Group urging council to reverse decision to take over setting up anti-racism centre

Michael Abraham had never attended a city hall meeting until last Thursday — but so far, he says, he's not impressed.

City councillors voted last week for the city to take the sole role in setting up the new centre and its board

Ameil Joseph and Gabriela Roberts, and several other community members, say city councillors have missed the mark in voting for the city to set up a new Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre board itself. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Michael Abraham had never attended a city hall meeting until last Thursday — but so far, he says, he's not impressed.

Abraham is one of a number of Hamiltonians who hope city council reverses a committee decision for the city to manage the establishment of a newly revised Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre (HARRC).

Under the current plan, the city will run the centre for the next six to 12 months and then establish an independent management board to take over responsibility. The centre will also be limited to online reporting and a phone line, unlike the physical office that existed this year.

Abraham, 26, says the community should be involved in all of this. He made that argument at the audit, finance and administration committee. But it didn't seem like councillors listened, he said.

"It's very interesting going in there expecting disappointment. But then experiencing disappointment is even another level of disappointment," he said.

"That was my first time, and I didn't want to be there again."

City council will vote whether to ratify the decision Wednesday. Gabriela Roberts, co-president of the McMaster University Black Students Association, hopes they rethink it. 

"It's that inability to really talk and involve the community," she said. "The steps to get there aren't the steps that will involve people in a way that they'll feel comfortable."

"That was my first time," says Michael Abraham, "and I didn't want to be there again." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

What to do about HARRC has been an ongoing issue this year. 

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 has three partners — the city, McMaster University and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) — and costs about $200,000 per year in cash and in-kind contributions. Right now, the city provides $100,000. 

In the first 10 months, the centre heard from 75 clients, 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. 

The city did a survey, attended numerous community events and held a large public meeting in October. It used that feedback to come up with the recommendations, said Jodi Koch, the city's director of talent and diversity, at the meeting Thursday.

Under the new model, the city would fund the whole centre. In the six to 12 months, the city would run it, and also hire a consultant to help set up a board. Councillors also rejected a plan from the city's own committee against racism proposing that committee take over HARRC.

Still wants to hear from the community

The committee against racism is volunteers, Koch said, and can't be expected to take on that responsibility. Coun. Brad Clark said the city can't just hand over $100,000. He also likened this to the formation of the HCCI, which the city started.

Koch said city staff would still give reports to the committee against racism. It still wants to hear from the community too, although it's unknown what that would look like.

About 100 people attended a public session in October about the future of the centre. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"That question is a bit difficult to answer in this moment simply because we have not yet received the expertise of the consultant," she said. "From our position, we would continue to engage with the community at every opportunity in as meaningful a way as we can."

Two councillors — Nrinder Nann (Ward 3) and Maureen Wilson (Ward 1) — aren't sold on the staff recommendations. Wilson was the sole opposing vote in the 6-1 decision Thursday. Nann isn't a member of the committee, but can vote Wednesday.

"I feel a very great sense of unease if we're going to move forward with a recommendation that is counter to those voices that we're looking to work in partnership and serve," Wilson said. "I think that would be an unfortunate beginning."

'A lot of not listening'

Ameil Joseph, a McMaster associate professor who analyzed the centre's results this year, agrees with that. It's already hard enough to get racialized people to trust the centre, he said. He worries this will undo the work so far.

"We know from the data that no one will use that centre if there's a city-run centre that's only an online reporting system and a phone line," he said. "Then we lose that centre. The centre that everyone laboured for."

"There's a lot of not listening that's repeating."

Abraham will be there Wednesday, even if last week felt like "continual invalidation."

"I never want to go back," he said. "I'll be there tomorrow, but I never want to go back."



Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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