Perth County facing backlash to diversity committee decision
WINGHAM, ONT. -- Maria Lual is from Southern Sudan. She’s been living in Stratford for the past three years, but a recent decision by Perth County council has her considering moving.
"It makes me think, am I really wanted here," she says.
Perth County council recently turned down a request, without discussion, to start a "diversity and inclusivity" citizen’s committee to create an anti-racism charter for the county. The decision sparked anger in the local multicultural community.
Geza Wordofa is founder of the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron.
"The council tried to dismiss us. Our inclusivity. Our multiculturalism in the area. So, yes I’m upset. There is a time to be together, not to avoid this program," he says.
Perth County Warden Jim Aitcheson explains council’s decision.
"My view is that there just wasn’t an appetite to form a formal committee at this point in time. We’ve had so many meetings, and I know people say that’s a lame excuse, but we’ve had a lot of committees since COVID started," he says.
At Thursday’s Perth County council meeting, councillors decided to refer the diversity and inclusivity committee idea to staff, to investigate how best to create an inclusivity charter.
It’s a good first step, says North Perth Mayor Todd Kasenberg, who first brought the motion. But, he says it’s time council reached out to the newcomer community for some guidance.
"I’m a white male, as are most of my colleagues, so we really need to hear from the people who’ve been affected and whose story this truly is," says Kasenberg.
A petition calling on Perth County council to launch a diversity and inclusivity citizen’s committee as soon as possible, has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures in less than a week.
"I really hope this past week has been eye opening for Perth County council. I hope that they see that people in Perth County feel like they made a mistake," says the petition organizer, Eilish Brennan.
Denying the diversity committee in the first place has sent the wrong message to local immigrants, believes Wordofa, and his supporters agree.
"If you don’t understand what multiculturalism is, exactly what diversity represents, let’s meet and have that conversation," says Clinton Springer Sr., who is part of the Multiculturalism Association of Perth-Huron.
"We are the minority, but we have a voice, and you should listen to us," says Lual.
Aitcheson says he expects staff to have some concrete steps council can take before Christmas on what has become a very hot topic in Perth County.