Safe Harbours, all across New West

New Westminster City Hall and other civic facilities like Queen
New Westminster City Hall and other civic facilities like Queen's Park Arena and the Queensborough Community Centre are now part of the Safe Harbour program which ensures a welcoming and inclusive environment for all visitors. Karen Pollard, the city's manager of human resources, and John Stark, the social planner, are responsible for its implementation.

The irony that he was able to affix a Safe Harbour decal on the front doors of New West’s city hall the same week the Rainbow Flag flew from the flagpole in front isn’t lost on John Stark.

The flag has long been a symbol of acceptance and tolerance for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community.

The Safe Harbour decal means city facilities are open to all, regardless of ethnicity, faith, language, sexual orientation or abilities.

“It’s about being inclusive,” said Stark, New Westminster’s director of social planning.

To qualify to be a Safe Harbour, a national program encouraging respect for all, more than 200 city employees received special training.

Staff learned to understand stereotypes and how to bridge cultural and language barriers.

The two-hour sessions included role playing, enacting scenarios and crafting appropriate responses.

“It gives them an understanding of how not to draw conclusions and to be respectful,” said Stark.

City facilities whose staff participated in the workshops now display the Safe Harbour decal.

They include city hall, Queensborough and Centennial community centres, Canada Games Pool, Queen’s Park arena and arenex, Moody Park arena, Century House and the Youth Centre.

The 15 workshops were taught in November and December by Karen Pollard, the city’s manager of human resources.

Support was also provided by agencies such as Burnaby Family Life and Burnaby Neighbourhood House.

It was a big commitment, but an important one, said Pollard.

“Our employees really reflect our community,” she said. “There should be an expectation that staff will take the time to listen to anyone who visits.”

To facilitate that, the city has also created a “language bank” to draw from the background and skills of its employees.

If a visitor to a civic facility can only communicate in sign language, for instance, an employee can call up the language bank to find an employee who might be able to translate.

The city has dozens of languages in the bank, said Pollard, from Arabic to Swahili to Tagalog.

Stark said the Safe Harbour program can break down barriers for people who may not know how civic institutions function. As staff turn over and the needs of the community change, training will be ongoing.

“Human rights is a constant commitment,” said Stark.


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