So we're not allowed to make requests? - Denny Scott editorial
North Huron Township’s Sept. 13 council meeting left me shocked and in utter disbelief as people were so racially insensitive in the handling of the Blyth Business Improvement Area’s (BIA) request to review infrastructure naming. The request was spurred by the existence of Gypsy Lane, and council’s inaction (and the remarks from the public) frustrated me to the point that I thought I’d have to write three columns on it.
First, I’d write about the horrible way some residents of Blyth treated a young woman who had the guts to stand up and explain why the street name, which includes a racial slur, is inappropriate. I mean, honestly, after being told that the racial slur for the Romani people was used by Nazi concentration camp guards, I couldn’t believe that residents of Blyth would repeat it so often, or question if council had ever met a Romani individual (which they had, in fact, just minutes earlier). The people who brought those arguments, showing the epitome of white privilege, should be ashamed of themselves.
Second, I’d write about how disappointed I am in council for not taking any action, despite Reeve Bernie Bailey and Councillor Anita Van Hittersum trying to push the issue forward. Passing the buck to Huron County Council would’ve at least shown some kind of movement, but the majority of council members wouldn’t even address the fact, which speaks volumes to their character.
However, in doing some research of my own (you know, actual research, not just finding some historical website from south of the border that says Gypsy is an acceptable term, and then not providing any of the links to said website) I discovered one simple thing: I don’t need to write those columns.
Why? Well, because in 1971, at the first World Romani Congress, the group voted to reject any externally-applied label for the Romani people, especially Gypsy, because of its negative connotation and stereotypical application. Also, Ian Hancock says the term is not only pejorative, but also flawed because it’s based on the thinking that his ancestors looked like Egyptians. Hancock’s view is important because, aside from being one of the foremost Romani academics in the world, he was also the only Romani on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and the official ambassador to the United Nations and UNICEF for the world’s 15 million Romanies.
So, I don’t really need to write full columns on that because here’s the takeaway: there’s no grey area. Either you agree that it’s a racist term that should be changed or you are a racist and should be changing yourself. That’s not an argument I need to win, history will see to it.
So what did I land on? Well, it was Councillor Kevin Falconer’s comment that the BIA was stepping outside its purview by making the request.
Let’s be clear here: the BIA didn’t ask that the street name be changed. Its executive requested that council review all infrastructure for problematic names, nothing more. Falconer even voted in favour of the BIA’s request during a BIA meeting.
While members of the BIA did say they wanted to see the name changed (a completely reasonable goal), the eventual motion from the BIA was to request a review of infrastructure names, which is why no one on Gypsy Lane had been contacted: nothing had happened yet.
Despite Falconer’s protests to the contrary, it’s completely within the right of the BIA to make a request of council. It’s completely within the rights of every single ratepayer to make those kinds of requests. Just because the BIA is a committee of council doesn’t mean its members lose the right to make requests of council.
Beyond that, the third “purpose” of the BIA, laid out in its constitution that was adopted by council, is to advocate on behalf of the interests of the BIA. Given that the BIA’s executive decided this was of interest to the organization, the executive had every right to make the request.
Had the BIA tried to go around council to implement its own desires, the group would have been overstepping its boundaries. However, since all the BIA did was ask a question, its members haven’t done a thing wrong. As far as I’m concerned, Falconer (and by extension, North Huron Council, since apparently staff are going to advise the BIA on its rights) are overstepping their purview in telling ratepayers what they can and can’t request of their elected officials.
Even if the BIA’s executive members had demanded the change, they still would have been within their rights to do so. The BIA’s mandate is to promote economic growth within the community and the entire reason behind this request is that BIA executive members are concerned that having a racist street name could be a ticking time bomb that would reflect poorly on the community. They were concerned that it could taint the community and, thus, have a negative commercial impact, which would be completely against the goals of the BIA.
Before council dedicates staff time to fixing a problem that isn’t there, it should review what was actually asked by the BIA - to review infrastructure names for potential problems - and instead have staff look to solve the problem of having a racist street name before it becomes more than a local issue.