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Saanich considers strategy to tackle inclusion and diversity

In an effort to improve diversity and inclusion while strengthening relationships with First Nations, Saanich council has directed its staff to pursue the priorities laid out in a new diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.
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Saanich Municipal Hall. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

In an effort to improve diversity and inclusion while strengthening relationships with First Nations, Saanich council has directed its staff to pursue the priorities laid out in a new diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.

The strategy, drawn up by consultants Quintessential Research Group, is intended to prepare Saanich to meet the needs of a changing and diverse population by creating friendly spaces, a diverse workforce and working more collaboratively with the community.

The drive behind the strategy came from the previous council looking to address the needs of 2SLGBTQ+ (Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) people in the community.

“I think it’s so important that we don’t just receive this report and set of recommendations, but that we work actively on pursuing its priorities to ensure that the work of this district reflects the diversity of our community and is a welcoming place where everyone feels that they are welcomed and have the opportunity to fully participate in our community and have access to district services,” said Mayor Dean Murdock, who called it a blueprint for the district.

“I look forward to the opportunity­ to check in on how we’re doing to ensure that we’re implementing effectively, and that we’re responding to the needs as they continue to emerge.”

The Diversity Equity and Inclusion Strategy identifies five priorities that include building a culture of anti-discrimination and improving relationships with the district’s First Nations, and engaging with the community to monitor Saanich’s progress in implementing the program.

The report, presented to council Monday night, will now be taken by staff to determine an implementation plan and return to council ahead of the 2024 budgeting process with any financial implications.

During the community engagement for the report, consultants Quintessential Research Group found that while Saanich is doing well and is a diverse community — with a population of 117,735, there were nearly 24,000 people who identified as being part of diverse ethnic backgrounds — it has work to do to ensure inclusion and anti-racism is fully embedded across internal and external policies and practices.

Among its findings, the report noted a survey — in which three quarters of the respondents self-identified as white — showed about one-third of respondents indicated they had experienced difficulty finding programs that were inclusive and welcoming. Also, 55 per cent of the respondents who identified as being non-white believed the colour of a person’s skin may impact access to facilities and employment in Saanich and only six per cent of respondents said Saanich is “always welcoming” for diverse groups.

Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff said the strategy is important as it had been commissioned when Black Lives Matter was top of mind and things have only gotten worse since then globally.

“It is inspiring to see that Saanich is going in the other direction, that we’ve become a bastion for diversity and equity and inclusion,” he said. “A lot of the people that we’ve talked to in this process were highlighting that we’re doing good and we can do better, but we’re doing pretty good.”

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