2 min

Who speaks for you?

City Hall's queer advisors picked without consultation

The city doesn’t consult with minority communities before appointing people to represent them on the Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee. It’s a policy that is likely to get reviewed after the Nov 13 election.

In interviews with Capital Xtra, all three top contenders in Ottawa’s mayoral race have said that they will in future seek out input from the queer community in finding members for the committee. Because of the municipal election, all of the city’s advisory committees are waiting until the new year to fill vacancies.

Typically, the diversity committee replaces about one-third of its members each November. This year, the call for applications isn’t scheduled until January, according to committee coordinator Carole Langford.

There are no reserved seats for the queer community on the diversity advisory committee; it doesn’t work that way. But there is an informal effort to ensure that there are people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans sitting on the committee. Jarmila Dokladalova joined the committee in January 2006 for a three-year term. Dokladalova sat on the Pride executive in the early years of the millennium, a period of deficit and turmoil. More recently, she was publisher of ToBe, a short-lived newspaper that continues to publish as a website.

Because minority groups do not have inputs to appointments to the committee and no seats are reserved for the queer community, the community was not able to express an opinion about the appointment of Dokladalova or her predecessors.

The selection process is very complex. It’s rigorous partly because “once they’re in, you can’t turf them,” says the committee’s chair Essam Hameed.

Each year, the city calls for applications to the board, explains Langford. Those interested submit their CVs to the city’s recruitment coordinator, Rob Tremblay. Then a review committee, made up of two city councillors and two members of the committee, shortlists and interviews candidates. That group compiles their recommendations, which goes to the standing committee on corporate services and economic development. That board then recommends the appointments to city council for approval.

It’s not clear what affect the Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee is having on city policies and procedures. Committee members recently expressed frustration with the slow progress on equity issues. A survey to determine baseline statistics on the number of city staff who are minorities has been mired for five years, says Hameed. Meanwhile, city managers have been focused on public image. Their priorities seem to be with staff that come into contact with the public and with advertising campaigns.

Dokladalova defends the decision to make advertising a priority.

“I think they need to get information out; it’s both image and outreach,” she says.

She does not see a conflict of interest between her publishing interests and her seat on the committee.

“Absolutely not,” she says. “It’s a unity of interests.

“Lots of people [on the committee] have businesses.”

When asked if ToBe had ever received advertising from the city, she refuses to discuss it.

“I will discuss my work on the committee; I’m not going to discuss my own,” she says.