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Whitehorse council launching inclusivity committee

Council votes to move forward with new advisory committee
One of a number of toolkits the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities provides to communities. Whitehorse city council voted May 9 to reconfirm its membership in the coalition and begin the work to establish a local committee focused on inclusivity in the city. (Screen shot)

Whitehorse city council is establishing an inclusivity committee.

On May 9, members voted in favour of both reconfirming the city’s membership in the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities and beginning work to establish an advisory committee on inclusivity.

Inclusivity, accessibility and diversity is outlined as one of city council’s newly adopted strategic priorities that set the direction for a council’s term. Two action items under the priority are the recommitment to the coalition and evaluating the creation of an inclusivity advisory committee.

Council first voted in favour of reconfirming membership in the coalition before later voting to have administration draw up the terms of reference and other details for the proposed committee.

Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities to continue

As interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell told council in a report, city officials confirmed Whitehorse remains in good standing with the organization. There had been questions about that after the local committee for the coalition (previously the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination) was dissolved following the adoption of a new advisory committee bylaw in 2017.

The coalition has provided the city with a number of toolkits aimed at helping municipalities be more inclusive.

During discussion at its May 2 meeting, council members voiced support for reconfirming its commitment to the organization “given the relatively recent re-branding of the organization, and the positive message this would provide to the Whitehorse community.” 

Council was unanimous in voting in favour of the recommitment. A letter will be sent to the coalition about it.

The work of an advisory committee

It was later in the meeting that Coun. Mellisa Murray brought forward her motion on the advisory committee. She pointed to council’s strategic priorities and stated Whitehorse is a growing community that is becoming increasingly diverse.

In proposing administration to develop the framework for the committee, Murray highlighted the work of the potential committee to include making recommendations to council on the use of gender neutral and non-discriminatory language in city bylaws as well as offering advice on inclusiveness in city programs and services and on the implementation of the coalition’s toolkits and resources. The committee would also make recommendations on efforts for an “inclusive, diverse, positive and healthy environment within the City of Whitehorse and our community.”

Murray said it’s important to strive towards ensuring inclusivity for all.

While council ultimately was unanimous in moving forward with the committee, Coun. Dan Boyd expressed some initial concerns.

He pointed out that under its strategic priorities, there was to be an evaluation first about the potential creation of the committee.

“The evaluation has fallen off,” he commented, adding the city appears to simply be moving forward with the committee without doing an evaluation first.

Boyd stressed he was not opposed to the intent of Murray’s motion, but rather concerned the city seems to be “jumping ahead” with this. He suggested, unsuccessfully, that the matter come back to council in a couple of weeks with some rewording to the motion to show administration is analyzing the possibility, rather than simply moving forward with the terms of reference.

Others argued it’s important to get to work on the issue, noting it takes time for all the details in establishing an advisory committee to be worked out.

“This is really important, especially at this time,” Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said.

There are increases in harassment and violence towards different groups happening across the country, she said.

“We need to do our part to encourage diversity and inclusivity within our communities,” she said.

Similarly, Coun. Kirk Cameron commented it is something the city can begin working on right way.

“That is consistent with our priorities and I don’t think we need a whole lot of additional information to say to our community that we want to make this happen,” he said.

As Coun. Michelle Friesen put it, many of council’s conversations have already been dominated by inclusivity, diversity and accessibility — issues that are intertwined with everything the city does.

Pointing out that some city documents still refer to the mayor as a man, Friesen argued there’s still work to do and the evaluation will happen when the framework is drafted and brought forward to council.

In voicing her support for the motion, Mayor Laura Cabott also cautioned against further advisory committees being formed on other matters. The city also recently has done work to form a housing and land development committee with members for that committee now being sought.

“I don’t see us doing any more or many more of these, but …. on this particular topic, I would support it,” she said.

Cabott stressed that while this will see additional work done for Whitehorse to be an inclusive community, there has already been a number of efforts underway.

“We offer educational programs to staff and to council,” she said. “We’ve been members of committees in the past and implemented some of those recommendations. So there’s it’s not a complete void, but definitely it is an area where … every municipality in this country can improve on. And I’m prepared to to support this and get this one going.”

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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