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It Starts campaign aims to reduce racism (3 photos)

From June 1 to 30, the immigration partnership is hosting a public awareness campaign that’s designed to increase community readiness to accept immigrants and reduce discrimination

Understanding. Inclusivity. Acceptance.

Those are just three of the ways Simcoe County’s Local Immigration Partnership would like you to take The Pledge.

From June 1 to 30, the immigration partnership is hosting a public awareness campaign that’s designed to increase community readiness to accept immigrants and reduce discrimination.

“One of the things that’s really important is this campaign be positive and not prescriptive, so people can engage where they feel comfortable,” said Local Immigration Partnership manager Sandra Lee.

“The cost is in printing the cards.”

With an array of words such as understanding, inclusivity, acceptance, respect, welcoming, equity and unity, the cards can be individualized and used on social media and highlighted with the hashtag #ITSTARTS.

“An awareness campaign provides an opportunity to shift perceptions, engage in dialogue and change behaviour,” she said.

“Hate speech online has increased 600 per cent in the last year during the American election (campaign). Our communities are not immune to things happening globally and there have been incidents when police have had to be involved … (when these incidents) included racism.

Intolerance and racism, however, have more costs than those involving police. They take incredible tolls on individuals and families and can cost communities jobs, she said.

They can adversely affect physical and mental wellbeing, reduce access to jobs and services and create a sense of social isolation.

“For communities, racism and discrimination hinder the ability to welcome, integrate and retain new and diverse members. Left unchecked, racism and discrimination become social problems with damaging effects.”

Springwater Mayor Bill French, however, questioned the effectiveness of such a campaign. He used the anti-bullying efforts as an example.

“I wonder do they change people’s minds? People resist change and psychological studies confirm this. It takes more than a pledge to change things,” he said.

“One of the greatest fears in schools today is bullying, so I question how effective the anti-bullying pledge is.”

He said a pledge can offer a false sense of security, rather than changing behaviour.

But Tiny Township’s deputy mayor said in a matter of minutes of posting the idea on Facebook, he was getting people on board.

“In the team French was speaking, I have had four ‘like’s,” said Steffen Walma. “I see the benefits.

The county has already gotten Georgian College, the Simcoe County District School Board, police and Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions (formerly the Children’s Aid Society) joining the effort.

Pledge cards will be available at local libraries or they can be downloaded here, which will also include resources, tips and tools to fight racism and discrimination.

The campaign will also include videos and photos of community leaders, including Innisfil Mayor Gord Wauchope, who co-chairs the Local Immigration Partnership.

“We should respect everyone, no matter what race or colour,” he said. “Because of all the different nationalities who have come to Simcoe County, it’s important we all get out and respect one another and show the newcomers the great benefits Simcoe County has and that we can all work together.”