On June 2, the Finance Committee recommended City Council appoint Councillor King as the Council Liaison for Anti-Racism and Ethnocultural Relations Initiatives.
Remarks to Finance and Economic Development Committee
Tuesday June 2nd, 2020
Thank you, Your Worship.
Given the worldwide impact of COVID-19, this pandemic has been dominating headlines for months. But when a global pandemic gets pushed from the spotlight, you know issues replacing it are historic and consequential.
The unrest we’re seeing now in the United States demonstrates the real and continuing impact of anti-Black racism. But we must recognize that racism, injustice and entrenched systemic inequality have as much impact in Canada as south of the border. This country has its share of hate, and Ottawa is no stranger to racism, race-based discrimination and economic and social disparity. Our City has experienced an increase in hate-crimes against Indigenous people, racialized people, as well as the Jewish and Muslim communities.
We have seen discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which ultimately has led to disparities regarding income, employment, housing, health care and education. We must also acknowledge that these factors, when combined with systemic racism, leads to overrepresentation of racialized people within the criminal justice system and recurrent, negative interactions with the police.
But that’s not a situation we accept, and over the last year we have moved to ensure the City is actively taking measures to eliminate systemic racism. That’s why I’m proud that the Mayor, along with the rest of my colleagues at Council wholeheartedly embraced my proposal to establish an Anti-Racism Secretariat for the City of Ottawa. When we established that policy unit in this year’s budget, the aim was to address systemic racism in our community and within the corporation.
The secretariat will make sure we apply an anti-racism lens to the policies our City develops. We need to ensure the decisions we make and the services we provide are delivered equitably – that they cause no barriers for residents because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. In partnership with the people we serve, we need to continue to move towards equity.
We need to ensure everyone has the same opportunities when accessing the services and programs we offer. If we don’t provide that level of service to all people for any reason – let alone because of the colour of their skin or their culture – we are failing in our duty. Our government has a responsibility to identify when members of our community are denied equal opportunity to succeed – and to eliminate the systemic barriers creating this inequity.
It’s the goal of the Anti-Racism Secretariat to do just that – whether its related to employment, governance, health, housing or economic development. Obviously, the City has been fully engaged over the last dozen weeks with the public-health emergency. As a result, we’ve had to adjust our approach on the Anti-Racism Secretariat, to ensure we were answering the immediate and urgent needs of the community in this time of crisis. But we have made progress. The City’s 2020 budget allocated an operating budget of $100,000 to establish the office of the Anti-Racism Secretariat. The next step will be to staff it.
That will require a full-time anti-racism specialist, who will work with the Women and Gender Equity Specialist and the rest of the corporation to conduct an environmental scan and then prepare a set of strategic actions. Incidentally I am happy to be working with Councillor Kavanagh who is working on gender and equity issues. City staff is now in the process of hiring that specialist – who will also carry out public engagement to build the secretariat.
They will establish an advisory committee as well, with significant representation from the community. Unfortunately, the competition for that position had to be put on hold when the state of emergency was declared. But City staff has been able to resume the search and expect to fill the role within the next few weeks. Once in place, the specialist’s immediate priorities will be related to the pandemic. They will work with key stakeholders on research and communications about the impact of COVID-19 on racialized persons and communities in Ottawa. Right now, that’s where the City’s biggest decisions are focused, and I’m pleased that our public health agency will start to collect and analyze disaggregated, race-based data in response to advocacy by community groups and health experts.
It makes sense that the secretariat will make that its main concern – to ensure that the policies we’re putting in place today adequately consider the needs of all communities. I don’t want to suggest that the City’s Human Needs Task Force hasn’t been doing an excellent job of that. After all, the task force was set up specifically to identify the urgent needs and priorities of isolated and vulnerable populations in communities across Ottawa – regardless of race. They have been doing a remarkable job.
I know we have representatives from the Human Needs Task Force with us here today, and they can speak to some of the ways they are making their work as inclusive as possible. I very much look forward to staff hiring the specialist for the secretariat office and for the work we will do together in the months and years ahead. I also look forward to the secretariat providing support to community groups who have long labored towards equity and social justice, whether they are organizations that support First Nations, Inuit, Metis, new immigrants, racialized or religious communities. All these groups call Ottawa home, and they have a right to fulsome participation in our city. I also look forward to the secretariat participating in the United for All initiative, a local coalition led by the United Way and many community organizations, who are coordinating grassroots efforts to overcome hate and violence in Ottawa. We want our residents to know, that this Council, is collectively committed to actual systemic change and to the elimination of racism in our City, which is long overdue.