Celebrating a legacy of inclusion in North York

  • April 27, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - A committee that laid the blueprints for race and ethnicity policies across the city and province 30 years ago will be honoured May 7 at the North York Civic Centre.

A memorial wall designed in the council chamber will feature a tribute to the original members who served North York’s Committee on Community and Race Relations, including Fr. Massey Lombardi, pastor of St. Wilfred’s parish in northwest Toronto. Lombardi, one time director of the office of social action office for the archdiocese of Toronto, was to speak about the committee’s contribution to public institutions of the Greater Toronto Area like the Catholic school boards and beyond.

“We were all working together to make things in the community more accessible and more fair,” Lombardi told The Catholic Register. “A lot of things we did in the early years was making sure legislation was in place because at one point you couldn’t use the word racism in the city — in those days, people wouldn’t accept that it was a reality.”

Lombardi said the now defunct committee of 25 leaders brought together clergy, politicians, parks and recreation workers, educators, police, social agencies and more to ensure that the workplace didn’t discriminate, the law didn’t discriminate and that people were aware of the services they had a right to access in the community.

“The committee was a way of promoting what we had and announcing that people had a right to participate,” Lombardi said.

He explained that the area municipalities — this was when Toronto consisted of the City of Toronto and five boroughs under Metropolitan Toronto in the pre-amalgamated city — were visibly diverse out in the community, but not at the city level in many areas of employment.

He said the committee’s work also encouraged communities to come together to form an interfaith committee against racism.

“We worked with the committee to the extent that we were part of getting proper legislation, but for issues around anti-Semitism, we were there too,” he said.

Although the committee became defunct after amalgamation in 1997, Lombardi said race and ethnic relations continue to be an important and relevant topic in community discussion.

“You need to make sure people have someone to go to,” he said. “And the farther you get from Toronto you may not get as much interest in these types of policies.”

Rick Gosling, an employee of the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation department, said the tribute event May 7 and the memorial wall designed by students from Seneca College will hopefully play a role in preventing the committee’s work from being forgotten. Gosling was the executive director of the committee the last few years it ran.

“The fight is not over and there’s a lot to be done,” Gosling said.

“The committee basically created this template for other cities for social change, so a lot of things came from that,” said Kirk Mark, co-ordinator of race and ethnic relations and multiculturalism for the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Mark said the committee’s Race and Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism Policy laid the groundwork for policies adopted by the Catholic board in the mid-1980s which spread across the province.

“The Ministry of Education decided to use that as a foundation and training to build a document so that all school boards would have guidelines for policy development and implementation,” he said. “That became the template for anti-racism and ethno-cultural equity in school boards in Ontario in 1995.”

In April, the ministry enhanced its province-wide document in consultations with the school boards. Mark is in the process of revamping the Toronto board’s document to match the ministry’s changes.

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