Racism with a side of brie: the Green Party’s continued self-combustion

    Jul 21, 2021

    OTTAWA—The Green Party is internally combusting like the engines its worked so hard to rid Canada of. For the last six weeks, the Conservatives-in-tree-pose party has been embroiled in accusations of anti-Black racism and sexism towards its leader, Annamie Paul, in internal hostilities over the defection of its star MP, Jenica Atwin, to the Liberals. 

    Paul is the first Black and first Jewish woman to lead a political party in Canada, and her treatment in the role follows a trajectory of misogynoir that Black women are subjected to when they earn leadership positions. While Americans tend to look at Canada as a racial utopia, the country to the north is as anti-Black as anywhere else. The Prosperity Project, a not-for-profit that studies the impacts of COVID-19 on women, produced the 2021 Annual Report Card on Gender Diversity and Leadership: The Zero Report, which summarized the bleak outlook on representation at the leadership level. The report found that the “vast majority of organizations have zero black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) at the leadership level.” This is especially true of a Green Party that is very white and very male and is grappling with eco-fascist contingents within its ranks. 

    Paul has been subject to the institutional violence Black women face when entering white spaces: at first, the organization is receptive and uses the inclusive hire to congratulate themselves for their supposed “tolerance.” Soon, the fanfare dies when the Black woman points out issues in the organization, after which the gaslighting begins, when the organizational response is to blame their new hire for highlighting those issues. Soon, the organization decides that she is the real problem and targets her. The Green Party since Atwin’s defection—an incident that has been squarely placed at Paul’s feet, in the blame-game portion of this exercise—is engaging in structural violence towards its new leader. They cut off her mic to silence her in meetings, refused to fund her election campaign (Paul does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons), laid off her staff, demanded she refund $50,000 of her byelection campaign funding in the middle of the operation, and forced her to work for free for three months before the party gave her an employment contract. As the Green Party’s diversity co-ordinator, Zahra Mitra stated in an internal email to party officials, as reported by The Toronto Star, that “the party has a ‘very real problem with racism’ and that top-ranking officials have hampered efforts to make the organization more inclusive.”

    Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Black women in leadership roles in Canada. Annette Bouzi became the first Black woman president of a faculty union at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Soon after her election, the structural violence revealed itself in the form of bullying, harassment, and surveillance. CBC News reported about the toxicity: “Bouzi found union officers had been opening, then resealing her mail. When she finally got access to interoffice communications, she found the emails ‘disparaging, sarcastic, mocking, dehumanizing, racist and violent.’” This is after Bouzi found a surveillance camera in her office that had been installed without her knowledge. It is also in addition to perfunctory acts of anti-Black racism, such as locking her out of the union office, excluding her from meetings and emails, and basically any other form of racial micro-aggressions one could construct. 


    One of the more high-profile instances was that of former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, whose departure from a party that boasted a gender-equal cabinet and “diversity is our strength” was unsurprising, given how it treated its first Indigenous minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould (hint: it was racist and sexist). In Caesar-Chavannes’ best-selling memoir, Can You Hear Me Now?, she describes an episode with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he engaged in a verbal tirade against her. He later apologized. She also recounts a story when she was invited to join the PM and federal officials to the first state visit to Washington, but was not invited to pertinent meetings and was excluded from the state dinner, only to be used as a token to show diversity in front of America’s first Black president. Caesar-Chavannes left federal politics due to “her experiences of being tokenized, excluded, and undervalued led her to resign from the Liberal caucus,” as she told Vice News. 

    In this time of racial reckoning, it’s difficult to understand how the Green Party can make a case to Canadians that it is as inclusive as its marketing claims, yet refuse to acknowledge its own racism. Given that, it’s impossible to make the case that your party can benefit all Canadians when anti-Blackness seems to be your campaign promise. Namaste. 

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.