Dr. Augustine served as The Messenger and The Message

Dr. Augustine served as The Messenger and The Message

New documentary on a political pioneer

As the first Black woman to be elected to the Canadian parliament in 1993, the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine has had a lot of conversations about multiculturalism and diversity in this country.
One of those conversations took place in the European parliament following one of her presentations on the issue, when she was described as “the messenger and the message.”
It stuck with her as an apt depiction of her role in Canada at a time when the country was moving toward greater accommodation of the increasing number of immigrants settling here.
So much so that those words became part of the title of a documentary, “Steadfast – The Messenger and the Message,” which tells the life-story of the pioneering overachiever, who left her native Grenada and blazed a trail of excellence as an educator, community activist and politician in Canada.
Today, the 85 year-old who arrived in Canada in 1960 as part of the Canada-Caribbean Domestic Scheme, (which brought young women from the various islands here to work primarily as house-keepers) Speaking to The CONTACT in a telephone interview, Dr. Augustine describes the documentary as an immigrant story and a “good one to tell.”
She says the story as told in the documentary, is her story but it can that of any other immigrant.

“So many of us came here and started at the very bottom; we struggled, we failed and fell, but we were assertive and we had that fire in our belly so we were able to pick ourselves up, stay the course and find success.”

She looks back at a country that has been on a path of change and evolution, since arriving on the shores.

“Canada is a work in progress,” she says. “When I arrived here, there was no Charter of Rights, no human rights code, no real policy in housing and landlords were still saying ‘we don’t rent to Blacks’ and police, community relations were non-existent. So I can say with confidence that Canada has made progress on social justice issues.”

She added that there’s still a lot to do to help those caught in the socio-economic struggle as well as dealing with anti-Black racism that is still present in the education system, the police and the corporate world.

“But I’m pleased by the conversations taking place on equity and around Black Lives Matter… so as someone once said: we ain’t where we should be but we ain’t where we were.”

Dr. Augustine, who made a spectacular leap from education (she started as an elementary school teacher became principal then school supervisor,) to politics has seen enough to know that our community has to step up in order to take its place in Canada.

“Blacks have to find ways to participate fully in society, especially in politics,” she says. “We also have to show leadership at all levels, whether it is in community or corporate work.”

She pointed to the parable of the Sankofa bird, a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backwards.

“We have to know and reflect on our past and use it as a guide when planning for the future. Blacks have been in Canada for 400 years.”

In 1993, when she won the Greater Toronto Area riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore as the first Black woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons, Dr. Augustine placed herself among the political pioneers of our community.
And made her mark in parliament by securing the motion that designates February as Black History Month in Canada as well she was pivotal in securing legislation to protect disadvantaged low-income groups.
Following her retirement from active politics, she served as Ontario’s Fairness Commissioner between 2007 and 2015, and was pivotal in getting several provincial governments to recognize the credentials of foreign trained professionals.
In 2014, she opened The Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment to offer a hand up to those on the margins.

Dr. Augustine wants to share her story with as many people in our community as possible.

“I especially want to see young people at the screening of Steadfast: The Messenger and The Message on February 25, not only as a way to pass the baton but to remind them that if they do good things, the world will reward them.”

“STEADFAST – The Messenger and The Message:”. SATURDAY, February 25 at Cinema du Musée –
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1379-A Sherbrooke Street West. Add your name to the guest list at playmasmontreal@gmail.com. Admission is free.

Doors open at 5:45 pm with a pre-show featuring West Can Dancers and Drummers. Q&A with the Hon. Dr. Jean Augustine following the screening.