For our communities to thrive, we must be inclusive of every individual within them.
Since the public launch of United for All in the fall of 2019, the climate around hate and violence in our communities has changed significantly. COVID-19 and its social effects have disproportionately impacted people who were already marginalized by systems that did not recognize or include them: Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized communities, newcomers, women, people with disabilities, and others.
At the same time, hate crimes and violence against Asian and Muslim communities have been increasing, awareness and action around anti-Black racism has sparked a global uprising, and Indigenous peoples have seen a public reckoning of the effects of colonization on their communities.
But as this is happening, so too is something very important: people are noticing injustice more than ever before, and they are hungry for and committed to change.
With this comes frustration that change isn’t happening quickly enough, duplication of efforts, and mistrust in institutions.
On June 30, members of the United for All Coalition and Champions Table met to highlight successes and to strengthen their commitment to ending hate and violence in our communities by working together on these common issues.
By identifying and celebrating areas of progress and momentum, the coalition can target their efforts into initiatives that are working well, have opportunities for growth, and build community trust.
Can we imagine a future without racism? Community health as an example
Naini Cloutier, Executive Director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) highlighted recent areas of progress in Ottawa when it comes to combatting racism. They include recognition from Ottawa Public Health that racism is a public health issue; creation of the Anti-Racism Secretariat and a Director of Gender and Race Equity, Inclusion, Indigenous Relations and Social Development at the City of Ottawa; Equity Ottawa’s collection of race and sociodemographic data; and much more.
SWCHC, like many community health centres, understands that racism is a social determinant of health. As such, they employ programs that are targeted and responsive to the community’s needs, like harm reduction services, a newcomer health clinic, a social program for Asian seniors, language access, the Ottawa Black Mental Health Coalition, and much more. They also embed an anti-oppression model into their governance, employment, service delivery and more to ensure they reflect the people they serve.
The Equity for Us program at SWCHC, which United Way East Ontario has supported for many years, illustrates how grassroots community engagement can turn into widespread action around anti-racism. Starting with consultation with Muslim, Black and Chinese/Vietnamese communities, racialized youth and newcomers and refugees, participants created recommendations for education, allyship, confronting racism, and more. These recommendations then formed an action plan and a working group to implement the plan.
Empowering residents to build safer communities
The Safe People project, led by the Pinecrest Queensway Community Health Centre (PQCHC), trains community leaders in marginalized neighbourhoods to address safety concerns, and to increase social inclusion and connection to resources. Residents lead the project, and community needs inform the themes at any given time.
“Safe People” become trusted peers in their communities who strengthen social connections between neighbours, reduce crime, lead advocacy initiatives, facilitate discussions around challenges like racism and xenophobia, and connect people to resources that increase community health.
Since 1997, the Safe People project has influenced a measured increase in community safety and feelings of safety; trust with landlords, police and neighbours; access to resources and supports; community cohesion; awareness of local issues; and acceptance and inclusion of marginalized residents.
More recently, Safe People has introduced hate prevention and anti-racism approaches that align with United for All’s strategies. PQCHC is incorporating best practices of place-based hate prevention and anti-racism in the neighbourhoods where it works, and creating risk assessment tools that aim to predict and address incidents of hate before they happen.
Building a culturally-appropriate mental health care system
African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) communities experience disproportionate physical, social, mental and emotional harms as a result of anti-Black racism in health and mental health systems. The Ottawa Black Mental Health Coalition (OBMHC), a group of more than 20 member organizations, identifies ways of responding to the unique mental health needs of the local Black community. Their activities include, but are not limited to:
- An anti-racism advocacy and systems change working group that centers Black voices
- Anti-racism training and information building for schools, families and service providers
- Increasing awareness in the Black community on how to access culturally-appropriate mental health care
OBMHC is aligning its work to support United for All on its hate and violence prevention strategy.
“Trying hard is not good enough”
With so many partners at the table, United for All has the opportunity to empower further research and development in the space of anti-hate and anti-violence, and share it community-wide. Dianne Urquhart of the Social Planning Council of Ottawa spoke about the research and evaluation plans to measure what United for All is doing to end hate and violence, and how well it is performing against its goals.
Jean-François Ratelle, researcher at the University of Ottawa, also highlighted the need for research that better understands the landscape of hate and racism in Ottawa beyond the scope of hate crime statistics, so United for All can be more proactive in its response.
Hate does not stop at geographic borders
Agata Michalska, Director of Regional Affairs with United Way East Ontario, shared how the work of United for All is expanding beyond the boundaries of the City of Ottawa. As many rural communities are looking to immigration to grow their economic development and population, the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are top of mind.
Here is a snapshot of anti-hate and anti-violence work across East Ontario:
- Renfrew County: Forming strategic partnerships with equity-seeking groups; identifying diversity champions and advocates in the mental health, violence against women, and education sectors; supporting the local immigration partnership and the diversity and inclusion committee in Pembroke; advocacy on poverty and homelessness in Arnprior.
- Lanark County: Supporting the local immigration partnership; represented at the local community safety and wellbeing plan; participant at diversity equity and inclusion committees in Tay Valley Township and Smiths Falls and with OPP and Smiths Falls police departments; Lanark Price and Queer Connection; and Indigenous partnership through All My Relations Mississippi Mills and Lanark Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation.
- Prescott-Russell: Engaging community and education sectors and police in response to a racist act of violence; grassroots initiatives like Prescott-Russell Anti-Racism group; municipal diversity and inclusion committee created.
Building a more united national capital region
Sophia Jacob, the Equity and Diversity Liaison with Rawlson King’s office, highlighted the broad and diverse work of volunteer grassroots groups and initiatives across Ottawa that spring into action to respond to a broad range of community issues, often without compensation and off the sides of their desks.
Noting that the list is not exhaustive, Sophia shared just a snapshot of some local groups who are working on the ground to progress social justice goals:
Helping people with disabilities in a way that is free from discrimination
In 2015, the Ottawa Disability Coalition (ODC) set priorities for its members that included housing, employment, education, public transit, barrier-free and accessible service delivery, and community support services.
Upon evaluating those priorities, Jerry Fiori shared how the Coalition realized they had missed key facets like discrimination, inequality and injustice. As a result, they chose to join United for All to understand the broader aspects of injustice and assess how member organizations better serve marginalized communities.
Early intervention before violence develops
The United Muslim Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau (UMO-OG), representing 14 major mosques in the national capital region, is facing the significant challenge of Islamophobic violence, which threatens the safety and wellbeing of all Muslims. Jalil Marhnouj spoke about how UMO-OG has been working closely with the Ottawa Police to build community safety and trust with the local Muslim community as violent incidents of Islamophobia continue to rise.
Representing UMO-OG, Jalil also spoke about how youth violence has escalated, but mosques are responding with early interventions. Youth committees, recreational and educational programs, volunteer opportunities, mentorship connections, academic tutoring, day camps and partnerships with community agencies present an opportunity to strengthen support systems for youth, and ensure their success. The UMO-OG are also engaging parents with classes and workshops on talking to youth about violence.
After a summary of the diverse and measurable work from frontline agencies and coalitions to support the goals of United for All, Yasir Naqvi introduced speakers from the United for All Champions Table. This group of recognizable community leaders serves to elevate the work of United for All, to speak as a voice for its mission, to bring its goals and mission in front of relevant policy makers, and to support the capacity of the broader coalition.
Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health, Ottawa Public Health
What’s become more stark over the last year, when we talk about things like employment, housing, income… what’s driving the differences in who is employed, who has an adequate income, is largely related to racism and discrimination.” — Dr. Vera Etches
Dr. Etches stressed that the role of public health is in measuring the impacts of different social factors on health outcomes, but also in taking the lead and bringing other institutions along in tackling hate and violence, and being accountable to the communities they serve.
She emphasized that listening, working with the community to identify challenges, and building relationships with diverse communities is the best way to address inequities.
Alex Munter, President and CEO, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
“We’re expecting action. At some point, statements on their own become empty words.” — Alex Munter
CHEO has three streams of work that all require a lens to anti-racism, diversity and inclusion in order to strengthen its relationships:
- Workplace experience
- Patients and families
- Culture and community
Alex Munter aligned CHEO’s work in this space with Ottawa Public Health, but stressed that hospitals do not have access to the same types of data that public health would to understand the environment they work within.
He also spoke about how the pressure to say something when something unjust happens in the community cannot be without concrete action to accompany it.
Chief Peter Sloly, Ottawa Police Service
“Institutional change must happen bottom-up, and it must be supported from the top down. Systemic racism is an ‘all-of-us’ problem, and it must be an ‘all-of-us’ solution.” — Chief Peter Sloly
Chief Sloly reminded the table that systemic racism is present across all sectors in Canadian society: policing, health, education and more. It is the role of leaders, in collaboration with frontline and grassroots initiatives, to reduce its impact as much as possible, in order to set up the next generation for greater success and wellbeing.
In closing, he reminded everyone that blaming and shaming will not create long-term change, but working together with a common goal will.
Michael Allen, President and CEO, United Way East Ontario
“There is an understandable temptation and desire to express our commitments. But we don’t want to be performative: we want to be authentic in our allyship and our commitment. In order for us to be effective, we must rally around the goals we share.” — Michael Allen
As an organization that uses investment as a key tool to effect change, Michael Allen stressed that measurement against equity targets is one of the ways United Way East Ontario can hold itself to account for progress. As the backbone of United for All, United Way will continue to research, advocate, convene and invest to support the anti-hate and anti-violence work of the coalition.
The United for All coalition has made great strides in addressing hate and violence in our communities, but there is much more work to do. When we pursue this work with a common goal and commitment to work together, we can see the effects of our efforts.