City of Terrace seeking ombudsperson investigation into systemic racism allegations

·3 min read

The City of Terrace is reaching out to the Office of the B.C. Ombudsperson in the wake of councillor Jessica McCallum-Miller’s resignation and allegations of systemic racism.

At a Feb. 25 committee of the whole meeting, councillors unanimously agreed to direct staff to review its current policies and pursue an independent review by the ombudsperson’s office, which investigates complaints about public agencies in B.C.

Should the B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson decline the invitation, city staff have the flexibility to look into other bodies to conduct an independent review.

“We unfortunately live in a society where systemic racism exists, accusations of systemic racism need to be taken very seriously, I think that having a conversation about systemic racism and the ways we can all improve and work towards diversity is important and timely,” said councillor Sean Bujtas during the meeting.

McCallum-Miller, the youngest and first Indigenous councillor in Terrace’s history, resigned on Feb. 22. She said in a Facebook post that she questioned whether truth and reconciliation was a priority for council.

“It is my personal belief that systemic and internalized racism as well as sexism had played a role in the inability of my colleagues to respect and understand my personal and diverse perspectives,” McCallum-Miller said in the post which was addressed to the City of Terrace.

In the post, McCallum-Miller said she attempted to have council partake in cultural awareness training twice, and felt unheard and spoken over.

Carol Leclerc, Terrace mayor, said during the committee of the whole meeting that council voted unanimously to partake in cultural education training from the Kitimaat Valley Education Society, which operates the Kitimat Valley Institute (KVI) on March 9, 2020 but that the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the session.

“Right after that, COVID came, we did not know how long COVID was going to be, we wanted to do this face-to-face so we thought we would just hold off on our cultural awareness training and it wasn’t able to take place,” she said.

In January 2021, councillor James Cordeiro proposed the training again and staff arranged for council to take Diversity and Inclusion virtually through KVI on March 18. Diversity and Inclusion is a six hour workshop with an instructor using the Microsoft Teams platform.

“It wasn’t long after that councillor McCallum-Miller decided that she would like to put out to the rest of council that it be a Tsimshian cultural training session and there was some discussion that happened over email about the notice of motion that was going to come to our Monday meeting on February 22,” Leclerc said.

“Unfortunately councillor McCallum-Miller brought in her letter of resignation on February 22 and the notice of motion for the Tsimshian portion did not reach the council table at that time.”

Terrace council is committed to participating in cultural education training on March 18 with the Kitimaat Valley Education Society if the time slot is still available.

Leclerc said she has reached out to Kitselas First Nation Chief Councillor Judy Gerow and Kitsumkalum First Nation Chief Councillor Don Roberts about McCallum-Miller’s resignation. City staff are working with Saša Loggin, project director at the Skeena Diversity Society, part of the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network, to bring a presentation to council at an upcoming meeting.

Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News