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Saturday, July 13, 2024
McCormack defends decision not to sign letter condemning racism

Niagara-on-the-Lake Coun. Stuart McCormack says he condemns racism, despite choosing not to sign a letter from town council condemning racism last week.

McCormack addressed the issue during a meeting of council Monday night after refusing to answer questions from The Lake Report a week ago.

“Let me start by saying I condemn racism in all its forms,” he told council.

“As a lawyer, I and every other lawyer in Ontario file annually with the law society a declaration stating that I respect the requirements of human rights law and undertake to honour the obligation to not discriminate.”

He said, as “reluctant” as he finds discussing his “personal life in a public forum,” he “may have a heightened sensitivity to the issue of racism.”

“My late mother-in-law, whom I loved dearly and helped care for during the last 10 years of her life, was a Holocaust survivor who managed to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. So on a purely personal level I understand how pernicious racism can be,” McCormack said.

“So why wouldn’t I sign the message from the town council condemning racism? There are a number of reasons.”

He said firstly he thinks the issue of racism “merits far more discussion in the open public forum of council, not  simply ‘sign this message.’ ”

“We exist in a democracy which at its essence requires freedom of speech and open discussion. To fail to have that open discussion robs everyone of the opportunity to reflect and grow,” he said.

“Secondly, what is required, and borrowing a recent quote from the human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan, ‘What we want is substance over symbols. We want the substance of your commitments.’ I echo that sentiment, with all due respect to the signatories, what is required is action, merely expressing disapproval is inadequate.”

“My former law firm has been engaged in diversity efforts for decades. We had training for unconscious bias, fostered leadership development and outreach to diverse communities and worked continuously on enhancing inclusiveness and support for those communities in our working environment. The firm has been recognized as a multi-year winner of diversity awards.”

“The Law Society of Ontario produced a report, ‘Recommendations on Equity in the Legal Profession.' Among its 13 recommendations was a requirement to ‘build a community of support’ and to ‘monitor and assess internal policies, practices and programs to promote diversity, inclusion and equality.’ ”

“To me these are obvious and substantive efforts not to simply recognize an issue but more importantly to deal with it,” McCormack told council.

“Thirdly ,I query whether the message was even the right first step. The message states, ‘Perhaps more importantly, we must step away from our privilege and listen, and exercise silence to make way for the voices of black people and people of colour.’ If we want to listen, isn’t it incumbent on us to first have their voices at the table for the purpose of crafting this type of message and more importantly the path forward?”

McCormack pointed out none of the people to sign the letter are considered diverse.

“Let me raise another concern which may be shared by others on council in the context of the town itself. As I look at the town staff, the signatories to the message and myself, I do not see much evidence of diversity. Surely this must change,” he said.

“Diversity must never be an afterthought. It must be a thoughtful and purposeful approach to ensure that we get the right talent and the right mix of talent that will represent the town.”

He said after the message was published he received “vitriolic messages” online for his failure to sign.

“I did not respond to those messages,” he said.

“Hopefully the foregoing explains my position on this matter.”

He also explained why he wouldn’t respond to questions from The Lake Report.

“As to why I did not respond through the media on this issue, I did not wish to open a potential debate with my fellow councillors through any form of media. As I have stated, the proper forum for a discussion on a subject as important as this is through the democratically constituted body that is this council.”

He asked that council “not personalize” the issue.

“Rather reflect and think how you would respond if your child, family member or member of a minority community expressed these views to you,” McCormack said.

After his explanation, he put forward two motions, one requesting the Inclusivity Committee to convene a workshop with “members of council, staff and diverse community leaders to give them that opportunity to be heard.”

The second was that town staff, and in particular the head of human resources, provide a report to council “to determine the numerical extent to which the town staff is diverse, and advise on all steps the town can take to improve its diversity, including but not limited to outreach and mentoring.”

He commented that he doesn't usually speak to journalists.

“The lord mayor is well aware of the fact that I normally do not speak to the media,” he said.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she doesn't see a reason why a politician wouldn't want to talk to the media.

“I have spent my whole career talking with the media. And unless it's something that has a legal confidentiality to it, I always stand accountable for what I do. And sometimes I'm right, sometimes I'm wrong, but it does not make sense for me to to withhold information that should be public. Like, what's the point of that?” she said.

“If you have a question, why wouldn't I tell you? If I'm going to do something, I'm going to be accountable for it and I'm going to do it because I think it's right.”



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