It is said that a person is shaped by their environment. I grew up in Toronto in a neighbourhood that reflected the United Nations. I interacted with Black families that coped with racism, Jewish people who had escaped the Holocaust, and Japanese families that had been interned because they were Japanese, as well as people who were displaced as a result of World War II.
It was in this environment that I was infused with the desire to become involved in issues of equality and human rights. The home and neighbourhood in which I was raised shaped the values I carry to this date: values such as helping neighbours, respecting all individuals and, where possible, making improvement to situations of inequality experienced by others.
I have spent my professional and private life working in areas that connected me directly to people and their lives. It was often necessary to stand up and be counted on when issues of discrimination, inequality and racism arose. Doing what was necessary meant picketing, demonstrating, writing support letters, confronting the establishment. In short, putting your beliefs on the line and making yourself accountable.
Shaping the society in which one lives is not a task that can be accomplished in isolation. I had the privilege of being involved in organizations and societies that are part of everyday life of Canadians. I’ve worked with inmates groups in the federal prison system all across Canada. In Nova Scotia I worked with the Black United Front, an organization dedicated to social change for the Black population. I also sat on the Diversity Advisory Committee of the Vancouver Police Force, and was a board member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
While working in the federal government I became an investigator in the Anti-Discrimination Directorate of the Public Service Commission. My job was to deal with complaints of discrimination brought forward by federal government employees. I also worked in the Secretary of State Department currently known as Heritage Canada, which put me in touch with diverse groups of people within the multicultural community. In that capacity I worked with groups that suffered discrimination of various degrees and assisted them to take action to overcome the inequality they faced.
As the Manager of the Office of Services for Visible Minorities in the federal public service, I assisted federal departments in bringing a greater diversity in the workforce and encouraging upward mobility of minority employees.
As a social worker at the North Shore Neigbourhood House I worked closely with teenage youth from the Squamish Indian Band sharing in their culture and discussing difficulties in dealing with the majority society and what could be done to make changes.
While working in the federal government, there were complaints from visible minority employees that their entry levels and upward mobility opportunities were limited. To try and overcome what I called the “sticky floor syndrome” that prevented upward movement, I organized a visible minority support group that met regularly to strategize on ways and opportunities that employment promotion could be achieved. This process gained the support of department management and was adopted by a number of departments.
Working in the East Side of Vancouver there was a large population of Chinese people, a number who were immigrants and needed support in adjusting to Canadian society. With the help of a Chinese public health nurse and members of the Chinese community a federal grant was obtained to set up an organization which became known as SUCCESS, to help the people get the help they needed to adjust to life in the community.