The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury’s (BWG) Anti-Racism Committee held its first virtual meeting on Tuesday evening and featured Don Valley East MP Michael Coteau, the former Ontario Minister of Anti-Racism.
Bradford Mayor Rob Keffer and Councillors Mark Contois, Jonathan Scott, and Raj Sandhu are also on the new committee; Sandhu was officially appointed the chair advisor.
“This council takes the issue of racism very seriously and has shown a long-term commitment to making positive change for everyone in Canada,” said Coteau. “I came here… to speak [on] how the town could embrace diversity and inclusion proactively, and was very grateful for that.”
Coteau shared with members that racism is a "system" that was put in place to “control the economic and political and cultural opportunities that people have access to”; a system (he states) is based on the past.
“We can look at racism from many different perspectives. There's the science of data collection where the numbers don't lie and we start to collect data and understand it,” he explains.
“The other piece is the impact of this divide and what it actually means. People might often forget that racism doesn't just impact the racialized or Indigenous person. It impacts every single Canadian. It holds us back economically by stopping the Canadian workforce from reaching its full potential by not having every single person able to contribute," said Coteau.
“That says if we don't have the ability for every single person to reach their potential, from an economic standpoint, it impacts all Canadians in general.”
Coteau adds that putting the systems in place to break down these barriers will ensure larger institutions (like health care and education) will have a better opportunity to solve these problems and understand how they relate to race, income levels, and geography.
The Anti-Racism Committee seeks to apply these systems positively to impact the outcomes within the community.
Coteau was originally born in Huddersfield, England with roots stemming back to Carriacou, Grenada where his father is from. He and his family immigrated to Canada in 1976 and grew up in social housing in North York.
Coteau’s family background was considered low-income and Coteau had to borrow money to cover his university tuition. He has a graduate degree in history and political science from Carleton University and has been a Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario since 2011.
“If your next-door neighbour moves forward, the community as a whole is more successful,” encourages Coteau. “If the kid next door can reach his potential, we all benefit. And that's how Canada can reach its full potential."
Sandhu said he was pleased with the meeting.
“It was the first time meeting the other members,” said Sandhu. “I was pleased to see we have so many spectrums of knowledge. These members bring knowledge which will be very helpful."
“… we talk about racism and it’s sad to see it is still happening after decades and decades,” adds Sandhu. “But I see more dialogue happening, people coming forward and more people challenging [situations] in a sense that if they see something happening wrong, they won't hesitate to step in and say something.
"We need to start with our community, get to know your neighbour, if they are different in any way, don’t hesitate to ask questions, this is a learning opportunity,” said Sandhu.