Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis


As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we focus the spotlight on another strong Black Canadian female figure. Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and came from parents who hailed from Cuba (her father) and Antigua (her mother). She had strong roots in the church, being brought up and raised surrounded by strong religious influences, especially due to the fact that her father was the archpriest of the African Orthodox Church.

Mayann Elizabeth grew up in a diverse neighbourhood of Nova Scotia, yet, despite the apparent diversity of her community, there were still quite prominent issues of racial discrimination and inequality occurring in various communities surrounding her. Mayann was made aware at quite a young age of the segregation and racial disparities that were occurring in her community, and in communities across the country. She knew that she wanted to be a part of the social justice movements that would work to abolish racial segregation and discrimination on Canada, and was compelled to do her part to affect change in some way. So Maryann pursued higher education at St. Mary’s University, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following her undergraduate education, she took a job for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Shortly after her experience with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, she moved to the United States, where she lived for 16 years. In those 16 years, Maryann was able to earn her Master of Arts degree, in 1984, with a specialization in Public Administration from New York University. She used her Masters degree to build a career with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues, issues that influence the quality of people’s lives, and issues that seek to be rectified through public bodies. This was in strong part due to her upbringing in an unstable racial climate in Nova Scotia, where racial segregation and discrimination were very real realities with which she experienced.

After 16 years in the United States, returned back to Canada and settled in the province of Ontario. There, she worked as an assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Women’s Directorate. Shortly after, she became the Director of the same organization. After her experience with the Ontario Women’s Directorate, she decided to return to her roots and pursue her career with the Nova Scotia human Right Commission. There, she became to Chief Executive Officer.

Mayann’s work to bring about social justice and equality within society was widely recognized both nationally and internationally. She received the Harry Jerome Award from the Black Business and Professional Association, the Multicultural Education Council of Nova Scotia Award, and the Golden Jubilee Medla. Furthermore, she is the first woman ombudsman, black or white, of Nova Scotia. She moved on to become the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 2006. She is also the first Black Nova Scotian, man or woman, and the second Black Canadian to hold this position.

Her extensive experience in various senior public service positions is in large part due to her experience with racism and segregation. As a Black woman during a time where segregation was the everyday reality for all people in the United States and in Canada, Mayann Elizabeth knew first-hand what it was like to be discriminated and judged for reasons beyond control. She understood what social injustice and inequality felt like from a victim’s point of view. These horrible experiences inspired Maryann to live a life of public advocacy; live a life and build a career built on the principles of social justice and equality. To this day, she remains a largely influential and historical figure of Canadian history through her work in affecting change with regards to racial discrimination, segregation, and racial inequality.


Problems with the CESAR Health and Dental Plan

A poster on a pillar asks students to vote yes for a part time students dental plan, health plan and opt-out optionAt the outset, it looks great. Health and dental coverage for part-time students. I remember it being discussed, reading reams of emails about the policy and voting for it. However, there are some serious problems with the opt-out policy.

In order to opt-out of the health and dental plan part-time students must prove that they have alternative plans. However, most part-time students are in contract or part time work, therefore not eligible for benefits from their workplaces. This is even true of Ryerson student employees. In fact, a search of the Government of Canada’s website, reveals that more women than men work in part-time positions, regardless of educational achievement.

I am sure that the health and dental plan works for some students, however, female part-time students might be surprised to learn that oral forms of birth control are not covered. A quick google search shows that, “in 2013-14, 54 percent of undergraduate students were female and 46 percent were male. The gender breakdown of students varies significantly by program area”. In many programs within the Faculty of Community Services there are large numbers of female students. I am a female student in the School of Disability Studies which is almost entirely comprised of other female students and is a part time program. Many of these female students work in gendered employment, like health care services, meaning that they are even more likely to be in part-time employment situations. Let’s not forget that women earn less then men in Canada.

Now, I understand that many part-time students probably don’t want to pay higher fees for their health and dental plan. I understand this. I don’t want to either, however, I would rather pay more if it meant the plan actually met my needs. Full time students pay more for their plan, in which oral forms of birth control are covered. My suggestion is this, either let me opt-out without an alternative plan or let me opt-up. By forcing me to purchase a health plan which doesn’t cover my needs (or the needs of many other female students) you are forcing me to pay double. I pay for the plan, and then for my prescriptions. If I was a full time student or a male part-time student this wouldn’t be an issue. Or if I had a non-contract position which allowed me benefits then this wouldn’t be an issue.

The health and dental plan for part-time students is a great idea in theory, in practice it discriminates against female students.