Introduction

munitions workers (courtesy National Film Board of Canada and Library and Archives Canada/no. e000761869)
Image: World War II opened opportunities for work in defence industries for women, including Black women like these munitions workers. Once the war was over, however, jobs largely returned to white male veterans (courtesy National Film Board of Canada and Library and Archives Canada/no. e000761869).

Black immigrants from around the world have been attracted to Canada by the promise of freedom-to live, work, worship, study, maintain cultural traditions, and be involved in the daily activities of one's community. However, there were barriers to their participation that they did not create. The colour of their skin immediately indicated that they were enslaved people, or the descendants of enslaved people, and the negative attitudes of ordinary people as well as those in high office have affected how well Black people have been able to achieve the dream of equality and freedom, or equity.

While Canada did not have legal segregation, there were always "understandings" about which neighbourhoods Black people could live in, or where they could worship. Most professional organizations, sports, schools, unions, and trade associations would not admit Black people; stores would not hire them; restaurants, theatres, and skating rinks did not permit African-Canadians; and hotels would not rent rooms to African-Canadians no matter how famous they were. The 1850 law that created separate Catholic schools also facilitated the creation of separate Black schools; the last one closed in the 1960s. Are you free if your ambitions are unattainable because of restrictions placed on you by power holders (eg. landlords, teachers, employers, realtors, government officials) due only to the colour of your skin?

Human rights laws developed as a means of trying to ensure that social equity is upheld by employers, landlords, and institutions. They helped to create change through legislation since those who disobeyed the law could face stiff penalties.

Rosemary Sadlier