By Frank Giorno, TheONE
Timmins, the city with a heart of gold, is playing host to a three-day training session on human rights by the Ontario Human Rights Commission and its chief commissioner Renu Mandhane.
Monday, the OHRC commissioners and staff met with local community leaders and indigenous community leaders.
Tuesday, a whole day session was held on the work of the OHRC Commission and the prevalent forms of discrimination it is mandated to combat.
In introducing the goals of the Tuesday human rights training session, Timmins councilor Mike Doody, who served as moderator said, ” Taking it Locally, is designed to inform you about key human rights issues in Ontario – The goal is to educate you and connect you with others working on human rights issues in your area.
Doody started off by recognizing that the OHRC Taking it Local was being held on the traditional territories of the Mattagami First Nations and the long history of First Nations, Metis and Inuit People in Canada.
The sessions are designed to help community leaders, educators, legal professionals, social workers, indigenous leaders and other service providers improve life in Timmins by making the community more inclusive by helping to put an end to discriminatory practices.
The undercurrent of the event was to promote and enact reconciliation between the non-indigenous and indigenous communities which will be a major focus of the OHRC over the next 5 years.
The day opened with welcoming remarks from Timmins Mayor Steve Black.
” We have had some bumps along the road but Renu Mandhane’s team has offered some very constructive suggestions and I thank you for returning to Timmins,” said Timmins Mayor Steve Black.
“These discussions really took off over the last several months after we had a few incidents in town,” Mayor Black added. “The Human Rights Commission tells me they were coming before those incidents took place and City Council’s motion to address this issue served to move forward the date for this important session.”
Former Chief of Mattagami First Nation Walter Naveau on behalf of Chief Chad Boissoneau.
“We are all struggling somewhere, someplace, somehow to do what is right in this fast paced mainstream society we live in,” said former Chief Walter Naveau. “Trying to do what is right with the time that we have. “
Walter Naveau, seen here at the 2017 Aboriginal Day festivities in Timmins, made an eloquent plea at yesterday’s Taking It Local, OHRC event and hoped that “your children and my children can walk together in dignity “. Frank Giorno for TheONE.
” I would ask of you work hard, work diligently, so that my children and their children’s children can have a future and not to be ashamed, but be proud to be an Anishinaabe, and that they will be respected in the communities and above all, know who they are so they can all walk together and know the differences to be Anishinaabe and to be a white person…to help us all so that your children can walk with my children together,” Naveau said.
For Chief Commissioner Mandhane, this was her return trip to Timmins and her second visit in three months.
Her first trip in mid-March was shortly after two deaths of indigenous people, Joey Knapaysweet 21 and Agnes Sutherland 62 while interacting with Timmins Police.
“The visit in March was scheduled prior to the events in February,” explained Chief Commissioner Mandhane, “ It was in response to concerns about problems accessing servicing and racial profiling.”
“We want to open up a dialogue between indigenous and non-indigenous communities because it was obvious they were not talking and having the conversations that were needed to ameliorate the situation,” she added.
In the aftermath of the two deaths of Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland, Timmins Mayor Steve Black and Timmins City Council took up the issue and passed a motion based on the recommendation of the city’s Indigenous Affairs Committee and meetings with local indigenous leaders to address the issue.
“We were scheduled to come to Timmins in 2019 and hold this event, but Council’s motion and the context of the two deaths and concerns that arose from them led us to agree to move it up,” said Mandhane, “that now was the time to hold the event and not next year,”
In addition to holding the three days of OHRC meetings and public involvement sessions, this year there will also be a four day celebration of National Aboriginal Day celebrations at Participark from Monday June 18 to Thursday June 21.
Tuesday’s sessions were held at the McIntyre Arena Ballroom and ancillary rooms where break out sessions were held.
Those in attendance included senior members of the Timmins Police Services, members of the law community, social and health services providers, First Nation community and educators. Councillor Michael Doody served as the moderator.
The plenary session in the morning hosted by Shaheen Ammi, the Director of Policy, Education, Monitoring and Outreach for OHRC.
Followed by concurrent sessions on various forms of discrimination:
discrimination by creed, by gender and by family structure. The concurrent sessions were led by Shaheen on discrimination based on creed.
Rita Samson, Public Education and Outreach Officer for OHRC held a session on human rights essentials; and Cherie Robertson, Senior Policy Analyst, OHRC, led the session on disabilities and the duty to accommodate.
The afternoon break out sessions were on systemic discrimination (Shaheen Azmi); Preventing sexual and gender based harassment (Cherie Robertson) and Human Rights and Family Status (Rita Samson)
The afternoon plenary session was on “We are All Treaty People” to discuss the evolution of Indigenous Rights generally in Canada and Northern Ontario under Treaty 9 and other treaties. OHRC commissioner Maurice Switzer gave the presentation.
The afternoon concluded with a an human rights town hall question and answer led by Shaheen Azmi, Cherie Robertson and Rita Samson.
OHRC has taken it’s Taking it Local program of training in prevention of human right violations to many cities across Ontario – Timmins is by no means the only city dealing with the harm of racial profiling, gender discrimination, discrimination against the disabiled and other forms of discrimination.
Indeed, as Shaheen Azmi pointed out in a conversation with The ONE, this is a major issue around the world.
But the intention of the Taking it Local approach is to look at the issues in Ontario’s communities and bring together the individuals and organizations that will play a vital role in improving and eventually eliminating the causes of racial and other forms of discrimination in our communities.
Among past cities where the Taking it Local OHRC Human rights training has occurred are: Hamilton, Toronto, York Region, London, North Bay, Thunder Bay and Kenora.
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