Tara Jeffrey & George Mathewson
A social services network alarmed by Sarnia’s botched diversity training is calling one councillor’s comments “extremely concerning and disheartening.”
Carrie McEachran, chair of the Social Services Network of Sarnia-Lambton (SSNSL), sent a letter to Sarnia’s mayor and council members last week seeking answers to Kojo Institute’s decision to halt its diversity training in Sarnia.
As first reported by The Journal, The Toronto company cancelled agreements to train more municipal staff after some unnamed councillors subjected consultant Kike Ojo-Thompson to what it called “undisputed, uncorrected and unabated hostility” during a two hour closed-door meeting.
McEachran called Coun. Terry Burrell’s response to her letter of inquiry “unacceptable.”
Responding by email, Burrell stated: “I cannot discuss this issue as it is an in-camera item as requested by the Kojo Institute,” he wrote.
“I am surprised that you have such an attitude as ‘you are white therefore you are evil.’ Does your organization use this attitude toward all white people? Or is this attitude reserved for City Councillors?”
Last year the SSNSL, which is comprised of 30 local social service and health agencies, launched an anti-racism initiative. Its letter to the mayor and council stated:
“The entire city council is white. White people often deny the existence of racism or minimize the problem,” it said, noting Black, racialized and Indigenous people frequently experience racism locally.
“We are struggling to understand how council members could be so hostile to a Black woman who comes to provide training to help white leadership better understand equity.”
When contacted, Burrell stood by his comments.
“That letter they sent us seems to be calling us all kinds of names,” he said. “I have no idea where this social group — whatever they are — where they’re coming from, because they don’t know (what happened.)
“It seemed like a very bizarre letter to me.”
McEachran called Burrell’s words “extremely concerning and disheartening.”
“We collectively support thousands of Sarnia residents and to receive this response from an elected leader who has been entrusted to serve these very residents is unacceptable,” McEachran said.
“This is another example of the very issues that were raised in the network’s equity training letter to council.”
In a similar letter sent to city council, Community Legal Assistance Sarnia-Lambton said is was “shocked” by the behaviour of the unnamed councillors.
The agencies call on Sarnia to immediately issue a declaration denouncing racism and hate, and to commit to diversity, equity and inclusion training for councillors and city employees.
At last week’s council meeting, the CLAS letter was briefly discussed when raised by Coun. Nathan Colquhoun. Council agreed to have city staff review the letter and its requests and report back at a later date.