Fighting underrepresentation

Rawlson King, President of the Overbrook Community Association, recently talked about civic underrepresentation in Ottawa.  Read the Centretown News and Ottawa Citizen articles.

He told Centretown News: “If approximately 25 per cent (of residents) are visible minorities, ideally you want to see that reflected in public boards. And if it’s not, obviously some level of structural change might be needed in terms of the requirements to join those boards.” 

“Unlike other cities, the City of Toronto has a human rights of diversity division that looks at their processes in place and that policies are followed in terms of diversity within the city’s work force. That doesn’t exist in the City of Ottawa.”

According to King, recognizing the issue is the first step, but there is a lot more work required to make the change.

King said there have been historical issues with the underrepresentation of visible minorities within city boards and committees at the elected level.

“It’s a gradual process, and it’s one that requires a lot of conversation and collaboration between groups,” said King. “One of the things people have to realize is that in order to have a social license, in order to have people feel the representation they have is legitimate, there really has to be a reflection of the entire community in the elected space and the appointed positions.”

He added: “[the city is] recognizing the fact that they could do better in terms of diverse representation but the real question of course is, what further actions are they going to take.”

I also told the Ottawa Citizen that it is important that opportunities to join the transit commission, for example, are real — and reachable. If the position requires specific qualifications, it may not actually be fully available to people with lower incomes or less education, even if the person has the unique knowledge or perspective of a user.

“I think there’s a deeper conversation that’s required.”

The lack of representation of visible minorities on volunteer agencies, boards and committees is a failure of the current system, King said, noting the city scrapped its equity and diversity advisory committee and doesn’t have a standalone equity and diversity division, as Toronto does.  

“If we want inclusion, what substantive changes are we going to make to the system if we want to end systemic discrimination?” King asked.

​“That will be the litmus test.”

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