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Builders of the GTA: Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected as MP

Jeffrey Halpenny, 680News

Last Updated Feb 1, 2021 at 5:05 pm EST

When Jean Augustine was sworn in as MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 1993 she carved out a spot in Canadian history, becoming the first Black woman to be elected to the Parliament of Canada. She would then go on to become the first Black woman cabinet minister and the first Black Canadian to sit as Deputy Speaker of the House. 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of legislation she put forth recognizing Black History Month in Canada.

Dr. Augustine says she began championing Black History when she was a school teacher, long before her 13 year political career.

“I was teaching social studies and there was nothing in the text books and nothing in the curriculum modules that spoke to the history or presence of African Canadians”, she tells 680NEWS.

In 1995 Augustine achieved what is nearly impossible in Canadian politics by garnering unanimous support for her legislation to recognize Black History Month in Canada.

“It took a lot of legwork and cajoling…I was able to sit with them (MP’s), I used a lot of Question Period time going from desk to desk”, she said.

Augustine originally hoped recognizing Black History month would result in the contributions of African Canadians being taught in schools, but she’s pleased to see it’s gone even further.

“The way that it would get into entertainment, the media, in corporate boardrooms and just about every sphere and area of our society”, says Augustine.

Augustine’s many accomplishments also include work to remove the rule that restricted statues on Parliament Hill only to dead monarchs or nation-building prime ministers. That allowed her as chair of the National Liberal Women’s Caucus to bring forward a motion that resulted in the Famous Five statue commemorating the women who fought the “Persons Case” for political equality.

Dr. Augustine is acutely aware she serves as an example for young Black Canadians.

“It’s not a burden for me, it is the experiences that I want to share and the experiences that I want to pass on”, she said.

Jean Augustine is a member of the Order of Canada, her 2009 induction noting her “distinguished career as an educator, politician and advocate for social justice in Canada”.

For more Builders of the GTA, take a look at them all each day in the month of February.

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