City to form committee to study racism

Whitehorse is going to make an advisory committee to help prevent racism and encourage diversity in the city.

Whitehorse is going to make an advisory committee to help prevent racism and encourage diversity in the city.

The committee was proposed by Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu, the city’s first Filipina councillor and the former vice-president of the Canadian Filipino Association of the Yukon

Encouraging multiculturalism is one of the reasons she decided to run for council, she said. Last year, the city joined the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination. The coalition is an initiative of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Whitehorse is the only city across the territories to do this.

“Because racism is such a common struggle amongst cities, it only makes common sense to unite with other municipalities against this issue,” she said.

But originally, signing onto the coalition wasn’t met with “open arms,” said Curteanu, who had appeared before council to talk about signing the coalition.

“When I looked across there and noticed that they almost looked disinterested, or they didn’t just understand the importance of this, I realized that we need more representation there of the minority communities, we need representation,” said Curteanu. Their response was one of the final things that convinced her to run, she said.

“From the get-go, they knew I was not going to let this drop,” said Curteanu.

The committee will identify areas where the city needs to fight racism and make action plans to eliminate it. This could include making policies about removing offensive graffiti from city buildings, or possibly examining the city’s hiring policies, said Curteanu. It would also be nice to have the Yukon government involved in the committee, she said. It will still be a while before the committee will start its work.

But she’s hopeful it will be a positive contribution to the city. Curteanu heard many racist comments growing up in Toronto, Ont., she said. But there really wasn’t a way for her to address the problem in school, she said.

Things are a little better now, she said. Curteanu’s husband is Romanian, and still has a noticeable accent. But her children don’t notice it.

“That’s what I would like to see in our community,” she said. “Is that you look at everybody the same way, you don’t hear the accent, you don’t see the colour, you don’t see the facial features, everybody is the same. And that’s what I would like to see in our city.”