Fighting for Caribbean Immigrant Rights

Unearth Uncover #BlackedOutHistory: Fighting for Caribbean Immigrant Rights

Charles Roach was a founding member of the Black Action Defense committee - an activist group that fought against police brutality and other injustices. One such source of injustice was the Canadian government’s Caribbean Domestic Scheme, introduced after WWII, which forced the young, single Caribbean women coming to Canada to give one year of service before they could apply for permanent residency. This meant that women suffering below minimum wage pay, racism, abuse and unsafe working conditions risked deportation when they complained. European domestic workers came to Canada as landed immigrants who could challenge abusive working conditions. Charles Roach represented some of the Caribbean domestic workers who were facing deportation, including the famous case of the ‘seven Jamaican mothers,’ in which he helped them to fight for and win their permanent residency in Canada. While working through the courts to address the injustices facing individuals, he also brought attention to systemic racism, oppression, and exploitation.

Despite the systemic racism they faced, numerous Caribbean women persisted and after one year of work, many sought education and employment in other fields such as teaching and nursing. One such woman is the Hon. Jean Augustine, who immigrated to Canada in 1960 from Grenada as a domestic worker, later trained as and became a teacher, an activist and, eventually, the first Black woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons and the first to serve in Canada’s federal Cabinet. Throughout her career she advocated for human rights in general, but the rights of immigrants to Canada in particular.

“Since much of the Black past has been deliberately buried, covered over, and demolished, it is our task to unearth, uncover, and piece it together again.” – Dr. Afua Cooper