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Article

Sir George Williams Affair

The Sir George Williams affair (also known as the Sir George Williams riot) took place in winter 1969, when more than 200 students decided to peacefully occupy the ninth floor of the Henry F. Hall Building at Sir George Williams University in Montréal. These students were protesting the university administration’s decision regarding a complaint of racism that had been filed several months earlier by six Black students from the Caribbean. On 11 February 1969, to dislodge the students occupying the building, the police intervened forcefully, and the situation deteriorated, resulting in over $2 million worth of damage and the arrest of 97 people. The Sir George Williams affair is regarded as the largest student riot in Canadian history. For many observers and historians, it represents a key moment in the rebirth of black militancy in Montréal.

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Black Enslavement in Canada

In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. The buying, selling and enslavement of Black people was practiced by European traders and colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834. During that two-century period, settlers in what would eventually become Canada were involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Canada is further linked to the institution of enslavement through its history of international trade. Products such as salted cod and timber were exchanged for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean. 

This is the full-length entry about Black enslavement in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

(See also Olivier Le Jeune; Sir David KirkeChloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833Slavery of Indigenous People in Canada.)

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Anti-Slavery Society of Canada

The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada was formed in Canada West (now Ontario) in 1851 to promote the global abolition of slavery and provide relief to African American refugees seeking freedom in Canada. Led by influential residents of the province from Black and White communities alike, the society was active until the early 1860s. It helped shape a sympathetic view of the abolitionist cause of the northern United States in the decade leading up to the American Civil War.

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Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324 — the Proposed Ban on Black Immigration to Canada

Order-in-Council P.C. 1324 was approved on 12 August 1911 by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The purpose of the order was to ban Black persons from entering Canada for a period of one year because, it read, “the Negro race…is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.” The order-in-council was the culmination of what researcher R. Bruce Shepard has called Canada’s “campaign of diplomatic racism.” Though the order never became law, the actions of government officials made it clear that Black immigrants were not wanted in Canada (see Immigration).

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Canada’s Cold War Purge of LGBTQ from the Military

For much of its history, the Canadian military had a policy of punishing or purging LGBTQ members among their ranks. During the Cold War, the military increased its efforts to identify and remove suspected LGBTQ servicemen and women due to expressed concerns about blackmail and national security. In 1992, a court challenge led to the reversal of these discriminatory practices. The federal government officially apologized in 2017.

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Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Cultural appropriation is the use of a people’s traditional dress, music, cuisine, knowledge and other aspects of their culture, without their approval, by members of a different culture. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, cultural appropriation is rooted in colonization and ongoing oppression. Indigenous peoples have seen culturally significant symbols and motifs used in non-Indigenous goods, marketing and art. They have also seen stereotypical images of “Indians” used in sports logos and the sale of various products.

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SARS in Canada

Canada experienced an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. Most of the infections originated in Toronto hospitals. The outbreak led to the quarantine of thousands, killed 44 people and took an economic toll on Toronto. It also exposed the country’s ill-prepared health-care system. Confusion around SARS fuelled an uptick in anti-Asian and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Eskimo

The word Eskimo is an offensive term that has been used historically to describe the Inuit throughout their homeland, Inuit Nunangat, in the arctic regions of Alaska, Greenland and Canada, as well as the Yupik of Alaska and northeastern Russia, and the Inupiat of Alaska. Considered derogatory in Canada, the term was once used extensively in popular culture and by researchers, writers and the general public throughout the world. (See also Arctic Indigenous Peoples and Inuit.)

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Chinese Canadians of Force 136

Force 136 was a branch of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. Its covert missions were based in Japanese-occupied Southeast Asia, where orders were to support and train local resistance movements to sabotage Japanese supply lines and equipment. While Force 136 recruited mostly Southeast Asians, it also recruited about 150 Chinese Canadians. It was thought that Chinese Canadians would blend in with local populations and speak local languages. Earlier in the war, many of these men had volunteered their services to Canada but were either turned away or recruited and sidelined. Force 136 became an opportunity for Chinese Canadian men to demonstrate their courage and skills and especially their loyalty to Canada.

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Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 21,000 Japanese Canadians were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process. Beginning 24 February 1942, around 12,000 of them were exiled to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. The federal government stripped them of their property and pressured many of them to accept mass deportation after the war. Those who remained were not allowed to return to the West Coast until 1 April 1949. In 1988, the federal government officially apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. A redress payment of $21,000 was made to each survivor, and more than $12 million was allocated to a community fund and human rights projects.

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Persons Case

The Persons Case (Edwards v. A.G. of Canada) was a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate. The case was initiated by the Famous Five, a group of prominent women activists. In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not “persons” according to the British North America Act (now called the Constitution Act, 1867). Therefore, they were ineligible for appointment to the Senate. However, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council reversed the Court’s decision on 18 October 1929. The Persons Case enabled women to work for change in both the House of Commons and the Senate. It also meant that women could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow interpretation of the law.

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Inuit Experiences at Residential School

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools created to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Schools in the North were run by missionaries for nearly a century before the federal government began to open new, so-called modern institutions in the 1950s. This was less than a decade after a Special Joint Committee (see Indigenous Suffrage) found that the system was ineffectual. The committee’s recommendations led to the eventual closure of residential schools across the country.

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Racism

Racism is a belief that humans can be divided into a hierarchy of power on the basis of their differences in race and ethnicity. With some groups seen as superior to others on the sole basis of their racial or ethnic characteristics. Racism is frequently expressed through prejudice and discrimination. The belief can manifest itself through individuals, but also through societies and institutions.

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Sixties Scoop

The “Sixties Scoop” refers to the large-scale removal or “scooping” of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families of birth through the 1960s, and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across the United States and Canada. This experience left many adoptees with a lost sense of cultural identity. The physical and emotional separation from their birth families continues to affect adult adoptees and Indigenous communities to this day.

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Black Lives Matter-Canada

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized movement to end anti-Black racism. It was founded as an online community in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the man who killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Its stated mission is to end white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence and to liberate Black people and communities. The Black Lives Matter hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) has been used to bring attention to discrimination and violence faced by Black people. BLM has chapters in the United States and around the world. There are five chapters in Canada: Toronto (BLM-TO), Vancouver (BLM-VAN), Waterloo Region, Edmonton, and New Brunswick.

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Internment in Canada

Internment is the forcible confinement or detention of a person during wartime. Large-scale internment operations were carried out by the Canadian government during the First World War and the Second World War. In both cases, the War Measures Act was invoked. This gave the government the authority to deny people’s civil liberties, notably habeas corpus (the right to a fair trial before detention). People were held in camps across the country. More than 8,500 people were interned during the First World War and as many as 24,000 during the Second World War — including some 12,000 Japanese Canadians.

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Anti-Semitism in Canada

Anti-Semitism is an attitude characterized by hostility and discriminatory behaviour towards Jewish people. Anti-Semitism has a long history in Canada in fueling discrimination and unfair treatment against Jewish Canadians. Anti-Semitism in Canada was never restricted to the extremists of society. Rather, it has always been part of the mainstream, shared to varying degrees by all elements of the nation. Until the 1950s it had respectability; no one apologized for being anti-Jewish — no one asked them to. Expressions of anti-Semitism were heard in the halls of Parliament, read in the press, taught in the schools and absorbed in most churches.

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École Polytechnique Tragedy (Montreal Massacre)

On 6 December 1989, a man entered a mechanical engineering classroom at Montreal’s École Polytechnique armed with a semi-automatic weapon. After separating the women from the men, he opened fire on the women while screaming, “You are all feminists.” Fourteen young women were murdered, and 13 other people were wounded. The shooter then turned the gun on himself. In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note contained a list of 19 “radical feminists” who he said would have been killed had he not run out of time. It included the names of well-known women in Quebec, including journalists, television personalities and union leaders.