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Pembroke mayor scraps diversity committee

Members of the committee were surprised to learn Mayor Ron Gervais unilaterally decided to cancel the committee.
Photos taken of the Algonquin College Pembroke campus mural after it was defaced with a white substance in September, 2022.

The scrapping of Pembroke's diversity advisory committee came as a shock to its members who were led to believe the committee would continue to play a role after the municipal elections.

Duane Gastant Aucoin, a two-spirit Indigenous member of the now defunct diversity advisory committee, told The Sam Laprade Show he and other committee members met with then Deputy Mayor Ron Gervais ahead of the election with concerns over whether the new council would continue to work with the committee. According to Gastant Aucoin, Gervais told them he saw no reason why the new council would not.

"So, when he just unilaterally made the decision as Mayor of Pembroke to cancel the Diversity Advisory Committee, it really was a shock. Especially to us committee members who were told something different," said Gastant Aucoin.

Pembroke's diversity advisory committee was established by a unanimous vote of council in 2021, after teenagers targeted an elderly Vietnamese woman, shouting racial slurs and throwing rocks and eggs at her and her home.

During Pride month in June 2022, a drag queen story time event was targeted with threats, prompting organizers to hire security and request increased Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) presence. In September, a mural representing diversity on Algonquin College's Pembroke campus was vandalized with a white substance covering the faces of the Black, Indigenous and people of colour represented.

"These are all happening right now. These are all threats. As an Indigenous and as a Two Spirit, I'm feeling less safe now here in my new home," said Gastant Aucoin.

Gastant Aucoin said he and others have penned an open letter to Mayor Gervais and city council for an explanation, but have yet to receive an answer.

In the meantime, the response from Pembroke residents has been uplifting for Gastant Aucoin. 

"There's so many people who've been standing up and supporting us, saying that this is not right," said Gastant Aucoin. "It just really holds me up as an Indigenous two-spirit to know that the city of Pembroke might not recognize me, but so many of the residents do."

Listen to the full interview with Duane Gastant Aucoin on The Sam Laprade Show below.


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