The Federation of Black Canadians seems to be sensitive to criticism. Myself and many others have been asking questions about the group’s ethics, membership, and potential conflicts of interest. On Sunday February 25, steering committee member Ebyan Farah, who is the spouse of federal Liberal cabinet minister Ahmed Hussen, abruptly left her position. FBC has also halted most of its social media activity, and repeatedly removed all the content from its website.
On Monday February 26, FBC published a new “frequently asked questions” page on its website. Within a couple of hours the page was gone and, as of the publication of this piece, it has not been replaced. I anticipated this possibility and took screenshots of the entire page before FBC removed it. Although the “frequently asked questions” section doesn’t actually answer many of its own questions, it reveals an organization willing to do the absolute minimum to address real concerns about its operations.
The above explanation for Ebyan Farah’s quick departure is very confusing. It does not explain who asked Farah to join the group, or why she was able to do so given her relationship with Hussen, the federal minister of citizenship, immigration and refugees. The claim that Farah received clearance from the Liberal Party ethics commission is truly bizarre: it’s not up to the federal Liberals to decide who is ethically fit to lobby their own members, who form the government of Canada.
FBC says Farah’s “term of service on the steering committee ended on February 25, 2018.” This convenient timing does not explain why the other steering committee members’ terms are still ongoing, and suggests they all have different terms of service.
As you can see above, FBC does not answer its own question, ” do you work with LGBT organizations?” The group says it has “no problem” doing so, but puts the onus on those groups to reach out. FBC then immediately pivots to mention renowned University of Toronto professor and writer Rinaldo Walcott, who identifies as queer.
This awkward reference to Walcott seems to be FBC’s version of “we have a gay friend,” and has nothing to do with FBC’s seemingly non-existent work with organizations that represent LGBT people. Walcott confirmed with me this morning that FBC did not contact him before using his name in this way.
FBC seems particularly shook by the criticism that it is not partnering with groups that represent the LGBT communities. The now-removed FAQ included a separate section entitled “lgbt” which simply repeated the identical information contained in the “do you work with LGBT organizations?” section
FBC references Black Lives Matter Toronto, but fails to clarify that it does not work with the group, or with any BLM chapter in Canada. Again, FBC puts the onus on these groups to include themselves in its work. The Federation mentions a “Trailblazer Award” given to BLMTO, but fails to clarify that Michaëlle Jean Foundation, not FBC, gave out that award. As I have previously documented, this is not the first time in FBC’s young history that it has attempted to take credit for another organization’s actions.
The above “communications” section makes it clear that FBC populated its e-mail list from the National Black Canadians Summit, which was organized by Michaëlle Jean Foundation. It seems MJF simply transferred its contacts to FBC without seeking the permission of summit guests.
The Federation also says here that its website was taken down once for “regular maintenance.” This does not explain the numerous other times the site has appeared without any content. Also, it doesn’t explain why the “frequently asked questions” page featuring this content is no longer available.
Under “ethics,” the Federation says its chairperson Justice Donald McLeod, has “received the appropriate clearances” from the independent ethics committee of the Ontario Court of Justice to participate with the group. While it would be great to see evidence of these clearances, I doubt the ethics committee gave McLeod the right to act as a lobbyist. As you will see below, FBC acknowledges that it is actively lobbying the federal government. Social media posts from Liberal MPs show that McLeod is aggressively leading the lobbying efforts.
In a CBC news story published this morning, McLeod says his meetings with several prominent Liberal party members in 2017 “had nothing to do with lobbying.” He added, “We’re telling [them] things that they didn’t know.” We are meant to believe that McLeod, an Ontario judge who chairs a national organization, has simply been meeting with high-level politicians to educate them, that he wants nothing in return, not even policy change on this issues he brings up. What, then, is the point of FBC and why is it asking Black people for our money and support?
FBC defends McLeod’s activism by saying that other judges have engaged in “non-traditional community leadership.” Note that none of the examples given above have anything to do with lobbying. If the FBC cannot acknowledge that the complaint about McLeod is his position in lobbying the federal government while being a judge, it cannot address the apparent conflict.
The finances section says a lot about the National Black Canadian Summit, and the Michaëlle Jean Foundation—it contains absolutely no information about the finances of FBC. However, it is important to note how often FBC masks itself under the operations of MJF in order to claim credit for things it has not done, or to avoid responsibility for its actual operations.
In my last post about FBC, I noted that it has no formal governance structure, bylaws or memberships, and that none of the personnel currently leading the group have been elected. FBC confirms as much in the above sections. It’s really interesting and sad that FBC feels comfortable accepting donations and lobbying the government before any of these structures are in place.
Also, it is very important to note that FBC says it “currently” receives no government funding. I believe that will change in the future thanks to McLeod’s lobbying efforts, and his apparent conflict of interest relates directly to the prospect of FBC receiving government funding in the future.
Under “government relations,” FBC curiously claims it has two agendas. The first agenda comes from a “national working paper” written in 2016. FBC references this document often but has never shared it. The second agenda is a “national platform being developed via consultations with regional coalitions and interested stakeholders.” FBC doesn’t tell us how it prioritizes its two agendas or what happens if they conflict. The lack of clarity is baffling.
FBC also acknowledges in this section that it is indeed engaged in lobbying, including a “Lobby Day” organized on February 12. This is clear evidence of FBC’s relationship with government and it raises further concerns about the roles of Justice McLeod and Ebyan Farah.
In an attempt to claim it is a non-partisan group, FBC lists members of different political parties that attended the Summit in December. This is another example of the Federation’s bait-and-switch tactics —Michaëlle Jean Federation organized the summit and sent out invitations, not FBC.
Many observers have criticized FBC for its public silence on the plight of Black people in peril from police, the criminal justice system, and the immigration system. For example, the Federation has never publicly mentioned Abdoul Abdi, a young man facing deportation to Somalia after his legal guardian, the government of Nova Scotia, failed to apply for his citizenship. Nor has the federation made any public statement about Dafonte Miller, a black youth who was attacked by two brothers, one of whom is a Toronto police officer—Miller lost his left eye as a result of the beating.
The official-sounding talk above about “criteria” does not explain the group’s silence about youths like Miller and Abdi. However, if we consider that FBC is led by a sitting Ontario judge and has been directed in part by the spouse of the immigration minister, it is easier to understand the silence. Legitimate fears by McLeod and Farah of conflict of interest undoubtedly affect the group’s advocacy.
The “frequently asked questions” section was supposed to answer many legitimate criticisms within Black communities about FBC. The document does reveal some important details about FBC, which raises the most obvious question: why did the group take the time to create and post this info, only to remove the same day? It is yet another unanswered question for a group struggling to justify its existence and its questionable behaviour.