Pickering anti-racism taskforce ‘horrified and deeply concerned’ by councillor’s slavery comments

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Published October 6, 2023 at 3:30 pm

pickering councillor lisa robinson controversy black history month

The Pickering anti-black racism task force is “horrified and deeply concerned” by City Councillor Lisa Robinson’s comments comparing herself to a “modern-day slave.”

Robinson’s comment, “I am now a modern-day slave,” came after her pay was docked for 30 days as a reprimand for bullying comments she had made about her neighbours online.  Her neighbours had opposed her installation of a large shipping container to store Halloween decorations in public planning meetings.

After her variance request was denied, Robinson responded by calling out her neighbours by name on Facebook and blamed them for cancelling a planned Halloween event. A later integrity commissioner investigation found this was an “inappropriate attack against individual residents who had simply participated in a public planning process.”

City council followed the commissioner’s recommendation and docked her pay as a reprimand for her behaviour. Following this consequence, Robinson again took to Facebook to complain saying that since she was working without pay for the month she was “a modern-day slave.”

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe was quick to condemn Robinson’s comments as “wildly offensive and deeply harmful.”

“Referencing the system of slavery as a point of comparison carries a violent undertone,” he continued, “Slavery, a dark chapter in our history, brutally denied the humanity of generations of Black communities, subjecting them to unimaginable suffering and injustice.  To use such a comparison is fundamentally wrong, and also diminishes the generational trauma caused by slavery.”

Instead of apologizing, as Ashe did on the city’s behalf, Robinson doubled down and defended her comments. She said her comments were meant to “shed light on the issue of modern-day slavery,” not to compare it to the historical practice.

“I would like to emphasize that modern-day slaves often endure gruelling working hours, hazardous conditions, and receive meagre or nonexistent wages for their efforts,” she said, “As an individual who is now working for the government without compensation for the next 30 days, I am facing significant challenges.”

The Pickering Anti-Black Racism Taskforce (PABRT) later said they were “horrified and deeply concerned,” over Robinson’s “heinous” comment. “It demonstrates a blatant disregard for the weight and impact of her words as well as how it inflicts harm to others,” they said, “Robinson’s comment diminishes a dark, traumatic chapter in history that continues to affect Black people in
Canada and worldwide profoundly.”

“Robinson’s use of the term “modern-day slave” as a white person with privilege is problematic due to the historical context, inaccuracy, insensitivity, and potential to perpetuate harmful misconceptions about race and oppression,” they continued.

The word “slave” itself, the PABRT wrote, “carries a specific, deeply ingrained historical context of racial oppression. It’s misuse they said “can trivialize the immense suffering and historical injustices enslaved groups have faced.”

Even Robinson’s defense that her comparison was to the modern practice of forced labour was inaccurate, the PABRT said. “Individuals who are not subjected to forced labour, human trafficking, or similar forms of extreme exploitation should avoid likening their circumstances to slavery. Modern slavery involves human trafficking, forced labour, and other heinous crimes that result in severe human rights violations.”

Robinson’s comments illustrated a “complete lack of awareness and sensitivity” the PABRT expects from city councillors and reflects, “the distinct privilege of an individual who, through their own misconduct was punished financially, and further belittles the tragedies endured by kidnapped Africans who were enslaved.”

Additionally, the was shocked at Robinson’s “adamant lack of remorse” in her “irrational” statement in defence of her comment as a “clear indication of her entitled mindset.”

“We want to strongly reiterate that using the term ‘modern-day slave’ as a white person of privilege and influence is problematic due to the historical context,inaccuracy, insensitivity, and potential to perpetuate harmful misconceptions about race and oppression,” the group concluded.

They’ve called on council to again discipline Robinson and recomended training at minimum.

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