TIMMINS, Ont. — Jean Jacques Fouda was walking down the street with his friends, when he noticed a few men pointing a cell-phone camera in their direction. The men were taking their picture without asking for consent.
Fouda, 27, wondered if in this small northern Ontario community, the men had never seen a group of black men before.
The second-year international student moved from Cameroon to pursue a bachelor’s degree in management at l’Université de Hearst in Timmins. This isn’t the first time he had experienced strange behaviour from other residents, he said.
“You cannot see directly the discrimination,” Fouda said. “The discrimination is very [hidden]. When you walk away in the road, sometimes I’m with my friends [and] you can see some people, they’re in their car, and they are [looking] at you very weird.”
Occurrences like these inspired Fouda to take action within his community.
The Timmins Economic Development Corporation (TEDC) announced a new project funded by the federal government as part of their Anti-racism Action Program.
The Timmins Diversity Awareness project will work to spread knowledge and awareness of the diverse cultures and residents that live within the community.
Timmins’ population is just more than 41,000. Immigrants make up about 990, and Indigenous residents make up just more than 3,400, according to the 2016 Canadian census.
Although racism and discrimination may never be completely eradicated, reducing instances of discrimination and racism is the overall goal of the project, said Madison Mizzau, the Community Development Consultant at TEDC.
“When we applied for this funding, it was because we are currently facilitating the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot,” she said. “Dealing with immigration, we know that there are barriers that newcomers face in getting […] employment or in participating fully in the community here.”
Both Mizzau and Fouda will work with other members of this project to develop a community-wide awareness campaign, and a workplace inclusion charter.
The awareness campaign will be on-going for six to eight months and will recruit members from Timmins’ Indigenous communities, international students, and other newcomers.
The campaign will work to feature these recruits in a series of videos and posters that will be visible throughout the community to help educate residents of the various cultures and diversity that exist among their city, Mizzau said.
The workplace inclusion charter will focus on encouraging local businesses to follow a series of commitments that are soon to be determined, he said. These commitments will help local workplaces create a more inclusive environment for immigrants and racially diverse employees, Mizzau said.
She said it would be good to see people be more open to learning about other cultures. Mizzau said it’s important for newcomers and Indigenous people to know the community is welcoming and trying to change to eliminate discrimination.