By Jeremy Appel
Black labour leader and activist Nicholas Thompson hosted a Facebook livestream Thursday night responding to the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s (PSAC) decision to disinvite journalist and activist Nora Loreto from an upcoming anti-racism workshop.
PSAC is the country’s largest federal sector union, representing 200,000 members.
Thompson invited fellow PSAC leader and activist Sean McNeill and Haitian activist Paige Galette to participate in the Facebook live discussion along with Loreto.
“The labour movement is weak when it’s racist,” Loreto said in the livestream which has been viewed 4,600 times in the last 24 hours.
Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, commented on the livestream saying, “Absolutely disgusting move by PSAC.”
Last month, PSAC asked Loreto to co-facilitate a webinar with Galette titled “An introduction to anti-racism for white folks.” The webinar was set to take place next week, Monday in English and Tuesday in French.
Why did PSAC disinvite Loreto?
On July 14, the far-right media outlet Rebel News published a video where Rebel personality David Menzies stood outside PSAC’s office in Toronto, calling Loreto “misogynistic” and “racist,” taking issues with the anti-racism workshop’s title.
Menzies referenced Loretos’ two-year-old tweet about the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash, where she addressed the “totally devastating tragedy” while acknowledging how the victims’ status as young white men led to a higher outpouring of compassion and support compared to other tragedies.
Bad faith readings of this tweet lead to an ongoing right wing harassment campaign against Loreto, who has stated she has effectively been blacklisted from mainstream Canadian media.
She said the July 14 Rebel video led to a new deluge of harassment. Loreto said she told one troll “very politely that they should eat shit,” which PSAC claims is the reason they disinvited her. Loreto says PSAC made no mention of the Rebel video and the harassment she was responding to.
PSAC response highlights need for anti-racism workshop, activists say
Thompson, Galette, McNeill and Loreto all agreed the workshop should continue in some capacity, whether hosted by PSAC or another organization.
Galette made clear that she will not facilitate the webinar without Loreto, while Loreto said she would be “very happy” to participate if re-invited by PSAC. Galette pointed out that around 900 people had registered for the workshop.
“We have white allies who are willing to do the work and learn,” Galette said. “This is a huge opportunity for a labour union to say, ‘Not only are we willing to write beautiful statements, but we are willing to back it up and do the work.’”
Much of the backlash PSAC received about the workshop was from “members who are actively organizing against the union,” Galette said.
By succumbing to right-wing concern trolling, PSAC is ultimately failing its membership, she added.
“When you’re cancelling a workshop, it doesn’t mean saving your face. You’re sending a clear message to your members that you’re not here for them, you’re here to cater and uphold white supremacy and white supremacist ideals,” said Galette.
Loreto emphasized that the workshop is geared towards PSAC’s entire membership, not just its white members, but that it’s crucial to teach white people how to be actively anti-racist due to their disproportionate power in a systemically racist society.
Galette said the initial need for such a workshop was made evident when some PSAC members in Ottawa circulated a video mocking the murder of George Floyd. Thompson pointed out that just one of nine PSAC executives is a person of colour, demonstrating there is much anti-racism work to be done in the union.
“It shouldn’t have to take black people dying to recognize there’s a problem within the labour movement,” Thompson added.
“This is a fight for the life of the labour movement. When we say an injury to one is an injury to all, we literally mean that. When union comrades, brothers and sisters who are Black and Indigenous have something happen to them, whether it’s from their employer or union, that is an injury to all,” Loreto said.