December 8, 2019

Throughout its 41-year history, CEMA has annually recognized individuals who have advanced a greater understanding of Canada’s ethnic communities through the diligence of well-crafted journalism and cultural engagement. At this year’s CEMA Awards Gala, held November 15, 2019, the prestigious lifetime achievement award, named posthumously after the founder of CEMA, the Seirhey Khmara Ziniak Award, was given to:

Honourable Dr. JEAN AUGUSTINE P.C., C.M., C.B.E. in recognition of her dedication to Multiculturalism and its affirmative expression through media and activism. The decision was warmly received by the full house in attendance. Jean’s acceptance speech stirred a rousing response from all who were well aware of her many personal and professional accomplishments.

Jean immigrated to Canada in 1960 through the Government of Canada’s West Indian Domestic Scheme, a program that enlisted women aged 18 to 35 to work as domestics for a year in exchange for landed immigrant status. After her year working as a nanny Jean enrolled in Teachers College and embarked on a successful career in education from classroom teacher to Principal to Supervisory Officer with the Toronto Catholic School Board.

In 1967 Jean served on the committee that helped organize the first Caribana festival. In 1973 she headed the Toronto chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, later becoming national president. In 1985 Jean left teaching to be the chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority where she remained until 1993 when she entered politics.

In 1993 Jean Augustine was elected to the House of Commons, the first black woman ever. From 1993-96 she was Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister of Canada.

In 1995 Jean put a motion before Parliament to recognize February as Black History Month nationwide; the motion was passed unanimously in December 1995. In 2002, Jean was appointed Secretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women) making her the first black woman to achieve a post in Cabinet. In 2003 Jean was appointed Minister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women); and later would become Deputy Speaker of the Parliament.

In 2007, after Jean had retired from parliament, the Ontario Government appointed her the province’s first Fairness Commissioner. In this role Jean influenced hundreds of improvements made to licensing procedures for professionals educated outside Ontario – improvements that made the process easier to navigate, more transparent and impartial for qualified foreign-trained professionals. After eight years at the helm of OFC, Augustine retired in March 2015.

Jean has received many honours and awards. In 2009 she was made a member of the Order of Canada. In 2014 Jean was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

In 2008, The Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora opened at York University to help advance education, equity and inclusiveness. The following years have brought the launch of the Jean Augustine Girls’ Leadership Academy in Scarborough; the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment in Toronto; and in 2017, the brand new state-of-the-art Jean Augustine Secondary School in Brampton. Jean holds seven Honorary Doctorates and is among the 100 Brilliant Minded Women in Canada.

Jean is a mother of two daughters and grandmother of two grandsons.