Remember Kirn Dhillon?
He’s the guy who stepped forward to run for Whitehorse city council last November.
He’s the guy whose campaign sign on Mountainview Drive was defaced with racist graffiti: a turban painted on his head, a beard on his chin and bin Laden scrawled atop his name.
And he’s the guy who responded with great dignity, quietly replacing the sign, saying he knew he was “running a risk” when he decided to put his photo on the sign in the first place.
Dhillon was born and raised in Whitehorse, but his parents hail from India’s Punjab region.
He’s Sikh, not Muslim, and, by his own admission, not that observant.
He grew up deflecting jokes and slurs about his heritage.
Dhillon didn’t win the byelection, but his attempt taught us all a lesson about the harsh reality of life in the Yukon.
This week Whitehorse council had a chance to start righting these racism wrongs by joining the Coalition of Canadian Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination.
With the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination soon upon us on March 21, it would have been, if nothing else, a timely gesture.
But council balked, blowing a perfect opportunity to send a powerful message.
“We have a lot of opinions to take in,” said Coun. Dave Austin during Monday night’s debate.
“We have to listen to all views,” he said.
On racism and discrimination?
What views would those be? And from whom? The people who ruined Dhillon’s sign? The people who trashed the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce offices with racist slogans?
Mayor Bev Buckway also dug in her heels, citing concerns about groups looking to the city for leadership and the cost.
This time last year, council merrily approved spending thousands of dollars to develop a new “brand” for Whitehorse, when all it really wanted was a new logo and slogan.
An Ontario company was hired to come up with designs, like a horse’s head, and phrases, like “striving for excellence.”
After months of public wrangling over the options, council decided the sternwheeler logo, jazzed up a titch, would stay, and the slogan, the Wilderness City, wasn’t so bad either.
Was that money well spent? Many would say not.
Yet many of those same councillors are now cool to the idea of joining the anti-racism coalition.
Next week they’ll get another crack at the issue.
With any luck, by then maybe Austin, et al, will have had time for some sober second thought.
They owe that much to Ranj Pillai, the only city councillor of southeast Asian descent, who was understandably appalled at Monday’s tenor of debate.
And they owe it to Kirn Dhillon, who just may be gutsy enough to put his hat in the ring again to run for a seat on council, come Oct. 18.