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City Council to consider anti-blabbermouth measures

Anti-rumour initiative intended to help the Sault deal with intolerance and adapt to increased diversity
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Sault Ste. Marie City Council will be asked tonight to authorize an application for federal funding for an anti-racism program that's expected to include measures to stamp out harmful rumours.

If councillors approve, the city will apply to the federal Anti-Racism Action Program for $33,000 for an initiative titled Change Starts Here.

The proposed program is intended to:

  • support communities confronting racism and discrimination
  • promote intercultural and interfaith understanding and foster equitable opportunities to participate fully in Canadian society
  • promote and engage in discussions on multiculturalism, diversity, racism and religious discrimination
  • strengthen research and evidence to build understanding of the disparities and challenges faced by racialized and religious minority communities, and Indigenous peoples

"Sault Ste. Marie is growing more diverse with every year," says Adrian DeVuono, coordinator of the Local Immigration Partnership.

"Approximately 250 refugees have arrived since 2016 and we anticipate the resettlement program to continue apace for the next three years," DeVuono says in a report to Mayor Provenzano and council members.

"The federal Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program will create a path to permanent residence for many skilled foreign workers and their families who want to work and live in Sault Ste. Marie over the next three years; and we expect the number of international students in the community to increase annually due to the recruitment efforts of two post-secondary institutions."

This increase in diversity will result in changes to the familiar social and cultural identity of the community.

The proposed Sault program, developed by DeVuono's Local Immigration Partnership, is intended to reduce employment and social participation barriers faced by immigrants, refugees and religious or racialized minorities.

Planned activities include:

  • producing vignette-style videos showcasing examples of inclusive hiring practises
  • developing and delivering a digital literacy workshop for youth to enable them to effectively challenge disinformation, rumours, hate and discrimination on social media
  • commissioning a mural celebrating the Sault’s increasing diversity to increase newcomers’ sense of belonging to the community

The idea is to reduce “lack of knowledge of the other, as well as current rumours, stereotypes and prejudices about the other unknown person.”

In that regard, DeVuono's report cites Cities Free of Rumours: How to Build an Anti-Rumours Strategy in My City – a strategy developed by the Council of Europe and the European Union and deployed in 11 European cities to counter widespread urban myths about diversity.

"Our conviction from the outset is that an anti-rumour strategy is not about blaming but seducing the majority," says the European strategy, which trains anti-rumour 'agents' to defuse prejudicial comments.

"With the exception of extremist groups, most political parties may feel comfortable with an anti-rumour strategy, as it has a very inclusive approach; it focuses on contributing to social cohesion and never takes an accusatory, recriminatory or censorious stance against anyone," the document states.

The Europeans have found media outlets can be great allies of the anti-rumour movement, but sometimes they must also be intervention targets.

"Some media outlets are seen much more as our 'enemy' since they spread messages that reinforce prejudices and rumours."

Tonight's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.


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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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