Future of CBC/Radio-Canada—Inquiry

By: The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Inquiry No. 22 on the future of CBC/Radio-Canada. The perspective I will bring today is specific to the representation in the media of Black Canadians.

Colleagues, this level of positive representation has not always been the case. As Senator Cardozo said in his debate, it has been known as being too White. After many years of advocacy, we have seen so much change in this organization. Many of us have fought for change and inclusion of year-round representation for Indigenous and Black communities.

Although I have seen much more Indigenous representation, today I will confine my remarks to the Black community.

Now, when I look at the CBC, I see so much effort to celebrate and honour Black voices and Black talent, journalism covering issues faced by Black Canadians on national radio and television. I turn on the radio in Nova Scotia, and I hear segments about Black communities in February for Black History Month, in August for Emancipation Day, and, most importantly, I see this content during all the months in between.

The CBC’s “Being Black” film series, which contains short films about being Black in Canada, including Halifax, Montreal and Toronto, has given a platform to Black filmmakers and directors to share the complex lived experiences of Black Canadians. It can be all too easy to focus solely on hardship and discrimination, but initiatives like this allow for showing the nuance and complexity between discrimination and celebration, between hardship and joy.

The CBC has also launched their “Black Changemakers” profiles, which serves to highlight Black leaders in their fields. CBC is making a concerted effort to also celebrate Black joy, Black achievements and Black excellence. I believe that as a public broadcaster, they contribute to the creation of a more equitable Canada.

When we talk about anti-racism education, equity and inclusion, Black representation in the arts is a key component of this, giving other Canadians a glimpse into the lives of African-Canadians as told in their own words. In addition to news coverage and current affairs on radio, there are programs like “Diggstown,” which was about an African Nova Scotian woman lawyer. I cannot tell you how proud African Nova Scotians were to watch that program over the three years that it was broadcast.

Programs like this hold incredible value for marginalized groups such as African Nova Scotians like no other representation, and the rest of Canadians get an opportunity to see the lives of other communities who have very deep roots in this country.

We know that for young children, seeing themselves positively represented in the media positively impacts their self-esteem. We must continue to build on this for the next generation.

CBC Nova Scotia has a community advisory board for Nova Scotia, consisting of 25 board members who are African Nova Scotians and persons of African descent. These incredible community members have been chosen to advise the CBC on their content, including specific reports and long-term editorial outlooks.

Colleagues, it is this type of commitment to Black representation across all of their platforms and media that our country needs as a public broadcaster. In some ways, I see this as just the beginning of something very powerful: funding a place where Black people can see themselves in media, and a place where the next generation of Black journalists can see themselves employed.

Colleagues, I see the future of CBC/Radio-Canada as essential to the fabric of Canadian culture, and as a key player in creating representative media and news coverage for African Canadians. I appreciate the programming that the CBC has developed with the intention of being inclusive and representative of racialized groups, and since I have seen the very positive changes in Black representation over the years, I have critical hope for our future.

Thank you, Senator Cardozo, for bringing this inquiry forward and for this opportunity to speak to it. Thank you.

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