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Region broaches anti-black racism at town hall

Former Whitby MP calls out region for lack of initiative

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

About 7,000 viewers tuned in to watch a town hall on anti-black racism hosted by Regional Chair John Henry.

The event saw panellists and community members ask questions of the former Oshawa mayor, who sat alongside outgoing Durham Police Chief Paul Martin and four prominent members of Durham’s black community.

The event was facilitated by motivational speaker, artist and youth worker Sean Mauricette. The panel consisted of former Whitby MP Celina Caesar-Chevannes; Assistant Youth Deputy Minister, Youth Justice Division of the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social David Mitchell; and incoming President of the Black Student Success Network at Durham College Ann Marie Morrison.

Henry began the town hall by expressing his belief that no form of racism is acceptable in Durham Region.

“Racism has no place in our region,” he says.

However, he also notes while it’s good for messages of support to be expressed, it isn’t enough, and everyone needs to better educate themselves.

Martin notes the events of the past few months, with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the protests surrounding police brutality in the United States making headlines, have been difficult for many.

“It has caused all of us, but particularly those of us in policing, to take a hard look at what we do, and how we do it,” he says.

Martin says it isn’t enough to simply send messages of support without being introspective, and expresses a desire to see certain behaviours changed in police.

“We recognize the importance of calling out bad behaviour when we see it,” says Martin.

The panellists all spoke out about systemic racism, particularly Caesar-Chevannes, who noted while she’s thankful the region was hosting the town hall, more needs to be done, and it’s important to hold regional and government officials accountable.

“Everyone should hold receipts of what’s said tonight,” she says.

Mitchell says he hopes for the services at the region to better reflect the communities in Durham.

“We cannot be effective as a region unless the services that support the region are reflective of its residents,” he says.

Finally, Morrison says she hopes more conversation can help others to better recognize the anti-black racism movement.

However, the Durham College student says she is saddened that the recognition of a need for change had to come with the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, as well as others.

She also believes more needs to be done aside from writing a statement in support.

“We need to remember that four paragraphs posted on your website should not be where this all ends.”

Henry and the viewers who tuned in were able to hear pointed remarks from the panellists, especially Caesar-Chevannes, who says she feels blindsided by the fact the region didn’t publish an anti-black racism statement on its website.

“It’s not good enough to just hold a town hall, it’s not good enough to just make a statement, you need to put it out publicly and you need to follow it with action,” says Caesar-Chevannes.

However, Henry says he did release a statement regarding anti-black racism, and the topic has been discussed on multiple occasions at regional headquarters.

Ultimately, regional officials and panellists agree more needs to be done and discussed when it comes to fighting racism.

“We need to react immediately to the plethora of issues affecting the black community, and also take preventative measures for the future,” says Mauricette. “The data is there, and can no longer be ignored.”