Groups call on Ottawa for permanent funding for Black business programs

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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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Protestors across Canada demonstrate against RBC’s fossil-fuel funding

Demonstrators gathered in 40 locations across Canada on Saturday to voice their opposition to the Royal Bank of Canada’s funding of fossil fuel projects.

The protests, part of a nation-wide effort dubbed Fossil Fools Day, unfolded in cities including Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Halifax and Vancouver.

One protestor said the demonstrations were intended to raise awareness of the bank’s looming Annual General Meeting, scheduled to take place in Saskatoon on April 5.

Eve Saint, a Wet’suwet’en land defender and daughter of hereditary Chief Woos who spoke at the Toronto protest, said a Wet’suwet’en delegation is heading to the AGM intent on getting answers from RBC president and CEO Dave McKay.

“We are going down a very scary path,” Saint said in an interview following her remarks at Saturday’s protest, citing extreme weather events such as flooding and fires as examples of the effects of the climate crisis.

“The time is now,” she said.

The bank, for its part, has long stressed the importance of an orderly transition to net-zero financed emissions, previously announcing it hoped to reach that goal in 2050 and setting a smaller, interim target for 2030.

RBC spokesperson Jeff Lanthier said the company is focusing its attention on where it will have the biggest impact, which is helping clients reduce their emissions and supporting initiatives that bring green solutions to market.

“We are committed to achieving net-zero in our lending by 2050 and have established interim emissions reduction targets that will help us drive action and measure progress,” he said in an email. “These targets are informed by science and reflect a measured and deliberate approach to climate action.”

But critics say the bank’s targets fall far short of what’s needed, accusing the company of “greenwashing” last fall when it announced its goals for this decade.

While RBC’s financing of fossil fuel projects overall has been the subject of much criticism, one of the core issues for Saint and others is the bank’s funding of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline.

The 670-kilometre project, which is currently under construction and runs through Wet’suwet’en traditional territory in British Columbia, has been the focus of ongoing demonstrations and arrests. Hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeline, while the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others nearby have agreed to support it.

Saint said she wants to see RBC divest from CGL and other such projects, as well as sit down with

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