This story originally appeared in the Vaughan Citizen.
In the face of a rapidly growing immigrant population in Vaughan, the city’s community, equity and diversity committee held a public meeting Thursday to tackle diversity issues.
The committee, chaired by Thornhill Councillor Alan Shefman, focused on four areas: city services catering to diverse communities, employment and economic opportunities, barriers to civic participation, and the role the city plays in promoting diversity.
Tahmena Bokhari, this year’s Mrs. World Pakistan and a diversity professor at Seneca College, said the city needs to look at diversity issues in a broader way to move forward. She said while acknowledging diversity is great, they need to take steps to be inclusive to new Canadians.
“No one is going to say no to diversity, but it’s the concept of inclusiveness that challenges people,” she said. “Are the people that are different from the mainstream being included in the mainstream?”
She also said the city needs to look at the issues of equality versus equity, which doesn’t necessarily mean equal treatment for all. For example, the city needs to install ramps to accommodate handicapped residents and offer translation services for those with language barriers.
“It means not treating people the same, which is difficult for people to get their heads around,” she said. “We’re treating different people different to ensure equal opportunities.”Noor Din, vice chair of the committee, raised the concern the city’s workforce does not accurately reflect the community.
“If you go to any manufacturing plant, on the floor you will see the new community,” Mr. Din said. “As you move up in the hierarchy, the (ethnic) community drastically starts to go down.”
One idea discussed to meet this challenge was working with grassroots organizations to help new Canadians with degree accreditation.
A primary concern was how to engage immigrants in civic matters.
Residents such as Parag Tandon, nominated as one of Canada’s top 25 immigrants for his fundraising work with Humber River Regional Hospital, said the event’s turnout shows the city isn’t doing enough to engage new Canadians.
“We had about 50 people, maybe 60,” he said. “This in itself shows how we’re not able to connect with those people.”
Mr. Tandon said he didn’t receive any letter about the event and wouldn’t have known about it if he didn’t know Mr. Din. Some ideas discussed to engage new Canadians was utilizing e-mail bulletins and social networking, but some noted that immigrants often aren’t familiar with new technology.
Mr. Tandon said the committee should focus more on other forms of diversity such as physical diversity.
He said the evening’s overhead presentation would challenge the visually impaired because it had yellow text on a green background. He also couldn’t find a voiceover for the hearing impaired on the city website.
Mr. Tandon also expressed skepticism about what the city is doing apart from discussing ideas. Mr. Shefman said they are working on initiatives such as a recently approved protocol for responding to hate crimes.
“We now have a system in place within the city, if there’s an occurrence of hate crime, we have various people to take appropriate action and deal with that,” he said.
He also mentioned initiatives such as accommodating additional street parking on religious holidays like Passover and building barriers in swimming pools so Muslim women can swim without modesty concerns.
“These sorts of things are really critical for people to feel comfortable in the community,” he said.
Residents can contact the office of Councillor Alan Shefman for more information on how to get involved in matters of diversity and equity. He can be reached at 905-832-8585, ext. 8349.