Guelph’s Leaders Offer Messages of Hope and Encouragement

People around the world have been watching the events unfolding in the United States last weekend, and some of those people live in Guelph. As we struggle with our own feelings about the death of another Black man in police custody, and we think about our own roles in combating anti-Black racism, Guelph’s leaders have been offering words of comfort, understanding, and self-reflection.

Mayor Cam Guthrie:

Like many in Guelph, I was horrified to watch the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. I have felt heartbroken in the knowledge that many others have lost their lives under similar circumstances.

As your mayor, I have spent the last several days talking with members of the black community who live in Guelph; these individuals have graciously shared their stories, fears, and hopes with me. I have listened, and asked for guidance on how we can come together as a community to support those who experience discrimination and oppression in their daily lives.

Diversity is a central tenet of Guelph’s Community Plan, which outlines a united vision for our city that includes “celebrating our diversity” and our “commitment to inclusive prosperity.” In consultation with our Chief Administrative Officer Scott Stewart, we have decided to use upcoming discussions about our Strategic Plan, and our ongoing evaluation of the Community Plan, to identify any gaps within our work related to diversity and inclusion. We hope to build upon our strong foundation and identify meaningful opportunities to formalize these values through plans and policies going forward.

There are some people who believe that racism does not exist in Guelph. This sentiment – the denial of the experience of people of colour in our community – is part of the problem. I believe that Guelph is and has always been a welcoming community. However, we are not immune to the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and discrimination against people of colour, that we see around the world.

Systemic racism and discrimination are only allowed to thrive when we turn a blind eye to their very existence. We must stand united in our commitment to stopping this deeply-ingrained prejudice in its tracks. The City of Guelph is committed to taking meaningful, intentional action to remove barriers to inclusion so we can help every member of our community feel safe and flourish.

Mike Schreiner, Guelph MPP:

I want to acknowledge the pain, grief and anguish that so many people are experiencing right now.

Our reaction to centuries of anti-Black racism cannot be one of silence or excuses.

The suggestion that Canada is somehow different or immune does a disservice to the Black, Brown and Indigenous Canadians who know what racism feels like every day.

We too have a legacy of colonialism, oppression, exploitation, and even slavery.

We too have systems that are are steeped in racism and discrimination and built on the false idea of white supremacy.

We need only to look at incarceration rates, health outcomes, food security, homelesses and so many other factors to know that racial inequities live in Ontario.

Racism is not only violence – it is differences in rights, privilege and opportunity baked into our institutions over generations to oppress people of colour.

Defeating racism is an active process of unlearning and re-educating, of facing the problem head-on and remaking our society in the true idea of equality.

If we are going to eradicate racism from our communities, then it is those who have benefited from the tradition of white supremacy who must work hard to combat it

Lloyd Longfield, Guelph MP:

I believe that one of the most important aspects of leadership is listening. As politicians and people in positions of responsibility, we must first seek to listen and understand our constituents in order to serve them effectively.

Over the past 5 years I have developed some incredible friendships in the Liberal Caucus, including my close friends Greg Fergus and Ahmed Hussen. In fact, I have joined the Black Caucus as a non-black person to try and better understand issues faced by black Canadians. Over the past week, both Greg and Ahmed have shared their experiences that are still far too common in our society.

Our Government has made anti-racism and discrimination a key priority.

We cannot pretend that being in a better position than other nations means we do not have our own problems that we must work on together.

I recognize that I speak from a place of privilege.

But I also know that when any of us are under threat, all of our freedoms are under threat.

That is why I will continue working with the black community in Guelph to listen to their concerns, and to bring them forward to other elected officials at all levels so we can work together to combat racism.

Here in Guelph, the Guelph Black Heritage Society is leading the way in breaking down the barriers that still exist including through the renovation of Heritage Hall on Essex Street. Once completed, the space will be universally accessible for all so that everyone can benefit from the thought provoking and inspiring events that take place in the space.

What we are seeing demonstrates that this work is more important than ever and that each of us have a role to play in confronting anti-racism and ending discrimination.

Jennifer Hesch, President of the Guelph and District Labour Council:

The Guelph and District Labour Council acknowledges the disturbing incidents of violence that have recently occurred in the US and Canada. We recognize that these events are just a few of the numerous tragedies that members of black communities have suffered.

As a labour community, we must acknowledge that Anti-Black racism exists and is deeply rooted in Canada’s history, institutions and society at large. We have a responsibility to call-out and confront racism directly. We also need to work together to dismantle it. Positive change requires that we hold ourselves accountable and that we recognize our own personal bias. The Guelph and District Labour Council supports anti-racist practices and processes.

We know that many people in our community are experiencing grief following these recent tragic events. Our condolences go out to all those who are suffering. We are here to work to support those in need and participate in conversations with community members who experience racism on an ongoing basis.

Chief Gord Cobey, Guelph Police Service:

The death of George Floyd has shaken the trust of many and has understandably caused some in our community to question what we are doing locally to ensure we are providing kind, compassionate and bias-free policing service for our community.

We are writing today to respond to these questions and re-assure our citizens that our top priority is the safety and security of all of our residents.

Each and every day, our members work to demonstrate our commitment to our core values of Pride, Service and Trust. We will always strive to earn the trust of our community. We recognize we are not perfect and we are committed to constant improvement in all areas of our work.

Our members participate in ongoing training in many important areas including diversity, inclusion and cultural sensitivity. In addition, training is provided in relation to mental health awareness and de-escalation strategies and victim impact awareness. Much of this learning is delivered in consultation and in collaboration with those with lived experience from our Guelph community.

We live in a very diverse, vibrant and thriving community and we are committed to working towards ensuring that our membership reflects the demographics of those we serve. Much work is done to increase our engagement with and recruitment of individuals who have historically been under-represented in policing. By embracing our diversity within our Service and our Community we will only strengthen our ability to serve and make the community proud of the work we do.

We are proud of the work our members do and we are committed to transparency in this regard. We have received a number of questions in relation to our willingness to consider the use of body worn cameras for our members. We are very willing to examine the use of body worn cameras and we have been developing a pilot project that will see the implementation of body worn cameras by some of our members in the coming months. This project was approved as part of our 2020 Budget and we have been working diligently towards its implementation for several months.

The safety and wellbeing of our community will always be our greatest priority. As we continue to move forward together we are grateful for the support and engagement of all those we serve.

We are committed to working together with our members and our community to learn from each other and build upon our history of providing kind, compassionate and bias-free policing service to all of our residents.

The Central Students Association, University of Guelph:

To our Black students at U of G:

We see you, we love you, we celebrate you, and in these difficult times we stand in solidarity with you. We fight alongside you in collectively dismantling the systems of racism and oppression on and off campus.

We are outraged and disgusted by the recent events that have been taking place, and the Black lives we continue to lose as a result of institutional violence and police brutality. We honour the lives of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many other Black lives taken by racism and colonial violence.

To our non-Black students at U of G:

We all have an obligation to stand up against racial injustice, anti-Black racism, and police brutality in our communities. We must constantly educate ourselves, address our own biases, and practice anti-racism every day. Many of us are rightfully devastated and angry.

This is a time to learn, unlearn, show up, and utilize our voices, our community, and whatever resources we have to demonstrate our solidarity and take action. There are many resources and tools available to us to start learning and taking action!

Franco Vaccarino, University of Guelph President and Vice-Chancellor:

Like you, I am deeply saddened and shaken by the killing of George Floyd and the troubling outbreaks of violence and hatred in the United States and other countries around the world, including Canada. Moments like these are a call to all of us in our University community to condemn anti-Black racism and stand together and reaffirm our deep commitment to diversity, inclusion and human rights.

We find ourselves in a historical moment. A snapshot in time when we’re called upon to deepen our commitments, enlighten ourselves about the suffering of others, and do all that we can to find solutions to society’s ills – as individuals and as an institution.

We stand in solidarity with our students, staff and faculty who are united in promoting mutual respect. Now more than ever it’s vital that we collaborate with our Black students and all of our students, faculty and staff in addressing and fighting hatred, violence, and racism. We are all in this together.

U of G remains firm in our commitment to combat acts of racism and discrimination that occur within our midst. This pledge is not one we just make today, but one we commit to in the long days ahead. This includes responding appropriately to disturbing events, such as recent anti-Black racist, and hateful social media posts from students.

Our message is clear, we promise our U of G community that we are committed to promoting diversity of thought, diversity of ability, gender diversity, and racial and ethnic diversity.

It is not sufficient to simply express our commitment to these values. More is needed. And we will do more. Our action plan involves taking swift and deliberate steps when such events occur, from disciplinary action to offering anti-oppression, anti-bias and allyship training.

Recent scenes on our television screens of violence and heartbreak against the larger backdrop of the Coronavirus pandemic, have been devastating. These difficult times call upon all of us to find the strength, the humanity and the voice to speak up and collectively say no. No to hatred, no to bigotry and no to intolerance. It’s time to take the lessons we’ve learned from recent events and use them to build a solid foundation for action and positive change in our community.

Please join me in working together to create a strong path forward for all of us towards the global healing process.

Chair Martha MacNeil and Director of Education Martha Rogers, Upper Grand District School Board:

The Upper Grand District School Board acknowledges the horrific incidents of violence in the United States and in Canada in recent weeks and days, including the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Regis Korchinki-Paquet. We recognize that these recent events follow a long list of tragedies, deaths and harm caused to Black people.

Anti-Black racism is deeply rooted in our country, society, institutions and our history, and much work needs to be done to address this systemic racism.

As an educational community we have a responsibility to identify and describe racism and then work to dismantle it. Change requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism and regular self-examination of our bias. We cannot remain comfortable with the status quo and deny that racism exists. Instead, we need to disrupt our own biases and stereotypes, model learning and vulnerability, and hold ourselves accountable.

The UGDSB is continuing to work on moving our system into anti-racist practices and processes by having conversations, listening to the voices of those who experience racism on an ongoing basis, and taking action.

We know that many people in our school communities are experiencing pain, trauma and grief following these tragic events. Our condolences go out to all those who are suffering. We will work to support those in need and hear the voices of our students, staff and families as we continue our work in anti-Black racism and equity. There is much work to be done. We are committed to doing what is right and confronting the racial inequities in our society.

Tamara Nugent, Wellington Catholic District School Board Director of Education:

Wellington Catholic begins with “We”. Together we join our voices with people of all nations to reject the violence and racism that ended the life of George Floyd.We join our prayers with all those who are grieving and impacted by this devastating event. We join in the collective cry out against the injustices we see on our world.

The many protests and demonstrations we are witnessing in the media and in our communities come during a global pandemic thathas reminded us of the pervasiveness of dehumanizing injustice. The current crescendo of protest activity is a stark reminder that we all must do better.

The protests are an indisputable sign that we need to listen intently to the anger, pain, and trauma and engage in productive dialogue that results in real, transformational change.The current pandemic has exposed many inequities. Our Wellington Catholic District School Board aspires to create safe, inclusive learning environments where every student and every member of our community knows that they are welcomed and valued. To know the faith means living the call “to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” To impact change we need continuous learning with respect to anti-racism,equity and diversity across all roles in our organization and in every one of our classrooms.We must end the silence that empowers racism, xenophobia, exclusion, bias, self righteousness and all forms of hatred and oppression. We need to renew our passionate commitment to social justice. We must accompany our young people and one another in the search for truth.

In the words of Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, “We can and must make a society that views the soaring of a child’s potential with more joy than the soaring of a rocket.” Catholic education is our daily opportunity to instill important values such as courage, love, respect, sensitivity, and compassion. These are the values that will ensure we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters everywhere to bring about change, new life, and hope.We are listening, we are learning, and we want you to know we are committed to fighting against racism and discrimination.

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