Council calls for staff report on antiracism and pro-diversity

(Gazette file photo)



Municipal staff with the County of Prince Edward will be bringing forward a report in the coming weeks regrading how the municipality” can take meaningful steps to create policies and procedures that promote and embody anti racism and pro diversity.”

The motion to call for such a report was made by Councillor Kate MacNaughton at the conclusion of a presentation by Judith Burfoot, the lead organizer of the inclusionary group All Welcome Here. Burfoot spoke to Council at their regular meeting Tuesday evening and the recent rise of targeted racism against people of Asian decent due to scapegoating for the COVID-19 Pandemic was part of an underlying tone that recognition of racism in the community and tools to combat it are needed.

Judith Burfoot

According to the 2016 census, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour – or BIPOC – comprise approximately 5 per cent of the population of the County and Burfoot suspects that number will be higher in the next census. Growing diversity means the community is about to face a critical moment and Burfoot believes now is the time to choose how we want to develop and who we want to be.

“Our BIPOC community is growing and, regrettably, so are reports of racism. BIPOC are reporting feeling fearful of racism here and even of “outing” their businesses as BIPOC-owned,” Burfoot told Council.

While these instances of hate in the community are being felt, so are feelings of solidarity and social justice. All Welcome Here was instrumental in the Black Lives Matter movement held in Picton last June. Estimates indicated over 1,000 people on Picton’s Main Street chose to speak out against the racism boiling over not only in the United States and Canada but all over the world.This was an incredible turnout in our small community and speaks so strongly to the incredible support we all feel towards anti-racism,’ she added.

Burfoot said Tuesday’s deputation was being made as a request for council to take action that includes a formal statement on antiracism. Pointing to the recent acts of targeted racism and hate crimes in the United States against Asian Americans, Burfoot said municipal leaders are in a unique position to be able to act before a crisis hits.

“You are in a unique position to be able to define who we are and what kind of community we want to be and to do it in a way that offers yourselves and future councils some guidance in the actions they take,” she explained, adding a draft statement she crafted follows that with a clear statement that this involves work and concludes with a statement of why this matters and there is zero tolerance for racist or discriminatory behaviour.

Prince Edward County is an inclusive and welcoming place for all. We are consciously anti-racist and work to dismantle, address and remedy race-based discrimination in partnership with other forms of discrimination. Discrimination prevents our residents from equitable access and experiences and will not be tolerated.

However, a simple pledge is meaningless without action surrounding it and Burfoot suggested a number of steps to ensure the policy doesn’t collect dust in a binder somewhere.

These action items included:

•Develop an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policy which has a staff member who can ensure the measure is working. Burfoot later expanded that the staff member could be responsible for training employees.

•Education – Burfoot noted cultural sensitivity training is being proposed for front-line staff. “That’s great but is simply not adequate. This training must start at the top – with Council and the executive team – and include all staff.

•Complaint mechanism for community members. “We believe that an easily accessible complaint mechanism is necessary. The County cannot address problems it is unaware of and the first step is always to honestly look at problems.”

•Diversify Council Burfoot noted the barriers for BIPOC face when exploring municipal opportunities “I’m sure you all know that this is a full-time job and it should be paid as such,” She said “Without full time pay, BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+ people, those with disabilities, etc. are defacto unable to participate fully in our political world. Those of us from more marginalized communities cannot afford to do a job without being able to pay our mortgages.”