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City of Vancouver outlines steps to address historic and ongoing racism

The city plans to accelerate the development of the a Commemorations Policy to, "review statues and the names of City assets, including streets, and the policies governing commissions and donations of monuments and memorials."
Photo: @EndingViolence / Twitter

The City of Vancouver has announced the next steps that its staff will take to address the individual, structural, and systemic racism in the city.

Earlier this week, vandals defaced the statue of Gassy Jack in Vancouver's Gastown with red paint, which sparked a conversation about the controversial figure. 

According to a short film entitled "Red Women Rising" by the Battered Women's Support Services, Jack Deighton, known as "Gassy Jack," violated a 12-year-old Indigenous girl by taking her as his child bride. As of 6 p.m. on June. 16, a petition calling for the removal of Deighton's likeness gained 1,400 signatures. 

In a release, the City cites writes that the, "ongoing incidents of anti-Black racism and the protests they have led to, as well as the increase in anti-Asian racism arising during COVID-19, and continued anti-Indigenous racism have prompted the City to restate their commitment to addressing racism, hate and xenophobia in Vancouver."

In an open letter to community representatives of the Black and African diaspora community, City Manager Sadhu Johnston denounced anti-Black racism and committed to taking action in partnership with the community to combat individual and systemic racism, including recognizing the City’s own responsibility to reflect on its historic and ongoing role in perpetuating inequities and racism.

The letter invites residents of the Black and African diaspora communities to take part in a virtual town hall to share their experiences, frustrations, hopes, and suggested actions as a first step toward action planning.

The city also plans to accelerate the development of a Commemorations Policy to, "review statues and the names of City assets, including streets, and the policies governing commissions and donations of monuments and memorials."

“For the last 20 months, our City Council has taken every opportunity to denounce racism in all its forms and take concrete steps to move our City forward, but it’s clear that much more needs to be done,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “Changing structural racism needs the support of all elected leaders, at all levels. That’s why Council will continue to do everything it can to drive change and that’s why I have already reached out to senior levels of government to find a coordinated way of addressing historic and ongoing racism in Vancouver.

“Racism and hate are deplorable and have no place in Vancouver. For too long we have been silent and have likewise not yet done the deep work of analyzing our systems within the City to see how we are perpetuating inequities and racism across our own operations,” Sadhu Johnston said, adding “addressing racism is a priority for the City and we are committed to taking action based on the feedback we receive at the virtual town hall”.

Since December 2018, the City has been working on a number of initiatives to create a more equitable Vancouver. 

Last month, Mayor Kennedy Stewart issued a multi-lingual proclamation declaring that Friday, May 29 will be a Day of Action Against Racism and that, "as a City of Reconciliation, Vancouver is committed to addressing racism and hate."

The proclamation, which also recognizes that racism has long been a part of Vancouver’s history and that we need to learn the mistakes of the past, is part of a province-wide campaign to raise public awareness and encourage individuals, businesses, community organizations, and associations to take a public stand against racism.

Next steps

In addition to the actions highlighted by Singh and work already underway, some of the other next steps the City plans to take include:

  • Proposing the new working group discuss priorities already raised by communities, including racialized data, safe reporting, and supports for victims/targets of hate crimes and racism
  • Advocating to the Province for the creation of a formal provincial representative for people impacted by racism and for improved mental health supports for those impacted by racism
  • Reconnecting with Hogan’s Alley Society to advance discussions on a memorandum of understanding with the HAS and broader community with regard to the future of the area and the vision of redress as part of the North East False Creek Plan
  • Accelerating the development of the City’s Commemorations Policy to review statues and the names of City assets, including streets, and the policies governing commissions and donations of monuments and memorials
  • Implementing a number of internal equity initiatives to support Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour City staff, including holding a town hall with City staff and providing improved reporting and mental health support for Indigenous, Black, and racialized staff and reviewing staff supports and other internal programs
Read a memorandum summarizing ongoing efforts to address equity, inclusion, and anti-racism HERE.