Ottawa·Racism in the Valley

Ottawa Valley residents demand mayors face up to racism

Some mayors in the Ottawa Valley are promising to do better after residents called on them to acknowledge and act on systemic racism in their communities.

Renfrew mayor apologizes for earlier comments, commits to educating himself

A welcome sign in Renfrew, Ont., in December 2020. An open letter to the mayors of that Ottawa Valley town and nearby Arnprior calls on them to acknowledge and act on systemic racism in their communities. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Racism in the Valley is a series of stories stemming from a violent assault on an 80-year-old woman in Pembroke, Ont., earlier this year. CBC Ottawa spoke to Black, Indigenous and people of colour in the region about their experiences, and to local leaders to find out what's being done.


Some mayors in the Ottawa Valley are promising to do better after residents called on them to acknowledge and act on systemic racism in their communities.

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

Mayors in Renfrew and Arnprior initially told CBC they don't believe there's systemic racism in their towns, and suggested racist incidents are isolated. 

Katie Perfitt penned an open letter to each of the mayors and launched online petitions, which had hundreds of signatures as of Thursday night.

"It is deeply disappointing in your response to that article where, on the one hand, you condemn the racist acts, and on the other deny that systemic racism exists in our town," reads the letter.

Outrage on social media

The letter calls on both town councils to undergo anti-racism training, fund anti-racism training for the public and to publicly apologize for their earlier statements to CBC denying there's a racism issue in their towns.

I admit that I was not as aware or as educated as I should have been.- Renfrew Mayor Don Eady

"I was seeing a lot of outrage on social media," said Perfitt, who grew up in Arnprior and lives in a nearby town.

Perfitt said she wanted to give people a way to speak up, and is "heartened" by the response so far.

"Systemic racism that was outlined in the CBC article is not a problem for Black, Indigenous and people of colour to fix. It's a system that was created and upheld and perpetrated by white people," said Perfitt, who added she's trying to be a white ally. "It's so imperative that white people join the fight." 

Katie Perfitt, left, at a Black Lives Matter rally in Arnprior, Ont., in June. Perfitt has launched petitions calling on Renfrew and Arnprior councils to take anti-racism training, and to fund similar training for the public. (Submitted by Cameron Perfitt)

Tiffany Smiley lives in the County of Renfrew and was one of several residents who wrote directly to Renfrew Mayor Don Eady this week.

"I reached out because I felt his words were incorrect. I felt it was coming from an uneducated and uninformed place," said Smiley. "Being a person of colour, we most definitely dealt with this ... It's just not OK anymore."

Mayor apologizes

Eady declined an interview but said in an email that he will add the topic of racism, discrimination and exclusion to the agenda for the upcoming Renfrew council meeting on Dec. 15.

"I would like to apologize to anyone I have offended," said Eady. "I admit that I was not as aware or as educated as I should have been about the existence of racism and exclusion in our communities." 

Eady said he's committed to educating himself on racism in his community, and will encourage his council colleagues to do the same. He said he will contact Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay, who has committed to creating a diversity committee.

Arnprior Mayor Walter Stack declined an interview, but referred to a town news release stating it's "committed to incorporating equity, diversity and inclusion." Stack didn't address the specific demands outlined in the petition.

"As much as we may hear that racism doesn't exist in the Ottawa Valley, unfortunately that is not the case," states the release.

"We hope to identify meaningful opportunities to incorporate the values of inclusion and diversity in future plans for the town of Arnprior in the coming months," the statement reads.

Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy, who said it was up to leaders to eliminate systemic racism in the valley, told CBC she will raise the issue at a committee meeting next week.

Read the full statements below:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang

Reporter/Editor

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang is a reporter with CBC News based in Ottawa. She's worked with the investigative unit, CBC Toronto, and CBC North in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Before joining the CBC in 2016, she travelled across the Middle East and North Africa to share people's stories. She has a Master of Journalism from Carleton University and speaks Korean, Tunisian Arabic, and dabbles at classical Arabic and French. Want to contact her? Email priscilla.hwang@cbc.ca or @prisksh on Twitter.

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