Dear Mayor Mike O’Brien and City Councillors of Fredericton,
I am writing to you today on behalf of our organization Solidarité Fredericton Solidarity to discuss our concern with the behaviour and response of the Fredericton City Council over the past year.
This letter was provoked by the most recent scandal, when a racial slur was used by a councillor during a presentation by Black Lives Matter (BLM) Fredericton. This is the most recent of a disappointingly long list of inappropriate responses or actions taken by the Council.
We are deeply concerned by trends of (a) incomplete or failure to consult, (b) censorship, and (c) a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of Council.
We are writing today to discuss our concerns and provide some suggestions for charting a path forward that would improve the relationship between the City and its residents.
The most recent scandal to face the Council, in which Councillor Price used a racial slur during a BLM presentation, was shocking and disappointing. We were also struck by the fact that no councillor present acknowledged or criticized the use of this slur during the meeting. This incident highlights the real need for a public consultation on racism within the justice system in our City, in particular the impact of policing on racialized and other vulnerable communities. When our own City Council fails to be anti-racist during a presentation on racism, we know we have a problem.
This most recent incident is not a stand alone problem. Unfortunately, it is representative of an ongoing, systemic trend of silencing voices on topics deemed ‘controversial’ or ‘politicized,’ failing to properly consult, and oppression from within the City Council. The following are examples from the past year of these trends:
● The failure to consult residents on issues of heritage, environment, and use of city space. For example, the removal of heritage trees and migratory bird nesting grounds near the Lieutenant-Governor’s house this summer. Also, the development of Officer’s Square, including mismanagement of Indigenous artifacts and removal of heritage trees
● The motion recently passed to shut off water services to residents who have not paid their bills, during the public health crisis of COVID-19 pandemic
● The lock out of City workers in February 2020, who were advocating for fair wages
● Denying two civil society groups from making a presentation to Council on the climate emergency, and the passage of a motion to ‘receive and file’ all future request for a climate emergency declaration
● The ongoing censorship of the Fredericton poet laureate, Jenna Lynn Albert, when she attempted to present poems on abortion access and racism
These incidents show an alarming trend towards the oppression and silencing of dissenting or vulnerable voices. Fredericton residents who are poor, unstably housed, disabled, racialized, or gender diverse, continue to be silenced or ignored. This is unacceptable and must stop.
Issues such as homeless, colonialism, climate change, and poverty must be at the forefront of the City’s plans, not pushed to one side, ignored, or given low priority in favour of developers and the wealthy. Furthermore, they must be addressed through robust consultation with residents, with a particular emphasis on identifying and amplifying voices that might otherwise not be heard. Our Municipal representatives must be accountable and open to all residents of Fredericton.
The following are some strategies that we recommend the City Council implement to realize a more accountable, transparent, equitable and anti-oppressive leadership. This list is in priority order:
● City must host a public consultation on community safety and defunding the police. This should be in addition to the City’s report currently being drafted. Public consultation is essential to a robust analysis of this issue
● Ban the practice of carding
● Provide a deadline for the City’s report on the impact of city policies and practices on racialized and Indigenous people, as well as ensure the report includes deadlines and strategies to implement the report’s recommendations
● Ensure greater accountability and transparency on the City Budget through measures such as participatory budgeting, which could be incorporated (in part) into the Engage Fredericton platform
● Provide mandatory anti-oppressive/anti-racist training for all City Councillors and Mayor
● Create a Safe Space Policy for City Council
● Implement a process for Council meetings to prevent and penalize the use of oppressive and racist language in meetings and by Councillors
The implementation of these recommendations would greatly improve and enhance the relationship between City Council and Fredericton’s residents. Through transparency, robust and ongoing consultation and dialogue, and an entrenched commitment to anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices, Fredericton’s City Council could become a leader in Municipal representation. This would enhance the health, safety, and democracy of our community.
We look forward to hearing from you on this important issue.
Julia Hansen is with Solidarité Fredericton Solidarity.