Hamilton

'This is happening': City survey results show frequent racism in Hamilton

New data from a survey about the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre (HARRC) shows 79 per cent of respondents have experienced or witnessed racism in the past year, most commonly in public places. 

About 100 people gathered to weigh in on the future of the city's anti-racism resource centre

About 100 people attended a public session about the future of Hamilton's anti-racism resource centre. That included, from left, Jodi Koch, the city's director of talent and diversity; Marlene Dei-Amoah, chair of the city's committee against racism; Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor who analyzed the centre's results so far, and Arig al Shaibah, McMaster's associate vice president, equity and inclusion. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

New data from a survey about the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre (HARRC) shows 79 per cent of respondents have experienced or witnessed racism in the past year, most commonly in public places. 

From July to September, 575 residents filled out an online survey the city posted about racism in its quest to find the right model for the fledgling centre. Nearly half of those respondents were members of a racialized group, including eight per cent who are Indigenous. Those who witnessed racism, the survey responses shows, are more likely to report it than people who experience it themselves. And nearly half had never heard of the centre.

These numbers should help persuade city council that racism is an issue, says Marlene Dei-Amoah, chair of the city's committee against racism. 

"To me, that's actually kind of low," she said of the 79 per cent finding.

"These specific experiences will help council know this is happening. This is going on. This is a daily event."

The city, McMaster University and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion have gotten hundreds of opinions this year about the centre, which aims to support people experiencing racism. That includes connecting them with local services.

"Maybe what we thought were specific needs in 2003 have evolved," says Marlene Dei-Amoah, chair of the city's committee against racism. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Work on the centre started in 2003. After several hurdles, a feasibility study and council votes for and against, it finally launched in April 2018. It costs about $200,000 per year in cash and in-kind contributions, with the city supplying $100,000.

It heard from 75 clients in the first 10 months, and gave 17 anti-racism seminars and consultations. But in February, all three partners voted to pause the centre, saying the current model didn't have a big enough reach. 

And while there were plenty of calls about anti-black racism this year, word wasn't reaching Indigenous, south Asian and Middle Eastern communities, or enough people outside the downtown core, said Ameil Joseph, a McMaster associate professor who studied the results. It also needs some way for people to report online.

Now the group is looking at four models to run the centre. One is an independent board of directors, similar to a conservation authority, said Jodi Koch, the city's director of talent and diversity. One is a board of directors operating as a subcommittee. It could also be a city department, or part of an existing community service.

Discrimination has been a widely discussed issue in Hamilton this year. Hamilton had the highest number of hate crimes in the country last year, Statistics Canada figures show, although without a uniform definition, some in the field have questioned the accuracy of that ranking.

The city has also grappled with demonstrations in front of city hall this year by people wearing yellow vests, who are joined by alt-right groups such as Soldiers of Odin and the Proud Boys. It also made headlines this year when violence erupted at the city's Pride festival.

City council has beefed up its trespassing bylaw and upgraded its surveillance cameras, as well as hired a new staffer to handle the information collected. Residents have also been gathering every Saturday to hold counter protests, and there have been clashes between the two.

It will likely be early next year before city councillors cast a final vote about the centre's future, says city manager Janette Smith. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Some councillors, such as Sam Merulla of Ward 4, have said the city has created a crisis by giving so much air time to the demonstrators. But Dei-Amoah hopes these numbers show otherwise. 

"Now it's not just me telling you, and telling you what my experiences are," she said. "You can see it." And "there's a really clear commitment from council that this is something that needs to happen."

"Racism is something I've always experienced and has always been a priority. What's been encouraging for me is that when I'm seeing these events happening, there's a response. There are people reaching out and saying, 'What can I do? How can I ally? How can I stand beside you?'"

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the numbers are higher than police hate crime statistics, but the 79 per cent number is "quite dramatic."

"This is more what people are experiencing," he said, "and it's very concerning."

About 100 people attended Tuesday's community consultation. They broke into groups to weigh in on the various possibilities of operating the centre. Koch will bring options to a city council committee on Dec. 5. It could be early next year before a final decision is made.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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