How Hamilton lacks racial diversity in its 'corridors of power'

We surveyed 10 local agency boards and found only 11 per cent of board members are a race other than white, compared to 16 per cent of the population.

A lack of minorities on agency boards remains a major gap, 15 years after Hindu temple arson

Fifteen years ago, Hamilton pledged to be more inclusive. "I think the sincerity was there," says Hussein Hamdani. But he cites the lack of non-white faces on boards and agencies as a way the city needs to improve. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton's corridors of power don't reflect the city's racial diversity.

The lack of minorities on the boards that oversee some of the city's most powerful and high-profile agencies and institutions represents a major gap in efforts to become more inclusive in the 15 years since the Hindu temple arson, say advocates.

And with the city's diversity growing, there is work to be done giving visible minority communities a voice among the city's key decision makers.

At least 16 per cent of Hamilton's population is not white, but only 11 per cent of the members of its most influential boards are visible minorities.

They need to see 'Yeah, there's someone like me sitting there. Someone like me could sit there in the future. That's not closed to me.'- Hussein Hamdani

A CBC Hamilton survey of 10 local boards show that of 163 members, only 18 are a visible minority.

That includes the police services board, which has an entirely white membership, and Hamilton Health Sciences, which has 18 board members and one person of colour. 

So what does it matter who sits on these boards, some of which are rarely seen?

Hussein Hamdani, a local lawyer who mentors Muslim youth, says these are Hamilton's "corridors of power" — people making decisions that impact everyone else. And when that doesn't reflect the population, the decisions don't either.

Furthermore, Hamdani said, kids who are visible minorities do notice when everyone in power is white. 

It's very much a networking community, and if you're not part of the network, it's very difficult to break into.- Evelyn Myrie

"They need to see 'Yeah, there's someone like me sitting there. Someone like me could sit there in the future. That's not closed to me,'" said Hamdani last week.

That visibility for young people will matter more as the city's demographics evolve. Data from the Social Planning and Research Council, using the 2011 National Household Survey, shows that 22 per cent of kids up to age 14 are of a race other than white, as well as 16 per cent aged 15 to 64 and seven per cent of seniors.

The most common population is south Asian (three per cent of the population), black (three per cent) and Chinese (two per cent).

Hamdani was one of several Hamiltonians reflecting on how 15 years after the 2001 Hindu Samaj temple arson, the city still hasn't met its anti-racism goals. The city's leaders, from councillors to CEOs, need to better reflect the population, he said.

CBC's Ben Chin reads the story about the bombing attack on the Hamilton Hindu Samaj Temple. 0:31

Another issue is the ability of boards to make informed decisions and understand communities their work might impact. 

For example, Matthew Green of Ward 3, Hamilton's only black city councillor, has said that the all-white police services board is too "culturally incompetent" to have the complex conversation required around the impact of new street check/carding regulations on minorities.

"I don't think it's malicious," he said. "I just don't think they're capable of it. And I don't think they're aware of the impact it has on racialized people around the city."

Here's a look at the makeup of some of Hamilton's key boards and agencies.

  • Hamilton's elected school board trustees are largely white.
  • Mohawk College has 19 members on its board of governors and only one visible minority. 
  • St. Joseph's Healthcare and the Art Gallery of Hamilton appear to have one or fewer visible minorities each on their boards.

Other boards are more reflective of the population.

  • McMaster University's board, for example, is the same as Hamilton's larger population — it has 37 people on its board of governors, and six are people are colour.
  • The Hamilton Community Foundation has three visible minorities on its 17-member board, or 17 per cent. 

In 2015, the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) launched the program DiverseCity onBoard locally. It matches prospective board members with non-profit agencies. The Neighbour to Neighbour Centre and the AIDS Network have found board members that way, among others.

The goal, said former executive director Evelyn Myrie, is for people to get their feet in the door.

Ivy Cuervo Temple Hamilton hindu Samaj Temple. Poice announce arrests in 2001 bombing attack 13 years later. 1:49

'It's very evident there's a big gap'

"It's very much a networking community, and if you're not part of the network, it's very difficult to break into," said Myrie, a diversity consultant.

"It's very evident there's a big gap."

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Foundation is among the latest to use DiverCity onBoard. It has two openings on its 12-member board.

"We want the people who are decision makers to reflect the true diversity of our students, so they can see themselves reflected everywhere," said Julie Densham, the foundation's development officer.

According to Statistics Canada data, the next most common racial minorities in Hamilton are Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian and west Asian each account with one per cent of the population.

In all, 429,665 Hamiltonians are white or Aboriginal, while 79,975 are visible minorities.