‘Racism alive and well in Orangeville’, police board calls for more diverse force

July 2, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

Racism is alive and well in our community according to a black local businessman, who has admitted to having several racially-fuelled run-ins with area residents in his 20 years in Orangeville. 

Phil DeWar, who ran the popular Jamaican cuisine restaurant Soulyve on Mill Street from 2009 to 2018, took part in an online discussion surrounding race, held by Orangeville Mayor Sandy Brown on June 11. There, he shared some eye-opening stories with viewers. 

“I do believe there is a racial undertone in our very town of Orangeville, and I do believe people experience it in different ways,” Mr. DeWar said. “We speak about it as something that’s always going to be glaring, but we have to understand and educate people that it’s not always this way.”

He added, “There’s a covert way it happens – between hiring practices, deciding who you’re going to rent your basement apartment to, who is more likely to be pulled over (by police). There are quite a lot of things happening.”

The talk was inspired by the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, which was re-invigorated by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. While Mr. DeWar acknowledges racism isn’t as strong, or prevalent in Canada as it is in the United States, it’s still there, and it’s still a problem. 

One-time Orangeville Council candidate Simran Bhamu can certainly attest to that. Joining Mr. Brown and Mr. DeWar in last month’s discussion, Simran recounted the many racial encounters she had while campaigning for a seat in municipal office in the summer and fall of 2018. 

Back then, she told the Citizen how one resident told her to “go back to your own country” while she was canvassing for votes, while others took to social media to tease and torment her. 

“We all live a certain life of comfort until we’re put in a situation where we have to personally experience such things. One of those moments for me was when I put myself (in the race for Orangeville Council). Then I realized I was different. Up until then I was living a life of privilege, where I was very ignorant about the difficulties somebody who looks like me, with the same skin colour and who speaks like me, faces every day,” Ms. Bhamu said. 

The big thing Mr. DeWar takes exception to are the comments and references he hears, and regularly sees online, relating to “city people”, who local residents often complain about coming up to Orangeville from Toronto, Brampton or Mississauga. This, he believes, is a direct reference to people of colour, rather just people travelling from a geographic location. 

“The community has grown a lot since I moved here in 2000, the demographics have definitely changed,” Ms. DeWar said.

He added, “One thing I’ve seen more and more of, and keep an ear out for, are references to ‘the city people are coming’. That’s a covert way of saying people of colour, or people with different ethnicities are moving up here.

“I’ve seen questions asked about why we need to have a Dufferin Muslim Association, and I’ve seen all sorts of backlash online for organizations that want to build mosques in our area,” he continued. 

The only way to fight racism, Mr. DeWar says, is to actively call it out, something Mayor Brown agreed with. 

“Desmond Tutu said ‘if you’re neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor’. When we see covert racism, we need to shine a light on it. We need to shame people. That will help change society,” Mayor Brown said. 

The discussion soon shifted to focus on policing practises north of the border. Following the death of George Floyd, protestors started something of a new movement – to defund the police. In Minneapolis, elected officials voting to abolish its local police force in favour of establishing a “holistic public safety force”. No such moves, or demands, have yet been made in Canada. 

Orangeville Police Chief Wayne Kalinski, and OPP Central Region Headquarters Sgt Jason Folz also participated in the debate, offering their thoughts and opinions on the current policing climate, and answering some pressing questions posed by Mr. DeWar. 

Right off the bat, Chief Kalinski reassured those watching that the type of constraint used by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to kill George Floyd would not ever be used, nor condoned by the policing community in Ontario. 

“That is something that happened, however we have never been trained to utilize that technique. It is totally illegal as far as I am concerned,” Chief Kalinski said. 

He would go on to admit there is racism in our community and, when pressed by Mr. DeWar, stated he has seen racism behaviour from police officers over the course of his career – something Sgt. Folz also admitted to seeing. 

“I have, unfortunately, seen it, but it’s never condoned. In Orangeville, we have developed policies and procedures (to ensure racism is punished)… If someone doesn’t adhere to those particular policies or expectations, they will be dealt with,” Chief Kalinski stated. 

While there does not appear to be any record of racism within the ranks of the Orangeville Police Service over the past decade, according to Chief Kalinski, Mr. DeWar wondered if there would be a benefit to having a more culturally-diverse police force, with minority communities represented. Chief Kalinski admitted that, while in an ideal world that would be the case, it’s been a difficult thing to make happen in Orangeville. 

“It’s always been a challenge to be as reflective of our community in Orangeville as we should be. Recruiting has always been a challenge here. We can do a lot better than what we’re doing,” Chief Kalinski said. “We can only empathize with people of colour and show respect when we have the opportunity, but we don’t have that reflection in our police service right now.”

In a letter sent to the OPP, Orangeville Councillor Todd Taylor, who also serves as Chair of the Orangeville Police Services Board, formally requested that the provincial police force make it a priority to create a more diverse officer base when it takes over policing services in October. 

“Over the last two decades our community has changed. We, like other communities in Dufferin County, have experienced a significant increase in population. The demographics of our town have also become much more diverse. We are enriched by this,” Coun. Taylor wrote. “One need only take an afternoon walk down Broadway, go grocery shopping or attend our Saturday farmers’ market to see that we have become a multi-cultural, multi-racial community. We are embracing this evolution in the spirit of cooperation, understanding and respect.”

He added, “As part of this journey our municipal institutions must keep up. They must adapt and reflect the makeup of our citizens of a whole. In policing, we need to see black officers, Aboriginal officers, Asian officers, and other cultures properly represented. We also need to see adequate gender and LGBTQ representation. This is important.

“The OPS board recognizes this as a priority. In the coming weeks, we would like to meet with the detachment superintendent to discuss how this priority can be put into action as part of our transition to the OPP,” he concluded.

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