Anti-racism advisory group to guide Region of Waterloo

·3 min read

WATERLOO REGION — The Region of Waterloo is moving its anti-racism initiative forward with the creation of an 11-member advisory group.

The Anti-Racism Advisory Working Group was chosen from an applicant pool of 70 by a selection committee who took “time and care to recruit members with the perspective, experience and skills needed for this important work,” Bruce Lauckner, Region of Waterloo’s chief administrative officer wrote in a media release.

Regional Chair Karen Redman said she was blown away by members’ willingness to commit to a two-year term. Expressing a commitment to ensure anti-racism work is community-led, Redman said that the group will determine how it develops recommendations through an anti-racism plan to be presented to council.

“I can’t tell you if they’re going to have one chair, co-chairs, or if they’re going to do things by consensus,” Redman said. “Those are all the things that the working group will decide on their own.”

Ciann Wilson, associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and one of the working group members, said her litmus test will be to see whether the group’s recommendations lead to action from council.

“For me, time will tell how serious they are about listening to these voices that have made room for themselves at the table.”

Amy Smoke, manager of Shatitsirótha’ Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre at the University of Waterloo, said a barrage of racism endured while advocating for Indigenous rights at Land Back camp in Kitchener’s Victoria Park compelled her to put her name forward for the working group.

“Being at camp certainly shed a whole new light on the amount of work that needs to be done in the region as a whole,” Smoke said.

Theresa Mendler, the region’s chief of staff, wrote in an email that Redman pushed for the group to convene quickly in order to play a role in the region’s upcoming 2021 budget talks.

Colleen James, who moderated the Region of Waterloo’s anti-racism town hall meetings in July, said council needs to address systemic racism internally as well as in the community.

“I can’t speak for anybody in terms of what happens,” James said of the new working group, “but clearly, there’s some action that needs to happen.”

The K-W Solidarity march in June through downtown Kitchener called for police funding to be reallocated to under-resourced communities, citing over-policing and police violence against Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities.

Data reveals Waterloo regional police are four times more likely to document Black people and six times more likely to use or threaten force against Black people.

James said that although reallocation of police funding is complicated, evidence from other cities and municipalities, such as Calgary, which is moving $20 million from policing to crisis services, shows a path forward.

Anti-Racism Advisers

Members of the Region Waterloo’s Anti-Racism Advisory Working Group announced Friday:

Kathy Hogarth, Victoria Oywak, Tammy Webster, Amy Smoke, Ciann Wilson, Fauzia Mazhar, Donna Dubie, Geraldine L. Stafford, Cheyanne Thorpe, Krishna Karur Badrinarayan, Maedith Radlein

Fitsum Areguy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record