Councillor Rawlson King's proposal to establish a policy unit at the City of Ottawa to address systemic racism in our community will be adopted in the City's 2020 budget.
I am jubilant that my proposal to establish an Anti-Racism Secretariat at the City of Ottawa has been accepted and will be adopted in the City’s 2020 budget. The Secretariat will target systemic racism by adopting an anti-racism approach concerning the way our City government develops policies, makes decisions, evaluates programs and monitors outcomes. It will work to enhance community partnerships to ensure we move towards equity of opportunity and equity of outcome for all people in Ottawa, especially when they interface with City services.
Systemic or institutional racism has been defined as the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
Systemic racism has a devastating impact when it serves to deny certain member of our community the equal opportunity to succeed. Such racism is reflected in disparities regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other factors. It must therefore be the responsibility of governments to combat the effects of systemic racism.
The creation of an Anti-Racism Secretariat at the City will be a response to these outlined challenges, as an independent, standalone policy unit reporting to highest level of City staff would be a substantive manifestation of the City’s Equity and Inclusion Lens, building on the work that the City started in 2015. The Secretariat, as proposed, would seek to identify and eliminate systemic barriers for racialized people by addressing challenges concerning employment equity, equity in governance, housing, economic development, health outcomes and youth development.
The Secretariat will build upon both the City’s existing Equity and Diversity Policy and its Equity and Inclusion Lens to counteract under-representation and discriminatory treatment that exists throughout the City’s workplaces and in the context of service provision. The Equity and Diversity Policy affirms in its policy statement that “The City of Ottawa is committed to providing quality services by establishing a qualified workforce that reflects the diverse population it serves. It is City policy to foster an environment that respects people’s dignity, ideas and beliefs, thereby ensuring equity and diversity in employment, in the provision of goods and services, and facilities to the public and the administration of contacts as defined by human rights legislation.” The Equity and Inclusion Lens affirms that the City of Ottawa should “create a workforce and services representative of the community” and “address systemic barriers and inequities people face.”
The creation of a Secretariat will serve to develop a means to measure the success of these policies and monitor the City’s progress in terms of addressing under-representation and discrimination in employment, governance, economic development and health outcomes for diverse communities in the City.
The goal of the Secretariat will be to target the removal of systemic barriers within the City’s workplaces and service provision structures, experienced by the most disadvantaged communities in the City, including people of colour and specific religious communities. The Secretariat will utilize an equity lens framework to address anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and discrimination that Indigenous people face.
The development of the Secretariat was based upon a specific request from Ottawa’s diverse Black communities, in the wake of increasing incidents of hate within the City (Ottawa had Canada’s third-highest hate crime rate in 2018) to create a policy office with the objective of eliminating systemic racism in our municipal government operations and services. The establishment of a Secretariat demonstrates concrete action to address racism and discrimination in Ottawa, especially anti-Black racism, considering the City’s decision to officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent.
I would like to thank the diverse Ottawa communities that contributed to the creation of the Anti-Racism Secretariat, along with expressing my deepest appreciation to Mayor Jim Watson and my colleagues at City Council who supported and provided input concerning the proposal.