Tam Goossen's article

Tam Goossen, former president of Urban Alliance on Race Relations

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In Loving Memory of Sri by Tam Goossen, former president of Urban Alliance on Race Relations

I had heard about Sri when I joined the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) around 1995.  At the time I was a Public School Trustee at the former Toronto Board of Education where I chaired the Race Relations committee. By then Sri had received the UARR Race Relations Award with Joy Kogawa, a well known Japanese Canadian author and activist in 1994. 

I first met Sri around 1999 when he was asked to be acting Executive Director of the UARR after its long time Executive Director, Anthoni Shelton left. I got to work with Sri more closely later when we worked together on the preparation of one of the most significant events in the history of the UARR, a conference called Saving Lives: Alternatives to the Use of Lethal Force by Police held from June 23-24, 2000.   (The Conference report, most UARR newsletters including two when Sri was President, earlier research reports and other UARR publication can be found in the UARR website under Archive http://www.urbanalliance.ca.)

I was President of UARR from 2000 to 2001 and Sri became President from 2006 to 2008. Until we both left UARR in the late 2010s, we together with Dharma (Audi Dharmalingam, a founding member and former president of UARR) worked very closely together with younger members on the board and on staff to ‘keep the lights on’ at UARR. 

The mandate of the UARR, as laid out in 1975 when it was formed, was to work to maintain stable, peaceful and harmonious relationships among the various racial and ethnic groups within the Greater Toronto community. Its Board of Directors was to be an alliance of ordinary citizens who would reflect the diversity of modern society in Toronto and Canada at large.  

Over the years the UARR board has made changes to this mandate to reflect the changing social conditions and demographics of Toronto and Canada. In order to carry out our work effectively we have adopted a coalition building approach and have made contacts and worked with many established and newly emergent racial/religious community-based groups and the Labour movement as well as other non-government advocacy groups. 

For example, in order to ensure wide community support for the Conference in 2000, Dharma, Sri and I reached out, often by making personal visits, to many community groups explaining what we’d like to achieve through the Conference and urging their participation. Our efforts resulted in the coming together of the Black Action Defence Committee, the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, the Queen St Patient Council and many others in joining our Conference steering committees and having their members attending the Conference.

According to Professor Toni Williams, who spoke about community perception of race as a factor in police shootings from 1978 to 1999, the outcome of police use of force on racial minorities during those years was captured in a chart published in the Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System 1995.  In brief, a total of 26 mostly male racialized Canadians had died as a result of police shootings in the Toronto area. Many of us in the community believed that we had collectively failed to encourage examination and adoption of new technologies and alternative police procedures to restrain aggressive or mentally disturbed persons in confrontational situations. 

The UARR had participated in the Inquest into the death of Lester Donaldson in 1992 (before neither Sri nor I joined UARR).  Since then, we had retained a keen interest in police shootings. That was the key motivation behind the conference, which took nearly 2 years of organizing work by both UARR and other community members, including our legal counsel Julian Falconer. Mr. Falconer, who had made the conference proposal to the UARR board in Sept 1997, became one of the co-chairs of the conference with me and Keith Welch from the Queen Street Patients Council. 

As well, one of the key objectives of the Conference was to create a safe environment, to encourage a diversity of opinions and promote constructive dialogue to arrive at solutions. We invited police participation and held meetings with key police representatives, which led to both the Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board and the Police Chief taking part in the Conference. It was an historic occasion where the community and police sat down at the same table to create a dialogue where none had previously existed. 

Looking back, since 1975 when Wilson Head and other founding members began their multi-pronged approach to increase public awareness and foreground the urgent need to improve race relations after a number of racist incidents in Toronto, they also lent their support to other community groups who challenged racist portrayals of their specific communities. When the Chinese Canadian community challenged a CTV W-5 program Campus Giveaway in 1979 Wilson Head spoke at their press conference to back them up.  When Japanese Canadians started the redress campaign demanding a government apology and compensation for the suffering endured by their families during the internment camps in WWII, the UARR added their strong voice of support. 

All of us who followed in the founding members’ footsteps tried our utmost to sustain that legacy as best we could. Most of our work was supported by an excellent group of volunteers from all cultural, racial and religious backgrounds as well as a small but hardworking paid staff. For current state of the UARR and its activities, please consult its website http://www.urbanalliance.ca.

Tam Goossen and Howard Hampton honoring Sri-Guggan with JS Woodsworth Award
Tam Goossen and Howard Hampton honoring Sri-Guggan with JS Woodsworth Award
Audi Dharmalingam with Sri-Guggan at JS Woodsworth Award event
Audi Dharmalingam with Sri-Guggan at JS Woodsworth Award event

Tam Goossen and Howard Hampton honoring Sri-Guggan with JS Woodsworth Award

Audi Dharmalingam with Sri-Guggan at JS Woodsworth Award event