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Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron wants more transparency from Perth County during charter development

Gezahgn Wordofa, founder of the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron. (Colin Burrowes Photo)

Anti-racism protest cancelled as good faith gesture

PERTH COUNTY – After receiving an email update from the Perth County Economic Development and Tourism department regarding steps being taken to draft a charter for inclusivity and anti-racism, the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH) decided to cancel a protest at the county courthouse on Feb. 26.

According to Sarah Franklin, economic development communications officer, Perth County has been hard at work planning the next steps in the process of the development of an anti-racism and inclusivity charter. She said a draft public engagement survey has been developed and is currently under third-party review.

“We have engaged the assistance of Pillar Non-profit Network’s Equity and Inclusion Team to assist in the survey development and design,”  she wrote in an email to the Listowel Banner. “They will also be assisting in the community roundtable process. Details for accessing the survey and roundtable opportunities will be released in the coming week.”

A landing page has been created where updates about the project can be accessed:

Franklin told the Banner that Perth County has received input from the MAPH during this process and that there has been direct correspondence with them advising of the upcoming public engagement process.

“We look forward to receiving further input from them and other community members as we launch the public engagement in the Charter development process,” she wrote.

In its reply to Franklin which was also shared with local media outlets, the MAPH asked for flexibility in the timeline for the development of the charter.

“We hope that the timeline can be extended if you need more input, to ensure the best possible result,” they wrote in their email.

Regarding the survey, the MAPH asked for the opportunity to see it in advance, so as residents with lived experience, they could provide input to ensure it is inclusive in its design and has the opportunity for all to voice their thoughts and concerns.

Regarding the survey, Franklin repeated that the county has “engaged the expertise of a third-party equity and inclusion team to assist in survey development and design before public release.  The survey will  gather some information and the community roundtables will be more in-depth conversations and information gathering.”

Amina Musa, a volunteer with MAPH, said the reason they are asking to have input into the survey is that they want to make sure that this is something the county is acting in good faith.

“If you are doing something in good faith don’t involve us in pieces,” she said. “We should be there from the beginning and make sure that the right questions are asked in the survey. That’s why we wanted to be involved from the beginning and not just piece by piece. We don’t want to be included when they are feeling ‘oh, we should call them in for this part.’”

Personally, Musa said she feels this process is a step forward.

“If we are going to take this route to reach our goal we’re willing to work together with them and make sure that we reach our goal,” she said.

The MAPH has asked for a citizen’s committee to be involved in the development of the charter. They also feel a committee focusing on diversity and inclusivity would be a positive thing for the county to continue.

“Our main goal is to have a committee,” said Musa. “Maybe they sat down and thought ‘oh – maybe we should start with the survey and doing all those things’ but to us, we will not stop until we make sure there is a committee that has been set up.”

She said the committee should represent more than just visible minorities in Perth County such as people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community.

“There is no voice for them so we want to make sure their voice is heard and if we are going to need one person from each or one person who will speak for all of them that’s fine but we want to make sure there is somebody there who is going to be their voice,” she said.

MAPH founder Gezahgn Wordofa said they cancelled plans to protest because the MAPH wanted to treat the email from Franklin as a positive step. But, he said the decision to cancel the protest was not unanimous amongst their supporters throughout the county.

“We have to assume good faith until you know otherwise, I think,” said MAPH board member Stephen Landers.

“If down the road we realize that they are taking us for a ride – they are not acting in good faith then we’ll revert to protesting,” said Musa.

Wordofa said a positive thing that has come out of recent events in Perth County is that many residents have stepped forward to show their support for the MAPH and newcomers.

“You know we are so blessed with how many people we have behind us,” he said.  “A lot of groups support us.”

One thing Landers would like to see in the process to develop the charter is transparency.

“Otherwise how do I know what you are doing and how is it coming,” he said. “Are you just letting it fall by the wayside or are you having regular reviews, updates and monitoring?”

Wordofa said Franklin was not even letting the MAPH know who the third party is.

“They should be more transparent with that,” said Musa. “That’s why we are asking to be involved from the beginning.”

“We want to know with whom we are working,” said Wordofa. “We want to know with whom we are affiliated. Who is this organization?”

The MAPH has seen a recent decline in its newcomer program.

“Most of the newcomers have tried to move from here, from the area because of this situation,” said Wordofa. “They have a lot of anxiety now.”

He wondered how economic development in this area is surviving because there is a close relationship between farms, factories and the newcomer population in the county.

“We try to work together – we’re dealing with this every day because if (newcomers) are not included why should they come,” said Wordofa. “This is affecting us… If they are advertising to bring diversity to the area then they need to be welcoming.”

The MAPH wants the charter to include concrete actions.

“Broad principles won’t do it,” said Landers.

Musa said many newcomers don’t want to live in big cities so they want to move to rural towns to raise their families.

“When they come to… Perth or Huron County and they find all this racism – somebody like Gezahgn, he’s been living there for so long and yet he’s been told ‘go back to your country’ – you don’t want to experience that,” she said. “So we want to have somewhere that people are  willing to come, they are looking forward to it – this is home.”

Landers pointed out that if diversity is welcomed, new people with start putting down roots and a wider base of culture will develop in the area.

“I am telling you the place is going to develop so much because Canada is built by immigrants and we have vast lands,” said Musa. “Changes will happen whether you resist or not. Change is going to happen so we may as well do it properly and work together as a team as opposed to having animosity and all those things.”

“You waste your money bringing people here and then driving them away,” said Landers. “Why bother?”

Wordofa said church groups and the community spend money to bring newcomers to the area and he feels sad when they end up moving away from the area.

“It makes me cry,” he said. “It’s a loss for the community. That’s why most of the Listowel church groups are working with us. I want to say thank you to the community members who are supporting us.”

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.