2015 ACLA Year End Message

As 2015 comes to an end, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance would like to take this moment to reflect on the work that was undertaken over the last twelve months. 2015 can be summed by the following words: sadness, anger, outrage, hope and resilience.

Earlier this year, ACLA was saddened by the passing of our beloved treasurer, Gloria David. Gloria was active with ACLA since its founding. Sister David was dedicated to her work both in ACLA and within her union. Gloria will be missed by all.

Globally, labour activists reacted with anger to the ongoing wars and occupations that lead to the largest mass migration since the Second World War. As labour activists it is critically important that we continue to call on our government to end our involvement in the killings of innocent civilians across the Middle East. Additionally, we should urge our unions to not participate in the war economy.

Canadians responded with open hearts to the Syrian refugee crisis; a testament of our desire to show solidarity with oppressed peoples. However, we need to expand our support for other displaced communities across the globe. We cannot reinforce that some refugee communities are more deserving than others.
2015 saw the mass deportation of tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers from Canada. Receiving scant media attention, these migrants have falsely been painted as the enemy of Canadian workers.

Non-Aboriginal communities were once again reminded of the historical injustices that have been committed against our Aboriginal sisters and brothers. Whether it was the recent announcement of the public inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women or the commission into residential schools, Canada has engaged in an ongoing process of genocide against First Nation communities. Our work towards justice must include efforts to end the apartheid like conditions that Aboriginal communities are subjected to. In 2015, it is inexcusable that many Aboriginal communities are denied access to clean water, electricity and decent housing.

Across the continent, mass mobilization against racism and police violence against the Black community continues. ACLA stands in solidarity against the systemic assault on racialized and Aboriginal communities.

In Ontario, community and labour activists continue to call on the province to increase the minimum wage to $15 dollars. Ontario joins in solidarity with campaigns across the continent where low wage workers are fighting back to demand decency at work. We hope that the current review panel on Employment Standards hears these voices loud and clear that no worker should be forced to live in poverty.

Finally, labour activists played an instrumental role in ousting the Harper regime from 10 years of anti-feminist, anti-worker and anti-immigrant policies. The on-the-ground work of ordinary people who were sick and tired of divisive and hateful policies mobilized to demand change. This same hope for a better future must be balanced with a continued resilience to continue to fight back against austerity measures and trade policies such as the Trans Pacific Partnership which would negatively impact the lives of future generations.

Against this backdrop, ACLA has spent the year working on and additionally supporting various campaigns and causes. Some highlights include:

  • Worked to draw greater attention to anti-Asian racism at the University of New Brunswick through the Racism Free UNB Campaign.
  • Talking Radical Radio interviews ACLA, featured on Rabble.ca, April 15, 2015
  • ACLA spoke at the City of Hamilton’s Road to Justice exhibit and educational workshop, April 24, 2015
  • ACLA spoke at the annual ceremony in commemoration of Chinese Railroad Workers, July 1, 2015
  • Participated in the film screening of Delano Manongs, documenting Filipino workers in the United Farm Workers in California, July 21, 2015
  • ACLA members work on various campaigns during the federal election to remove Conservatives from government.
  • Panel discussion, Canada China Labour Forum on Decent Work & Labour Rights at Ryerson University, November 17 & 18, 2015
  • Panel discussion, Take Back Labour, OFL Panel, November 23, 2015
  • Took part in International Migrant Day candlelight vigil and Migrant Day Celebration, December 18, 2015

Thank you to all our ACLA members and allies for your ongoing work and support.  A special thank you to ACLA member, Pura Velasco, who retired last month for her dedication and tenacity fighting for migrant justice, particularly for the rights of live-in caregivers. We are looking forward to 2016.  See you all in the New Year!

Gloria

In memory of Gloria David

Love, peace and solidarity,

Asian Canadian Labour Alliance

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OUR TIMES: Out of the Workplace, into Community by Jennifer Huang

http://ourtimes.ca/Talking/article_438.php

Chinese Workers Network event

I recently read an article by Justin Kong entitled “The New Chinese Working Class and the Canadian Left” that reinvigorated a passion of mine — organizing immigrant workers.

As a child-immigrant myself, I grew up in Toronto and witnessed the incredible extensiveness of Toronto’s ethnic enclaves and the many immigrant communities that live and thrive here.

While my experiences and reflections as a Chinese-Canadian might be similar to those of other immigrant communities (and might translate into strategies for other groups), here I’ll focus on how we should be organizing for a political left in Chinese communities, because as Kong puts it, “the conditions for an immigrant left is ripe in the Chinese community.”

SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY
Kong believes that the defeat of the NDP in the 2015 federal election reveals an urgent need for those in the Canadian left to adjust their strategy, which should include supporting the development and building of “progressive, grassroots immigrant power.”

He notes that there is an opportunity to be seized right now within the Chinese diaspora, particularly with immigrants from China who have undergone the Communist Revolution, and have core understandings of class, capitalism and exploitation.

This understanding, coupled with the precariousness of work that Chinese workers find themselves dealing with in Canada, make the conditions ripe for organizing a political left. Kong states that “supporting and building the emerging immigrant left is to reverse the decades of decline of the Canadian left.” He poses that the hard part is now figuring out how we accomplish this goal.

Naturally, you can understand my excitement when I read Kong’s article, as I have just spent the last four years working as an organizer with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, trying to do exactly that — organize Chinese union workers.

Yes, you read that correctly — I wasn’t organizing Chinese workers into unions; rather I was organizing “the already organized.”

Much like Kong observes, I also noticed that for the most part, the Chinese community was — and is — very much unengaged with the Canadian left. Looking around, I could see that there were in fact many Chinese-Canadians who were union members, but that affiliation, for them, was invisible: they did not self-identify as union members.

My goal therefore was to develop trade-union consciousness among Chinese union members and foster a sense of trade-union pride. Without resources to go out into the community to do mass mobilizing, this was the easiest and least resource-intensive route (but I shall explain my vision of labour-community organizing later).

By working with our union affiliates to identify existing Chinese union members, we developed community ambassadors who could then reach out into the Chinese community and work to give unions a good reputation.

BUILDING TRADE-UNION CONSCIOUSNESS
At the labour council, we developed the Chinese Workers’ Network (which has now also spurred the creation of a Filipino Workers’ Network, Tamil Workers’ Network and Somali Workers’ Network) by first asking local unions to identify Chinese union members from within their ranks.

We invited these members to Chinese-language events where we did education work about the importance of unions, demystified union structures and explained how members could get involved.

We also celebrated the many gains that the labour movement has achieved for Canada (debunking the myth that Canada is a naturally benevolent country with good social programs that no one really had to struggle for). Of course, these events were usually paired with good food as an incentive for folks to attend.

Faced with the hostility of Chinese media towards labour unions, we also partnered with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario to do media training for Chinese union members — so that if and when a union member speaks to Chinese media, they are properly trained to speak from a worker’s perspective, and can help combat the vitriolic reporting of labour disputes by the Chinese press.

We started out with one or two handfuls of self-identified Chinese union members in 2011. Last I checked, we had over 500 Chinese union members.

We developed a translation committee who would translate articles about workers’ struggles into Chinese, and who would then put these up on our website, chineselabour.ca, along with other valuable resources including information on workers’ rights, the Employment Standards Act, and how to organize a union.

Even with the limited resources we had to dedicate towards this initiative, we’ve had tremendous success. Perhaps the best example of this success was when one group of Chinese workers from an Etobicoke warehouse contacted us to help them organize a union. After we connected them with a union that was appropriate for their industry, 100 per cent of the workers voted for a union.

But in listening to this group of workers’ stories about their employer’s outrageous abuse and violation of even the most basic human rights, I knew that our organizing efforts — to organize Chinese workers into unions and to develop a political left to counter the right-wing segments within — were not enough.

ENGAGING NEW IMMIGRANT WORKERS
What we began at the labour council was only one prong of what needs to be a two-pronged approach. We can begin with internally mobilizing our own union members, but we need to continue this mobilizing externally — into the community — which is the second prong.

This is not about going into non-unionized workplaces and getting workers to join a union; it’s about going into spaces outside of workplaces: community spaces and sites of recreation and leisure where people are already organized into faith groups and community associations, for example.

Labour needs to move beyond a workplace-to-workplace approach in organizing workers into unions. We need to develop a community model, go where workers are already congregating, and begin with unobtrusive workshops in the workers’ first language.

Within these safe spaces, initially providing workshops around “neutral” subjects allows us to sow the seeds of working-class consciousness throughout our education. A community-organizing approach such as this recognizes that all members of society are contributing members/workers, and that when one worker joins a union — whichever union that may be — the entire labour movement benefits.

Let me elaborate on how I envision this community model working. While I was working as an adult-literacy instructor at the Labour Education Centre, some of my female students found part-time work as Community Health Ambassadors in nearby Flemingdon Park.

These students were specifically recruited because their first language was not English. While they were trained in English to deliver health-related topics, they were expected to organize members in their own communities (using their own social networks) and deliver these workshops to them in their mother tongues.

Despite these women being paid only minimum wage to recruit, organize and deliver these workshops, the simple fact that they could use their own social networks to find 20 people to attend, and be compensated to talk about something that interested them, made it a wondrous experience for them.

As I was witnessing just how effective this model was, I began wondering: why couldn’t unions adopt a similar community approach with new immigrant workers? What if organized labour pooled their resources together and developed community ambassadors who could use their own social ties and affiliations to set up workshops in languages other than English or French?

These workshops would benefit not only the worker learning about her rights under the Employment Standards Act, but could also offer an array of tips to unions about where organizing efforts should be focused. And, even if she were unemployed at the time of the workshop, the participating worker might organize some future workplace.

Many unions might see this non-workplace community-organizing model as a tremendous waste of resources because there is no immediate tangible gain — no immediate dues-paying member.

But I would argue that you’re sowing the seeds and ripening the fields for the next generation of workers. And, crucially for the movement, you are responding to a much-changed work landscape by tackling precarity head-on and navigating unions into a position of strength in the face of it.

In the 21st century, if the Canadian labour movement is to survive and actually grow, organizing efforts should focus on a community model rather than a workplace approach. All national unions — both public and private — should provide resources to a central labour body to administer this community model of organizing at the local level. And labour councils should be actively involved in this work at the local level.

Central labour bodies need to take a hard look to see which non-English speaking communities make up the largest demographic in each region, and recognize not all communities of colour are new (or even recent) immigrants; many have been in Canada for a long time.

COMBATING THE POLITICS OF ENVY
It benefits all affiliates when one worker signs a union card and decides to join a union. And it benefits all working people — whether we work in the private sector or the public sector. Both private and public sector unions have a stake in increasing our union density beyond the 33 per cent mark.

For too long, corporate elites and right-wing politicians have used the politics of envy to devise strategies to split the working class. Working-class people are inundated almost daily about how public-sector workers have it too good: high salaries, “gold-plated” pensions, benefits, vacation days and sick leave.

Public-sector workers are frequently on the defensive about why they’re taking job action for a better contract even as broad public support ebbs away.

I know that many in the Chinese community were particularly incensed when teachers carried out their recent job actions. For many in the community, especially for those who are unemployed, any job is a good job. They would be only too happy to switch places with a public-sector worker.

It benefits public-sector workers whenever a private-sector worker decides to join a union. Because now, that private-sector worker has the means to fight for better job protection and all the other benefits that come from having a union.

It also prevents the political right from using the politics of envy to divide workers. It will only help, if public-sector unions recognize this inherent self-interest in helping private-sector workers to unionize.

In the community organizing model that I am proposing, all unions should be dedicating resources to develop a political left within immigrant communities — and towards the goal of organizing workers into unions.

ORGANIZING CHINESE IMMIGRANT WORKERS
There is a good opportunity right now to organize a left among Chinese immigrant workers, but we need leadership and more resources from all parts of organized labour to do this.

I have been told over the last few years that labour simply doesn’t have the resources to expend in the community to win in this public-relations war — that we have the more important work of engaging our own members.

I don’t disagree that there is more work to do in engaging and mobilizing our own members. But this is only one side of the coin. The flip side — if we are to expand as a movement and build a broader base — is to go out and organize. Our members are as much members of our unions as they are members of their own communities.

It saddens me when I see the numbers of immigrant workers, who are underpaid and undervalued, working precariously within the Chinese ethnic enclave. (This is true not just for the Chinese, but also for other ethnic groups).

Workers in the Chinese diaspora often feel that they have no choice but to accept their working conditions; otherwise they face unemployment or are forced into self-employment. They feel that they lack the language skills to find work in the Canadian mainstream, and to seek help to remedy their situation.

SUSTAINING A WELCOMING SPACE
It is precisely because workers find themselves in these situations of precariousness that we in the labour movement have an opportunity to engage them. In fact, to not do so is to our detriment. Our prolonged absence in any form of sustained engagement with the Chinese immigrant working class has already begun to bolster the ranks of the political right.

This vacuum is now slowly being filled with the Tories, who, with Jason Kenney at the helm, have done a wonderful job of convincing Chinese-Canadians that the Tories are watching out for their best interests.

Kong puts it best: “If we look throughout Canada’s history, we will see that incorporating immigrant workers has been central to the power of organized labour and the Canadian left. However, that this incorporation has often excluded immigrant workers who are not white men has always been an overarching, strategic misstep.”

I, too, believe that the conditions of developing a political left within the Chinese diaspora are within reach, but this requires continuous efforts to outreach, and engage workers, into our movement.

A labour movement that is inclusive needs to create — and sustain — a welcoming space for all workers regardless of language, race, religion or accent. My conversation here is only a means to continue the discussion of how we might engage Chinese immigrant workers — but hopefully more broadly, all immigrant workers.

Jennifer Huang immigrated to Canada with her parents from Hong Kong at a very young age. Growing up in Scarborough, she had to take ESL classes for many years. As a member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, she worked as an Organizer at the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, where she led different municipal campaigns and spearheaded the Chinese Workers’ Network(CWN). The success of the CWN has now spurred the creation of the Filipino Workers’ Network, Tamil Workers’ Network and Somali Workers’ Network. Jennifer is currently at Unifor.

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Special Recognition Award in memory of Gloria David

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” 100 Years of Loss” The Residential School System in Canada

100 Years of Loss Poster

 

 

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Save OMNI Campaign

#SaveOMNI Petition

On May 7, 2015, during Asian Heritage Month, Rogers Communications Inc. (Rogers) announced the elimination of all newscasts on its OMNI TV Stations. This decision was made without consultation of community members and leaders, who have watched and benefitted from OMNI TV for decades. Rogers has abandoned the spirit of OMNI TV’s license by eliminating local Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, and Italian news programming and systematically dismantling OMNI’s ability to meaningfully serve multilingual audiences. In doing so, Rogers has declared that Canada’s ethnocultural communities are unworthy of accessible, representative, meaningful news broadcasting. As in 2013, Rogers eliminated Portuguese news, South Asian news, and Diversity Programming (cutting 21 shows broadcast in 12 languages)*.

 
As concerned Canadians and community members, we ask the CRTC to review Rogers Communications Inc.’s breach of the mandate of Canada’s Broadcasting Act via their decision to eliminate all OMNI TV ethno-specific, multilingual newscasts.

Please see the attached open letter to the CRTC: http://urbanalliance.ca/2015/05/26/rogers-communications-inc-et-al-and-omni-tv-an-open-letter-from-concerned-canadians/

Here’s how you can help!

  1. Call your MP and MPP. Tell them to press Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to convene an immediate hearing to review OMNI’s licence.
  2. Spread the word to friends and family, by circulating this email, and share it on social media like Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #SaveOMNI
  3. Tweet, blog, and sign the petition on change.org

 

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ACLA Member, Winnie Ng Receives Pioneers of Change Award

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http://sharenews.com/peter-sloly-among-recipients-of-pioneers-for-change-awards/

Migrating for a better future for their children, parents make huge personal sacrifices that sometimes take decades for them to recover.

When Toronto Police Services deputy chief Peter Sloly’s parents made the decision to leave Jamaica in 1976, they were successful professionals. Bringing their three boys to Toronto, however, came at a price as they had to give up a lot.

“I watched my mother (she was a social worker) for the better part of a decade struggle with depression about leaving her home, family, friends and career,” said Sloly, who is one of six recipients of this year’s Pioneers for Change (formerly New Pioneer) Awards. “Although she was bringing her kids for a better life, she was losing the best part of her life. My father left Jamaica as a lawyer with over a decade and a half experience as a partner in a major law firm in Kingston to arrive here, in another Commonwealth country, and find that his law degree was not accepted.

“Having arrived with a young family and a limited amount of liquid assets to keep us going, he was told he had to go back to complete his exams and then article again. That was not financially feasible. It was a huge loss in terms of his human capital and it took nearly two decades for him to reach back to a relative level of accomplishment.”

In his acceptance speech after being formally presented as a 2015 award winner, Sloly said more has to be done to capitalize on skilled foreign workers and expedite their entry into Canada for jobs that aren’t being filled by people already in Canada.

“We have an incredibly underemployed and underutilized group of workers driving taxis and doing menial jobs,” he said. “It’s amazing. We have communities that need capacity building, experts, doctors and engineers and yet there seems to be this experience of coming, having being recruited in some cases, only to find out that the ability to actually get through those doors are limited.”

While his parents’ transition wasn’t as seamless as they would have hoped, Canada has been a big beneficiary of their son’s athletic and administrative talents.

Sloly represented Canada in soccer at the junior and senior levels and when an injury cut short his playing career, he turned to policing and made the leap from beat constable to deputy chief in just 21 years.

The senior police officer is being recognized in the Excellence in Community Engagement category. He was the executive sponsor of the Police & Community Engagement Review (PACER) undertaken to re-evaluate the way in which law enforcement engages with the community. “One of the things that bind us together as recipients is courage to try to make difficult changes in a complex society like Canada,” said Sloly. “I believe that policing is at a crossroads. I believe we need courage and we need change and I will continue to do my very best within the policing context to provide that courage and make that change.”

Storyteller and businesswoman, Itah Sadu, is being honoured in the Excellence in Entrepreneurship category.

She and her husband, Miguel San Vicente, took ownership of A Different Booklist 19 years ago from Dr. Wesley Crichlow, a tenured associate professor who sold academic books that appealed to his Caribbean-Canadian gay and lesbian studies.

Sadu was unable to attend last week’s reception as she was at York University celebrating with graduating high school students. Three years ago, she conceived the idea for a one-kilometre walk that started at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute and concluded at York University with a celebration that included the presentation of medals, dancing, drumming and singing.

Other Pioneers for Change Award winners are Sri Lanka-born writer, Shyam Selvadurai; South Asian Autism Awareness Centre founding executive director, Geetha Moorthy; website editor, Gerard Keledijan; and educator and activist, Dr. Winnie Ng.

Skills for Change administer the awards that have been bestowed on 121 immigrants since 1993.

“Pioneers for Change represent the vision of a diverse and inclusive Canada,” said Skills for Change executive director, Surranna Sandy. “It is an ongoing commitment to identify the achievements of immigrants as well as breaking down barriers so that newcomers not only succeed, but thrive. Pioneers for Change are nation builders, incredible people who have made a significant and lasting contribution to Canada. As nation builders, they inspire newcomers to work towards their own success and follow their vision. They are exemplary citizens who have an immigrant story to tell.”

This year’s awards ceremony takes place on June 11 at St. James Cathedral Centre, starting at 6 p.m.

Proceeds accrued from the fundraiser will go towards programming for immigrant women and young people and help to launch the centre’s immigrant women breast cancer awareness program.

“This exciting new initiative will build on relationships between and across women to increase newcomer women’s knowledge of female-specific health issues and provide women with the tools they need to ensure that they become capable of conducting breast self-examinations and seek available medical treatment,” said Sandy.

Previous winners include Toronto Police Service Board chair, Alok Mukherjee; artistic director and choreographer, Patrick Parson; former City of Toronto diversity management manager, Ceta Ramkhalawansingh and educators, Vernon Farrell and Dr. Carl James.

by RON FANFAIR

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ACLA participants in City of Hamilton’s Road to Justice Exhibit and Educational

The City of Hamilton is currently displaying a special exhibit entitled “Road to Justice” which highlights the legal struggle for equal rights for Chinese Canadians.  The exhibit, curated by the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, has been on display since the beginning of April.  To draw attention to this important piece of work, the city’s Access and Equity Office organized an educational workshop on April 24, 2015 that was attended by local community members and schools.  ACLA was invited to participate in the event and presented on the topic of social activism within the Chinese community.

In recognition of Asian Awareness Month which is celebrated every year in May, we would like to share with you a piece of Asian Canadian history.  Jennifer Mak talks about the exhibit and the important contribution Chinese Canadians have made.

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The “Road to Justice” exhibit is a great opportunity to learn about the legislated racism that people of Chinese descent have experienced in Canada. Essentially, legislated racism is racism that is legal based on laws passed by the government.

History includes all events, both good and bad, many of which are interconnected. Take for instance the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).  The building of this railway system in the late 1800s is a great moment in our history, as it connected Canada from coast-to-coast.

However, while Chinese workers played an important role in the construction of the CPR, the racism they faced represents a not-so-great aspect of our history.  Due to a shortage of workers in B.C., Chinese workers were brought in from China to help with the construction of the CPR and sent back to China after the railway was completed.

It is important to understand that the past has not necessarily ‘passed’ in that the consequences of some historical events have played a part in shaping the present-day realities of some communities.  As such, there is a connection between the past and the present, and this connection may have an impact on the future.

Furthermore, some practices, laws, and systems continue today, appearing in slightly different forms.  For instance, you may have heard about Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which recruits workers from other countries to fill work shortages; once workers’ employment contracts are over, they must return to their home countries. One could say that the Chinese workers, who helped build the CPR, were one of the first temporary foreign workers in Canada.

Racism, in its many different shapes and forms, is not a thing of the past.  This is why we must continue to discuss, address, and stand-up against racism, both individually and together as a community.

Canada is made up of multiple communities with multiple histories.  However, the histories, struggles, achievements, and contributions of some groups, e.g. Aboriginal peoples and communities of color or racialized communities, are often sidelined, selectively represented, or misrepresented.

It is therefore difficult to understand how Canada became what it is today without understanding the histories and contexts of all communities. Moreover, this isn’t just Chinese history, it’s everyone’s history.  It is Canadian history.

62 years of legislated racism  Road to justice pic with Jen Mak who belongs

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ACLA on Talking Radical Radio

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Pro-Worker, Anti-Racist: The Asian Canadian Labour Alliance
By Scott Neigh
http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/talking-radical-radio/2015/04/pro-worker-anti-racist-asian-canadian-labour-alliance

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Anna Liu and Patricia Chong. They are both long-time labour activists and members of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance (ACLA), a network of Asian-Canadian labour and community activists with chapters in Ontario and British Columbia.

It’s a well-worn labour movement slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” It’s an expression of unity, of solidarity, of shared burden. But of course the labour movement is constituted by human beings, and it is not separate from our broader social world that is so painfully riven with oppressions, marginalizations, and exclusions, so sometimes that slogan of determined unity is more aspirational than actual, or is at least incomplete in its realization — some injuries get treated as less important or nonexistent, and some people are excluded from or marginalized within the “all.” To name just one axis along which this sometimes occurs, though decades of anti-racist struggle within and beyond the labour movement have won important victories to reduce barriers, there is still the need for further work to ensure that racialized workers and the issues of racialized communities are at the centre of labour’s agenda.

In one instance of how this work has been and continues to be pushed forward, a handful of Asian-Canadian trade union activists in the late 1990s decided that they needed to create a more formal network bringing together worker-activists of East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, and West Asian heritage as a way to push for a more thorough-going realization of that slogan in a number of different senses. And still today, ACLA works to strengthen an Asian-Canadian labour identity and labour presence in Asian communities; to raise the profile of Asian-Canadian labour issues; to fight for social, economic, and political justice for all; to foster Asian-Canadians in leadership roles in the labour movement and in the broader society; and to challenge racism in the labour movement. Anna Liu and Patricia Chong talk with me about the origins of the group and about the important pro-worker and anti-racist work that it does within the labour movement and in the broader community.

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Globe and Mail: Op-Ed by Avvy Go, Dora Nipp and Winnie Ng in Response to UNB Professor

What This UNB Professor Practices Is Intolerance, Not sociology
By Avvy go, Dora Nipp and Winnie Ng

Ricardo Duchesne’s intolerant statements will run the risk of inciting fear and resentment toward Canadians of Asian heritage by reinforcing stereotypes

Avvy Go is clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic; Dora Nipp is CEO of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario; and Winnie Ng is the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University.

Amid growing controversy over the published views of Professor Ricardo Duchesne, who has repeatedly argued that Asian-Canadians are harmful to the country, the University of New Brunswick is cowering behind academic freedom without adhering to its tenets. Mr. Duchesne spreads falsehoods about an entire community and in doing so betrays the standards of academia by engaging in racial caricature and perpetuating intolerance.

Mr. Duchesne’s writing has anti-Asian themes; most recently, he asserted that Asian immigration has “damaged Vancouver” and the speed of this migration has transformed Vancouver from a once “beautiful British city” to one of “Asian character.” Mr. Duchesne’s posts appear on a website he co-founded, which self-describes itself as a “group of public-minded individuals who believe the European heritage and character of Canada should be maintained and enhanced.” In a May, 2014, post he warned of a “re-imagining the history of Canada in such a way that white Europeans are portrayed as oppressors and non-whites as victims with the goal of taking Canada away from the Europeans and transforming the nation into multicultural and multiracial society.” Efforts by Asian- and African-Canadians to claim their rightful place in Canadian history are framed by Mr. Duchesne as “assaulting European civilization.”

In claiming this, Mr. Duchesne ignores the historical fact that the “founding” of Canada took place on the land of indigenous peoples, and that in the name of “preserving European civilization” systemic exclusion and colonial domination has been inflicted on the First Peoples. It is hard to avoid reading Mr. Duchesne’s notion of “European civilization” and “Britishness” as something resembling white supremacy.

It matters not to individuals like Mr. Duchesne that Chinese people first landed on Canada’s west coast in 1744, came to pan for gold in 1858, and in 1881 were brought to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. It appears immaterial to Mr. Duchesne that Chinese-Canadians have a longstanding presence in Canada. Similarly, South Asians have made Canada their home since the turn of the last century.

Despite their contributions, Chinese faced tremendous discrimination in Canada. As soon as the railroad was completed, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald imposed a head tax on all Chinese immigrants and denied them the right to vote. In the shadow of federal anti-Chinese legislation emerged provincial and municipal laws and regulations that had impacts on the social, economic and political life of the Chinese – including those born in Canada. These were carried out in the name of preserving the “European” character of Canada. Meanwhile, South Asian immigrants – who were part of the British Empire – did not fare well either, as their entrance was curtailed by the Continuous Passage Regulations in 1908.

Mr. Macdonald’s legacy, both good and bad, is now being examined as Canadians celebrate his 200th birthday. His supporters argue we should not apply today’s ethical standard to judging his racially discriminatory acts. If the first Prime Minister had time as his defence, what is Mr. Duchesne’s excuse? After all, it is 2015 and one expects a more enlightened populace today – one that includes all peoples and rejects the portrayal of Canada as one preserved for “Europeans” only.

Duchesne is a professor of history and sociology, but he has brought the academic profession into disrepute.

Mr. Duchesne’s intolerant statements will run the risk of inciting fear and resentment toward Canadians of Asian heritage by reinforcing stereotypes of the ethnic Chinese as perpetual foreigners. He glorifies scholarship and writing that fuels xenophobia and provides fodder for white supremacy. Mr. Duchesne is a unicultural ideologue. As an academic discipline, sociology is interested in examining the truths and motives behind cultural mythologies, not in perpetuating them. Duchesne’s rants are an apostasy to sociological thinking.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s Statement on Academic Freedom (2011) affirms that unlike the broader concept of freedom of speech, academic freedom must be based on institutional integrity, rigorous standards for enquiry and institutional autonomy. The Statement sets out the responsibilities of academic freedom, which include: evidence and truth must be the guiding principles; academic freedom should be exercised in a reasonable and responsible manner; faculty must be committed to the highest ethical standards in their teaching and research; faculty should examine data, question assumptions and be guided by evidence; and faculty and university leadership are obligated to ensure that students’ human rights are respected.

The purpose of academic freedom is to prevent a chill on the pursuit of knowledge and to safeguard diverse viewpoints. However, in Canada no right is absolute; in the case of academic freedom, this right starts to unravel when academics hide behind academic freedom to espouse untruths that actually inflict harm. If the staff and faculty of UNB are truly committed to academic freedom and academic excellence, they should join the Asian Canadian community in condemning racism in any form in Canada.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/what-this-unb-professor-practices-is-intolerance-not-sociology/article22573743/

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ACLA at the 2014 Chinese Railroad Workers Ceremony

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