Sandy Casselman 
LJI Reporter

EMBRUN – Russell’s Community, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (CDEI) committee had a jam-packed session at their latest meeting, with discussion topics ranging from policies and surveys to open houses.

The group met virtually on Feb. 8. In addition to Mayor Pierre Leroux: CAO Jean Leduc, Ash Babber, Christiane Koffi, and Carl Sohn were present.

The Russell’s Customer Service Policy and Social Media Policy were reviewed and discussed. These policies were new as of roughly five years ago, Leduc said, noting that municipal policies are generally reviewed and updated every five years.

Acknowledging the many changes in social media since the policy was created, Leduc said there was little engagement or involvement when Russell first started using the platform. Since then, participation has doubled or possibly even tripled, he said.

“We are really focused on engagement,” Leduc said. “Everything we look to do is to foster engagement in the community.”

Although the original Social Media Policy refers to a social media team, Leroux pointed out that the township currently has only one person on staff in the communications’ department, he said they will be adding a second soon.

“Your comments will be addressed and incorporated,” Leduc told committee members. “[The Social Media Policy] is definitely in need of a review and will be done this year.”

Sohn suggested a message about equity and diversity be included in the introduction to both policies, as well as a reference to values, transparency, and integrity. Babber suggested this could be done with a sentence referring readers to the new Equity and Diversity Policy, which would naturally include these topics.

A brief discussion on the creation of this new policy began with Babber noting he had looked at other equity and diversity policies from other cities. He suggested that, although Ottawa is much larger, its policy could provide a foundation for what Russell might create.

Leroux agreed, saying it did not make sense to “reinvent the wheel.”

In reference to the Customer Service Policy, Koffi inquired about procedures for irate customers, tracking customer requests and complaints, and the annual customer satisfaction survey. Leduc said there is not a central system for cataloguing resident comments just yet. However, municipal staff currently address resident concerns relevant to their department.

Although there was no municipal customer satisfaction survey in 2020 due to COVID-19, Leduc said the township has been conducting such a survey for at least four years. During the survey discussion, Sohn said he felt the annual questionnaire was lacking in terms of demographics, as it currently only asks about residents’ age and whether they are male or female. To ensure all Russell residents are being represented and included, the committee agreed that it is important for staff and council to know more about resident demographics before making decisions.

“We’ve relied on the census but doing a little bit more fact gathering would be helpful. Everyone has to evolve in their way of thinking and that includes the township,” Leroux said, noting that additional demographic questions could help build awareness and education around diversity.

With low survey participation, Leduc said the municipality gets a small demographic sampling. He said it would be a good idea to look at existing databases to get a bigger, better picture of Russell’s demographics. As an example, he mentioned the local school board or the province.

Open houses were next up on the agenda, with Leroux noting that the idea is to meet with residents who want to share their experiences with the committee to identify issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion that need to be addressed in the township.

“The person would share their knowledge and stories with us,” he said. “If you haven’t lived it, you don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know.”

To gauge community interest in partnering with the township on this initiative, Leroux said he had met with representatives from various organizations, such as the local school boards, police, and the United Way, as well as municipal staff. He said the meeting went well and that there is a willingness to work together.

While Leroux had been hoping to do these experience-sharing sessions in person, Koffi noted that it might be better for the participants if this was done online.

“They don’t have to be on camera, and they can take a break,” she said, noting that depending on the experience being shared, it could be triggering or traumatizing for the individual.

It was agreed the sessions should not be recorded and that participants should not be required to give their identifying information to anyone other than the mayor, who would confirm their residency in the municipality. Koffi also suggested adding some mental health professionals to the mix in case someone needed support. She said having a meeting with one person facing the panel could be frightening, so she recommended that four to five people be online to share at the same time with the panel. The participants could then control who sees or hears them and whether people know their real name.

The expectation that you are listening and trying to find a solution to help should be clarified to all potential participants, Koffi said, noting that the exercise requires “a lot of emotional labour” on the part of the persons sharing their stories.

Koffi said this initiative should be started sooner than later, and with suggestions in hand, Leroux said he would have something to present at the group’s next meeting.

The committee also discussed forming smaller sub-groups that will research an issue and write an executive summary with recommendations for the committee to discuss.

“Administration doesn’t have the resources to work on all these,” Leroux said. “So, we’re looking at taking one or two subjects and having the committee break into groups.”

Committee members agreed this would be more efficient and allow topics to be dealt with in a timely manner. The following sub-groups were formed: Marie-Claude Malboeuf and Sohn on land acknowledgement; Koffi and Andrea Beauvais on use of pronouns; and Koffi and Babber on social media topics’ list. Each sub-group will report at the next meeting.

The committee is scheduled to meet virtually again on April 5 at 7 p.m. The public is invited to join by following the link on the municipality’s website.