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District Council declares Muskoka “Hate Free Community”

Muskoka is now a “Hate Free Community.”

That declaration from District Council at its March meeting. The recommendation came from the IDEA Advisory Group (IAG), which was formed by the district to promote Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Anti-Racism (IDEA) in the community.

IAG Chair Mark Nakamura says it’s an important first step towards preventing hateful acts.

“Basically, it’s a recognition that hate incidents are not acceptable and will not be tolerated in Muskoka,” says Nakamura. “That mechanisms will be put in place to identify them when they do happen and to hopefully provide mechanisms for remedying them. To work towards creating a community that is in fact hate-free over time.”

According to Nakamura, the first tool would be a database of sorts, shared between relevant groups. That includes the OPP, municipal agencies, and community organizations such as Muskoka Victim Services which already respond to or track hate activity.

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“It’s simply a matter of trying to coordinate amongst all those who are best in position to identify these incidents,” says Nakamura. “We’ll be able to catalogue them, and keep track of their frequency, where they’re happening, how they’re happening. So that we can do the educational response or even the legal response. They are available if people make them known.”

Nakamura says recent data shows that about 80 per cent of hate incidents go unreported and became more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic, but have not yet started to fall.

“Most people, unfortunately, do not report these incidents,” says Nakamura. “They either don’t know how to report them, or they’re intimidated by them and they really don’t know how to respond.”

Already underway is the IAG Grants program, which opened in January and has “pleasantly surprised” Nakamura with the uptake.

“We received 27 applications, which is quite heartening,” says Nakamura, adding that successful applicants will be informed in the coming weeks. “It shows that there’s a lot of organizations that are willing and interested in taking this initiative on.”

Potential future projects include a mural, which Nakamura says would show what a “truly welcoming” Muskoka might look like.

“I think it’s generally acknowledged that we will need newcomers coming to Muskoka if we are to have economic development and employees for workplaces here,” says Nakamura. “People are looking for workers all over the place, and it’s important to recognize that those workers will be coming from diverse backgrounds. They have to feel welcomed and respected and valued when they come, or they just won’t stay.”

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