The Honourable Jean Augustine, P.C., C.M., O.Ont, C.B.E.
Jean Augustine’s story is a testament to the power of hard work and devotion in pursuit of social justice.
She was born in St. George’s, Grenada in 1937. She lost her father at a young age and blossomed into an outstanding young student raised by a wise grandmother. In 1960, already a qualified teacher, she immigrated to Canada on the Canada-Caribbean Domestic Program. With focus, she attended Toronto Teachers’ College before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto. She earned her Masters in Education while working as an elementary school teacher with the Metropolitan Separate School Board in Toronto. She was later promoted to principal, then Supervisory Officer, where she helped shape the lives of a number of young students; all the while deeply involved in grassroots efforts out in the community. She was married and had two daughters who she continued to raise as a single mother.
Ms. Augustine’s contribution expanded to many social causes through her involvement on boards such as that of York University, The Hospital for Sick Children, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Harbourfront Corporation. She also served as the National President of the Congress of Black Women of Canada. Her capacities and work ethic were recognized by political leaders who began to call upon her for various tasks ranging from the development and launch of Canada's official multiculturalism policy in 1971; to providing advice on cabinet level appointments.
In 1988, she was appointed to chair the Metro Toronto Housing Authority, a multi-million dollar social housing authority serving 300,000 residents in rent-geared to income housing.
In 1993, Jean Augustine made history as the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons as the Member of Parliament from the Greater Toronto Area constituency of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. She served with distinction winning four consecutive elections until she decided to move on to new challenges in 2006.
Over this period in Parliament, her work included Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister of Multiculturalism and the Status of Women; Chair of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade committee; Chair of the Human Rights Committee, three-time Chair of the National Women’s Caucus; and in her last year, she was elected Deputy Speaker by her peers. Amongst her notable achievements was legislation to protect disadvantaged low-income individuals including single mothers raising children; securing unanimous legislative support to pass a historic motion designating February as Black History Month in Canada; securing unanimous legislative support to pass a landmark motion to erect the only statue featuring women on Parliament Hill, the Famous Five Monument; and extensive travel and engagement in countries around the world on action and initiatives to ultimately improve the human condition.
Dr. Augustine would donate her archival and parliamentary materials to York University’s Faculty of Education in support of the 2008 launch of the ground-breaking Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment. Later renamed the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, the chair aims to advance access, equity and inclusivity to education through community engagement and collaborative action.
In 2007, Jean Augustine was called on by the Government of Ontario to lead an important initiative commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the 1807 British Slave Trade Act. Later that year, she was appointed the first-ever Fairness Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, a role in which she would set new regulatory standards for clarity, openness and more streamlined access to employment conditions for foreign trained professionals until her retirement in 2015.
Today, Jean Augustine continues in the work to help improve the human condition. Along with her frontline involvement through the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment, she continues providing her expertise nationally and internationally as relevant.
Dr. Augustine has been honoured extensively for her work. She has received Honourary Doctorate degrees from the Universities of Toronto, York, McGill, Guelph, Windsor, Trent and Ryerson. She is a Senior Fellow at Massey College and a Fellow of Centennial College.
Amongst hundreds of other earned awards are the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, the Kaye Livingstone Award, the Ontario Volunteer Award, the Rubena Willis Special Recognition Award, the UNIFOR Nelson Mandela Lifetime Achievement Award; the Toronto Lion’s Club Award; the University of the West Indies’ Luminary Award; and the Women’s Executive Network naming her one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women.
Today her name is borne by The Jean Augustine Secondary School in the Peel District School Board in Brampton, Ontario; The Jean Augustine Girls’ Leadership Academy of the Toronto District School Board; the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment; the Jean Augustine Park on Toronto’s Lakeshore Boulevard; and the City of Vaughan has named the Jean Augustine Complex and the Jean Augustine District Park.
In 2009, Jean was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her extensive contribution to Canadian society as a politician, educator and advocate for social justice. In 2012, she received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 2014, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to education and politics. In 2020 she was appointed to the Order of Ontario.
Today, Jean remains involved with community activities including co-chairing the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women recognition and database, and the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment. She also funds three annual scholarships – at George Brown for single mothers; at Centennial College for young entrepreneurs; and at Humber College for students in the community studies program.
Jean Augustine is the proud mother of two daughters, and grandmother to two grandsons.