Jean Augustine, trailblazed as first black woman in the House of Commons. Today, she contributes to peace through strong advocacy for social justice. #Canada150
An educator, politician and advocate for social justice Jean Augustine worked to gain equality and justice for women and people of colour. An immigrant from Grenada, she understood first-hand the difficulties newcomers’ experience. She advocated for the community and financial support needed for immigrants, and other peoples who were struggling financially and to find a place in society.
Augustine was an activist in Toronto’s Caribbean communities, working to strengthen immigrant and women’s rights and to combat violence against women, drug abuse and poverty. In 1967, she helped to organize the first Caribana festival. In 1973, Augustine founded the Toronto chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, where she later became national president.
In 1993, Jean Augustine became the first black woman elected in to the Parliament of Canada. While in office, Augustine was responsible for championing legislation to have February recognized as Black History Month in Canada. As an educator she had recognized that black Canadians’ accomplishments were not shown as part of the fabric of Canada, and that their lives were not part of classroom literature. When she was approached by the Ontario Black History Society to move the legislation forward, she was able to change history.
“There was very little that was written for and about the Canadian Black community, and the presence of Black people as part of Canadian history…It was a passion of mine to see how we could make this happen – to have Black history be part of the curriculum, and Black people acknowledged and celebrated in the Canadian mosaic.”
As a Member of Parliament, Jean Augustine served as Chair of the National Liberal Women’s Caucus for three terms. She was also elected chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in February 2002. Augustine was appointed Secretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women) in 2002, making her the first Black woman to achieve a post in Cabinet. The same year, she was selected to be a member of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada.
In 2004, she was appointed to the position of Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole, making her the first black Canadian to occupy the Speaker’s Chair in the Canadian House of Commons. Through the efforts of Augustine and others, the 2004 Canadian Journey Series of banknotes featured the women of The Famous Five on the $50 bill.
Augustine was the Founding Chair of the Canadian Association of Parliamentarians on Population & Development, Chair of the National Sugar Caucus, Chair of the Micro-credit Summit Council of Canadian Parliamentarians, Chair of the Canada- Slovenia Parliamentary Group, and Chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Group.
In 2007, Augustine was appointed Ontario’s first Fairness Commissioner, a position she held until March 2015. She is a Member of the Order of Canada.
- Order of Canada
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Toronto
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, McGill University
- YWCA Woman of Distinction Award
- Kaye Livingstone Award
- Ontario Volunteer Award
- Pride Newspaper Achievement Award
- Rubena Willis Special Recognition Award
- Toronto Lions’ Club Onyx Award.
- Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
- The Jean Augustine Scholarship Fund was named for her, which she helps support with fundraising. It assists single mothers to undertake post-secondary study at George Brown College.
- Jean Augustine Secondary School will open in Brampton in 2016
- Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Girls’ Leadership Academy
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