OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s first black councillor believes Ottawa has a “unique opportunity” to make inroads in addressing race-based discrimination, but it is up to all residents to deal with racism in our city.

Councillor Rawlson King will be Council’s liaison for anti-racism issues and has been working to create an anti-racism secretariat at City Hall.

On CTV Morning Live Wednesday morning, host Annette Goerner asked Councillor King what all Ottawa residents should be doing right now to address discrimination and racism in this city.

“I think we should engage in serious conversations with one-another, and we should listen to one-another,” said King.

“I think in today’s media age we have a lot of polarization because of social media. I think that sometimes we need to step back and understand that there is nuance, understand that we shouldn’t be ahistorical to sit down and say ‘well, I was born on X day in X year, I got up, got out of bed and everything is completely different then. It was before my time.’”

The Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor adds, “I think it’s really important for us to also think about what other people experience on a day-to-day basis. And I think when we do that, we’ll move towards greater understanding which I think is important.”

Councillor King told CTV Morning Live there are “many similarities” between Canada and the United States.

“We’re challenged by anti-black racism; communities are seeing challenges around police brutality, around carding, around socio-economic disparities. There is many issues, including health outcomes and mental health outcomes. There’s many issues that are on-par with the United States,” said King.

“But I do believe that the difference in Canada is we have political institutions that can actually respond to a lot of these challenges.”

Council approved an anti-racism secretariat at City Hall in the 2020 budget, which includes a $100,000 a year budget.

In his new role as Council liaison for anti-racism issues, Councillor King was asked if he feels he is facing an uphill battle or can make inroads in addressing racism in Ottawa.

“I think that Ottawa has the unique opportunity to make in-roads,” said King, noting Mayor Jim Watson, his Council colleagues and city staff support the initiative of an anti-racism secretariat at City Hall.

“I think that we have a unique opportunity to work in conjunction with communities to ensure that we can have a better result with our city government.”

Target of racism

Councillor King shared one experience with CTV Morning Live when he was the target of racism while walking to work.

“About three to four years ago I was walking down Cyrville Road, somebody rolled down the window of their car and yelled the n-word at me,” said King.

“This is not atypical; this is a kind of a typical thing a lot of residents - racialized residents, black residents - experience on a daily basis. So, there are those individual acts of racism, and that requires education and I think that will be part of the secretariat’s mandate.”

King says the other component is systemic racism in Ottawa and across Canada, and residents want to know that the government is dealing with their concerns.

“I think we’re at an inflection point here, people have these experiences every day and they want to see action. I’m proud to say the City of Ottawa is stepping up and is taking action.”