Pride Month

June 9, 2021

Members of the Union Family,

We have now entered Pride Month and you will be seeing many activities happening across the country.  I wanted to take a moment to celebrate this great country.  Pride in Canada starts around the end of May and happens across the country until September.  Pride means something different to each person.  For some it is a protest for change, a festival to celebrate what has been achieved, a time that we can explore and find out who we are, be our authentic selves, be with our chosen family and many more personal ways and reasons.  Those journeys and thoughts on pride are personal and varied.  I hope that in this difficult time that we all stay safe, know you are not alone and there is union family out there for you if you need us.  We are all here in solidarity for a diverse and inclusive Canada.

Here are a few sites that you can use to explore and some comments from other members of our union family:

Fierté Canada Pride     

Pride at Work Canada   

Queer Events – Queer History   

Canadian Virtual Hospice – Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Proud, Prepared, and Safe    

I love that Pride just gets bigger and brighter each year and that it celebrates every part of our diverse community and gives us all a platform to be visible and open with each other and with our many incredible allies.  That being said, there are still people who aren’t fully or fairly represented, and we need to keep pushing the envelope by ensuring we are being as inclusive as possible to enable historically marginalized queer voices to be heard, validated and celebrated too.

Andrew Shaver – UNE National Executive Vice-President (he/him)

Pride for me means members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community being healthy as their authentic selves. Locally, private online discussions are used to find doctors that are friendly to the gender diverse. This should not be necessary; we should have equal access to healthcare without fear! UNE can advocate for improved healthcare and Pharmacare for the 2SLGBTQ+ community within their workplaces and beyond. It should also include expanded mental healthcare. Current access to the healthcare needs of the 2SLGBTQ+ community is limited and includes long wait times. The Yukon recently developed a new gender-affirming healthcare policy. I would love to see this same comprehensive transgender and gender diverse health and wellness policy advocated for Canada-wide! 

Danielle Palmer – UNE Regional Representative for Human Rights, Alberta & NWT & NU

Each year, in June, the LGBTQ2+ community celebrates Pride month. We march every year, to help create awareness and support from the community we live in. We continue our fight year after year because of oppression, and the fight for equality to live our lives as our true selves. It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge that the fight for equality is not over. As long as discrimination on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other forms of discrimination exist we will continue to use our voices loud and proud.

Keith Lemoine – UNE President and Human Rights Representative, Local 10512

Pride was originally a riot, a fight for equal rights, to love who you love, to be who you truly are.  52 years later we are still hearing stories of people attacked for being their authentic self, of people being murdered for living as the gender they are instead of the gender society has assigned them, and of youth being forced from their homes and their family for not conforming.  Our fight for equality is not over.  We, as Union members, need to educate ourselves and others, so that we may all truly be equal. We all deserve respect, access to medical care, mental health resources, housing, community, and family support. Real love is just love, regardless of gender, or sexual orientation.

Janet Eileen Connor – UNE Regional Representative for Human Rights, Ottawa-Treasury Board

Yours in Solidarity,

Chris Little-Gagné (he/him)
UNE National Equity Representative for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People

UNE National President’s Statement following the Discovery of Burial Site found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

June 2, 2021

The UNE membership has been deeply affected by the discovery of 215 Indigenous children’s remains at the site of the former residential school in Kamloops BC.

Not only is this an almost unspeakable atrocity, within the nation we call Canada, but this has deeply affected many of our members, especially those who work as public servants with Indigenous Services Canada, (ISC) and Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC).

It is most difficult for our members to concentrate on work and family-related tasks when this pall of shame confronts them in dealing with their employer and to Indigenous peoples they serve.

Everyone needs to do more than display a backdrop, draped in orange, that states “Every Child Matters”.

We demand that the federal government search all residential school sites, and repatriate all those buried at Kamloops, and all other residential school sites, regardless of cost, and as expediently as possible. We also demand the federal government stop fighting St. Anne’s Residential School survivors in court over the release of documents.

You can read PSAC’s statement on this critical issue.

Respectfully submitted and in Solidarity,

Kevin King
UNE National President

National AccessAbility Week – May 30 to June 5, 2021

May 31, 2021

To enter the conversation around disability inclusion, first consider the concept of disability exclusion. Have you ever experienced it?

Have you ever been excluded because of disability? I have.

Have you ever been unconsidered because of disability? I have.

Have you ever just been left out and not understood why? I have.

Persons with  a disability have struggled to be included into the fabric of society on an equal and equitable keel. Things that some take for granted are barriers to others.

A single step in front of a building doesn’t seem like much of a barrier, unless you have a mobility disability.

A movie theatre seems to be barrier free, unless you are deaf and there is no closed captioning.

An elevator seems to be an accessibility tool, unless you are blind and braille is absent from the floor indicator keyboard.

What does accessibility mean? Is that ever a concern or even a consideration for most people?

Accessibility is about more than removing barriers. It is about creating spaces and situations where everyone feels welcomed, even invited, so that they can participate obstruction and discrimination free.

National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) is an opportunity to:

  • celebrate the valuable contributions of persons with disabilities,
  • acknowledge the accomplishments of individuals, communities and workplaces to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion,
  • recognize the ongoing work we all have to do to counter discrimination against persons with disabilities, and
  • promote a culture of inclusion.

I was recently contacted by a student from about 28 years ago. He was a student in the school where I taught, but was not a student in my class. He recounted one of his remembrances. He shared the following:

“One day he observed a student making fun of me behind my back. I had heard the student, and addressed them. I explained why my gait was as it was. I offered them an opportunity to experience, in a limited way, what I experience with every step. I suggested that the student place a lift under their shoe equivalent to the size of a 2×4 to create a leg length discrepancy and to then walk around and observe the changes to their gait. They explained that that moment had a profound affect on them and was the moment when they learned about empathy, to view things from another’s perspective, and to not judge. They stated that they went home and tried the experiment themself.”

If we are going to affect a cultural change with respect to the perception of accessibility, we need to focus the conversation on removing barriers, enhancing inclusivity and recognizing the diversity of contributions by persons with disabilities. As was the student, we all need to become participants in the change.

It is only by working together that we will achieve a truly accessible and inclusive society that leaves no one behind.

Michael Freeman,
UNE National Equity Representative for Persons with Disabilities

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – May 17

May 17, 2021

Members of the Union family,

I am writing to inform you about the May 17th, 2021, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). 

Currently around the world we are all living in a with a very difficult time, as COVID-19 causes havoc.  I wanted to recognize that this has also had an increased negative affect on marginalized groups. One way to mitigate the negative effects is to have  safety nets, areas or groups of people that are able to provide comfort and safety.  These safety nets have grown more difficult to maintain in this virtual world we have been thrust into.  We are aware that this time has affected all of us, but there is a need to realize how this has affected many even more.

I have over the last year taken some time to realize the privilege I have and the supports I have access to and how I am able to maintain my networks.  These tools are not readily available to everyone.  Not everyone has access to housing, internet, family, safe drinking water, food and even more. 

I have looked at my learned history, my current biases and my privilege to see what I can do, what I can learn and tools that are out there to help me retrain, adapt and reprogram what programing I have received from a lens of privilege, culture and history.  To start, I want to say that we are all human beings, the social constructs set up around the work are only there because we allow them.  Rights are there because people fought for them and continue to fight for them and even to keep what they may have.  We have been taught that rights are finite and that for others to have rights we need to give something up.  This is not correct.  Rights are not a piece cake.  Those that have the whole cake do not need to give up slices of their cake so that others can have rights.  I do not want a piece of your cake. I want my own cake.  By giving me a whole cake does not make your cake worth less either.  This type of past programing needs and can be changed.  Marginalized groups have been told that they need to compete with every other marginalized group to gain time to be heard and to be able to state their case for inclusion and equity.  I ask that as marginalized groups we take the time to link arms in solidarity to find common ground to move forward through our intersectionality.  We are stronger, louder and better organized if we all work together in solidarity.  Let’s make real change.

Across the world there has been an increase of hate and violence.  The 2SLGBTQ+ community has been a major focus of that hate.  This includes increased conversion therapy organizations, countries creating LGBTQ+ free zones, countries with concentration camps for LGBTQ+ people and countries changing law to reduce protections for LGBTQ+ people.  There are currently 6 countries in the world where being LGBTQ+ is punishable by death, 27 countries where being LGBTQ+ would get 10 years to life in prison and 43 countries with no protection at all.  This is all because of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.  The definition of Phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.

Here in Canada, we work hard to ensure that our laws protect.  One such positive move forward is Bill C-6 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)). Conversion therapy refers to any of several dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, that could mean attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation from lesbian, gay, or bisexual to straight or their gender identity from transgender or nonbinary to cisgender. And it could include efforts to change a person’s gender expression (to make a person act more stereotypically masculine or feminine, for example), or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attraction or feelings toward a person of the same gender.) This bill has passed second reading in the House of Commons and is working towards Royal Assent. This is a great move to inclusion, safety and equity within this great nation of Canada.  Bills like this one are something we all need to know about and support so that small groups of loud people do not cause them to fail.

I hope that on this May 17th, 2021 you take the time to reflect on privilege, your biases, your lives and your knowledge.  Remember that privilege does not mean that you have not had a difficult time, what it does mean is that you may not have had to experience adversity because of who you inherently are.  You may not have had to experience life from the world of someone who is racialized, 2SLGBTQ+, a woman, Indigenous or a person with access needs, and others).

Take the time to look at some of the amazing resources out there and help make a positive change for the lives of those who are struggling for the basic rights that we have. Here is one of those resources. 

Christopher Little-Gagné
UNE National Equity Representative for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People

Asian Heritage Month

May 4, 2021

In May 2002, the Government of Canada signed a declaration designating May as Asian Heritage Month. Adopted by the Senate in 2001, this was proposed by Vivienne Poy, the first Canadian Senator of Asian Heritage. This Month is meant to recognize and acknowledge the various achievements and contributions of Asians in Canadian Society. Along with this, it is also a celebration of their rich and diverse cultural practices and traditions, Asia being the largest continent and comprised of about fifty-four countries.

There is a long list of Canadians of Asian descent who have excelled in the fields of politics, economics, science, sports, medicine, education, music and service but it is fitting to add all Canadians of Asian heritage to this list. When they came to Canada, they were determined to strive and work hard to achieve their goals and realize their dreams. There were a lot of challenges and struggles but in their own diverse little ways, directly or indirectly, they have contributed to the growth and development of their communities, their workplaces and of Canadian society.

Asian Heritage Month is an opportune time to learn and experience the rich and diverse culture of Asia. Join and celebrate.  Check out the activities and festivities that have been organized by Asian Heritage Month Societies or other Asian groups in your communities. Check out this link as well from the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba.

Appreciate and learn more about the diverse cultures of Asia by listening to music, watching a film, reading a book, doing some craft, exploring different tastes and flavours and indulging yourself in Asian culinary delight.

As we mark this year’s Asian Heritage Month, it is also important to take note of what is happening in our surroundings that is greatly affecting Canadians of Asian heritage. They are facing challenges and fear, and some are struggling to live in harmony and peace. This is because of the ongoing hate crimes and racial discrimination that are becoming more prevalent especially during this time of pandemic. Discrimination and hate crimes may come in different forms. It is our duty as Canadians to be aware of these acts of injustice and the plight of Asians and become allies especially in communities where their voices are not being heard.

Happy Asian Heritage Month!

Shirley Torres
Regional Vice-President, B.C. and Yukon

Mental Health, a taboo subject

May 3, 2021

During this Mental Health Week, the first question that comes to my mind is, will this pandemic—despite all the negativity that it causes—sensitize society and the public to the problems of mental health? When I hear the most common prejudices like “schizophrenic people are violent”; “depressed people lack drive”; “anxious people are weak-minded”; “bipolar people are hard to manage”, all these prejudices lead to stigmatization and discrimination and show a lack of information on the subject.

I believe that as an advanced and progressive society, we have to start at the start, i.e. education. We say that to have good mental health, the key to success is to lead a balanced life—yes, but the greatest hurdle is that no one is the same, we are all different people, we all have our own histories, and during a global pandemic, what exactly does a balanced life look like? It would be a good idea to focus specifically on the needs of those among us who are vulnerable. Let’s learn to notice changes in behaviour in our loved ones, our colleagues and our friends. Let’s try to understand what mental illnesses are, to differentiate between anxiety disorders, panic attacks and agoraphobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, bipolar disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, mood disorders and others.

Anyone of us can have mistaken perceptions, but people struggling from mental illnesses have more problems with their thoughts and perceptions. Very often, those close to them are confronted with this reality and their own thoughts and behaviours are greatly affected by it.

Discrimination against people suffering from mental health problems or addictions is often linked to prejudiced attitudes, negative stereotypes, as well as the generalized stigmatization of mental problems and addictions.

The best present that you can give to someone with a mental health problem is to listen to them, recommend that they consult with someone, support them, and show them a great deal of empathy. As you can see, this proves the necessity of increasing education and communication on this subject, in order to fight against taboos, fake news and concerns about mental health. Even nowadays, mental illnesses evoke fears and shame in some people. These behaviours reflect mistaken beliefs, misunderstandings, and ignorance regarding mental illnesses.

We must lead the way as union leaders in helping our community adopt a healthy and positive dialogue and demonstrate that it’s possible to render this topic less taboo, so that people can talk about it freely, without any concerns.

In closing, take care of yourselves and those close to you, and keep in mind that a positive mental attitude leads to positive feelings, which in turn results in positive outcomes.

Daniel Toutant
National Vice-President for Human Rights

World Autism Awareness Day 2021

By Michael Freeman

People with autism find aspects of everyday life challenging. Interaction and communication with people, even people that are closest, may be difficult. These situations can be confusing to others and stress inducing to the person with autism.

Restricted interests, repetitive behaviours and difficulty with interactions and communications all affect a person with autism’s ability to function effectively in everyday life.

World Autism Awareness Day was established in December of 2007 to bring awareness of Autism to the fore and to ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in 2013.

Autism can be diagnosed at any age but is referred to as a “developmental disorder” because signs and symptoms typically appear before the age of two.  Statistics show that autism is 4.3 times more prevalent in boys than girls.

Autism continues to be a focus of study, creating new developments in understanding aspects of the “disorder”.

Please take a few minutes to read or research about autism. Increase your knowledge. Develop your understanding. Discuss with friends and colleagues; some of whom may be living with autism or have family members that do.

Michael Freeman is the UNE National Equity Representative for People with Disabilities.

National Indigenous Languages Day, March 31

March 31, 2021

The Indigenous peoples in Canada have celebrated March 31st to honour the strength and endurance of our languages. There are thousands of Indigenous Language Champions creating and delivering Indigenous languages programs every day.

I celebrate the work of our Indigenous Language Champions who are revitalizing and are seeking ways to sustain the survival of our languages. I acknowledge the difficult burden they are carrying to reverse more than a century of attempts to erase our languages and identity, mostly through residential schools.

Our communities now have opportunities to live and learn our Mother tongues through Language Nests, Immersion Programs, Language and Cultural Camps, and to offer Master-Apprentice Programs as well as degree programs for our Teachers and those who want to become fluent speakers and Language Teachers. Across the country we have asserted greater determination to use our languages, our identities, and to seek equitable recognition and support to that which is provided to the official languages in this country.

At this time I wish to acknowledge the importance of language and culture for the well-being and resilience of Indigenous communities around the world. It’s also a day to lift up our hands to the many language champions working to address the language crisis facing Indigenous peoples.

Lenora Maracle
UNE National Equity Representative for Aboriginal Peoples

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – March 21

March 18, 2021

March 21st has been earmarked as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and this year’s theme is “Youth standing up against racism”.

On this day, in 1960, police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire killing 69, and wounding 180 people during a peaceful demonstration against apartheid laws. This incident, in 1966, prompted the United Nations General Assembly to proclaim March 21st as the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

More then 50 years ago, The Sharpeville massacre set the world’s spotlight on the very visible and atrocious, treatment of South African blacks not unlike the recent killing of George Floyd nearly one year ago in the United States at the hands of a police officer that resonated on a worldwide scale.

Despite these very blatant public displays of cruelty, resulting in death, of black people, governments around the world continue to allow racism to feed and grow throughout its institutions, systems and societies.

Decades have passed since Sharpeville and yet the world continues to log many incidences of racism and discrimination. For some, March 21st, simply serves as a one-day show of solidarity or allyship, and once the “smoke clears”, the status quo remains unchanged and their realities go unaffected.  

Canada has shown significant progress however, much work remains to be done to create a society that is truly equal and inclusive for all. The Clerk of the Privy Council reported, “… it is not sufficient to simply equip ourselves with knowledge and tools. We must take action in ways we know will be meaningful in addressing all barriers and disadvantages. Being a leader means taking an active role in ending all forms of discrimination and oppression, consciously challenging our own biases, and creating an environment in which our employees feel empowered and safe to speak up when they witness barriers to equity and inclusion. Inaction is not an option.  We must encourage and support the voices that have long been marginalized in our organizations. We must create opportunities where they have long been absent. We must take direct, practical actions to invoke change. This is a true test of leadership, and one we must meet head on. Now”. (Clerk to the Privy Council, Call to action on anti-racism, equity, and inclusion in the Federal Public Service).

In Canada, we showcase the richness of the multi-cultural mosaic and all that entails, and most entertain the idea that Canada is racist free; with every member of its citizenry enjoying equality and inclusivity. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics have shown a spike of racism towards marginalized populations. Prior to this, statistics bear witness to the underbelly of the richness of our differences and confirms that racism and discrimination is still an everyday reality for Blacks, Indigenous and other marginalized/racialized groups.

Also, let us use this platform, this internationally recognized day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to acknowledge the many achievements of those amongst us who stand marginalized, their continued struggle to achieve equality in the workplace, to combat conscious and unconscious biases within the walls of institutions and systems fraught with racist and discriminatory practices. 

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination provides an opportunity to renew one’s commitment to the responsibilities, both individually and collectively, for promoting and protecting the goal of the elimination of all forms of discrimination and racial oppression. This day can serve as a springboard and as activists, we must make a conscious effort to confront oppression and racial discrimination in all forms and fight for equity in our workplaces, union and our communities.

Hayley Millington
UNE National Equity Representative for Racially Visible People

International Women’s Day 2021

March 8, 2021

COVID-19 is the most serious public health crisis that Canada has faced. It is showing us where there are fundamental gaps in our society and shown us where it is impacting our already vulnerable and struggling populations. They are hurting and in need, many of those impacted are women and children. Women have been in the front line of this crisis, many facing job losses and many taking on more extra family responsibilities. More women are in essential jobs in this crisis, exposing them to infection and high stress. This pandemic is not over and what we need right now is just a little kindness and a little help while we see the inequality.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

I would like to challenge us all at UNE to commit to calling out inequality when we see it. Standing up for what is right. Maya Angelou said ‘’Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” It all starts with one step and we can make a difference. If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it has shown that there is still a long way to go with fighting against gender bias and promoting equality.

As the Twister Sister song We’re Not Gonna Take It says:

We’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it anymore!

Diana Walker
UNE National Equity Representative for Women