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Diversity training as divisive as ever

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Cathy Dobson

Diversity training that caused the last city council untold grief, appears to be just as prickly an issue with this slate of politicians.

On Monday – amid objections from Councillors Bill Dennis and Terry Burrell – council voted to put out an RFP (Request For Proposals) for diversity training for this group.

Coun. Chrissy McRoberts, who raised the issue, urged council to accept a free offer from local trainer Crystal Fach of Diversity Ed to provide training to council in open session. But Mayor Mike Bradley said he preferred an RFP process that would give all eligible companies a chance to bid on the job.

Fach has five years experience training local hospital workers, teachers and plant employees and comes with letters of recommendation for the course, said McRoberts.

“Any education that is free is a bonus.”

But she agreed to amend her motion to include an RFP process.

“I want training that is going to include the barriers that are based on ethnicity, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender and age,” McRoberts said. “…if we are dealing directly with community members, we have to be aware of what they are going through, what they’ve dealt with.”

But Councillors Bill Dennis bristled at the idea. He said he will not participate if council goes ahead with it.

In 2021, a 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.

Coun. Dennis said Monday he was the subject of a “smear” campaign after Ojo-Thompson quit.

“As you can imagine I have a lot to say about this,” he said.

“I believe that no one should not be given an opportunity because of their colour, their sexual orientation or gender,” Dennis read from a prepared statement. “Unfortunately this premise of total equality isn’t (what) most diversity training is about. Diversity training should actually be called divisiveness training.”

He went on to say diversity training creates “an us-against-them” mentality. “It’s often about blaming, shaming and victimhood.”

Dennis said the 2021 diversity training was “both divisive and racist.” Afterward, an attempt to publicly shame him didn’t stop Dennis from topping the polls last election, he said.

Dennis was about to comment on what he said he knows about Crystal Fach when the mayor cautioned him and he decided to “skip that part.”

Dennis went on to say “critical race theory” is brainwashing our children. “Bottom line, I do not support divisive training and the truth is it would be much more beneficial for council to take training on economics or business,” he said.

Mayor Mike Bradley, who was criticized for not stepping in to stop the hostility in 2021, said Monday he will not chair any diversity training if this council decides to go ahead with it.

He also said he does not believe diversity training should be mandatory.

Coun. Adam Kilner, who is Black, gave his perspective to council and said he was encouraged to see the diversity of Sarnia during recent Canada Day celebrations.

Growing up, Kilner said the school system didn’t teach his own history “except for one white teacher who thought it was important to read the book, ‘Underground to Canada.’  

Diversity training isn’t about politics, Kilner said.

“This training is meant to inform the building up of our community, not the politicization of each other.

“We need to take the opportunity to build bridges wherever we can,” Kilner said. “That’s why, for me, it’s so important.”

Kilner said “that Kojo stuff” should be left in the past, “but I do think we all need to commit to build a new future.”

Diversity training isn’t “a silver bullet,” he added. “But it’s one tool in a larger conversation we all need to be part of.”

For the full discussion on diversity training, see the video below at the 3:06:00 mark:

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