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Council deliberates proclamation to foster inclusive community

Council has been spending a considerable amount of time discussing the merits of a proclamation that would designate Jasper as an inclusive community. - P. Clarke photo.

Council has been spending a considerable amount of time discussing the merits of a proclamation that would designate Jasper as an inclusive community. – P. Clarke photo.

For the second week in a row council spent a considerable amount of time discussing the merits of a proclamation that could designate Jasper as an inclusive community.

At issue were concerns about the language used in the proclamation and how it could be misconstrued and used against the town.

Without mentioning Monika Schaefer by name, Mayor Richard Ireland told councillors that he supports the proclamation, but also warned that it can have unforeseen consequences. Schaefer gained notoriety in June 2016 when she published a video denying the Holocaust.

“There is a downside to a proclamation like this,” warned Ireland, during a council meeting on March 7.

“It seems to me that inevitably we will run into the elephant in the room that councillor Wall spoke about a week ago, that is when you proclaim to be inclusive without limitation then you are forced to confront those with whom you might have the most profound disagreements.”

Currently the draft version of the proclamation borrows language from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), which defines a welcoming and inclusive community as, “one which is free from discrimination where residents feel able to participate in all aspects of social, cultural and economic life of the community.”

Another major sticking point among councillors was a paragraph that included a list of qualifiers included in the proclamation, such as religions, cultures and genders. The worry among councillors was that by specifically including certain people, the proclamation was in effect excluding others. Councillors ultimately decided to delete the paragraph.

Kathleen Waxer, director of community and family services, presented the proclamation to council on March 7.

“When I first arrived in Jasper the faces on the street were primarily white and seasonal staff was made up of Canadian university students. That was 35 years ago. Since then, our cultural landscape has drastically changed. Today we share our community with residents from around the world,” Waxer said during a short presentation.

Doug Olthof, the town’s community development specialist, acknowledged council’s concerns, but said the proclamation has limitations.

“Inclusivity without limits is not a desirable outcome for any community and I think, as you said, a lot of efforts have been made to ensure this proclamation doesn’t forward a vision of having no limits whatsoever,” Olthof said on March 7.

“There are clear statements in there that indicate that council and the municipality is dedicated to protecting the principal of inclusivity, which can itself be harmed by particular ideas or actions that would harm the idea of inclusivity and diversity.”

According to Olthof, the town could also reap a lot of benefits by signing the proclamation, including attracting new Canadians to town, assist with future grant applications and reduce the vulnerability and liability of the municipality in the event of discrimination or harassment.

“As the AUMA says, the most basic benefit to the municipal government of making such a declaration is it will assistant in helping the municipality to fulfill its role in terms of the number of national and international laws,” Olthof, said pointing to the the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act, among others.

He also said the proclamation would have a lot of social benefits, including improving community life and social cohesion.

“These are all things that I think Jasper has done well in the past, this is just a way of formally acknowledging and in a way celebrating the success of the municipality,” said Olthof.

The proclamation will be updated with the changes and brought before council for a final vote on March 21.

Paul Clarke
editor@fitzhugh.ca

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