Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean was appointed Governor General of Canada in 2005. Born in Haiti, she came to Canada with her family as a young girl. The Governor General referred to her slave ancestry in the Installation Speech on September 27, 2005. "I know how precious...freedom is. I know what a legacy it is for every child, for every citizen of this country. I, whose ancestors were slaves, who was born into a civilization long reduced to whispers and cries of pain, know something about its price, and I know too what a treasure it is for us all."
Sgt. Eric Jolin
Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA
© 2008, Rideau Hall. All Rights Reserved.
The Honourable Mayann E. Francis is only the second woman – and the first Black Canadian – to hold the rank of Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia. She was appointed in 2006. In a speech on Civil Rights Day, December 10, 2006, she said: "While we struggle with issues of discrimination we need to ask, 'How can we turn this around? How can we leave a legacy of hope to the next generation?' The answer to both is, 'By claiming love, respect and dignity for ourselves and allowing their glow to spread and empower us all.'"
Mayann E. Francis, ONS
© 2008, Mayann E. Francis. All Rights Reserved.
The Honourable Anne C. Cools began her political career as a student in 1969, when she participated in a famous 10-day sit-in to protest racism at Sir George Williams Univerity (later Concordia). Moving to Toronto in the 1970s, she founded the first women's shelter there in 1974 and was active in the movement to help battered women. In 1984, she was named Canada's first Black senator. Today, Senator Cools continues to be an outspoken commentator on many aspects of life and law in Canada and a vigorous contributor to public debate.
Anne C. Cools
© 2008, Anne C. Cools. All Rights Reserved.
Jean Augustine served as Liberal Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore from 1993 to 2005, the first Black woman ever elected to the House of Commons. In 1995, it was her motion in Parliament that led to the establishment of Black History Month. As Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, she shared her determination to continue building a just society in Canada. "Under the law," she said, "every Canadian is equal. Nevertheless, it is clear we have some barriers to overcome before every citizen of Canada can feel truly accepted and truly included; and before we reach...substantive equality." In 2007, Jean Augustine was appointed Ontario's first Fairness Commissioner.
© 2008, Jean Augustine. All Rights Reserved.
Senator Donald Oliver – nephew of renowned singer Portia White and a prominent lawyer in Halifax before he was appointed to the Senate in 1990 – has dedicated much of his energy to ensuring equal rights for all Canadians. He spoke to the Senate in 2007 about the 1948 Declaration Human Rights. "It is essential," he said, "if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law. Honourable senators, I urge the members of this chamber to uphold the vision laid out by the drafters of the declaration by supporting the equal and inalienable rights of all people and protecting them through the enforcement of the rule of law."
Senator Donald Oliver
© 2008, Donald Oliver. All Rights Reserved.
In 1991, Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, after a distinguished academic, legal and human rights career, became the first Black Canadian to be appointed judge in the Province of Quebec. She began practising law in Quebec in 1970 and, in 1985, became the first chair of Quebec's Conseil des communautés culturelles et de l'immigration. In that capacity, she worked to build bridges between Quebec's diverse communities. In 2005, the Canadian Bar Association presented her with the Touchstone Award for her longstanding commitment to ending discrimination in Canada.
© 2008, Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré. All Rights Reserved.
Deputy Police Chief Keith Forde of the Toronto Police Service is the first member of a visible minority to hold that office. His particular responsibility is employment, an area where Forde sees great potential for the easing of racial tensions in Toronto. A project called the Youth In Policing Initiative, for example, is now bringing 100 young Canadians into the police force annually as summer employees. Deputy Police Chief Forde says the project brings good news to communities that traditionally have had tense relations with the police force. "I truly believe," he said, "the effects of this program will be immeasurable."
Deputy Police Chief Keith Forde
© 2008, Toronto Police Service. All Rights Reserved.
The press has great power to shape opinion in today's world. As a young reporter in 1995, Marcie Ien won the Canadian Radio and Television News Directors' Award for a news serial on the Underground Railway. More recently, she has worked as news anchor for Canada AM. In 2001, she spoke to a forum organized by the Black Law Students' Association at York University, telling them of the need to ensure that Black issues are not neglected in the Canadian media. She first became aware of the news "blackout," she said, as a reporter in Halifax, where she sensed the hope that she represented for members of the Black community. "They looked at me as a reporter who came to rescue them, to get the Black issues out," she said.
© 2008, CTV. All Rights Reserved.
In 1995, Mr. Justice Selwyn Romilly became the first Black to be appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In an address in 2006, he looked back to his heritage in Trinidad and Tobago and to the motto of that country – "Discipline, Production and Tolerance" – as a source of enduring inspiration. "The greatest glory in living," he said, quoting the words of Nelson Mandela, "lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall."
© 2008, Selwyn Romilly. All Rights Reserved.
Lincoln McCauley Alexander was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario in 1985 after a distinguished career in law and politics. In 2007, he published his memoirs, "Go To School, You're a Little Black Boy." In this book, he wrote that his success in life was largely due to his mother's insistance that he get a good education. That was the only way, she said, that the son of a Black railway porter and a maid could rise in the world. "Since I was five years old," says Alexander, "my mother would always say, ‘Linc, you’re a little black boy so you have to stay in school.'” Alexander was the first member of his family to graduate from university and, in 1968, the first Black Canadian ever to be elected to the Canadian House of Commons.
© 2008, Hamilton Spectator. All Rights Reserved.
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, travelled to Africa – with stops in Algeria, Mali, Ghana, South Africa, and Morocco – in 2007. While there, she reflected on the origins of her own family as slaves, kidnapped and carried away to the Caribbean.
I would like to begin on a personal note in saying how meaningful it is for me to be here in South Africa. Because, you know, for as long as I can remember, I have looked forward to the day when I could make a pilgrimage to the cradle of humanity, this land, this land of freedom. And your history is very much part of my memory. It has really helped a young Black woman of the Americas become the person I am today. As you said, Mr. President, my ancestors were torn from their lives, stripped of themselves, of their languages, of their names, of their history, deprived of their basic dignity as women and men. They were reduced to slavery and deported to the Americas. I am very proud to say that I was born in Haiti, where after more than three centuries of dehumanizing trade, the slaves were the first to break their chains.
Sgt Eric Jolin
Office of the Governor General, Rideau Hall
© 2008, Sgt Eric Jolin, Rideau Hall. All Rights Reserved.
Students will recognize today’s Black leaders who continue in the tradition of their ancestors to work for social justice and equity in Canada.