LETHBRIDGE: It's rare those in the audience at city council meetings get vocal - but last night about 50 onlookers couldn't help but cheer after one of the evening's final votes.
With Joe Mauro absent, aldermen in attendance voted 5-2 in favour of a new framework for inclusivity, which was penned with a range of public input and requires no city funding as yet. The vote was a long time coming. Alderman Jeff Carlson says at least three councils have tabled the issue over the years.
Ten recommendations are on the books to make Lethbridge more inclusive, including educational messaging in local media and working with police to make sure the city is safe for everyone.
Regional police chief Tom McKenzie says changing the city's cultural climate should be a high priority, saying he's heard worrying anecdotal stories from friends who belong to visible minority groups.
"We often perhaps think it doesn't happen in our community, but people are judged by the colour of their skin and by their appearance," he says. "When you have members of our First Nation community that enter stores and are followed from the time they enter the store to the time they leave it - that's not a community I want to live in. And I don't think it's very fair."
McKenzie says the coalition will incorporate concerns from the two aldermen who voted against endorsing the framework. Alderman Faron Ellis says he's against some of the recommendations that suggest placing restrictions on the demographics of businesses or housing developments, arguing such measures are an infringement on individual rights. Councillor Tom Wickersham said he wanted more feedback from the community before he gave the plan his support.
But the final majority vote means the Lethbridge Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination now has the full responsibility to implement the plan, a process several community members say they're looking forward to with high anticipation.
"I know a lot of groups have worked towards eliminating those kinds of actions and behaviours, but to have the backing from city council - to be the leaders and say it's not to be tolerated anymore is a good thing not just for our group but the communities as well," says Pam Blood, who is part of the Blood Tribe Cultural Awareness Project and a member of the team that created the plan.
"It's about creating understanding, eliminating and dealing with discrimination and racism and making our community an inclusive community where everyone feels safe to live their life in the way they choose."