Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday announced CAN$221 million (US$168 million) to support black entrepreneurs, saying a lack of access to capital has long been a barrier to their economic success.
The four-year program is the first of its kind for the black community in Canada.
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In partnership with Canadian banks, Ottawa will provide loans of up to Can$250,000 to black-owned businesses, as well as access to training, mentorship and financial planning services.
“We’ve heard very clearly from the black community that economic empowerment is an essential step towards breaking down (racial) barriers and creating true success,” Trudeau told a news conference at HXOUSE, a Toronto incubator co-founded by Grammy-winning singer The Weeknd.
Starting a business is hard enough without having to face systemic discrimination as well, he said.
“The ideas, the ability to succeed are all there within the black community” and just need to be unleashed, Trudeau added.
The funding pledge comes amid protests across Canada and the United States against racism and police brutality.
In June, Trudeau joined thousands in taking a knee in front of parliament in solidarity with the protesters.
Greg Fergus, the chair of the parliamentary black caucus, said that although Canada abolished slavery in 1834, “that was no guarantee for freedom, for opportunities, for prosperity.”
Black Canadians could not own homes, obtain loans or generate wealth to pass on to their children for a long time, he said.
The government’s support will provide “an opportunity for the black community to tell a different story — that we are economic actors, that we are leaders in our community,” Fergus said.
According to census data, black Canadians account for less than four percent of the country’s total population.