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HomeNewsSmithers Council divided around signing racism and hate protocol

Smithers Council divided around signing racism and hate protocol

A new racism and harassment protocol was brought up at last night’s (Tuesday) Smithers town council meeting, being met with conflicting reactions from the public and council members.

The protocol was created by the Smithers Bridging Committee, which is a subcommittee of the Smithers Social Planning Council, to create a standardized response to reports of hate and racism.

Another part of the protocol would be to track the number of reports so there’s information on how significant of a problem racism is in the community.

According to committee volunteer Kevin Tyler, the protocol has been in development for five years.

“The work on it got interrupted by Covid, sat for about two years, and we re-initiated the work about a year ago.”

During the public comment period, concerns were voiced about who would be in charge of distinguishing what is and isn’t a hate crime, along with concerns around the right to free speech.

There were also mentions of current items in Canada’s criminal code set to deal with hate crimes.

Town staff recommended that council sign as a signatory organization to the protocol.

Other potential signatories are:

  • Northern Health
  • Community of Witset
  • Smithers Chamber of Commerce
  • Northern Society for Domestic Peace
  • Positive Living North
  • Smithers Multicultural Society
  • Smithers Community Services
  • School District 54
  • Smithers Pride
  • Coast Mountain College

It was also mentioned the RCMP would be providing a letter of support towards the protocol.

Councilors Frank Wray and John Buikema both voiced opposition to the town signing for various reasons.

One concern was about the protocol being used as a weapon, which was voiced by Councilor Buikema citing personal experience.

“[Racism] is a very easy brush to paint somebody with and once you’re painted with that, it’s horrible.”

He also said, “There’s pretty much every ‘-ism’ in this community, and it’s an ugly side to our community.”

Councilor Wray expressed appreciation towards the intent of the protocol and his opposition to signing and said things are already in place for these kinds of reports.

“I feel like already in Canada, we have a criminal code, we have courts, we have a police system, we have human rights commissions.”

Concerns were also voiced around a local organization collecting incident reports by Councilor Wray.

On the other end were Councilors Genevieve Paterson and Sam Raven who supported signing.

“I was really encouraged to see the Town of Smithers actually putting something pen to paper,” said Councilor Paterson.

She continued expressing respect for the systems already in place and part of her running as a councilor in the last election was because of hate she saw being derived from COVID.

Councilor Raven said her support comes from the complicated process of navigating processes already in place by the Federal and Provincial governments.

“When you’re expecting somebody to come from a marginalized background and be able to proactively advocate through these levels and through these different processes, it can be extremely overwhelming.”

She also brought up how this protocol for data collection could help to show the number of incidents in Smithers so issues around racism can be dealt with.

Council has deferred this until a meeting is held between the town and the Smithers Bridging Committee.

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