Hostile councillors bring abrupt end to Sarnia’s diversity and equity training

City Hall

George Mathewson & Cathy Dobson

A consultant providing diversity training at City Hall was so upset by the hostility from some Sarnia councillors at a closed-door training session that she has refused to work with the city, The Journal has learned.

Toronto-based KOJO Institute was hired to provide city councillors with training on diversity, inclusion and equity.

But after the Nov. 15 training session on Zoom, principal consultant Kike Ojo-Thompson and the company cancelled other agreements it had to train City Hall management and Sarnia Police.

“The undisputed, uncorrected, and unabated hostility demonstrated by some members of Council toward our Principal Consultant Kike Ojo-Thompson was wholly inappropriate,” KOJO director of client services Craig Peters wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to Sarnia CAO Chris Carter.

Multiple members of council reached out after the meeting to independently apologize and express regret for the actions of their colleagues, Peters said.

But the company won’t be back.

“We believe the environment is unsafe for KOJO Institute and Ms. Ojo-Thompson to provide the upcoming training sessions.

“We will not be countersigning the other agreements.”

When contacted, Peters told The Journal that Ojo-Thompson encountered “a lot of resistance” during the two-hour session.

“There were things that were said in that meeting – that we won’t divulge – that led us to believe that it wasn’t in the organization’s best interest to continue,” he said.

Ojo-Thompson, who is Black, founded the Institute in 1999 and today provides public and private sector clients with expertise and training in equity, human rights and social justice.

She was senior facilitator for Ontario’s carding review team and project lead of an initiative addressing anti-Black racism in the child welfare system.

When contacted, Ojo-Thompson confirmed the training session created an unsafe environment for her and her company.

“Safety isn’t always physical. There is emotional and mental harm that can be done,” she said.

Council debated whether to release the letter and publicly acknowledge the cancelled training during a recent closed-door meeting and decided again it, The Journal has learned.

One of those who personally apologized was Mayor Mike Bradley, who initiated the diversity training for city personnel. He said the consultants were concerned about the comments and actions of several council members.

“I have to be very careful about what I say, but I will say I was highly disappointed by how the meeting unfolded and that they (KOJO) decided they did not want to continue,” Bradley said.

It was a training session and not a council meeting so the mayor did not chair it, Bradley said.

“Or I would have disrupted what they were trying to do.”

Councillors and staff need diversity training to help understand the values of newcomers to the community, he said. As an immigration task force member, he sees the positive benefits international students have brought to Lambton College and the city, the mayor added.

Ojo-Thompson and Peters both said they hope Sarnia pursues diversity training – but only with another company.

“I encourage Sarnia to continue doing this work,” said Ojo-Thompson. “We’re rooting for them.”