Chilliwack council may have nixed the rainbow crosswalk idea, but it also listened carefully to all the feedback that came in.
The idea to appoint a city task force to improve accessibility, inclusiveness and diversity in Chilliwack was approved unanimously, and to research what other cities have done in this regard.
Coun. Bud Mercer raised the topic in council chambers as a late item on the afternoon agenda.
As as a city, those efforts are “the right thing to do,” Mercer commented, even if it’s not technically the city’s responsibility or job to do so, and that’s the challenge Chilliwack is now facing.
He said he was “struck” by Coun. Jason Lum’s comments in chambers that in the wake of all the emails coming in from “all directions,” Chilliwack apparently “still had a lot of work to do.”
“I’ve been struggling since our last council meeting and discussions we had with respect to inclusion and diversity,” Coun. Mercer said in his preamble.
Then he put a motion on the floor to direct city staff to investigate and report back to council what other communities are doing to increase diversity and inclusiveness, compared to Chilliwack, looking at the “good and the bad” with a view to what could be done.
“Then they can come back with options and we can have a fulsome discussion about where we potentially are as a city,” Mercer said. “I’m not suggesting for a minute that we are not all of the above but I do think, as stated by Coun. Lum, that given all the differences of opinion, we’ve still got work to do. We should be proud to do that work, to find a balance, that sweet spot from diverging opinions,” Mercer said.
Mayor Ken Popove said he wanted to chime in with his support for inclusivity, diversity and accessibility, but said he’d rather get there “through programming, instead of through paint,” and proposed an amendment that council appoint “a task force” to take on those issues, which was later passed.
Not only could the task force cover LGBTQ2S issues, but those facing youth, seniors, immigrants, First Nations, and people with disabilities as well, Popove said.
Coun. Jason Lum said “a lot had transpired” since the rest of council voted down the crosswalk, and thanked Counc. Mercer for his thoughtful words.
Coun. Lum was the lone councillor to vote against the motion of Sept. 3 to deny the crosswalk, which was approved 5-1.
“We’ve had an opportunity as a city to take a bit of a breath and think about some of the feedback we’ve been receiving,” Lum said, adding he’d welcome being part of any initiative geared to “bringing people together” the way the task force will.
“Most of the division and fear that’s out there we can resolve through good dialogue,” Lum said.
Coun. Sue Knott agreed that communication was key to finding common ground.
“I too would certainly be in support of that committee,” she said about the task force.
“There are lots of different avenues in our city to promote inclusiveness and diversity,” Coun. Knott said, adding here’s a “very strong” feeling of inclusion in the community already.
Both the motion to direct staff to research other cities’ actions, and the amendment to appoint a task force, were passed unanimously by council.
The spokesperson for the rainbow crosswalk proposal, Amber Price, was in chambers with a few supporters as council voted for the task force and staff research on best practices.
“Creating change is not always comfortable or easy,” Price said after the meeting. “I believe that the creation of this committee shows that our leadership is listening.
“Giving voice to community members who have been historically marginalized is a potentially powerful step in creating a more inclusive city.”
Having city staff research past experiences and successes of other cities “will expedite the effectiveness of our own committee,” Price said.
“So much learning has already been done for us, and I’m grateful in advance to other communities for sharing their knowledge with us.”