City urged to fight racism

City urged to fight racism Open letter to Mayor Buckway and city councillors: On behalf of Yukon's Human Rights Commission, I made a presentation to city council on March 5 and was surprised by the approach of council to our proposal that the city sign o

BodyCity urged to fight racism

Open letter to Mayor Buckway and city councillors:

On behalf of Yukon’s Human Rights Commission, I made a presentation to city council on March 5 and was surprised by the approach of council to our proposal that the city sign onto the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD).

1) The process at the meeting was tightly restricted. It did not allow members of the audience and presenters to respond to questions you posed to individual speakers. You saved most of your questions for the last speaker, the one who clearly indicated that he spoke on behalf of himself and identified as a “privileged” white male in this society.

You asked for his insight, opinion and advice. Other members of the audience most impacted by racism and discrimination or working for NGOs in the community had much to offer, but did not have an opportunity to respond. Except for Kirk Cameron, who asked cautious, thoughtful questions, it was the councillor of Southeast Asian heritage who stood alone in support of CCMARD.

2) The groups who have come together to support the proposal to the city do not think the city has done nothing to create an open, inclusive workplace through policies for its employees. However, we believe the city could better highlight those policies and programs and services that they offer to the public in recognition of the diverse population living in Whitehorse. Joining CCMARD provides a forum for celebrating these activities as part of your plan of action.

3) The city has a responsibility to do its part to create a safe, inclusive community free from racism and discrimination. Three overtly racist and extremely public acts were committed in our city in less than a year. How many more did not make the headlines?

Racism and discrimination burden our city and territory with enormous social and financial costs. In contrast, the leadership we are asking you to provide need not tax limited civic resources. In fact, 25 community groups with funds far more limited than those of city council want to work with you. Many of us have experience and expertise that we are willing, as volunteers, to bring to the table. Please consider the idea of a citizen’s committee to work on this initiative with you. And please remember, you are not just caring for a physical body of land. You are caring for the heart and soul of this community.

The reality is, at home and overseas, these are very dark days. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, neo-Nazi groups are finding strength in the relative anonymity of the Internet, and anti-Muslim sentiment in a post-911 era threatens the fabric of our communities at home and abroad. Violence against women continues and has cost the Yukon’s and Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls their lives. Our federal government has yet to fulfill the promises in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to First Nations for the ongoing effects of the racist residential school system.

I am reminded of the words of Martin Niemöller’s poem: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

We are counting on you as our city’s leaders to stand up for and with the citizen and community groups in our city who want to end racism and discrimination.

Fia Jampolsky, Chair

Yukon Human Rights Commission

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