Who decides who is Black enough, advocate asks, after hundreds of groups denied federal funding
Social Development Canada rejects funding applications from organizations deemed not sufficiently 'Black-led'
The Afro Canadian Caribbean Association (ACCA) wants to know "who decides who is Black enough" after Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) rejected hundreds of applications for funding under a program for Black community groups.
In a Jan. 12 email, ESDC notified applicants that their proposals hadn't been funded because they didn't meet the required eligibility criteria — Black governance and Black leadership.
"Information provided did not meet this eligibility criteria, or was insufficient to clearly demonstrate that the organization is led and governed by people who self-identify as Black," the ESDC email states. The federal minister responsible for the program later said the email was "completely unacceptable."
Evelyn Myrie, president of the Hamilton-based ACCA, said the call for proposals under the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative needed more clarity.
"You can't say a group isn't Black enough, because the Ontario Black History Society is well known to be made up of Black membership primarily, so there must be some disconnect somewhere," Myrie told CBC News.
"You can't send one thing out and then reject them on another."
Ontario Black History Society among 100s rejected
The Ontario Black History Society was among hundreds of organizations the government rejected for failing to meet the Black governance and Black leadership criteria.
In an email sent to CBC News on Tuesday, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) confirmed it was denied funding, but said it hadn't received the email sent to other groups regarding Black governance and leadership
"We have not yet received a reason for the denial," OBHS said.
Last May, the federal government launched a call for proposals to support Black-led organizations as they serve Black Canadian communities.
Through that call, Black-led non-profit organizations applied for up to $100,000 to improve their work and community spaces. That could include buying work-related equipment and renovating existing spaces to enhance their functionality.
A total of 1,700 applications were submitted. The ACCA submitted one, Myrie said, and it was successful.
Ahmed Hussen, minister of families, children and social development, said more than 90 projects have been approved to date, representing up to $7 million in funding.
Organizations are deemed to be sufficiently "Black-led" if at least two-thirds of their board members and senior leadership identify as Black.
On Twitter, Hussen described the email sent by his department to unsuccessful applicants as "completely unacceptable."
"As soon as it was presented to me, I quickly demanded a retraction and met with my officials to discuss how such a mistake could have happened in the first place," he wrote.
As soon as it was presented to me, I quickly demanded a retraction and met with my officials to discuss how such a mistake could have happened in the first place.—@HonAhmedHussen
Daniele Medlej, senior communications adviser in Hussen's office, said a second letter has since gone out to the unsuccessful applicants.
"The second letter issued a correction as to why the proposals were not retained for funding," Medlej said.
CBC News has not seen a copy of the second letter.
Hamilton group waiting
Kojo Damptey, interim executive director of Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), says his organization applied for funding. It expects a decision in March.
"We worked with Operation Black Vote in 2019 during the federal election to talk to Black youth about how to get involved in the electoral process by voting, running for office, doing advocacy work and developing policy," he said.
Damptey said the needs of Black communities across Canada have been neglected for centuries, and all levels of government need to develop robust ways to address systemic racism, over-policing and hate incidents.
"In Hamilton, for example, there are many not-for-profit groups, charities, and grassroots organizations that are responding to the needs of Black communities with little to no funding resources," Damptey said.
"We can talk about youth groups such as Never Gonna Stop, NTRL, Sisters in Sync, as well as ethnocultural groups like the Nigerian Association, Ghanaian Association, Jamaican Association and others who respond to the needs of seniors, families and youth."
Niagara's historic Salem Chapel gets funding
Meanwhile, the 165-year-old Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal church in St. Catharines was approved last week for a $100,000 grant through the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative.
Church trustee and historian Rochelle Bush said the little Niagara church, built by Harriet Tubman and other freed slaves, has been in a state of disrepair and was a safety concern.
"We're very happy we received the funding. We are extremely grateful because the church will now be preserved for future generations," Bush said.
"It's been a long time coming and it's been a struggle for us because we're low in numbers.
"There are a lot of safety concerns inside the Salem Chapel and that's why we applied for the funding, but more importantly it's the home of the Harriet Tubman site in Canada."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.