Don Meredith should have quit a long time ago: Tiffany Gooch in The Globe and Mail

Tiffany Gooch’s op-ed originally appeared at The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, May 10. Follow Tiffany on Twitter @goocht and follow Globe Opinion @GlobeDebate. 

In February, the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) invited me to host its Black History Month event in Toronto, awarding political leaders from the black community.

I was honoured. I am a fifth-generation black Canadian from Windsor – the descendent of a resilient people who sought their freedom through the Underground Railroad, settling and building vibrant communities in southwestern Ontario.

As an artist and a political strategist now living in Toronto, this event was a combination of my favourite things: the celebration of black excellence and a recounting of progress, with a call to action for increased co-ordination and political power within our community.

Related: Disgraced Senator Don Meredith to resign

I was ecstatic to have an opportunity to encourage more black Canadians to join our growing political movement. My heart sank when I learned that one of the award recipients for the BBPA event was Don Meredith.

A week before the event, I worked alongside black leaders from across Canada to hold a lobbying day on Parliament Hill. We met with more than 60 members of Parliament and talked about everything – policing, border security, corrections, economic development, education, health equity, immigration and diversity in public appointments.

We discussed the exposure of anti-black racism in the United States in recent events. We explained that our Canadian institutions and communities are not immune. We applauded the Liberal government’s commitment to multiculturalism, Indigenous reconciliation, refugees and women’s issues, and noted that general diversity and inclusion policies are, at times, inadequate in addressing the unique challenges faced by African-Canadians.

Defence of Don Meredith on the basis of race is a disservice to the tireless work being carried out by Canadians across the country combatting anti-black racism. His actions were indefensible. His is not an issue of race.

With his family present and hundreds in the live audience, I struggled to follow my script. I remembered my grandmother’s advice: If I didn’t have anything nice to say I shouldn’t say anything at all. Unable to carry out my function in good conscience, I sat down and asked the president of the BBPA to take over the program and returned to the stage after the awards were distributed.

There are thousands of remarkable black Canadians – women and men – who would excel at carrying out the functions of a senator without abusing their power. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has an embarrassment of options to ensure black Canadians are represented in future Senate appointments.

Just after the BBPA event, I moderated a panel at the Equal Voice ‘Daughters of the Vote’ conference in Ottawa. The topic of our panel was “Finding Courage”. We laughed, we cried, and we shared stories carrying out constructive dialogue about the barriers facing young women in politics and how to overcome them. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and a culture that protects powerful men over girls became prevalent in our discussions over the course of the week.

It is difficult enough for young women – and young women of colour in particular – to enter and navigate political spaces. The future of our country depends on our ability to cultivate a culture of safety and inclusion for young women entering and navigating the Canadian political arena.

Protecting girls (and black girls in particular) seeking to bring their talents to politics greatly outweighs the need to protect black men in leadership who prove themselves unfit.

Don Meredith needed to resign. He should have resigned a long time ago.

It’s not enough just to believe it. It’s not enough just to tweet about it.

I hope Canadians will take up our collective responsibility to our children. We need to roll up our sleeves and do the difficult work necessary to eradicate this kind of behaviour (and the culture that perpetuates it) within our political institutions.

Tiffany Gooch, Special to The Globe and Mail

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