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Andrea Pierce, executive director of ImmigrantsCan, says legislative changes are needed to address the systemic barriers many Black Canadians face.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Black business and community groups are calling on Ottawa to permanently fund many programs that are set to expire.

The federal government began to introduce programs to support Black communities in 2018 after it endorsed the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs until 2024. Ottawa introduced more new initiatives such as the Black Entrepreneurship Program after George Floyd’s killing and Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020.

But the programs have all had a set shelf life. For example, the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, or SBCCI, was created in the 2019 budget and given $25-million over five years to build capacity in grassroots Black-serving organizations across the country. That funding was set to run out in the 2023-24 fiscal year, but in the 2023 budget, the program was given one additional year of funding at $25-million with no clear guidance on what happens after that.

Hundreds of Black entrepreneurs and organizations began writing to federal ministers Karina Gould and Ahmed Hussen this month asking what legislative change will ultimately come from these initiatives.

“We really need a permanent policy to come out of it, because if these programs end … that’s it,” said Jackee Kasandy, co-founder of the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society.

Employment and Social Development Canada said SBCCI has supported 939 projects with its total $50-million budget, and spent another $82-million on capital projects – such as renovations – for 1,300 Black-serving groups across the country.

The department said Ms. Gould, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, will explore options after engaging with Black communities and leaders this fall.

While many organizations and entrepreneurs are hoping the funding for these programs continues, their hope for change goes behind budget items.

“It’s not the cheque-writing that’s required,” said Deress Asghedom, founder of Vaster, a cannabis technology startup in Vancouver. “It’s also the commitment to be an ally and recognizing there are challenges. Recognizing there isn’t an even playing field. And then making that commitment to say that we’re here for the long term.”

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A Statistics Canada study released in February found Black entrepreneurs were more likely to be younger and have lower incomes than other entrepreneurs, and more than half were immigrants – while more than 90 per cent of white entrepreneurs were born in Canada.

The researchers said the data suggest Black entrepreneurs were more likely to start businesses because of a lack of other paid employment opportunities.

But those Black entrepreneurs are more likely to run into obstacles such as a lack of financing opportunities, especially if they are new to Canada and haven’t had time to build up credit history. To address that, some lenders have introduced loan programs for Black entrepreneurs that try to evaluate creditworthiness beyond the number on the applicant’s credit score, or waive personal guarantees for applicants who aren’t homeowners.

“I’m not asking for a handout,” Mr. Asghedom said. “I’m asking for a levelling of the playing field.”

Andrea Pierce, executive director of ImmigrantsCan, said legislative changes are needed to address the systemic barriers many Black Canadians face. For example, she is talking to members of Parliament about how to add racial discrimination as a form of workplace harassment into the Canada Labour Code.

She said the federal government showed leadership in joining the UN declaration, and she would like to see such leadership continue.

“I love Canada,” Ms. Pierce said. “I think we all love Canada. And sometimes, you know, Canada and our government, we need them to walk the talk.”

Groups call on Ottawa for permanent funding for Black business programs
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