Thank you Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall (the Ontario Human Rights Commission) for hosting this briefing session for Canadian NGOs to strengthen the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CMARD). I also would like to thank David Walden (the Canadian Commission for UNESCO) for taking the lead to bring this initiative forward, and the City of Toronto (Casandra Fernandes) for working together as partners in this important Coalition.
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation is very supportive of this initiative, because it fits very clearly and effortlessly with the Foundation's mission which - in part, is to build a national framework for the fight against racism in Canadian society. We also support this initiative because it presents an ideal platform from which collective efforts can be mounted to confront and eliminate racism in Canada.
Our interest is based on our commitment to, and support of, the goals and outcomes of the United Nations Third World Conference Against Racism. The Program of Action calls on government to "establish and implement without delay national policies and action plans to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including their gender-based manifestations."
As most of you know, as part of the Foundation's commitment to advance the anti-racism agenda in Canada, and building on the World Conference process, the CRRF was involved in two significant processes which brought Canadians together to continue the dialogue on the domestic agenda against racism.
In 2002, the Foundation hosted the "Strengthening the Agenda Against Racism" symposium in Edmonton. And, in 2003, the CRRF acted as interlocutor for civil society for the Visit to Canada of the UN Special Rapporteur on racism.
These initiatives have provided, among other things, the impetus for the CRRF's work in moving forward with the development of national anti-racism policies.
Given our role, therefore, as a national and leading mechanism in the fight against racism, it is - as it were - very much a part of our mandate to identify and support efforts which can potentially advance the anti-racism agenda, both substantively and substantially.
It is also in our interest to play a pivotal role in monitoring the manifestations of racism and keeping abreast of measures to combat them. The Foundation has a commitment to develop and strengthen, in concrete ways, partnerships with organizations across the country in combating racism. CMARD, we believe, is one such initiative.
Of course, another reason for our interest and support is the focus on municipalities. We cannot over-emphasize the pivotal role that municipalities/local governments play in any society.
Increasingly, the role of the local or municipal government is rapidly evolving as the federal and provincial governments download more responsibilities to them. They are therefore playing a greater role in peoples lives and, as such, can make a critical difference in their quality of life by enabling and facilitating societal conditions that are equitable and inclusive.
The fact is that even though municipalities are starting to realize and accept the importance of their diverse population, there is a fundamental failure to accept that racism exists - or to put it more bluntly - denial that it exists.
The CMARD initiative puts race, racism and anti-racism back on the agenda. It provides a very tangible and pragmatic approach for local governments to demonstrate their leadership to actively adopt and implement measures to address racism.
More importantly, the program incorporates the opportunity for residents and other sectors of the municipality to become engaged in their respective government's actions and to hold them accountable. This initiative presents an important opportunity to re-ignite the focus on racism and anti-racism from the ground up within the context of government-led commitment and action particularly at the municipal level.
The progress of this initiative is setting, and will continue to set, new models of learning and practice for other municipalities and regions across Canada. This meeting of NGOs is an integral step in the process. We know that in many cases the brunt of anti-racism work has fallen on NGOs with little financial, human and technical resources to undertake the work in a sustaining way. This forum provides a useful space in which meaningful discussion can be engaged on the most effective and efficient ways to incorporate your support and contribution to this important initiative in a way that strengthens your capacity and build on your work.
So what does our Foundation bring to the table to offer to NGOs and municipalities wanting to promote the Coalition within their respective municipalities?
Our Initiatives Against Racism program provides sponsorship grants of up to seventy-five hundred dollars to at least 40 communities across Canada each year. There are at least two application deadlines annually. We fund and publish research through our Contract Research Program on contemporary issues of racism in Canada. The Foundation issues a call every two years. This is an important vehicle through which the CRRF can work with NGOs, governments, universities - to support state-of-the-art research on this agenda. We also have an Education and Training Program, which seeks to create awareness and sensitivity among decision makers of race and race relations, whether at school boards, government agencies or the private sector. This program can serve the Coalition effectively, by working with municipal governments to combat racism and discrimination.
Our website, as well as our newsletter - Perspectives - will also provide another national vehicle through which local work can be promoted and disseminated.
In brief, I think we are in a unique position to play an important role in contributing substantially to the growth of this initiative.