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View Robert Morrissey Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Robert Morrissey Profile
2022-09-28 17:03
Welcome to meeting number 34 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022. Members are attending in person and remotely using the Zoom application.
In order to ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to take a few moments for the benefit of the witnesses and members to make a few comments.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. For those participating virtually, please use the “raise hand” function. Before speaking, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you're done speaking, please put your mike on mute.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for the meeting. For those participating by video conference, you have the choice of floor, English, or French. For those in the room, you can use the earpiece and select the desired channel.
I would again advise committee members and witnesses to speak slowly for the benefit of the interpretation services. I would also like to remind participants that screenshots are not permitted. Should any difficulties arise during the meeting, please advise me, and we will suspend while we correct it.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 3, the committee will commence its study on the supporting Black Canadian communities initiative.
The connectivity tests have been completed for all the witnesses, and we are ready to go.
I would like to welcome our witnesses to begin our discussion. Witnesses, I would remind you that you have five minutes each for your opening remarks, followed by questions from the committee members.
From the Canadian Congress on Inclusive Diversity and Workplace Equity, we have Nosakhare Alex Ihama, executive director. From the Nia Centre for the Arts, we have Alica Hall, executive director.
We will start with Mr. Ihama for five minutes.
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
View Nosakhare Alex Ihama Profile
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
2022-09-28 17:06
Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this very critical conversation.
I appreciate the opportunity, and want to give a shout out to Michael Coteau—I think he's there somewhere—for the work he is doing in the Black community to help with Black businesses and develop the community.
When we talk about supporting the Black community, especially Black businesses, we see that the government and other corporations are doing a lot with allocating funds to help people to either start or keep their business going, and things like that, through organizations like the Black Business and Professional Association. I used to be on their board.
An area that is overlooked many times is the impact of racism on Black businesses. I will talk about three points in my five minutes.
I had a friend, George, who invited me to Canada almost eight years ago. He has passed away now. He was so successful with his businesses. He had a lot of Zellers pharmacies. We used to have Zellers. His complaint was that some white people would come in and say, “I want to see the pharmacist.” The moment he appeared they would insult him and leave. Some would say, “You're a pharmacist? Did they have a pharmacy in Africa?” He would always come to me, and I would always encourage him. It wasn't one and it wasn't two, but he had three pharmacies where that was consistently happening. He had them in white-dominated areas, which literally was killing his businesses.
My first job here was at a call centre. As I often say, I loved it so much. People would call, and I would say, “Bank of Montreal Mastercard, Alex speaking.”
I would say, “Hello, how can I help you?”, and they would say, “What the devil is that? What accent do you have?”
If that were my business I would be losing 80% of my calls because of my accent. Yes, it's one thing to say, “Here's $1 million, or here's $2 million,” but there is an aspect of education that is continually overlooked.
We are doing a lot. We speak. We train, but until this becomes part of the educational curriculum whereby we are seeing less and less racism, we can keep pouring money into the business, but if nobody's coming, the business is going to close down. We can keep pouring money into the business, but if there are no plans to educate people in the community through their professional curriculum....
We've all heard about limiting—or restricting, rather—Black education to February. It is good we have February as Black History Month. Where it is bad is that it's limited to Black History Month. That continuously impacts. I know this because I have a business. I know many Black people with businesses.
I also talked about credit. Some of you may not know this, but the banks have systems to decline credit or give credit to people because of their postal code. I have tested it. I'm a victim of that. If I use a postal code in Vaughan or York, I'll get a line of credit of $25,000. If I use a postal code in Jane and Finch or in Kipling, I'll only get $500. I tried it. It's not what they told me. I have friends who go through that.
The point is that when we talk about systemic racism, we don't see it. Most people don't see it, but those who feel it, they experience it and it continues to hamper their businesses.
What are some of the things I feel perhaps the government needs to look more into rather than saying, “Here's $20 million, or here's $1 billion”? What are we doing? What can be done more to increase the awareness of anti-Black racism? It's through the educational curriculum, through the systems.
Most of these systems used by the banks and insurance companies were built by people with a colonial mindset. The people using them may no longer be racist, but the systems were built years ago and they still are. There are so many systemic barriers beyond what we see and read in the paper. It's what we're feeling.
The last point I will quickly add with my remaining 90 seconds, I think, is the Canadian Congress has been talking about and training on diversity since 1998. We have educated at the Bank of Montreal and other big banks, and have done training. We train 10,000 people every year through our organization. But since the death of George Floyd, some analyses have been done, and 80% of the work for diversity was given to white-led organizations. I didn't say that. There are researchers who proved that.
Even with the banks—I know CIBC is one, but there are many of them—the government needs to look at some policy or some way to ensure that even the training of Black.... A minister of Ontario, a friend of my work, said that the person who trained them on anti-Black was an Indian woman. Of course, I'm sure she's smart, but she's not Black. It is fundamentally flawed to hire somebody without the lived experience to speak on the experience of other people. Those things are happening and you'd never know about it. We do.
If any seconds are left, I yield them back to the committee.
View Robert Morrissey Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Robert Morrissey Profile
2022-09-28 17:12
Thank you, Mr. Ihama
We will now move to Madam Hall for her five-minute opening statement.
Madam Hall.
Alica Hall
View Alica Hall Profile
Alica Hall
2022-09-28 17:12
Thank you, Mr. Chair and the committee, for making time for this important discussion.
My name is Alica. I'm the executive director at Nia Centre for the Arts. We're a Black-led and Black-serving charitable organization based in Toronto. We support young people through career development, mentorship and employment in the arts. We also support emerging artists to perform and showcase their work so that they can build viable careers and tell the stories of our community right across the country.
After over a decade of supporting the creative capacity of our community, we're taking on this transformational project to renovate our 14,000-square-foot facility into Canada's first professional Black arts centre. I give you this backdrop because we have received a couple of grants through the supporting Black Canadian communities initiative in the past two years. This has really been helpful to support us in building our organizational capacity to prepare for this transformation from being a smaller grassroots group into running an arts institution. We have received support to do things like build out our digital infrastructure, and to do Wi-Fi planning to ensure that we have a safe and secure building and can process payments online. We've received support for HR planning to ensure that we have the right staffing model at the right times in order to run the facility, and of course fundraising. Before the pandemic, we had just one monthly donor. Now we have over 150. We've been able to work with the consultant to build out our stewardship plans and recognition to support those who are contributing to the organization.
Why is this kind of support needed? Just last year, the Foundation for Black Communities, in partnership with Carleton University, did a research study. They found that only 7¢ of every charitable dollar in Canada goes to a Black-led and Black-governed organization. So we know that there's a significant gap. The philanthropic sector is huge. Canadians are sitting on a wealth of money, billions of dollars, and yet that money is not trickling down to our community. Government resources are really key to help us do things like build our organizational capacity and deliver services, because we're not getting the same kind of support from corporations or the philanthropic sector's major donors. I just went through a $10-million capital campaign, and I can assure you of that.
The other consideration is that at the municipal level and the provincial level, we know that the existing funding programs are quite focused on service delivery and staffing that directly supports service delivery. So core roles, core staffing roles.... I've had an operations manager just for the past year. She's been leading a lot of these strategic initiatives that help us to deliver our services more effectively and efficiently and prepare, as I mentioned, for the transformation that we're going through. But not many grassroots Black-led organizations have an operations manager. The challenge we face is that the existing funding landscape doesn't support the kind of keep-the-lights-on resources that are needed to ensure that there's a charitable landscape that's supporting the Black community across the country and that has the resources to do so.
As the federal government is looking to address anti-Black racism, address the proliferation of hate in our communities, and integrate immigrant communities across the country, there needs to be a strong network of charitable organizations supporting this work, particularly for the Black community. You have so far planted a number of seeds through the SBCCI program. We need to ensure that those seeds are able to grow and flourish, and that these organizations are able to continue doing this important work.
I have two suggestions on building the program as you look to implement the final couple of years of funding. One is to steer away from this project-based funding. A lot of smaller organizations don't have core funding support through their existing funding structures, so project support for six months to do this kind of work becomes really difficult. A number of staff are wearing multiple hats. They're doing service delivery. They're addressing all these issues that have come up through the pandemic. We're seeing increased focus and requests, as my colleague mentioned, for Black-led organizations. They don't have the staffing support to actually do this work.
The second thing I would mention is that there needs to be more support for core staffing and operational resources. That's because of the gaps at the other two levels of government, as well as what I mentioned around the need for that for particularly Black-led organizations.
As you look at redesigning and restructuring the SBCCI program for the coming fiscal years, I think it's really important that you think about long-term support for Black-led organizations and more unrestricted funding.
Thank you so much.
View Robert Morrissey Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Robert Morrissey Profile
2022-09-28 17:17
Thank you, Madam Hall.
Before we begin our six-minute round of questioning, I will remind you that I'll advise you when you have 10 seconds left. This is to ensure fairness. We want to get to as many committee members as possible.
Madam Kusie, you may begin. You have six minutes.
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.
Madam Hall, you did an excellent job articulating the benefits of the program for your organization, as well as the shortfalls. Thank you very much for that.
With that, I will go to Mr. Ihama.
I was wondering, Mr. Ihama, if anyone you know has applied for the supporting Black Canadian communities initiative fund. If so, perhaps you could talk about it. Have you yourself applied, or do you know anyone in your community who has applied for this fund?
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
View Nosakhare Alex Ihama Profile
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
2022-09-28 17:18
No, we have not applied, but we know people who.... I don't think they've applied, but they have discussed it and were thinking about applying. However, I can't confirm whether they did or not.
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
You stated, in your opening comments, many of the barriers your community faces, but I'd like you to expand on that, please.
What would you say is the most significant holdback or barrier to Black-led organizations applying for federal funding, in general, if you had to name one particular thing?
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
View Nosakhare Alex Ihama Profile
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
2022-09-28 17:18
I find that it's the enabling environment, and I know many organizations, like the BBPA and others, are working on this.
There is an area called Eglinton. Some of you may know it. I know a lot of business owners in that particular area, and I drive there every now and then, especially when I go to the Jamaican consulate there. The environment itself is not enabling the businesses to thrive. I mentioned my friend who had three pharmacies. He has passed on now. I see our friends who have put so much effort into this. Yes, there may be funding to support it, but if the communities themselves are not committed to patronizing your business, it's not going to go anywhere, no matter how much funding you have.
If you want an action item, topic or theme, it's the enabling environment. It's one thing to have the funding, the confidence and all the supports. Again, if somebody is not knocking on your door, then the business is going to struggle and eventually close. We know businesses like that. We're doing a lot on our end, but we want to see the government.... Yes, the funding is there. The money itself doesn't enable the environment. You could give me a million dollars, but if the people in my area of Mississauga don't patronize me because they don't have the awareness that I'm not dangerous or whatever they are struggling with, then the business will shut down and similar businesses will shut down.
I used to live in Malton—shut down. I used to live in other areas—shut down. Like I said, I apply for credit, with the same credit worthiness.... I have a friend at TD Bank who said, “Use an address in Royal York. Watch.” I did, and I got it. It's the same credit. I just used a different address. We tested it. It was a test.
The enabling environment, the systems, the policies—these things were built way back and nobody has ever talked about the actual systems. By “systems”, I'm talking about the technology used. I worked in a bank. I worked for the Royal Bank, CIBC and BMO, so I know them. I know those systems are still in there.
It's an enabling environment.
I don't know if that answered your question.
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
Expanding upon this enabling environment you're referring to, what more do you think the federal government should be doing to support entrepreneurship in Black Canadian communities?
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
View Nosakhare Alex Ihama Profile
Nosakhare Alex Ihama
2022-09-28 17:21
Number one is education. Restricting Black education to February is an injustice, as Martin Luther King would say, injustice anywhere. Number one is education. The fact that for far too long we're still keeping it to February, I think, frankly, we should be ashamed of. It's the same for indigenous people. That's number one.
Number two is that we need to look at the systems and the policy both in the judiciary and in finance. Nobody's holding the bank.... I know the banks. I know them well. I know some of the leaders who are there. Why would a system that applies credit give you credit because you have a different postal address? It's the same credit, the same. We've tested it, and we can test it again and again. That's number two.
Number one is education. We need to take that beyond workshops and conferences and put it into classrooms. We need to put that into classrooms. People have the option to take it to their homes or not, but at least put it into the classroom.
On number two, organizations like banks and insurance companies should be held accountable in some way, shape or form to ensure that the systemic barriers they have.... It's one thing for CIBC to say that they just donated $10 million to the Black community, yet, if a Black Canadian applies for a credit card, he gets nothing, and if he goes to his cousin's house to apply using his address, he gets it. That's still going on, so there are deeper issues there.
Then, of course, we look at the policies of protecting Black businesses. We all know that one with regard to the law and justice.
I could go on, but education is number one. We are here today because of miseducation. Let's be very clear. There are still books on Amazon that say Blacks are from apes. There are books that say indigenous people are savages. There are university professors who still hold those views.
We are here because 11 generations were miseducated. We don't expect one generation to be educated or catch up, but what we do expect is, as they plan to educate the next 11 generations, at some point in time—hopefully it's not 11 but maybe two or three generations—we can truly live in peace, as Martin Luther King said, in a world where little Black boys and little white girls have no issues playing together and their parents have no issues either.
View Robert Morrissey Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Robert Morrissey Profile
2022-09-28 17:23
Thank you, Mr. Ihama. That concludes the time.
Now we go to Mr. Coteau for six minutes.
View Michael Coteau Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to start by saying thank you to our witnesses for being here today. You know, we're here as a committee to look at this initiative, to find out what's working, where we can make improvements and to tap into your expertise, and I just want to say thank you to both of you for the work you're doing to advance many issues that relate back to the Black community and the general public as a whole.
I'd like to talk about Nia, the organization that Ms. Hall represents. I want to take a minute to share some information with this committee. That organization started almost 15 years ago, I believe. The Youth Challenge Fund in Ontario was set up by Dalton McGuinty and Pinball Clemons in 2006 with an allocated amount of money and involved 33 Black-led organizations. Of those organizations, I believe only three exist today. Nia Centre for the Arts is one of those organizations in Toronto. It's one of the few Black spaces for the arts, if not the only one, in the entire province, if not the country.
One of the things that came out of the Youth Challenge Fund was the fact that, if organizations don't have the ability to build capacity, if organizations don't have resources to build better governance and to put in place better board structures, the basic backbones that are required for organizations to do well, they often fail.
I just want to acknowledge the work that the Nia Centre has done to survive over the last 15 or 16 years by going in all different directions, provincial and municipal, and by working with partners and anyone they could find to survive, and they're here now providing us with advice to build public policy. To me, that is capacity building, and that's one of the intentions of this initiative. You know, one of them is to contribute, to build capacity, to contribute to better public policy building, so I just want to say thank you for the work that you're doing and the work you continue to do.
Ms. Hall, I have a question to ask you.
From your perspective, why is it important to have Black-led organizations participate in the decision-making on how funding flows to organizations that service and provide support to Black communities?
Alica Hall
View Alica Hall Profile
Alica Hall
2022-09-28 17:26
Thank you so much, Mr. Coteau, for the kind words and the question.
Having Black-led organizations.... I think we more recently landed on the language of B3 organizations—Black-led, Black-governed and Black serving—as an important way to categorize the organizations that I consider to be our peers in this network.
My other colleague here, Alex, also mentioned an important point: there have been previous rounds of funding that have been allocated or designated for anti-racism initiatives or initiatives that are focused on supporting Black communities, but those funds haven't actually gone to Black-led organizations.
I have gotten many a call over the years from other organizations saying, “Hey, there's a grant due tomorrow. Do you want to partner on it?” Really what they mean is that they can write an application where they receive funds, but we're listed as a partner, so they then leverage our work and our name in order to put forward an application that goes forward for adjudication amongst, if it's federal employees, who aren't as familiar with our communities and who aren't as familiar with the organizations that are actually doing the work on the ground, that have the connections to communities, that understand the issues that our communities are facing and that are doing this work.... What happens is that those well-meaning employees or committee members look at the grants and look at organizations that they're familiar with, which oftentimes can be national organizations, organizations that have been around for a very long time but don't actually serve our community or have connections to our community.
That's why it's really important that there are Black Canadians in the committee processes or the adjudication processes to review these grants, because they're more likely to be (a) familiar with the organizations who are doing this work, and (b) able to scrutinize the ways in which organizations are proposing that they design programs, that they conduct outreach, that they assess their impacts in ways that are reflective of our community's capacity and needs.
It's really important that the community be part of this process. As Mr. Coteau mentioned, the Youth Challenge Fund was a really strong example of a Black-led funding body actually allocating resources, which really led to a funding approach that was collaborative, that was focused on, at the time, young people, and that was focused on systemic change.
Alica Hall
View Alica Hall Profile
Alica Hall
2022-09-28 17:29
I actually was lucky to be one of the staff. I was a young intern at the Youth Challenge Fund some 15 years ago, so I feel really honoured to have started my career at that organization, to have seen how it best functions, and now to be realizing this important project for our country. But, yes—
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