“When you know better, you can do better.”
That paraphrased quote of writer Maya Angelou’s was from Coun. Bud Mercer. He delivered it at city hall on Tuesday (Feb. 16) as council was about to approve its new action plan to make Chilliwack a more inclusive, diverse and accessible city.
The city councillor said he has come to understand that Chilliwack “has some work to do as a city.”
As co-chair of the mayor’s task force on inclusivity, diversity and accessibility Mercer noted that “times have changed,” and the just released action plan with six over-arching goals, is a “living document” representing “our best foot forward.”
The plan is out to reduce the “social, physical, and systemic barriers” in Chilliwack that prevent some from full participation in community life.
Mayor Ken Popove, also a task force co-chair, said he was proud of the document.
“It’s something needed to move forward.”
Chilliwack made headlines in September 2019 when the majority of council, with the exception of Coun. Jason Lum, voted to deny a request for a rainbow crosswalk to be painted on a downtown street. Since then many pride-inspired rainbows have sprung up across in Chilliwack, on private properties and driveways, on commercial and school properties, and in neighbouring Indigenous communities.
But days after council voted against a rainbow crosswalk, the task force on inclusiveness, diversity and accessibility was struck by Mayor Popove, who stated at the time he wanted to achieve inclusiveness and diversity “through programming instead of paint.”
“Taking steps outlined in the action plan will help us contribute to a community environment where all of our residents feel welcome and have the opportunity to thrive,” Popove said in a release, after council approval.
“This plan has no end date, as we recognize that this is an ongoing process that will require long-term commitment from the City of Chilliwack.”
Coun. Jeff Shields noted before the vote of council “that we probably have some steps to go” and said that the task force was “not your average committee.”
The recent school board byelection showed that “there are some differences of opinion in this town, and real diversity,” Shields said.
Coun. Harv Westeringh praised the effort by the committee to “strive to nurture inclusivity and not divisiveness,” saying of the plan “obviously a lot of work went into this.”
Coun. Jason Lum, also a task force co-chair, said the experience was an educational opportunity for him, and added “This is just a beginning.”
The rainbow crosswalk ‘no’ vote by council in 2019 was indeed the catalyst for the task force, agreed the effort’s most vocal proponent.
“I believe its first definitive act should honour that impetus,” said Amber Price, spokesperson who brought the crosswalk proposal to council on behalf of a broad coalition.
“I can appreciate the thoughtfulness that has gone into the creation of this document, but until this elephant in the room has been addressed, our work is not yet done. As Abraham Verghese said so beautifully in his book Cutting for Stone, ‘The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.’”
Chief David Jimmie and Chief Derek Epp both led the way in the region by installing rainbow crosswalks on First Nations land at the behest of community member Shayla Hall, Price pointed out.
“We walk in their footsteps in every sense,” Price concluded. “I am hopeful the task force will utilize the phrase ‘inclusive and diverse public art’ to include the celebration of LGBTQ2+ community members in the City of Chilliwack.”
Goals of the city’s new action plan:
• Improve Chilliwack facilities, services, parks, and public spaces for persons with disabilities;
• Prioritize the well-being of marginalized community members;
• Prioritize relationship building with First Nations;
• Prioritize opportunities for equitable and inclusive education for city staff;
• Create opportunities for marginalized voices/ identities to have access decision-makers; and
• Explore and identify funding opportunities to support inclusion, diversity, and accessibility.
“Work on these goals is already underway,” according to the city release on the action plan.
Working to strengthen relationships with Indigenous neighbours, the City of Chilliwack has begun incorporating First Nations artwork and language throughout the city, according to the city news release. A welcome message Halq’eméylem was added to the city entrance signs on the highway, Coast Salish artwork was installed in the Vedder roundabout, and elected city officials are participating in regular meetings with representatives from local First Nations to get a deeper understanding of how the city can better engage in reconciliation.”
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