OTTAWA — Seven senators have announced the launch of the African Canadian Senate Group, created to ensure Black voices are heard in the upper chamber.
The coalition is chaired by Sen. Rosemary Moodie, and includes senators Wanda Thomas Bernard, Bernadette Clement, Amina Gerba, Mobina Jaffer, Marie-Françoise Mégie and Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia.
It is a multi-group coalition, comprising members from both the Independent Senators Group and the Progressive Senate Group.
The group said in a statement Thursday it is devoted to fighting racism and discrimination, and engaging with Canadians while advocating for their priorities.
“For too long, our voices, contributions and priorities have been ignored by our democratic institutions," Moodie said. "As senators of African descent, we are committed to reversing this trend by working together."
Jaffer said it is important for African Canadian senators to have this space in an institution with a history of not always considering the unique needs and lived experiences of Black people in Canada.
The group's priorities for Canada's 44th Parliament will include seeking a "more inclusive committee process" in the Senate, and working together with community members for progress on issues of "justice, health and economic fairness."
Asked why the group has been formed at this particular moment, Clement said, "Because we're energized right now," adding that the beginning of a new session is a good time to let people know the group wants to hear from them.
Bernard said while the group has formally announced its presence to Canadians, members have been working together for years.
"The fact that there are seven of us who are working together who are committed to moving forward with issues of significance to people of African descent in this country, that's huge. And we're doing it in non-partisan ways."
Moodie said the group has an opportunity to raise the voices of African Canadians in the Senate's work, such as calling on Black witnesses for relevant studies and bills. "We saw that there is a bit of an imbalance in terms of the representation of African Canadians within the committee process."
A priority for the group will be pressing for detailed data on communities in examining bills, she said. "The fact is that we really can't understand or measure the impact of the policies that we are putting in place and how they affect African Canadians without looking at this data."
The group will also be supporting the work of other senators, said Bernard, as with Sen. Kim Pate's private member's bill to reform the pardon process by having most criminal records automatically expire when a person has no subsequent charges or convictions.
"We will be quite actively involved and engaged in that work because the issue of record expiry has significant impacts on Canadians of African descent who have been through the criminal justice system," Bernard said.
Clement noted she is a relatively new senator, having just been sworn in last week, but can identify with the group's goal on a personal level.
She was the first Black woman to be a mayor in Ontario, serving in the eastern Ontario community of Cornwall.
"I've spent a lot of my career feeling lonely in all kinds of spaces,"Clement said. Referring to her colleagues in the newly formed Senate group, she added, "It just feels less lonely for me."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press