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Chair of city diversity committee resigns, calls out city councillor

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The chair of a city council community advisory committee has resigned in protest of the conduct of a city councillor and a fellow member of the committee.

In a post to social media Tuesday, Ryan O’Hagan, the now-former member of the diversity, inclusion and anti-oppression community advisory committee who uses the pronouns they and them, explained their resignation by accusing both Coun. Susan Stevenson and another member of the committee of undermining their work.

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“It feels largely like lip service to have an advisory committee dedicated to (diversity, equity, inclusion) work while simultaneously having a sitting councillor openly state that they do not support funding shelters based on the employment of clients that use that space,” O’Hagan wrote.

O’Hagan, a 33-year-old high school teacher who previously served as chair of the committee, said they’ve written to council numerous times outlining concerns around Stevenson’s comments on funding for SafeSpace London and even submitted an integrity commissioner report about her posting of the faces of homeless people, for which she was later reprimanded by colleagues.

SafeSpace is a London agency that offers help to sex workers, their allies, and other women and non-binary people in crisis. The agency operates a drop-in space and overnight beds.

Stevenson opposes city funding for the centre and recently used social media to question SafeSpace’s approach to sex work and harm reduction.

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However, it was “questionable” social media posts about transgender people and diversity, equity, and inclusion work from an unnamed member of the advisory committee earlier in the week that was the final straw for O’Hagan.

Those posts include a call to revoke Bill C-4, which outlaws conversion therapy, a photo with a quote equating diversity, equity, and inclusion work to “perversity, insanity, and delusion,” and a meme mocking drag queen story time events.

“I just have got to a point where, when on an advisory committee, it’s very difficult to advise people that aren’t interested in listening to the work,” O’Hagan said.

“My views are especially incompatible with somebody who’s actively working to do things like bring back conversion therapy and believe that (equity, diversity, inclusion work) is perversion in schools.”

O’Hagan applied to join the committee shortly after the latest municipal election, and previously has served on a condo board, and provincial and federal political party boards.

While O’Hagan said they would be open to come back to the committee, and continue to be “passionate about community involvement,” it won’t happen unless “something actionable has happened regarding Susan’s actions.”

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Stevenson was recently the target of an open letter from several front-line service agencies for her social media posts that they allege could damage public confidence or keep people from accessing services. She’s pushed back, saying she is not attacking anyone, and is merely voicing the concerns of constituents.

Deputy mayor Shawn Lewis, chair of city council’s strategic priorities and policy committee to which the advisory committee reports, said the allegations raised by O’Hagan about the fellow committee member are “profoundly concerning,” and are something he is investigating.

“I would expect that if these allegations are found to be true, that the individual who has allegedly made these comments online would be removed from the committee,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in alignment with the existence of the committee itself, or with the goals and principles of the City of London.”

All appointments to advisory committees are made by council and can be rescinded at any time by a council vote. Committee appointees are expected to follow the city’s safe and respectful workplace policy, of which Lewis believes the posts would be in violation.

As for O’Hagan’s discontent with Stevenson’s posts, Lewis said he cannot speculate on someone’s motives or how they feel influenced by another person.

According to the committee’s terms of reference, its mandate “is to provide leadership on matters related to diversity, inclusivity, equity and the elimination of discrimination in the City of London.”

jmoulton@postmedia.com

@jackmoulton65

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