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Report finds ‘racial bias’ infiltrated town’s practices and policies

The findings show the Leisure Centre's practices and policies have allowed racial bias to influence how the behaviours by youth are viewed
2018-06-21-leisure centre
The BWG Leisure Centre lit up in the evening. Jenni Dunning/Bradford Today

In Tuesday night's town council meeting, council received the final report of the Leisure Centre Equity and Inclusiveness Review, presented by Tana Turner of Turner Consulting Group. 

The review was conducted as part of a decision made by the Human Rights Tribunal that found the town had treated two racialized youth differently than non-racialized youth in an incident that occurred at the Leisure Centre in 2017.

The incident occurred in March 2017, on the second floor of the Bradford Leisure Centre. A fight between several youths occurred which resulted in each of the participants receiving a suspension from the Leisure Centre and Library, of varying lengths. 

Two of the youth involved in the incident received 15-month suspensions from town facilities. In February 2018, both youths filed applications with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), claiming discrimination was exercised by the town in its decision to ban the youth, on grounds of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, and ethnic origin. 

A hearing was held in summer 2019 and in November 2019 a member of the HRTO concluded that the two youth had been treated differently than non-racialized teens who had been banned from the Leisure Centre previously; that the length of their suspension was inappropriate and discriminatory; and that extending the ban to the BWG Library was unfair. 

The HRTO ordered the town to undertake a review of its policies and practices at the Leisure Centre as well as a follow-up review of the investigation report. The town was also required to pay $15,000 to each of the youth who made the applications. 

The review conducted by Turner Consulting Group included an overview of town policies, guidelines and documents; meetings with the complainants in the case; consultation and interviews with Leisure Centre staff; and consultations with racialized youth and the broader community. 

The review began in early 2020  - and concluded that the Leisure Centre's practices and policies have allowed racial bias to influence how the behaviours by youth are viewed and dealt with.

Turner noted that consultation with 28 racialized youth took place just prior to the COVID-19 shut down. Subsequent online Zoom sessions, held in March, were not well attended, although an additional three youth did share their experiences at the Leisure Centre, as well as their general experience of living in Bradford West Gwillimbury.

"They felt that they were treated differently than their white peers," she said. "The message was loud and clear from the youth with whom we did speak."

Turner also had three racialized research assistants (a Black man, a Black woman and a South Asian man) act as visitors at the Leisure Centre over the course of five days in February 2020, for a total of 27.5 hours of observation. 

All three reported receiving inconsistent treatment from either staff or fellow patrons of the facility. One male reported being followed by a white person into the washroom facilities, while two white staff members followed him upstairs into the weight room. 

The Black woman noted that while staff at the Leisure Centre were friendly and welcoming, the same was not true of some of the other patrons at the facility. 

"Overall they feel they are not welcome, and more attention is placed on them and their behaviours, and when issues happen they are dealt with in a harsher manner than white people are," noted Turner. 

Both consultation with racialized youth, and the experience of the research assistants suggested "there is a differential experience for racialized youth at the Centre," she said.

Turner Consulting conducted interviews with 10 Leisure Centre staff members, some of whom reported that they feel like they have been "walking on eggshells" since the incident, that the decision paints them all as racist, and that they are afraid to do anything that might make the situation worse. Some said they feel that youth will now play the "race card", with one staff member recounting an incident of being called racist after trying to enforce rules. 

Other staff members shared their perception that racialized youth, in particular Middle Eastern and Black youth, are more likely to get banned from the Leisure Centre, while white youth don’t get banned for the same behaviours. 

The report recommended that staff members receive more training in dealing with problematic behaviours, to ensure they are not acting from unconscious biases, and that the town should do more to increase the diversity of staff at the Leisure Centre, by hiring more racialized individuals to help create a more welcoming and positive climate for racialized youth.

Other recommendations included the creation of a conflict resolution process, and a Youth Advisory Committee. 

Turner explained that the report is important, as population diversity increases in areas outside of the Greater Toronto Area. Bradford's population currently is about 20 percent racialized but, noted Turner, "This is expected to grow." 

According to the report, Statistics Canada projections show that the provincial population will approach 18 million by 2036, with 48 percent of the population described as 'racialized.'

"Your population is going to become even more racially diverse, and the town needs to respond to that, and create inclusive, welcoming supportive services not only for youth but the entire racialized community," she said. 

The report contains a total of 27 recommendations that fall within two priority areas for the town:

(1) To create more equitable policies; and,

(2) To provide better support for staff to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for racialized youth.

The town has already made some progress on this work, noted Mayor Rob Keffer, including the recently approved BWG Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan, with contributions from the Mayor's Anti-Racism Advisory Panel. 

The action plan focuses on:

1) Workplace culture, providing equitable opportunities for all employees. 

2) Delivery of programs and services, with the town consulting with Black and racialized communities to identify and deliver affordable programs and services that align with the interest of the community. 

3)  Advocacy within the community, with the town taking leadership in ensuring Black and racialized communities enjoy equitable access to education, healthcare, social services and economic prosperity. 

“It is very good to see that there is a lot of overlap between the recommendations of this report and those of the Action Plan devised by the Mayor’s Anti-Racism Advisory Group,” said Mayor Keffer. “It assures us that we have already started to take the necessary actions and that we are moving in the right direction to address the primary concerns of Black and racialized people in our community.”

Next steps include the creation of a roadmap for implementing both the BWG Diversity & Inclusiveness Action Plan and the recommendations of the Turner report, including identifying expected outcomes, timeframes and necessary resources. Staff will provide council with regular status reports, which will provide an opportunity to add new initiatives, reflect on priorities and adjust schedules.

"It's troubling to read. It's hard," said Deputy Mayor James Leduc of the Turner report's findings.  "We have to meet this head-on. We need to be better, and I hope that we give the tools our staff need to be better, because it is our responsibility." 

"It bothered everyone, there's no doubt about it," said Coun. Raj Sandhu, urging the town to develop partnerships with the racialized community and youth, to develop policies that are fair and equitable. "If we have a strong foundation, a strong policy in place - that's where we need to get to."

He also suggested, "I think the society in itself has to change," to address racism wherever it occurs in the community. 

"It's never easy to hear findings from these reviews, but I am hopeful in seeing how the town will implement the recommendations," said Turner, noting, "There's no doubt that racism does exist in our society... No community is immune." 

“I would like to thank Tana Turner and her team for providing us with this very clear set of recommendations,” said CAO Geoff McKnight. “Our staff are fully committed to embracing the changes that will be realized through these critical initiatives, and to engaging with racialized youth on an ongoing basis to ensure that programs and services are offered that meet their needs.”

Council voted unanimously to receive the presentation, and endorse the recommendations contained in Turner's report.

Rebecca Murphy, director of corporate services, noted that the review and development of new policy would not be limited to Leisure Services. "This is going to be a corporate-wide review," she told council.

"There is very important work ahead for you," concluded Turner. 

To view the full report, click here

Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is the Editor for BradfordToday and InnisfilToday. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats.
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