Over 150 people, including Chinese Canadian and First Nation war veterans, youth and community leaders, marched along the False Creek seawall on Friday for the first annual Rights and Freedoms March. The march took place on April 17, to mark the anniversary of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many people on the seawall who hadn't heard about the march joined in upon learning about the cause from participants.
Joining the march were members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who fought as the first ever African-American military pilots in World War II, during a time of severe racial discrimination in the United States. During a previous visit to Vancouver two years ago, the Tuskegee Airmen told the Vancouver Observer about experiences such as having to sleep in their cars when traveling because no hotel would allow guests of colour to stay.
Retired Lt. Col. Robert (Bob) Ashby, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen who fought in the war, said he was inspired to come to Vancouver for the march because of the shared experiences of discrimination between Chinese Canadian war veterans. He said he and other Tuskegee pilots met their Canadian counterparts at an event in Vancouver called "Red Tails, Dragon Tails," and have been like a "band of brothers" ever since.
Retired Lt. Col. Robert "Bob" Ashby photo by Jenny Uechi
"The fight against discrimination is not over," he said. "People should realize that the progress is the ultimate victory… it’s a continued struggle, and something we need to continue working on."
Chinese Canadian veterans and seniors who joined the march spoke of their first-hand experience with prejudice prior to the Charter.
"I grew up in Victoria so I knew there was no public job, no front desk jobs, because no one hired 'Orientals,'" said Joe Li. "It had nothing to being a good student, even if you went to university at the time. We only got the vote in 1947, and even after they gave the vote, it still took time for the other people to look at you as an equal."
"I think the Charter is a huge thing to have in Canada, based on the years and years of discrimination before," he added.
Simon Wong of Pacific Unit 280 and Col. Howe Lee (right)
"I think this walk today is remarkable, because I don’t think that Canadians think about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in their day-to-day lives and I don’t think they commemorate it in they way they should," said Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr.
Green Councillor Adriane Carr photo by Jenny Uechi
"There are countries that live without these charters and they live with atrocious situations... so we ought to be very proud we have the Charter. It is an evolutionary document, we have added to it... and I think there is a long way to go."
Don Chapman, a citizenship advocate who has successfully fought for legislative changes to restore Canadian citizenship to legitimate Canadians who had been denied their rights due to factors like race, marital status, age and gender, said Canadians needed to be far more aware of injustices suffered by other Canadians.
As a dual citizen who fought for equal rights in Canada and aviation in the U.S, he said he started the Rights and Freedoms march in Vancouver to make Canadians more aware of standing up for others in the face of discrimination.
"We do have rights and freedoms but the government keeps taking them away," said retired Cpl. David Ward, from the Cree First Nation in Alberta, who drummed and marched near the front of the rally.