President’s message – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

On March 21, 1960, 69 peaceful protestors were shot and killed by police at an anti-apartheid demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa. Five years later, the United Nations adopted the date for the annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – a yearly reminder of the horrors brought by prejudice and hate.

While South Africa’s apartheid laws continued into the 1990s, Canadian unions played an important role in ending them. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, trade unions in Canada took part in persistent anti-apartheid demonstrations in the workplace and their communities, in solidarity with the workers and citizens of a country across the ocean. Our union is committed to advancing struggles against racism and apartheid wherever it is found today. 

The Canadian labour movement has always been at the forefront of advancing justice and equity for marginalized groups. This fight is as necessary and as active as it has ever been. 

Even in the federal public sector, racialized employees continue to experience discrimination and prejudice in the workplace. And while the government has acknowledged the need for improvements and committed funding for programs to support the empowerment of Black employees, these efforts continue to fall short of what’s needed to address the magnitude of the problem.

In March 2023, the Treasury Board found that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had discriminated against its own Black and racialized employees. In a series of recommendations to the Senate committee studying the issue, CAPE pushed the government to settle the Black Class Action lawsuit and agree to meaningful individual and systemic remedies, rather than fighting Black employees in court.

Yet, despite acknowledging that systemic racism exists within the public sector, the Government of Canada has spent nearly $8 million fighting the lawsuit, undermining their public commitments to work to end racial discrimination in the public sector.

One in four Canadians identify as being part of a racialized group. Yet the federal public sector does not fully represent the diverse demographics of our country – especially at the executive level, where only 14% identify as a visible minority. When the federal public sector truly represents the makeup of Canada, when the voices and ideas of all groups are heard and valued, then all Canadians will be better off. 

CAPE stands in solidarity with every member – and every person – who faces racial discrimination, whether in the workplace or in their community. We will support them, elevate their voices, and do the necessary work to build safer spaces free of discrimination. CAPE is working towards creating equity caucuses that will advise the National Executive Committee on the struggles against discrimination that our members in particular groups are facing – more information will be made available shortly.

We will continue to demand justice and equity, and we will place CAPE at the centre of the fight against racism and apartheid as it exists in our workplace and our world today.