Arnprior mayor's letter on racism raises eyebrows

Some residents of Arnprior, Ont., say they're angry after the mayor sent a letter titled "My Opinion" to local mailboxes, justifying why he doesn't believe systemic racism exists in his town.

Walter Stack argues why he doesn’t believe systemic racism exists in community

Walter Stack mayor of Arnprior, Ont., in a YouTube video posted on Oct. 16, 2020. Stack penned a letter to all residents concluding that he doesn't believe racism is systemic in his town. (Town of Arnprior/Youtube)

Some Arnprior, Ont., residents say they're angry after the town's mayor sent an opinion letter to local mailboxes, arguing why he doesn't believe systemic racism exists in the community.

The letter, which has been circulating on social media, is addressed to all residents of the town and signed by Mayor Walter Stack. He says he's "chosen to listen, observe and take in all the input from both sides on the topic" of racism.

The letter follows a CBC Ottawa series on racism in the Ottawa Valley, where Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) shared their experiences with racism and called on local leaders to do something about it. 

In one story, Stack told CBC he doesn't believe there's systemic racism in Arnprior and suggested racist incidents there are isolated — prompting some residents to sign a petition that called for the town to apologize.

He needs to hear us. He needs to try to work with us, rather than fighting back.- Kerry-Lee Williams, Arnprior resident

In his opinion letter, Stack said he has "searched a number of sources for the definition of systemic." He concludes that he doesn't believe racism is systemic in Arnprior. 

"I certainly DO NOT believe it is embedded as a normal practice in our community and I do not apologize for MY OPINION," wrote Stack.

"I was not thrilled to get that," said Patti Stevens who got the letter in her mailbox this week. "It was just greasy to me. First thing I wanted to know was who paid for this?"

She said she feels Stack was "trying to spin on the word, to be technical about systemic racism." 

Page one of Stack's 'My Opinion' sent to residents of Arnprior. (Ottawa Valley Against Racial Discrimination/Facebook)

"I don't want to look at the paper again," said Stevens, who's Indigenous and identifies as Coast Salish. She says she's leaving Arnprior next month in part due to feeling unwelcome. "That made me feel very uncomfortable and frustrated and angry and sick in my own home."

"He needs to hear us. He needs to try to work with us, rather than fighting back," said Kerry-Lee Williams, who's part of the town's Black community.

"He needs to realize that we're speaking up on racism because it's a problem. It does exist regardless of how he feels." 

'Definitely unconventional,' says councillor

"I was frankly surprised. It's definitely unconventional," said Coun. Lisa McGee about the mayor's letter. 

McGee, who put forward a motion in December to apologize to BIPOC for the mayor denying systemic racism, said many residents have been contacting her Tuesday about the mayor's statements.

"They're pretty surprised by the mailout. People have used words like shocked," said McGee. "They don't seem to be terribly supportive."

Councillors called for a special meeting at the end of December to publicly apologize to the town's BIPOC community for the mayor denying systemic racism. McGee, highlighted in green, says she's surprised by the mayor's recent opinion letter. (Town of Arnprior/YouTube)

When asked if she has a reaction to Stack calling her out specifically in his opinion letter, McGee said she wants to focus on the council's commitments to address racism, and wants BIPOC to know the majority of council is committed to challenging racism.

"I think we just need to move forward," she said.

Pointing fingers at mayor damaging: councillor

In defending his position, Stack referred to Coun. Lynn Grinstead's statement during a Dec. 23 special council meeting. 

"As Councillor Grinstead said ... for anyone to label anyone else a racist without ever having had a discussion to attempt to understand the other's position does not support a positive beginning to a process of dialogue," wrote Stack in his opinion letter.

"If you haven't bothered to speak directly to the source, then in my opinion, you have no business commenting publicly at all. These comments are more damaging than the reporter's story," said Grinstead at the time.

"It amazes me how many are pointing fingers and slinging mud on social media on an issue about racism using racial slurs themselves."

Grinstead, who supported the mayor during that meeting, declined an interview with CBC.

Mayor Stack and the town's spokesperson did not respond to CBC's request for comment. 

WATCH | What systemic racism in Canada looks like, according to experts:

What systemic racism in Canada looks like

CBC News

9 months ago
The police killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed have brought renewed attention to systemic racism. In Canada, some have been quick to deny its existence. But these experts say racism has been normalized within Canadian institutions. 9:56
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