Saanich councillors Zac de Vries, Judy Brownoff, Colin Plant, Nathalie Chambers and Ned Taylor (back row, left to right); Coun. Karen Harper, Coun. Susan Brice, Mayor Fred Haynes, and Coun. Rebecca Mersereau (front row, left to right). (Photo via the District of Saanich)

Statement of inclusion among new Saanich diversity practices

Council acts on three motions to address racism

Saanich council plans to implement anti-racism practices and call on senior government to review qualification protocols that currently create barriers for foreign professionals in Canada.

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Mayor Fred Haynes submitted three motions to address racism locally and nationally and to support the District’s pledge to see, hear and be with the Black community. Council unanimously supported all three July 6.

The first, moved by Coun. Karen Harper, called for an “inclusivity statement” to be created and read after the First Nations land acknowledgement at the start of council, committee of the whole, and public hearing meetings.

The statement – to be created in consultation with members of the Black community, the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Society (VIRS), the Intercultural Association of Victoria (ICA) and the Greater Victoria Police Diversity Action Committee (GVPDAC) – will emphasize that Saanich opposes racism, embraces and values diversity and supports the Black community.

Harper, who teared up while speaking on the matter, said the statement will ensure that Saanich never forgets “the progress that is still so necessary.”

The second motion tasks municipal staff to report back with options for creating a council policy on diversity and racism with input from the Black community, VIRS, ICA and GVPDAC.

Haynes said the policy will guide all current and future councils and municipal staff members. He emphasized that Saanich has already taken steps to address diversity but that “it’s clear, as we see in the events south of the border and from the call for attention from our own community, that more can be done and I’m delighted to see that we’re committing to that.”

Before the vote, Coun. Rebecca Mersereau requested the council diversity policy also address the lack of diversity in local governments and acknowledge that 2015-2024 is the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent.

The third motion calls for letters to be sent to the provincial and federal governments to ask that the “lack of recognition by federal and provincial bodies of professional qualifications from other countries or provinces” be addressed.

Professionals from other countries often end up working in other fields because their qualifications aren’t recognized here, Harper said during the meeting.

“It needs to be possible for people to be able to work and be recognized for the skills that they have” no matter where they’re from, she said, noting that the impacts of the current system fall more heavily on racialized minorities. “[This is] an extremely important part of dealing with the elimination of systemic discrimination.”

Haynes told Black Press Media the moves came out of a mid-June meeting between 10 members of the local Black community, members of the Saanich Police Department and council.

The goal was to acknowledge their concerns and take action to make the necessary changes, he said.

Of the issues raised – including racial profiling, education, police de-escalation, health care, childcare, immigration – many could be impacted by reducing barriers to accessing employment, Haynes said. He added that asking new Canadians to re-qualify so they can continue to work in their field is “a disservice to the individual and to the community” that would benefit from having more skilled doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and other professionals.

The federal government has said it wants to address systemic discrimination and this is an area where “seriously great work” can be done, Haynes said. He acknowledged it will be a “difficult task” but will benefit all Canadians as some professions require re-qualification from province to province. The matter will also be brought to the 2020 annual conference of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

District of Saanichracism

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