By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
It isn’t every day that you find your face on the side of a vehicle – let alone a police cruiser.
Jean Augustine, the former MP for Lakeshore-Etobicoke, the first African-Canadian woman to serve as an MP on Parliament Hill and the champion behind gaining federal recognition for Black History Month in Canada in 1995, is one of six people featured on a new Durham police cruiser that honours black history both in Canada and abroad.
“I was surprised. Usually, not very many things are hidden from me. There might have been some little cues, but I knew absolutely nothing,” the former MP tells The Oshawa Express.
“This was a well kept secret from me, and so I was very honoured and I felt very gratified that this region, which is doing its first Black History Month, had not only looked around but also sought to find some leadership examples that they could present. And that’s what Black History Month is all about.”
The new cruiser was unveiled as part of the launch of Black History Month celebrations at the Region of Durham, the first time that the event has been publicly marked there.
Augustine is joined on the new cruiser by fellow Canadians Viola Desmond, a Halifax woman who refused to leave the whites-only section at a movie theatre in 1946, challenging racial segregation, and the face of the Canadian $10 bill starting next year; Michaelle Jean, the first visable minority to serve as Governor General; and Lincoln Alexander, the first black person to become an MP and first black federal cabinet minister. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandella are also featured on the vehicle.
Chief Paul Martin, Durham’s top cop, says that it was important for DRPS to have this specially wrapped vehicle – which joins two others, one celebrating the LGBTQ community and another expressing the force’s anti-bullying stance – to celebrate what black people have brought to Canada’s identity and history.
“If we ignore a piece of that history or the contributions of one group, then we’re affecting the collective history of Canada. There is a number of great contributions by the black community in Canada that have not been celebrated to the extent that they should be. So what we’re trying to do is raise the profile of that in Durham Region and because we are in a position that we can create that kind of awareness, we decided to do that this year,” he says.
“Certainly with the relationships in the United States and elsewhere, I think it’s more important to bring communities together than drive them apart.”