With Canada’s 2021 federal election just days away, it is important if not imperative that the Black community exercise their hard-earned and well-deserved democratic right and go out to vote.
Like our American counterparts, the right to vote was not exactly a walk in the park, for the background history of the voting rights for Black Canadians is marked by conflicting shifts. Racial discrimination did at times hinder Black Canadians’ right to vote.
Enslaved from 1600–1834, they were not considered to be “people” , instead legally deemed to be chattel property (personal possessions), and therefore did not possess the rights or freedoms enjoyed by full citizens, including protections under the law and involvement in the democratic process.
With the gradual abolition of enslavement, during the period 1793 to 1834, their social status changed , and as British subjects, they were more or less entitled to all of the rights.
However, because of their skin colour, Black Canadians faced racism, along with limited civil rights and civil liberties. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.
Black men had the right to vote provided they were naturalized subjects and owned taxable property. Up until 1920, most provinces required eligible voters to own property or have a taxable net worth — a practice that excluded poor people, the working class and many racialized minorities.
In 1848, although Black residents accounted for one third of the population of Colchester, Ontario, the white men in attendance physically blocked them from voting in the election for parish and township officers.
In an article published in Canada’s first Black newspaper Voice of the Fugitive, Black abolitionist and Provincial Freeman co-editor Samuel Ringgold Ward charged that the right to vote was the “most sacred” of all rights.
He remarked that had the white men stolen all of the Black voters’ grain and cattle and left them with nothing, that violation would pale in comparison to that of taking away their “right of a British vote.”
We cannot afford to sit back and not exercise our democratic right on September 20, especially since historically Blacks in this country were not allowed to vote for so long.
Needless to say, over the years the Black community has been literally taken for granted with a certain political party expecting Blacks automatically to vote for them. The Black voting bloc holds a lot of power but that is only if Black voters show up at the polls.
Frankly speaking a top election issue for the Black community should be the strained police community relations. Not to mention If any progress in bringing about more police accountability is to happen, we must use our vote to elect officials who will act.
We certainly need to start asking some of the candidates key questions about issues that impact our community.
What is being done to address issues of police misconduct and brutality? Not forgetting Bill 96 . These are the types of questions that we need to be asking these candidates, instead of just offering our votes without demanding anything in return.
There is also another problem that ails the Black community, one which has not responded favourably even in the face of long-term treatment— that of embedded apathy.
Why vote? I don’t feel my vote counts syndrome.
Falling victim to such a narrative , that Black votes do not matter, only serves to perpetuate the issue, and members of our community should be aware that in order to change things we need to enter the boat and cast our vote. The only way we can show power is to vote, and show that our vote is just as important.
As Blacks vote this election cycle in the era of the pandemic, we must concentrate fixedly on reality and totally disregard sentimentality. Let the heart play no part. The time has come to challenge long time incumbents who have not benefited the Black community during their time in office.
So, on September 20, if the decision is made to let go, true though, then the tool of choice, or a fact over which to gloat, is that you have cast your vote.
The struggle continues.