Troubling results of All Welcome Here BIPOC Survey brought to council

Attendees display their opinion at the Black Live Matter Picton protest on June 5, 2020. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette staff)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

“Inaction is acceptance,” stated Judith Burfoot of All Welcome Here, a BIPOC-led non-profit focused on anti-racism. Burfoot provided council with the results of a recent survey of BIPOC residents in Prince Edward County. She spoke during the February 22 Regular Council Meeting.

Burfoot commented that in 2020, AWH received a grant to assist in establishing an online presence and conducting a survey of BIPOC residents.

Judith Burfoot

The need for the survey, as per Burfoot’s presentation, has been precipitated by a rise in racist incidents that has correlated with a recent rise in BIPOC residents calling the area home.

“The survey was intended to gather basic information about who BIPOC residents are and what their experiences are, as well as what they want/need form AWH,” she explained.

Burfoot stated there were 121 partial responses while 56 people completed the entire survey.

“We’re encouraged that the number of respondents represents almost 10 per cent of BIPOC residents in the county,” she stated.

The survey revealed the age of BIPOC residents “scews lower than the overall county average”.

Based on the survey, most BIPOC residents are between the ages of 25 and 54. 46 per cent have an income over $75k/year, 44 per cent work full time, while 30 per cent are self employed, 86 per cent have post-secondary education and 26 per cent have a graduate or multiple degrees.

83 per cent reside here full time and 86 per cent are homeowners. 38 per cent are attending school in the County, while 24 per cent are attending school outside the County. Picton and Ameliasburgh appear to have the highest concentration of BIPOC residents. 32 per cent have resided here less than three years and 26 per cent have lived here for more than 15 years.

Apart from the demographics, Burfoot pointed toward an alarming number of first-hand accounts of racism that are evident in the survey results.

“We heard from a number of residents that they are experiencing unwarranted racism,” she said.

Experiences of racism in the County range from casual comments made in  social settings, to name calling, being followed in a stores and unwarranted police attention.

“In March 2021 we made a request of council to make a more clear statement on leadership about anti-racism,” said Burfoot.

Furthermore, Burfoot noted AWH had recommended a four-pronged approach to combating racism in the community. That would include:

  • Municipal policy
  • Education
  • Complaint Mechanism
  • Diversification of Council

“As far as I know-I understand some parts of the education piece were done- but wanted to provide an opportunity to declare what efforts and actions have been made,” stated Burfoot. “We believe the survey results bring home a really hurtful reality. We can and must be better.”

After Burfoot’s presentation, Councillor Mike Harper inquired as to why racism appears worse here as opposed to where BIPOC residents are hailing from.

Councillor Mike Harper. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“I don’t know why people are being victimized more. My feeling is, on some level, there are fewer of us so that means there’s less understanding in the majority white population of what race and racism means,” said Burfoot. “I didn’t read it but there was a quote (from the survey) about very racist name calling being bandied about casually and seemingly accepted. The other piece of that is, because there are so few BIPOC people here, we’re often isolated. We’re unable to push back when we seem to be surrounded by people who accept this racist behaviour.”

Councillor Brad Nieman asked for clarification from Burfoot with regards to AWH’s goal to diversify council.

“When we talked last year, part of the belief We hold is, it’s not just about race, but….there’s a group of 14 of you sitting around the horseshoe and only two are women. There are few people who can join, run survive, or attend council meetings-if you’re a young parent evening meetings are very challenging,” said Burfoot. “There are systemic barriers to access to power and those impact people.”

Burfoot added that while sexism and racism are not the same, the one often dovetails the other. She also added that, for many women, running for office is financially untenable given the well-documented wage gap between the sexes.

“If you value all of your community, ideally, we want to hear from more and have them all have a seat at the table,” asserted Burfoot.

Nieman acknowledged Burfoot’s comments but iterated there is little council or staff can do to affect who gets elected to council.

“I’ll let the cat out of the bag, I’m a status Indian sitting on council. I hear what you’re saying, but I think we have to give the public credit,” argued Nieman. “If someone goes out to campaign, it doesn’t matter what their race or gender is, the people will decide who they think is the best person to go on council.”

Councillor Ernie Margetson zoned in on the issue of unwarranted police attention given to BIPOC community members, asking how the local OPP Detachment can be alerted to this.

“How would the issue of unwarranted police attention be transferred to our local OPP Detachment? I think that’s a serious issue,” he said.

Burfoot noted that council is the first to receive the preliminary results from the survey, and as such, the police have yet to be made apprised of the issue.

“I have semi-regular meetings with our OPP Staff Sergeant for exactly this kind of reason. You’re the first ones to receive the preliminary results, so we have not had this discussion with the OPP yet. I also sit for the Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan and that presents a further opportunity to discuss with the police services board. I think it’s critically important they hear that feedback,” Burfoot commented.