February 5, 2009


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The Obama pheonomenon in Canada is a unique situation where the US president seems better to many working people than our own and offers challenges and opportunities. In many Canadian cities, students and workers stopped to watch Obama’s inauguration while “Yes We Can” has been echoed at protests and on picket lines over the past months.

On a realistic level, some like the Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom, have pointed out that Obama might be considered a Red Tory in Canada. Others have seen the new President as “a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views,” as Obama himself once described his image.

A survey this week by Ipsos-Reid for Canwest News Service and Global National found that 71 percent of respondents believe Canada should say no if Obama requests an extension of the Canadian combat mission in Afghanistan. Obama’s first international visit will be to Ottawa, and will likely be marked by protests of a different nature than those greeting George Bush.

Still, Obama’s inauguration has been met with enthusiasm by many Canadians, not least in the Afro-Canadian community. This isn’t the first time that Afro-Canadians and their leaders have inserted themselves at critical junctures in US history to expand democracy, and that fact has not been lost on Black Canadians. Afro-Canadians themselves still face persistent social and economic racism in housing, employment and education.

As Nova Scotian Black Senator Donald Oliver wrote in an open statement on Obama’s election:

“Most Canadians also don’t know that segregation remained the order of the day for Blacks in Canada during much of the 20th century. During the First World War, Black men were denied the opportunity of serving their country in the regular army. They were instead relegated to a special construction battalion.

Black women were not allowed to train as nurses alongside white women until the Toronto Negro Veterans Association and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People put pressure on nursing schools in the late 1940s. In Ontario, the last segregated school only closed its doors in 1965. And as late as 1968, Black people were denied the right of burial in some Nova Scotia cemeteries.”

In bitter irony, three buses carrying young black Canadians on their way to see Obama swore into office were detained for seven hours at the U.S. border on Monday as their passports were checked and rechecked. Trip organizer Tyrone Edwards, who is with the cultural youth programme The Remix Project, pointed to religious and racial stereotyping. “There was no legitimate reason to hold us up,” he told the Toronto Star. The buses were eventually let through.

Note on the video below -- you have to watch the first 3 minutes 30 seconds before "the surprize."

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