Ottawa Valley mayors speak out about racism in their towns
While some municipal leaders accept it's a problem, others deny racism is systemic
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.
Several Ottawa Valley mayors say the stories about racism coming from their communities are "disgusting," "appalling," and "extremely distressing" — but not all believe the problem is systemic.
CBC spoke to five Black, Indigenous and people of colour from the Ottawa Valley who say racism is a problem in their communities. The stories stem from an incident in Pembroke, Ont., in August, when 80-year-old Nga Doan was assaulted by teenagers at her home.
"There is racism," said Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay. "It is an issue [here]."
Shortly after the assault on Doan, LeMay vowed to do something about racism in the city of about 14,000. In October, he held the first mayor's diversity roundtable, where residents shared their experiences.
"I was disappointed, but the stories were so important," said LeMay, recalling one Asian man, born and raised in Pembroke, opening up about racism for the first time in 60 years.
"At the roundtable, in tears, it was the first time where he was able to express [those] incidents," said LeMay.
To the people doing it, grow up.- Arnprior Mayor Walter Stack
As a result of the roundtables, a diversity committee will be created to collaborate with school boards, hospitals, police and other agencies, with the goal of educating people about racism.
"It's a start," said LeMay.
'It's up to us'
"To know that in our beautiful little community that people of colour would be treated like this is just unacceptable," said Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy, calling the stories "extremely distressing."
Murphy said Renfrew County, where her township is located, is reviewing its hiring practices to boost diversity. Murphy said she's also interested in learning more about unconscious bias training for her staff.
WATCH | Mayor urges residents to share racist incidents with her:
"Using the N-word is absolutely appalling," said Murphy in response to a community member's story from Eganville. "As community leaders, it's up to us to be working toward ending systemic racism."
'No racism issue,' says mayor
Renfrew Mayor Don Eady said while there may be isolated incidents, "there is absolutely no racism issue" in his town, at least to his knowledge.
"I find it very disturbing to think that would even happen in our town. I've certainly never been made aware of it by anyone," said Eady.
He said he has "zero tolerance whatsoever" for racism, and if an official complaint is made to the city, he'll look into it.
"To me this is very, very new," he said. "There's two sides to every story, so we have to be careful that when we get a complaint, it's 100 per cent legitimate."
Arnprior Mayor Walter Stack said while he doesn't believe racism is systemic in his town, he's disappointed with the stories coming from the valley.
"I find it disgusting, to be honest," said Stack.
- Read Part 1 | People of colour say there's a racism issue in the Ottawa Valley
- Read Part 2 | Granddaughter of Pembroke assault victim sets out to fix racism issue
He said his council needs to start thinking about how to best educate people in town about racism, and apologized to those in Arnpior who experienced it.
"To the people doing it, grow up."