Whitehorse council debates discrimination

City councillors waffled over racism this week. The City of Whitehorse is being urged to sign on to the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination on March 21, the international day against racism.

City councillors waffled over racism this week.

The City of Whitehorse is being urged to sign on to the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination on March 21, the international day against racism.

But some Whitehorse councillors had concerns.

“We have a lot of opinions to take in,” said Coun. Dave Austin. “We have to listen to all views.”

Challenged as to what those other views might be at Monday’s meeting, Austin said he didn’t know.

Mayor Bev Buckway also had concerns.

With so much on the city’s plate right now, Buckway said she would prefer to wait until the city finishes its upcoming organizational review before committing to anything.

“I’m just not sure how much we can take on,” she said. “I know groups have said they would help but they’re not the ones that want to take a leadership role so this is again more groups coming to the city asking us to take a leadership role.”

She also had concerns about cost.

“I have spoken to a number of mayors of other communities that have signed onto the coalition and I know that they have set considerable budgets and hired staff in order to do this work,” she said. “That’s why I have a cautionary note here.”

“I was surprised at the reticence of a number of the councillors,” said Fia Jampolsky, chair of the Yukon Human Rights Commission. “There seemed to be a bit of a misunderstanding of what was expected of them.”

While signing onto the coalition commits a municipality to develop a strategic plan to combat racism in the community, there are no mandated timelines or financial requirements, she said.

“There’s just no downside to signing onto the coalition,” said Jampolsky.

More than 40 other Canadian municipalities have signed onto the UN-based organization.

The coalition is a network of cities interested in sharing their experiences to improve their policies against racism and discrimination.

“The city coming out in support of this coalition would send a strong signal to the community,” said Rick Karp, the president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

A few weeks ago, the chamber’s offices were vandalized. Graffiti was scrawled on the walls of its boardroom that “smacked of racism and discrimination,” he said.

“It was quite horrible,” said Karp. “It really showed us it exists in Whitehorse.”

It’s a social issue that city council should be taking the lead on, said Whitehorse lawyer and resident Rod Snow.

“Seems to me this is an opportunity for you to show leadership on an issue where leadership is needed,” he said. “We all have a responsibility; we can’t leave it to someone else.”

Council’s response was almost too much for Coun. Ranj Pillai, who attended the meeting by telephone.

“I’m trembling here, listening to council’s comment on this,” he said. “The bureaucratic language that’s coming out of this report really unnerved me.”

Council seemed to be making a mountain out of a molehill, said Pillai.

“I really feel that mayor and council is loosing the true position of this,” he said. “You’re building up all these expectations of how much work and labour.

“Please, at least send a message to the community and say that we feel that this is important enough that we’ll make it a priority.”

His impassioned speech elicited a round of applause from the gallery and helped to convince at least one other member of city council.

“I’m convinced from what I’ve heard tonight that this is profoundly important to the community,” said Coun. Kirk Cameron. “Frankly I’m with Ranj. I’d like to sign onto this in the short term and then let’s work with it and let’s work together to see where it takes us.”

The issue will be back before council next week.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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