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Canada: Burnaby City Council passes motion to add caste as protected category

Apr 27, 2023 11:25 AM IST

The motion was passed by City Council on Monday and the highlights, including the caste decision, posted on its website on Wednesday.

The city of Burnaby in the province of British Columbia has become the first municipality in Canada to include caste as a protected category in its equity policy.

The city of Burnaby in British Columbia, where a caste discrimination motion was passed this week. (City of Burnaby)

The motion was passed by City Council on Monday and the highlights, including the caste decision, posted on its website on Wednesday.

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The relevant post stated, “City Council approved an update the City’s Equity Policy to include “caste” as a protected category.”

The motion was passed unanimously, according to Council member Sav Dhaliwal. It had earlier been passed by the executive committee of the Council on April 5, requesting the Council to include caste as a protected category. “It’s an acknowledgement of a problem that exists and that’s the start of the search for solutions,” Dhaliwal, chair of the executive committee, told the Hindustan Times.

He said the issue had been brought to his notice by the Vancouver-based Chetna Association of Canada. “We are very conscious about our diversity,” Dhaliwal said, adding that the intent was to prevent any conscious or unconscious discrimination against the city’s residents.

“We want to create awareness that any kind of put down or slur because of historical differences is not acceptable,” he said.

In proposing the update to the city’s equity policy, Dhaliwal and fellow councillor Richard T Lee wrote to the Mayor and all Council member that the executive committee had “expressed concern that casteism, a social hierarchy passed down through families that has been outlawed in India since 1948, is still being practiced in Canada and where some South Asian populations exist.”

In a reaction to the move, Chetna’s general secretary Jai Birdi, said, “Adding caste as a protected category sends a strong message that the city values diversity and does not tolerate any kind of harassment or oppression, including the one based on the caste. This also provides a framework for staff training and enhancing awareness as well as equity.”

Chetna’s vice-president Harmesh Chander described this as a “first step” and was hopeful this measure will be emulated in other cities across the country.

Birdi said they were “very pleased” caste had bene added as a protected category, and expressed Chetna’s gratitude towards Burnaby’s Mayor and the entire council for this decision.

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