Westport workshops to address racism

·3 min read

Continuing on a commitment to build a diverse and inclusive community, the village of Westport is hosting three workshops to help inform both the public and council members in the village and beyond about racial issues.

"I sent an invitation to area councils and was gratified to find that both Smiths Falls and Perth are on a similar track, and are forming task force committees," said Westport Mayor Robin Jones.

"I will be tuning in this Wednesday," said Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow.

Smiths Falls is currently in the process of selecting members to fill its task force.

"We recently approved the terms of reference, and we're looking for partners in the community who have a role to play, such as police services, youth, and health care. We also want people who have lived experiences and ideally a representative from First Nations and the LGBTQIA community," said Pankow.

A similar model is expected to be developed in Westport.

In July this year, after passing an anti-discrimination, anti-racism bylaw, the council committed to forming a task force to examine the village bylaws for implicit bias.

"I will be looking for a wide collection of experiences to form the committee," said Jones.

Meanwhile, Jones is launching a series of three workshops to help inform the public and people interested in participating in the public consultation on discrimination and racism.

"We haven't formed the task force yet; that will come at the end of the these three workshops," said Jones.

All the workshops will be online and are free to watch on the village's YouTube feed.

They will remain on the village YouTube feed for a few days so people can tune in later if they can't catch the live feed on Wednesday.

The first workshop is going to air on Wednesday at 7 p.m., and will feature Senator Gwen Boniface as the speaker talking about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Codes, their role, how they overlap and how they differ.

"These are foundational workshops, that will examine the legal framework around discrimination and racism, the science behind implicit bias and health equity," said Jones.

The second workshop, on Jan. 27, will be with Anna Laszlo, director of the organization Fair and Impartial Policing, and will tackle unconscious bias and the techniques to manage our own biases and the impact of unconscious bias in organizations.

All the workshops will be moderated and audience members will be able to ask questions.

"I will be putting out my email and I will moderate the workshops," said Jones, adding that participants will be able to ask questions by emailing her directly during the workshop.

The third workshop, on Feb. 24, will tackle health equity, and access to the social determinants of health within a society, and will be led by Tanis Brown, a registered nurse and health equity co-ordinator at the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. This workshop will tackle poverty and education and is an area of particular interest in Smiths Falls, where Pankow says there is bias against poverty.

"As we dig deeper we want to make sure we're as inclusive and accommodating a community as possible. We know that people living in poverty face huge barriers and different forms of prejudice," said Pankow.

While Westport passed a bylaw enshrining the values of inclusivity within their municipal laws, Smiths Falls made a proclamation, but regardless of how each community has approached the subject they say they are moving forward with their commitments to address bias - overt or implicit-within their communities.

Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative, Brockville Recorder and Times