Second public consultation phase of Whitby’s anti-discrimination IDEA Project begins

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Published December 1, 2021 at 11:50 am

The Town of Whitby opened the second phase of public consultations for its ambitious IDEA Project to assess inclusivity in the community.

IDEA stands for Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Anti-Racism. The goal of the project is to allow the Town to make services more accessible to people of any demographic.

The Project began in May, just after the Town joined the Canadian Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities, with a public survey to discover the issues the community is facing as an increasingly diverse community.

The Town’s population is expected to grow to 193,000 people by 2031, while already facing a staffing shortfall in providing services. Durham Region overall is expected to grow to 1 million people in that time.

Data collected by the survey, and virtual engagement sessions held over the summer, was collated into a draft report on inclusivity in Whitby, released yesterday. Residents can review and comment on the survey through ConnectWhitby.

The report found an increase of elderly, Indigenous, visibly diverse and new immigrant residents between 1996 and 2016. More people than ever also speak a non-official language as their mother-tongue.

Part of the data collection involved a survey among Town staff. However, citing a variety of reasons like COVID fatigue, busy schedules, and “some resistance” to the project, just 50 per cent of Town staff responded.

Town residents who shared their experiences with discrimination listed race, colour, country of origin and ethnicity, while staff who did respond to the survey and experienced discrimination reported it was mostly based on their sex, followed by age, race and ethnicity.

Respondents who had not experienced discrimination agreed the Town is a “safe and supportive service provider” for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour about 60 per cent of the time, while only between 16 and 27 per cent of respondents who had encountered discrimination agreed.

To address these concerns the town has outlined five areas to focus improvements including;

  • How the Organization acts through its policies, practices, decisions, resourcing, and planning
  • How the Leadership demonstrate their personal commitments in behaviour
  • How the Employees demonstrate their personal commitments in behaviour
  • How Stakeholders are chosen and held to account for having aligning values
  • How services are planned and delivered for Clients

The report recommends additional resources to meet these goals, most prominently two new staff members. One would focus on internal concerns to encourage the “deep structural changes” outlined in the report. The other would be an external liaison focused on “the engagement of the community” in the delivery of Town services.

These hires would cost the town an estimated $250,000, but would alleviate costs – estimated at $400,000 over the past four-and-a-half years – associated with harassment and human rights cases that have gone to litigation.

“That doesn’t include the lost sense of trust and the impact on morale which also touches the bottom line,” the report noted.

While the process began some months ago, the report has come out amid a time of significant controversy in Whitby. Councillor Rhonda Mulcahey levied numerous accusations of workplace harassment against Mayor Don Mitchell in October, after Deputy Mayor Christopher Leahy referred to her as, “Big Rhonda,” in a hot-mic moment during a public meeting.

She also describes a difficult environment for women especially to report incidents of workplace harassment, citing it as the reason CAO Matt Gaskell could claim to have no active investigations.

Mitchell and Gaskell have rejected all allegations. However, town vetoed a request from Integrity Commissioner Guy Giorno to extend the period after an incident took place in which he can investigate, meaning the allegations will likely never be investigated. Council was advised by legal counsel not to extend the cutoff during an investigation.

The IDEA Project means to address issues like this across Whitby’s entire municipal organization. Public consultation on the draft report will be open until December 13. The next step after that is a  formal presentation to Council on January 17.

 

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