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City looking into creating diversity advisory committee

Goal of committee would be to 'make sure we’re as welcoming and inclusive as we can be for everybody,' mayor says

The city could be getting a new committee that would focus on making Orillia a more inclusive place for people from all walks of life.

Mayor Steve Clarke and Coun. Jay Fallis introduced a motion at this week’s council committee meeting, asking staff to report on the feasibility of establishing an Orillia diversity advisory committee that would be “guided by racialized and 2SLGTBQ+ communities.”

The committee’s mandate would include coming up with programs and strategies to combat racism and discrimination.

“It’s been crystallizing in the background for quite a while,” Clarke said of the reason for the request.

Holocaust survivors Eva Olsson and Max Eisen have made presentations to council in the past. Clarke and Eisen met in 2019 when the mayor visited Holocaust sites in Europe.

Since then, other matters of racism and discrimination have come to the fore, with the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota and, more recently, the discovery of mass graves at former residential school sites in Canada.

On June 7, in recognition of National Indigenous History Month, Chippewas of Rama First Nation Chief Ted Williams was invited to take part in the opening of city council’s meeting. He and Clarke discussed the challenges faced by Indigenous peoples and talked about the importance of building a strong relationship between Rama and Orillia.

“This is kind of a culmination of all of those experiences,” Clarke said of the desire to create a diversity advisory committee. “Council was in unanimous support of getting a report talking about what (the committee) could look like.”

City staff took the rare step of requesting an addition to the motion that would see the report include information about the possibility of developing “a corporate policy to formally enshrine and enhance the currently practised principles that equity, diversity and inclusivity are implemented when the city conducts business and delivers services” — essentially, ways to enhance inclusivity at city hall.

“I commend them for their progressive thought on that,” Clarke said.

Before presenting the report to council, Clarke said, staff will consult with those who would be guiding the committee. They will also look at other municipalities that have created similar committees to learn about their experiences.

“We all have different experiences, different backgrounds, and the whole goal is to make sure we’re as welcoming and inclusive as we can be for everybody,” Clarke said. “We’re all part of the same community and we all need that sense of community.”