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The 519 board questioned at AGM about its lack of diversity

Membership bids farewell to board chair Pascal Dessureault, elects six new board members

Outgoing 519 chair Pascal Dessureault responds to questions at the organization's AGM. Credit: Elah Feder

The 519 Church Street Community Centre held its annual general meeting Sept 26, at which its board reported robust finances, bid farewell to board chair Pascal Dessureault and welcomed six new members — but also faced criticism for lack of diversity within its membership.

Board treasurer Tyler Fleming reported that despite a cut in core funding from the City of Toronto, The 519 was able to continue operating without reductions in front-end services, largely as a result of increases in alternative funding sources, including a jump in Pride revenues.

Looking forward, Planning Partnership consultants Nancy Chater and Doug Kerr outlined the recommendations of the Village Study, which included the creation of a community charter of core values. In addition, they recommended an initiative to beautify and further pedestrianize Church Street by widening sidewalks, planting trees and extending the “parklets” project.

Other recommendations included a “Church Street check-up,” a regular community survey, and the temporary transformation of the Church streetscape with bold colours and artwork during WorldPride 2014 and Pan Am 2015. The proposed project is currently dubbed “Shock Street Treatment.”

Six new board management nominees were acclaimed, including CIBC legal counsel Paul Bent and Superdyke creator Michelle Walker. Drawn from an initial pool of nine applicants, these six received recommendations from the nominations committee, and the remaining three withdrew their applications.

Issues of diversity and accessibility dominated the question-and-answer period, with one attendee criticizing the lack of diversity within the board, noting that anti-oppression, transphobia, accessibility and feminism were largely absent from the evening’s speeches.

“It’s always been . . . a challenge for us to recruit board members that reflect the diversity of our community,” Dessureault responded, noting that 519 staff and programs are committed to inclusivity and explaining that the nomination committee’s process of recommending specific candidates was introduced last year in order to help address the issue. He added, however, that change needed to be slow.

“I do recognize we still have challenges, absolutely, but we’re getting there, and we’re taking baby steps. But step-by-step I would say is a very important approach for us in terms of diversity – in terms of board representation specifically.”

Attendee Michelle Bourgeois called on The 519 to fully integrate American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation into its programming and services. Dessureault responded that the board is always open to suggestions and that The 519 is driven by listening to the community’s needs.

In the coming year, preparations for WorldPride 2014 and Pan Am 2015 are expected to be a major focus.