An anti-racism policy is not yet in the cards for the City of Vernon after a motion was defeated following more than 25 minutes of debate at Monday’s meeting.
City of Vernon Coun. Kelly Fehr first put the notice of motion forward to draft an Anti-Racial Discrimination and Anti-Racism Policy, complementing the city’s Bullying and Harassment Policy during the June 22 meeting of council.
His motion also called for the mayor to send a letter to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO expressing the city’s interest in joining its coalition against racism.
But several of Fehr’s councillor colleagues said this motion, albeit important, is redundant as the city already has policies in place against bullying and harassment, and to draft policies that were anti-racist would be too time-consuming for city administration.
In discussion Monday, July 20, Coun. Scott Anderson pointed to “strong national laws” and said anti-racism policies are “unenforceable.”
“We’re asking staff to waste their time and draft a policy that says we’re good people…” he said. “I see this is as a waste of staff time, however well-meant it is.”
Coun. Dalvir Nahal said she doesn’t think joining the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism and Discrimination, as Fehr proposed, would help.
“And I’m saying this as a minority,” she said.
“Ignorance gets confused for racism and I am very cautious with the word racism because people can see or do something and it’s labelled as racism and we’re creating more of a problem than a solution,” Nahal said. “If you need to make a policy that says we’re against racism, then we have failed as a society.”
Nahal pointed to a recent personal experience while walking her dog in Vernon.
“Someone stopped their car, spit out their window,” she said. “This stuff happens. You can’t deal with stupid. That is what they are… I’d rather invest money in education and workshops.”
Fehr said he was surprised there was debate around the topic.
“Developing a policy gives us a framework for training,” Fehr said.
Fehr’s motion clarifies joining the coalition would equip staff with tools to “help broaden and straighten our society’s ability to protect and promote human rights through coordination and shared responsibility among local governments, civil society organizations and other institutions,” as his rationale to council reads.
“By taking action to combat racism and multiple forms of discrimination, municipalities are able to build respectful, inclusive and safe societies where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in the economic, social, cultural, recreational and political life of the community,” the rationale said.
“I’m actually quite shocked we’re having this debate,” he said. “I’m surprised.”
Coun. Brian Quiring pointed to the recent displays of racism in Summerland after a family’s home was targeted and vandalized. Racist graffiti, including swastikas, was painted in red on the side of the house on July 13.
In a parade of support for the family three days later, a vehicle was seen waving a Confederate flag.
Once Summerland Mayor Toni Boot was made aware bandanas emblazoned with the flag were available for sale at a local dollar store, she destroyed all the Confederate flags and confronted the owners telling them they are “perpetuating racism in our town and I will not stand for it.”
Quiring said an anti-racism policy is not just for city staff, but it would also show the community where council and city staff stand.
“If this is going to take too much staff time, then we shouldn’t do it,” he said of drafting a specific policy. “But as an idea, it’s a good one and I think we should do it.”
Quiring requested administration look into how many staff hours would be required to prepare the policy. Human Resources director Raeleen Manjak said much of the work had already been completed and at no cost to the city.
City staff reminded councillors its legal counsel, Lidstone and Company, had provided an Anti-Racial Discrimination and Anti-Racism Policy to all of its clients ahead of the June 20, 2020, meeting — which council accepted as information.
The 11-page document came prepared and ready to tailor for specific municipalities.
Without a specific policy in place, Manjak said, any complaints related to racism reported within the City of Vernon would be treated under the bullying and harassment policies currently in place.
The motion was ultimately defeated with only Mayor Victor Cumming, Quiring and Fehr in favour of moving forward with it.