Mississauga City Councillor Accused of Discrimination

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Councillor Pat Saito from Ward 9 (the Meadowvale area) is one of the least interesting municipal councillors in Mississauga because she typically approaches her job with a rational mindset and calm demeanor and doesn't intentionally go out to antagonize anyone.

She's been in office since 1991, and frankly after 25 years in office, one would expect she knows how to do her job. Someone in her position should know better how to handle matters that affect cultural communities, but at this week's first General Committee of Mississauga city council, she put her foot in the hot water....again.

According to a recent Mississauga News article, accusations of religious discrimination were hurled in Councillor Saito's direction over a debate surrounding a proposal to pass a parking exemption bylaw during the Muslim holiday of Eid.

The exemption would lift the three-hour parking limit on city streets, allowing residents to park from 8 am until midnight, for as long as required. One can understand the logic behind this; Eid is one of the most sacred festivals for Mississauga's Muslim community. Such gatherings could go well into the night, so it makes sense to request this bylaw amendment and to recognize that reality.

You can watch the entirety of Wednesday's General Committee meeting here. The debate on the parking amendment bylaw starts around the one hour mark.


Councillor Pat Saito from Ward 9

Now, for the record, all but one councillor voted for the deferral and the standalone vote did not come from Saito. It was actually Carolyn Parrish from Ward 5, who has a long standing, and unsurprising, record of supporting the Muslim community in Mississauga.

But while the other councillors gave more nuance or procedural reasons for voting to defer (one councillor said three hours actually wasn't enough; that it should be five like they do it in neighbouring Georgetown), Saito's response was more black and white: "I don't want this in my ward, and my residents don't want this in the ward." Saito said she spoke to her residents and that they indicated they did not want parking to be amended in such a manner because it would interfere with people's comings and goings. She also said that there wasn't enough time for council to seriously deliberate over the issue and that you cannot change the law based on piecemeal considerations for one specific group.

In response, Carolyn Parrish herself accused Saito of applying a double standard; apparently when there was a similar request to allow extended parking hours for Easter Sunday, the amendment went through council in around 30 seconds with zero dissent. Never at a loss for words, Councillor Parrish stated that casting a deferral is basically casting a bad shadow over a particular community and is an insult to that community—in this case, the Muslim population (I reached out to Councillor Parrish via Twitter to clarify her comments, but she didn't get back to me).

This is rapidly becoming a pattern for Councillor Saito; taking public policy decisions that give the impression that she is against the Muslim community. It started last September when she was the sole vote against modifying an existing mosque across from the Meadowvale Town Centre on Winston Churchill Blvd. And now there is this.

Politically speaking, Councillor Saito's name recognition and familiarity in Ward 9 would most likely keep her in office should she choose to run again in 2018. But how many times can you poke a sleeping bear with a sharp stick before it wakes up and retaliates? First off, I just find it strange that someone that seemed to be a mildly progressive politician is seemingly going out of her way to antagonize a sizable ethnic population in Mississauga. And one should question what she means when she says she "spoke to her residents." Does she mean she's only been consulting with, for lack of a better term, "old stock Canadians." Someone should tell Councillor Saito that posting something on your Facebook page, and gauging the responding comments, is not what public consultation is about. The pattern is developing too firmly to be framed as just bad timing on Saito's part; she has ample and competent staff who I'm sure have advised her of better ways to go about this without looking like she's applying double standards to Muslim communities. But the reality is, councillor's staff are paid to offer advice; they're not paid based on whether their boss takes that advice or not.

So is Councillor Pat Saito guilty of religious discrimination by opposing more parking hours during Muslim holidays? What do you think of the issue of amending parking bylaws to accommodate longer hours when vehicles can park for certain days like a specific religious day for certain cultural communities?

Follow me on Twitter at @thekantastic

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