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Vicky Mochama: Much left unsaid during Trudeau's public reckoning with Black people

The government isn't the only one that is woefully behind though. At the event about Black people, press did not ask about Black people.

In a rare window of public reckoning with Black people in Canada, I could not believe all the things that were left unsaid, writes Vicky Mochama.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

In a rare window of public reckoning with Black people in Canada, I could not believe all the things that were left unsaid, writes Vicky Mochama.

While watching the prime minister’s announcement Tuesday that Canada would finally recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, I found myself agog.  

When I’m expecting to be disappointed, it’s rare that I’m also surprised.  

Frankly, the announcement went as expected. Which isn’t saying much.

Two days before the beginning of Black History Month, the prime minister surrounded himself with as many Black Canadians as he could to announce that yes, indeed, his government and its country would acknowledge an event already in progress.  

I expected and received profound nods about the over-representation of Black people in the carceral system and I checked “some version of ‘Your history is our history’” off my Platitudes To-Do list. (“Black history is Canadian history,” intoned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Check.)  

That’s not to say that the recognition is meaningless. If you believe in incremental change — I don’t — then the recognition was one more step in the right direction.  

Ultimately, it was good for what it was but it wasn’t all that. 

In December at the National Black Canadians Summit, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the prime minister intended to formalize the recognition shortly. Nonetheless, the Liberal government has been in office since the UN initiative began in 2015. They’re three years late and it shows.

It shows in a lack of action by Hussen on the case of Abdoul Abdi, a young Black Somali man who faces deportation to a country he has never known, because, like far too many Black kids, he experienced the ravages of the child welfare system. (Asked to respond, his department has continually cited privacy issues.)  

But the government isn’t the only one that is woefully behind.  

After the prime minister’s statement, the press were given time to ask questions. Some of the questions were related to a rumour consuming the political establishment and one was about former politicians taking advantage of pot legalization. Not a single question was about Black people. 

At the event about Black people, no one asked about Black people. 

Given a chance to directly press the first prime minister to use the words “anti-Black racism” on his intentions and commitment, several of the nation’s journalists absconded their basic responsibility to the public.  

The press gallery’s searing whiteness allowed a government to escape public accountability. 

“This is Exhibit A of why we need Black journalists on the Hill,” anti-racism activist Mojdeh Cox told me afterwards.  

“What the journalists did was hijack the conversation and deterred it from being on topic,” added Cox, who is not Black, and attended the announcement as part her job at the Canadian Labour Congress. 

In a rare window of public reckoning with Black people in Canada, I could not believe all the things that were left unsaid. I did not think the prime minister would say “Black Lives Matter,” but I did not foresee that the nation’s press would behave as if Black lives do actually not matter.

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