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Pickering councillor faces backlash after penning op-ed criticizing Black History Month celebrations

In an op-ed published this week, Pickering Coun. Lisa Robinson denounced the idea of celebrating Black History Month, saying that 'the race to equality is not the celebration of one race over another.' (Lisa Robinson/X - image credit)
In an op-ed published this week, Pickering Coun. Lisa Robinson denounced the idea of celebrating Black History Month, saying that 'the race to equality is not the celebration of one race over another.' (Lisa Robinson/X - image credit)

A Pickering city councillor is facing backlash from community members and her council colleagues after penning an op-ed saying she does not support the concept of Black History Month, which led to public outcry and some demanding an apology.

In the op-ed, which was published online Sunday in the Oshawa Durham Central Newspaper, Coun. Lisa Robinson denounced the idea of celebrating Black History Month, arguing that "the race to equality is not the celebration of one race over another.

"We are so hung up on North American history and the historical trafficking of primarily African people that we have lost sense of time and period," she wrote.

"Back in those days society was very different. Today, we have come a long way."

In an email to CBC Toronto Monday, Robinson defended the op-ed, saying her comments were not racist.

"My statement is merely wanting to support unity and equality for all," she wrote. "Instead of segregating people based on their colour, religion, or sexual preferences, we should be celebrating our shared humanity."

'It's insulting and hurtful,' says Black health advocate

Carion Fenn, health advocate and founder of the Carion Fenn Foundation, said this is the latest example of inflammatory sentiment toward marginalized communities. Fenn is demanding Robinson apologize to Durham's Black community.

"We should not have that mindset at council table," she said.

"It's insulting and it's hurtful. It pains us. It brings up the hurt and the pain that we have endured and it continues that trauma that is impacting our health … We need to protect the Black community."

Fenn said she would like to see the city's integrity commissioner investigate Robinson's remarks.

"Statements like these do not represent the Pickering that I know. We can't let her behaviour reflect the overall view of Pickering," she said.

The Womxn of Colour Durham Collective, a youth-led organization, also criticized the op-ed.

"We find the language used deplorable as it in essence waters down the beauty, complexity and power that is Black History," the Collective said.

"It is important that these celebrations continue so as to not ignore the past, but to confront it and be uncomfortable with it."

'Disheartening' to see display of insensitivity: mayor

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe addressed the op-ed during an executive committee meeting on Monday, where he said the sentiments expressed by Robinson in the piece "run counter to the values we at council have collectively championed.

"Her words have caused concern in our community and in my view [have] hurt our community. As mayor, I'm obligated to address this matter with a degree of urgency," Ashe said.

"It is disheartening to witness such displays of insensitivity towards Black History Month, a time when we should be celebrating the rich contributions of Afro-Canadians to our great nation," he said.

"While I staunchly believe in the principles of free speech that form the bedrock of our democratic society, I must remind Coun. Robinson of the sworn oath taken to respect and abide by the wishes of this council."

Kevin Ashe
Kevin Ashe

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe said Coun. Lisa Robinson's remarks on Black History Month have 'caused concern in our community and ... hurt our community.' (CBC)

Ashe said that the suggestion by Robinson, that recognizing Black History is divisive, is contrary to the principles of equity and inclusion that council upholds.

In response to the mayor's comments, Robinson said, "I would hope that no Black people in Pickering and beyond will feel my remarks were inflammatory or were disrespectful."

Robinson previously docked pay

The councillor's remarks come just a few months after she wasfound to have promoted "homophobic and transphobic" attitudes by the city's integrity commissioner for conduct last May.

In May 2023, Robinson encouraged a crowd at a Durham District School Board meeting to lobby politicians and to attend an upcoming Pickering city council meeting en masse in support of her motions to ban drag shows and pride parades anywhere children could be present, to limit non-government flag raising and to change city policy to mandate people use gender-specific washrooms.

Pickering city council voted to suspend her pay for a period of 60 days as a result — something Robinson told CBC Toronto Monday that she intends to seek a judicial review for, as it was based on "unfounded allegations and distortions of the truth."

Robinson was alsopreviously docked 30 days of pay after another integrity commissioner investigation concluded that one of her Facebook posts was a form of bullying. Robinson referenced that decision in her Sunday op-ed, which was published in print Tuesday. In it, she said she felt that "council was treating me like a modern day slave" for docking her pay.

In 2021, Robinson was a candidate for the federal Conservative party in the Toronto riding of Beaches-East York but got booted after past Islamophobic tweets surfaced.