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Anti-racism committee member resigns over mayor's townhall comments

Vincent Simon, who served on the committee since 2011, said Mauro's absence from January's systemic racism acknowledgement and recent townhall comments led to his resignation.
Vincent Simon
Vincent Simon, who had served on the city's anti-racism and diversity committee since 2011, stepped down because of Mayor Bill Mauro's recent townhall comments. (Supplied.)

THUNDER BAY - A member of the city’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee has stepped down in the wake of Mayor Bill Mauro’s townhall comments.

Vincent Simon, who served on the committee since 2011, confirmed his resignation with a letter to committee chair Jason Veltri on Wednesday.

Simon is the executive director of the Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Solvent Abuse Centre, a treatment centre that serves Indigenous youth.

According to Simon, the townhall was one of two instances where Mauro angered him, ultimately leading to his resignation.

Mauro’s absence from the Ka-Na-Chi-Hih hall on January 13, when the Thunder Bay Police Board formally acknowledged the existence of systemic racism in the police service and board and apologized to the Indigenous community, was the first instance.

Mauro’s town hall comments, specifically his referral to Senator Murray Sinclair and Gerry McNeilly as “those guys,” was the last straw.

“To me, that meant he didn’t take those reports seriously, and he didn’t accept the fact there was systemic racism,”  Simon said.

Senator Murray Sinclair’s report issued by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission that found the Police Servies Board failed the Indigenous community, as well as Independent Police Review Director, Gerry McNeilly’s, report that found systemic racism exists in the police service at an institutional level, were released in December 2018, and were a subject of Mauro’s town hall, held on Tuesday, May 14.

"It drives me crazy having to listen to and fight back against the perception of our community that is being created on the national stage," Mauro said at the town hall.

"I say, 'Look, I acknowledge the problem but don't make it seem as if Thunder Bay is any different than anybody else. We all have the same problems, pretty much. This idea that Thunder Bay is somehow worse than everybody else and that we're the hate crime capital of Canada, the murder, it's just taking these stats to sell newspapers and it drives me insane.”

The fallout from Mauro’s comments has included police board chair Celina Reitberger criticizing the mayor ahead of a Police Services Board meeting on Tuesday.

Reitberger said the Indigenous community was unhappy with the mayor’s comments, and that Mauro needed to distinguish his platform when speaking to the public.

More recently, Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins called on Mauro to step down from the Thunder Bay Police Services Board and be replaced by Indigenous representation.

Simon, who agreed the Indigenous community is displeased with Mauro’s comments, said he is the mayor and the leader of the city. 

"He should accept a very well researched report.” Simon said. “He should say we will do what it takes to fix it. He blamed the media on bringing a bad reputation to the city.”

In reference to his comments about the reports, Mauro said, "I think that we all completely in this community understand that racism exists here. That has never been the question. I think what people are trying to communicate is that sometimes they are not hearing that message from me in a clear enough way."

Mauro also said he hopes Simon will reconsider his resignation from the committee.

“Vincent has been a great member of that particular committee for a very long time. I’ve reached out to him. I’ve had a conversation with him. We are going to meet in a week or so and I’ve asked him already if he will reconsider his resignation and we will have a conversation in about 10 days and see where that goes.”

Jason Veltri, chair of the Respect, Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Committee, said in a written statement released on Thursday that he "appreciate(s) all of the valuable insight and experience that Mr. Simon has provided to the committee over the years."

"We have also reached out to Mayor Mauro to express some of the concerns expressed by Mr. Simon and other members of the City. We are committed to working with Mr. Mauro further and providing any assistance to him that we can," the release reads.

The role of the committee is to advise City Council on matters related to respect and diversity in the city, and to build on relationships the city has established with various organizations and the broader community.

Michael Charlebois

About the Author: Michael Charlebois

Michael Charlebois was born and raised in Thunder Bay, where he attended St. Patrick High School and graduated in 2015. He attends Carleton University in Ottawa where he studies journalism.
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