletown, Wilkinson touted the diversity among his candidates, including eight candidates of South Asian descent and four candidates of Chinese descent.

“I think we all know that the Black Lives Matter movement has been crystalized, especially among young people, as an essential issue in 2020,” he said. “Much more can be done to make sure we’re a fully inclusive society and that everyone feels respected.”

Wilkinson said anti-racism training should not be limited to government employees.

“We have to do this as a society — everybody has to be very sensitive to the idea that we need to be respectful, inclusive and engaging.”

Jacobs said the Black community is reeling this week from news that no police officers will be charged with killing 26-year-old health-care worker Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was shot in her home in Louisville, Kentucky during a botched police raid in March.

She said the town hall would be “an opportunity for British Columbian politicians to really distinguish themselves and ­distance themselves as far as possible from the racism ­happening in the U.S. and give Black Canadians a loud and clear message to say, hey we respect you, we hear you, we want to support you, we want to work with you.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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