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BEHIND THE SCENES: ‘Pause, Reflect, Reassess’: Oakville's inclusion plan divides residents

Oakville News reporter Ben Brown takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on Oakville News' Ben Brown, whose story " ‘Pause, Reflect, Reassess’: Oakville's inclusion plan divides residents" was published on April 30.

Below is the full story, in case you missed it.

Tensions flared last night, April 29, during Oakville's town council monthly meeting as delegates and attendees clashed over differing perspectives on a proposed multi-year Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plan. The plan's goal is to govern how the town hires, trains and manages employees.

Councillors, who eventually voted to accept the new Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) plan for 2024-2028, heard from about a dozen residents.

Some expressed dissatisfaction with the plan, feeling that it failed to adequately address the essence of inclusivity. Others used the plan as a jumping off point to talk about the still sensitive subject of the shortened council meeting from three months ago (on Jan. 29) and their continued hope of voicing their concerns and receiving an apology from council - or specifically Mayor Rob Burton.

The talking points of delegates would eventually clash and divide the room. 

Read more here: Oakville Town Council meeting delayed four hours over cancelled Gaza conflict delegations

Lama Aggad, president of the Multicultural Community Association told councillors, "True inclusion and diversity is not possible with the kind of silencing and racist behaviour demonstrates [sic] by the mayor at the town hall meeting."

She also presented council with a copy of a petition calling on Burton to resign.

As Aggad was speaking, she was laughed at by members of the audience leading Acting Mayor Marc Grant to silence the crowd.

Several additional delegates, some wearing the black-and-white keffiyeh that has come to represent pro-Palestinian sentiment, echoed Aggad’s comments but did not speak directly to the plan.

Resident Lynn Petruskavich gave a very comprehensive presentation, offering councillors her concerns with adopting mindsets focused on DEI issues.

"This type of training teaches people to take offence as a means to assert power, control, and adopt a victim mindset," she said.

As her recommendation for the town regarding the plan, Petruskavich said "pause the approval, reflect on the nature of the movement it invites into our town, reassess based on your new understanding, and then take informed action."

The next speaker, resident Ryan Dow, addressed the town clerk very carefully as he said he had to choose his words very carefully. Dow was worried that if he said something the wrong way, he could risk violating his workplace's code of conduct.

His tone and caution made it unclear as to what he would say, but he eventually spoke to the declining perspective of Oakville as a "small town family atmosphere" in which surveys presented in the meeting showed a steady decline since 2009.

"I think you should consider the impact on social cohesion that mass immigration has had," said Dow.

Immediately someone in the chamber shouted and called him a "white supremacist." Said another voice, "Just don't be racist."

Grant stepped in again to silence the crowd but was met with push back from attendees. Dow was allowed to continue but was further interrupted by audience members which eventually pushed Grant to call an early recess. 

"Look at yourselves," said Grant. "Now I'm sorry but this gentleman is trying to speak his mind, as much as we let everybody else speak their mind."

When the recess concluded, Dow continued his delegation and began discussing the "over-representation" of the 2SLGBTQ+ community in the town's hiring statistics.

"I'm a white heterosexual male and so like these statistics exclude me, so if you're trying to make the workplace look like the community, I don't see any goals about like hiring people like me," Dow said. 

Before the meeting, Oakville News asked the town: "What would you say to Oakville residents who feel that the town's DEI efforts may inadvertently exclude or discriminate against white people in an effort to promote inclusion?"

To this inquiry, town staff replied, "Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility is about capturing the uniqueness of individuals and creating an environment that values and respects all individuals for their talents, skills and abilities. It is about providing equal opportunities for everyone."

In response to separate questions from Oakville News, town staff did say that "job applicants are not evaluated on race or any other personal factors now, nor would they ever be."

The final delegate of the meeting, Liz Galvin, expressed her concerns over the plan but went over the 10-minute allotted time. Attendees continuously shouted "time" at Galvin and shouted "boo" at her as she finished.

Grant then opened the floor to audience members who weren't registered delegates who wanted a chance to speak.

Several people spoke with different perspectives on diversity, and some even argued in favour of the town's efforts to be more inclusive. 

One speaker did say that the IDEA plan "terrifies" her as a mother of bi-racial children. "Why are we dividing everyone based on the colour of our skin?" the speaker said.

Grant pushed back saying the plan isn't about division, it's about inclusion to which the speaker said "I think inclusion is absolutely what is happening in Canada but now everybody's thinking about colour, race, skin, ethnicity."

A copy of the IDEA Multi-Year Plan can be found on the town's website.