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Simcoe County promoting diversity this month: #ITSTARTS campaign continues online

March 19, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Residents throughout Simcoe County have been seeing increased diversity in their communities over the last decade.

In response, the County created the #ITSTARTS Campaign in 2016, which runs during March each year and is aimed at reducing racism and discrimination while encouraging cultural competency.

“Our communities are becoming more diverse and as we become more diverse we have to recognize and support those new residents,” said Sandra Lee, manager of the Simcoe County Local Immigration Partnership (SCILP), which provides leadership to the campaign.

The number of visible minorities in Simcoe County has more than doubled as of late, with census data showing a 104 percent increase from 2006 to 2016.

“As our communities are changing from immigration and also from migration from the GTA, the number of people who are racialized is increasing,” Lee noted.

In an effort to decrease discrimination against the racialized population in Simcoe County, the #ITSTARTS Campaign is trying to spark conversations around multiculturalism, racism, and diversity.

“I really want to encourage people that there’s no wrong place to get involved as far as where you are in the cultural competency continuum,” said Lee.

“You don’t have to have a lot of knowledge, you just have to have a heart that’s willing to support all people…don’t worry about saying the wrong thing, it’s more about getting involved in the conversation,” she added.

Lee told the Times there’s always something in the media that is creating conversation amongst people about diversity and equity.

For example, conversations can be sparked from the recent issues surrounding the CN Rail blockade protests, by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who oppose the GasLink pipeline on their territorial lands.

Meanwhile, the ITSTARTS Campaign is in response to recommendations in the Community Settlement Strategy – published by Simcoe County in 2012 – to develop a public education strategy to combat racism and discrimination locally.

“One of the realizations when we developed that strategy in 2012 was that there wasn’t a lot of multiculturalism in Simcoe County, and so we’ve been trying to increase and encourage multiculturalism,” explained Lee.

She said multiculturalism can be weaved into many different aspects of life.

It can be learning about or better understanding different multicultural holidays, trying out another country’s cuisine, or embracing foreign movies and film.

The ITSTARTS Campaign also has an online component, aimed at raising awareness, spreading education, and starting important conversations.

”Hate tends to fester online and the anonymity of online platforms has created an environment where some individuals feel safe sharing very difficult and destructive comments, so an important part of the campaign is online,” Lee remarked.

The campaign has grown rapidly each year, as it reached 2.94 million people through social media in 2019, which is almost double from the year before.

Lee said It’s important to speak out online as there’s been a documented increase in hate speech and hateful comments on the internet.

Statistics also show that there’s been a steady increase in reported hate crimes in Canada from 2014 to 2019, which are reported instances of visible minorities suffering damages to their person or property.

“Across Canada there was a significant increase in 2017…and we saw that reflected in our communities as well,” Lee noted.

“That’s why policing is an important part of the campaign. They’re seeing the importance of addressing racism and discrimination.”

To get involved with the online aspect of the campaign, individuals are encouraged to post a selfie with a participation card, which can be found online at along with educational materials on racism and discrimination.

The participation cards – which are available in English, French and 10 other languages – leave a blank space where people can write a word they want to use to engage in conversations around inclusion and diversity.

In addition to posting to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the participation cards and the hashtag “ITSTARTS,” they can also be displayed in public settings.

Prior to many of Simcoe County’s public libraries closing this week due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they were heavily involved in supporting the campaign throughout March.

The Local Immigration Network encourages people to put up participation cards at their workplace, school, church, or anywhere else they can be displayed publicly.

There are a number of community partners who are “champions” of the campaign and play a key role in sharing information across the county’s communities.

In the first week of March the two community champions were the OPP and South Simcoe Police, while last week the Simcoe County District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School Board took on the role.

Meanwhile, a date to focus on for those who want to combat racism is March 21, the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination.

Lee said a large portion of the ITSTARTS campaign happens online and March 21 is an important day for highlighting the campaign and standing in solidarity with those who face racial discrimination.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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