Friday, June 27, 2003

City councillor blames 'non-whites' for violence

Ottawa Councillor Jan Harder was dealing with charges of racism from her constituents yesterday after she blamed recent troubles in Barrhaven on "non-whites coming into our community looking to cause trouble."

Ms. Harder's comments were in reference to an attack on a 23-year-old man by a group of a dozen youths who slashed him across the back with a knife early this month in Barrhaven. The Bell-South Nepean councillor, who represents the suburb, told Nepean This Week that: "The problem arises when a large group of -- I'm going to say it -- non-whites comes into our community looking to cause trouble." Ms. Harder yesterday defended her comments, saying they weren't racist and shouldn't be taken in that context. "I'm not defining race," she said. "It's police terminology, not mine. That's how the police report it and that's why I use that terminology. In that particular case, it was non-whites, so I'm reporting accurately." Ms. Harder said she expects support rather than criticism from her constituents. "It's nothing I haven't heard from the kids and parents," she said. "I've had so many e-mails and calls from people saying 'We're really glad you're working on this Jan. We're nervous about letting the kids go out in the evening.' "On a weekly basis, I don't have a community of angels out here. Come on. I have all the problems everybody else has." "Those remarks are racist, there's no ifs, ands or buts," said Councillor Alex Cullen. "To categorize (gang problems) in racist terms is misleading and counterproductive."

Mr. Cullen called on Ms. Harder to apologize. "She owes it to every non-white in the city, she owes them an apology," he said, adding that visible minorities form a fifth of the city's population. Some community leaders are livid as a result of Ms. Harder's comments. Ewart Walters, the editor of the Spectrum, a monthly multicultural newspaper, said he was offended. "This is my community and I very much take offence to her trying to divide it and leave me out of it," Mr. Walters said. "I am non-white and I am certainly part of this community."

Councillor Rick Chiarelli said he thought Ms. Harder had moved past "these type of comments." Mr. Chiarelli was reffering to an incident in April 2001 when Ms. Harder angered some members of the city's Chinese community by referring on CFRA radio to what she called the "Asian influence" in the city's west end. "What's coming up is a huge Asian influence, if you will, with people moving to Nepean and Kanata of that background," Ms. Harder said at the time. Ms. Harder said last night that those comments were, and still are, misunderstood. "The Asian comment is about demographics in different areas of the city," she said. "The amount of people from Asia that were in Nepean was huge. We should be serving them. That was my point at that time, that's my point today."

Sri Baga, 22, who moved to Ottawa from Sri Lanka in 1992, was delivering Nepean This Week last night, the paper in which Ms. Harder was quoted. "It's hard to understand where she is coming from," Mr. Baga said. "I don't want to hurt her, but she's hurting the feeling of the non-white community." Mr. Baga said his family moved to Barrhaven in June and he considers the neighbourhood peaceful. He said that one or two people might be violent, but that shouldn't lead to labelling an entire community. Meanwhile, some youths in the area last night said they thought Ms. Harder's assessment was on the money. "They come down because we're suburban kids. I have been chilling here since I was 12. It was a safe haven, but they're going to keep coming and it's getting worse," said Andrew Racine. "She may be racist, but she's truthful," Mr. Racine's friend, J.L. Jarvis added.



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