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Renfrew, Ont. council to vote on funding for diversity projects

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Renfrew town council is set to vote on whether it should stop investing in projects supporting diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism.

At a meeting on Nov. 21, Renfrew's Community Services and Economic Development Committee voted 2-1 in favour of taking no action when it comes to supporting community support, multicultural, or anti-racism initiatives.

The town was given a grant of $55,591 in 2022 from Heritage Canada for the project.

The committee had four options: fund a community art project or mural that would be displayed on town hall, invest in a flag sidewalk display, create a crosswalk display, or take no action.

"The priority of our council and staff should be a town hall that remains a neutral place for everyone," said Coun. John McDonald at the meeting.

"Taxpayers have communicated to me that they want a town hall that is professionally run. They don't want us to promote specific identities or interests."

Councillor and committee chair Andrew Dick and Coun. Jason Legris were the two votes in favour of taking no action.

"My issue with option two and option three is we are endorsing one diverse portion of the community and we're not doing a whole (of the community)," added Dick.

It's a decision Renfrew Mayor Tom Sidney says he is disappointed in.

"We just can't say you're welcome here, we have to show it."

He adds that if the town were to take a stance of neutrality, then that position would have to be applied in all circumstances.

"So that means no nativity scenes, that's no Christmas lights, no Merry Christmas, no Remembrance Day stuff."

"We can't say one group can do one thing and another group can and still make people feel welcomed. I don't think that's how it works."

Renfrew Pride founder Chris Kyte tells CTV News the group feels stabbed in the back after being told the councillors supported diversity during their election campaigns.

"And now suddenly, they don't want to support any projects that have to do with multiculturalism, anti-racism, and diversity, and that's setting our town back," Kyte says.

Currently, the town has invested in the installation of a pride bench and a truth and reconciliation bench, and it is in the process of creating an indigenous cultural centre at Ma-Te-Way Park.

Renfrew Pride founder Chris Kyte sits with fiancée and Renfrew Pride cofounder Kayla Pilon on the rainbow bench in Renfrew, Ont. (Dylan Dyson/CTV News Ottawa)

"By having this crosswalk, we're not looking for special treatment or special attention. We're trying to raise awareness to the fact that we are still facing threats," Kyte tells CTV News.

"What they're saying is they're not ready to move forward with a safe and inclusive Renfrew."

The motion will be put before council and voted on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

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