With a researched and annotated slideshow in hand, the board behind Black Lives Matter Sudbury (BLMS) assembled on Sept. 22 to livestream their presentation to council — offering their demands, views and hopes to local elected representatives.
It was what many at their viewing party saw as a wonderful presentation, with a not-so-helpful reaction from council.
The viewers and volunteers who gathered at Sudbury Theatre Centre for the event called Black Lives Matter Sudbury Takes On City Council were patient and quiet throughout the initial presentation to council from Vale, and then through the technical difficulties – and the mayor forgetting to unmute – then applauded uproariously at the finish of Black Lives Matter Sudbury’s list of demands and reasonings.
It was, however, after comments from city councillors that the audience began to voice their dismay, and do so loudly.
Three representative members of the group were invited to speak to council by Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland, and they included co-presidents Ra’anaa Brown and TiCarra Paquet, as well as Darius Garneau, BLMS’ director of policy and development.
At the viewing party, Shana Calixte, BLMS director of community relations, was the viewing party host and mediator for the question and answer session that followed the presentation.
Mayor Brian Bigger opened by thanking BLMS for attending, and saying he was “happy that the local representatives (of Black Lives Matter) are joining us here tonight.” He also spoke of his open-mindedness and willingness to listen, and encouraged BLMS members to become politically engaged, to run for office, regardless of the opposition they may face.
Further, Bigger said he wants to “work together to make sure Greater Sudbury is a better city tomorrow than it is today.”
At the end of the presentation, the mayor again offered his thanks, but did not make further comments on the presentation or the demands for change BLMS made.
BLMS had previously released their list of demands for equality (you can find them here), but went into greater detail with each slide they revealed. First, TiCarra Paquet spoke of the need for the City of Greater Sudbury to provide funding for the implementation of appropriately culturally sensitive programming for Black, Indigenous and Youths of Colour – careful to include all marginalised communities that could benefit.
“Black Lives Matter summarily calls upon our municipal government for the creation and implementation of culturally appropriate after-school programming for youth that are Black, Indigenous or People of Colour,” said Paquet. “Specifically, we asked for assistance in the creation of a Boys and Girls Club chapter for Sudbury.
“Black Lives Matter Sudbury is asking for $50,000 annually for the maintenance and expenditures – a breakdown of these expenditures is within the supplementary document that we provided. Finally, we asked that the City of Greater Sudbury set aside spaces and resources, such as pre-existing community centers, so we can offer these programs.”
Ra’anaa Brown presented their demands for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) within the arts community.
“How can we pride ourselves as a supposed diverse cultural sector while Black and other racialized artists are given less resources and opportunities than the already often-ignored arts community members? It is time to begin truly representing the rich multicultural heritage of the region.”
She continued with data.
“Across Canada, the arts are vastly under-funded, with the national median of funds per capita less than $10. In 2016, per capita, the grant for arts heritage and festivals in subgroups was $5.09, 33-per-cent less than the already deplorable national median, and was in the top of the amount of other northern cities.
“In other parts of the country, arts may be likewise underfunded, and artists may be afforded less opportunities.”
She continued to say that if art is already under-funded — and recently “The Conference Board of Canada stated that university educated Canadian born members of a visible minority earn on average 87.4 cents for every dollar earned by their caucasian peers — there is an even greater challenge, necessitating these demands.
Darius Garneau, director of policy and development for BLMS, spoke on what many considered the most contentious, or most important, of the demands: the police.
Garneau explained to council that by simply taking 10 per cent of the Greater Sudbury Police Services (GSPS) budget of $62 million, other organizations in Sudbury could benefit.
“The city already has the services in place that are far better equipped and far better prepared to respond to non-criminal offenses (that are now) directed to GSPS like drug overdoses, sexual assault, domestic violence and mental health crises.”
He spoke specifically of organizations like NISA (Northern Initiative for Social Action) and N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre as options. He also admonished the councillors and mayor for their continued words of support, without much action: specifically, no council members offering specific stances on BLM issues in the news and on social media, but also, not adding a BIPOC member to the Polices Services board.
“We want the money currently going to the GSPS to instead be invested in the city's many powerful nonprofit organizations. They are able to perform the duties we've been conditioned to believe should be done by police officers at a higher capacity: the city-supervised consumption services, public services, and people who are properly educated to help individuals experiencing mental health crises.”
Coun. Geoff McCausland thanked the members for their presentation – and at the question and answer session after the meeting, Brown noted how helpful he has been.
The mayor opened the floor for questions and comments, and following an extended silence, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, Ward 9 Deb McIntosh and Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Laundry-Altman spoke.
After thanking the group for their presentation, Signoretti noted, “We all come from ethnic backgrounds. I come from immigration from Italy. So I know all immigration is important. So just know that we don't take these things lightly.”
McIntosh added her thanks, then questioned how to proceed.
“I’m hoping that you will also help us as well, going forward.” She noted that many positions are offered to the public so that they may take part in community endeavors, but when the panel was asked about this question later, all noted that they do want a seat at the table, just not one built by “colonizers.”
“No one wants to be the token Black person,” Brown said.
Laundry-Altman drew most of the jeers when she spoke. First, she complimented the group of social activists for coming to council.
“Firstly, I would like to congratulate you; it's difficult coming to the council. It can be intimidating. So I congratulate you for that.”
She then continued regarding their presentation.
“Your efforts certainly merit discussion. I would suggest this: that you work with Coun. McCausland, and through him and to our staff, they will acquaint you with the services that are already available. And perhaps to that consultation, we'll be able to hone exactly the vision that you anticipate.”
She commended their vision and ambition, but disagreed with them on a fundamental point.
“I don't necessarily agree with some of the things you said, like defunding the police. Coming from Ward 12, where we appreciate police services, but that's something you will learn in consultation with council, and so good luck to you in your endeavors, certainly commendable, and I'm sure that all I can speak on behalf of all of our colleagues that we are here, we are just an email away. So if you have any questions, please don't hesitate. Thank you. Merci beaucoup. Miigwech.”
It was at this point the viewers at Sudbury Theatre Centre could no longer contain their emotions. Sardonic laughter, gasps of disbelief, shaking of heads, and one shout of “What even was that?”
After a brief intermission, the board members of BLMS returned for a question and answer about the evening’s events.
They spoke of wanting a world where their children would learn all of history, not just the “colonial history” taught in schools, that they would be raised in a place that embraces them as people, as people of colour, as artists, and as Sudburians.
Paquet spoke of her 29-year-old cousin Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died during an interaction with police, who had been called to a Toronto apartment for a mental health call.
“The defunding will be reallocated to different services that would better serve that call for assistance,” says Paquet. “Like for my cousin, she died due to police intervention. Now, let's say there was a social worker, someone who was actually equipped to deal with someone with mental health issues, she'd still be here today.”
Both Garneau and Brown were upset with the lack of research and education that council seemed to invest in this topic.
“My thoughts on that is that we don't need to be in the room with you holding your hand walking you through this, literally just do some simple research, the facts are out there,” says Brown. “If three of us, who are not council members with our committee, can pull together the research that we did … then they can clearly do it when they have all the resources at their fingertips.”
“We've really done our homework on all of this stuff. This isn't just something that we do together the night before,” Garneau added.
But the group says they will continue to push for change. Mourn for tonight, fight for tomorrow, as it were.
But they were also genuinely happy with the support they received.
“Thank you for fighting the good fight with us,” Brown said. “We see you on social media when people are making racist comments. We see you guys in the streets holding signs next to us. We see you guys out there with us. And it's because of people like you that we can even believe that this is something that we can achieve.”
Sudbury.com has pre-emptively closed comments on this story and will not be sharing it to Facebook. Unfortunately, stories dealing with issues of race too often result in racist comments being made in the comment threads, such that moderating the discussions becomes impossible.
Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Sudbury.com.