Anti-Black Racism Town Hall meeting


Officials and community leaders assess how the city is tackling anti-Black racism


Black History Ottawa President June Girvan, centre, with the City’s declaration of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent

Wednesday 21 March

Council chambers at Ottawa’s City Hall was packed to the rafters at a town hall meeting on anti-Black racism held on Wednesday 21 March. The event was part of the city’s celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to review the community’s progress since the launch of the Addressing Anti-Black Racism Report in February 2017 . A panel of speakers responded to questions posed by Co-MC’s Patricia Harewood and Mohamed Sofa, as well as from members of the audience. The panel consisted of: Charles Bordeleau, Ottawa Chief of Police; Donna Gray, General Manager, Service Innovation and Performance, City of Ottawa; Jennifer Adams, Director of Education, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board; Réjean Sirois, Directeur de l’éducation, Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est; and Simone Thibault, Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres and Executive Director, Centretown Community Health Centre.

All panel members admitted to serious challenges in combating anti-black racism within their various institutions. Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, outlined measures taken to address this problem, especially on the heels of the Abdi Abdirahman episode, for which the police faced serious criticism from the Black community for its handling of the death of the young Somali man. These include revision of protocols for handling serious incidents, more community outreach and engagement, improved training of officers on bias-neutral policing, and implementation of the recommendations from the road traffic stop project. They are also engaged in a “diversity audit’, a project to assess and eliminate any barriers that could prevent officers of colour from reaching their full career potential in terms of promotion to the level of their qualifications and experience. 

 Donna Gray of the City of Ottawa described using the city’s “Equity and Inclusion Lens” tool, to assess their recruitment, outreach and hiring practices to ensure a full  understanding of the systemic barriers to employment and said they were currently piloting new recommended solutions such as blind hiring.  In addition, the city has increased the number of internship opportunities for young people of colour, as a way to open doors for those seeking employment within the City, plus engaging managers to ensure that employment and promotion opportunities are fair and equitable.

Jennifer Adams of the Ottawa Carleton Public School Board spoke of initiatives to engage students of colour and address their unique problems through interactive group sessions with teachers. She also spoke of a pilot project, funded by the province, to collect data on the race and ethnicity of students within her school board. She also indicated that they were currently reviewing their hiring practices to ensure that, based on existing regulations, the number of  employees reflects the ethnic and racial composition of the students. 

Simone Thibault of the Coalition of Community Health Centres, spoke of programs and services targetting ethnic communities and initiatives to increase the representation of people of colour on the staff.

The presentations by panel members was followed by a robust Question and Answer session, with several audience members stridently questioning the performance of the five institutions in tackling anti-Black racism, since the release of the February 2017 report. More than one speaker felt that very little progress had been made in tackling anti-Black Racism and that most of the panel presentations were mere window-dressing, and demanded statistics to illustrate what progress has been made in this regard. At one point, an irate member of the audience launched a verbal tirade on the panelists, with special focus on the Chief of Police and it took direct  intervention from one of the MC’s to bring the discussion back on track.  One audience participant decried the absence of the Federal Public Service, the region’s largest employer, from this important conversation and described incidents of anti-Black racism he had personally experienced within that organisation.

Highlight of the evening was the  formal proclamation of March 21, 2018, as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the City of Ottawa. In the absence of Mayor Jim Watson, Somerset Councillor, Catherine McKenney and Rideau-Vanier Councillor  Mathieu read and presented the city’s official declaration to June Girvan, Acting President of Black History Ottawa.

This event was co-sponsored by City for All Women Initiative (CAWI), Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP), Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres, CHUO FM, Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, Somali Women’s Circle Network, North-South Development Roots and Culture Canada and Canadian Union of Public Employees(CUPE), with funding from the Status of Women Canada; Ottawa Community Foundation, UNIFOR Local 2025,  and CUPE.

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