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“Therefore be it resolved that the City of Owen Sound will actively work towards anti-racism and anti-oppression at every opportunity including but not limited to information sharing, ongoing education and training for Council, Committee members, City employees including summer students regarding anti-racism, anti-oppression, diversity and inclusion.” - passed 8-1, July 28, 2020

On January 6th, live on television, people in Owen Sound, like millions of others around the world, were horrified to witness an attempted insurrection in the United States capitol. Outgoing President Donald Trump convinced thousands of his rabid supporters that massive fraud was the cause of his election defeat, despite the conclusion of two dozen judges, confirmed by many Republican state legislators, that the election was free and fair.  That morning Trump instructed his troops to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the US Congress to “Stop the Steal”.

proudboysWhat ensued, as the mob toppled barriers and broke into the hallowed halls of Congress, was terrifying for the Senators and House members who fled for their lives;  and deeply disturbing for everyone who respects rational debate, the rule of law and democracy.  Led by the white supremacist Proud Boys and true believers of QAnon conspiracy theories, hundreds of Trump loyalists damaged the Senate chamber, rifled through the lawmakers’ desks, and chanted “Hang Mike Pence” because the Vice-President refused to unlawfully void the election.  A confederate flag, nooses, and t-shirts with white supremacist slogans, including “Civil War” and “Camp Auschwitz”, identified the lead agitators as fascists who were bent on shredding American democracy.  And five people died!

Owen Sound is not immune
Last week we, Grey Bruce Humanists, concluded that the events in Washington are a manifestation of the growth of far-right, racist ideologies that promote hatred of people of colour, Indigenous people, Jews, Islamists, immigrants and homosexuals.  However, we cannot complacently suggest that Canada, including Owen Sound, universally represents better, more inclusive values.  The founder of the fascistic Proud Boys is, after all, a Canadian.

Our thoughts turned to racist episodes in Owen Sound.  During the summer of 2019 racist stickers appeared downtown and in Harrison Park with rahowastickermessages advocating white supremacy, patriarchy, Nazism, anti-immigration sentiments and misogyny.  To date, as far as we know, nobody has been charged with this hate crime.

On two occasions that July, several people pelted an Owen Sound mosque with eggs, tomato sauce and mustard.  Thankfully, on following days concerned citizens assembled to protect the mosque.

Finally, just last November as reported in the Sun Times, a synagogue and four churches were desecrated by large, spray-painted ‘X’ marks.  A 26-year old man has been charged with mischief to religious property.

White supremacy is present and apparently growing in Canada and the USA, in Europe and other parts of the world.  Clearly we cannot stand idly on the sidelines if we value inclusiveness and human rights.  That is why as Humanists we formulated a resolution that we hoped would be endorsed by Owen Sound Council.  After a preamble, it stated that that we in Owen Sound are "committed to stamping out such mindless, hurtful hatred through education and active welcoming and support for people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.”

Unfortunately a few days later Mayor Ian Boddy, on behalf of Council, denied our request to send a delegation, remotely of course, to speak to our resolution.  He explained that Council passed an anti-racism resolution last July in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that stated "City Council acknowledges that systemic racism and oppression exists and persists in communities throughout Canada, including Owen Sound, creating social and economic disparities in education, healthcare, housing, employment, and justice.”  

BLMOwenSoundMDAction needed to eradicate racism
Specifically, this strong resolution commits the City to "actively work toward anti-racism and anti-oppression at every opportunity, including, but not limited to information sharing, ongoing education and training for Council, Committee members, City employees including summer students regarding anti-racism, anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion.”  Excellent, we say, but how many Owen Sound residents are aware that this motion was passed;  and what has happened since to implement the fine words?  The answer, it seems, is not much!

Subsequently the Mayor informed us that the City’s Official Plan update, now being debated, will include a plan to promote Diversity and Inclusion.  However, while the draft Plan includes a section on equity, diversity and accessibility, it is vague about developing a comprehensive anti-hate, anti-extremism, anti-racism action plan - and that is what is needed.  Also, sadly, it will be many months before a program is developed and action is taken.

We appreciate the work and the sincerity of Council in addressing these issues, but we believe, however, that it is action that brings about change, not words.  We hope over the next few weeks that the draft Strategic Plan will be strengthened with a commitment to formulating a detailed action plan to promote anti-racism and diversity, with a firm timeline for completing this process.  Furthermore, we advocate that a Citizen Advisory Committee be formed to advise on the formulation and implementation of this action plan.  We need this, and we are confident that a majority of Owen Sound citizens want this, so let’s get on with it!

Michael Craig, Terri and Bob Hope, Alex Jamieson, Liane Regendanz, Edna and Tom Burri
on behalf of Grey Bruce Humanists


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