It’s said that volunteering is a way of building the type of community we want to live in. I hope—I believe—that I’ve contributed to a better Wilmot since I immigrated in 2007.
From 2008, I volunteered as the New Hamburg Board of Trade’s marketing director for eight years, and I designed its logo for free.
I’ve donated my services to numerous service clubs, designing their websites and covering the costs of domain names and hosting. I’ve volunteered at dozens of local events in Wilmot every year, including most of the local Canada Day celebrations since I’ve lived here.
My wife Cheryl and I began organizing the Wilmot Terry Fox Run in 2013, raising more than $262,500 over the last decade. We erected two plaques in local parks to commemorate the Marathon of Hope, and I donated the design for the 2018 official Terry Fox Run t-shirt, with sales that raised $835,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation.
I know that in the 15 years I’ve lived here I’ve contributed to making this a better community. I know that I’ve helped to create some of the reasons people feel proud to live here. I believed that I was being a “good immigrant”.
However, to some people, nothing I’ve done is enough and it never will be.
In June 2020, Wilmot’s former mayor commented on social media that a video containing misinformation about the incidence of crime committed by Black people in the U.S. was “interesting”.
I delegated at a council meeting to express how a community leader’s thoughtless admiration for this demonstrably false commentary made me feel less welcome here.
On Dec. 7, 2020, when Wilmot’s integrity commissioner presented his report about the mayor’s actions, I delegated again.
Reports the next morning by CTV News and The Waterloo Region Record included quotes from my presentation and each outlet described me as a person of colour.
That evening, a stranger emailed a suggestion to me.
“You and your wife are off balance. White lives matter too dude. Remember where your sorry ass came from to accommodate you into our country. What have you given to Canada? Go back to your own country and complain there,” he said.
I reported this to Waterloo Regional Police Service immediately. Within a couple of hours, they were on the author’s doorstep to warn him about his conduct.
After Cheryl, who was a Wilmot councillor at the time, commented publicly about my experience, someone filed a complaint with Wilmot’s integrity commissioner.
The appellant claimed that Cheryl had exaggerated the incident and that the racist comments were simply patriotism. The complaint was thrown out.
In April 2021, numerous posters advertising a White Lives Matter rally appeared in Wilmot and Wellesley. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network later revealed that the person responsible is a New Hamburg resident and their identity was confirmed to me by a Waterloo Region police officer.
Cheryl’s condemnation of the posters was quoted in the media, and, during a council meeting the following week, a Baden resident verbally attacked her for describing the hidden racism in Wilmot as its “underbelly”.
He didn’t offer any opinions about the ugly presence of the intolerance itself, but he was clearly more concerned about the township’s image than the harm being caused to some of its residents.
Also in April 2021, a resident from New Dundee emailed Cheryl, copying in the rest of council and the Township’s former clerk.
“Again and again Nigel and one or two others have asked for an apology from the Mayor. These repeated attacks have kept Wilmot in the public eye for almost a year now, and have generated unwarranted negative publicity for the Township. How could the White Lives Matter flyers be connected to these attacks?”, the email read.
The writer implied that I bear some responsibility for encouraging the actions of a local white supremacist.
The resident asked the clerk to include their email in the agenda for that evening’s council meeting, which is how I became aware of it. As soon as I read it, I wrote to complain that the township had published a resident’s personal attack on me, using the municipality as their soapbox.
The clerk, one of the most senior members of municipal staff, said the resident had the right to make a submission as long as it was not considered hate speech or using foul language.
“People who make submissions to Council are free to say whatever they like provided they are not using foul language or making comments that would be considered hate speech or discriminatory,” the staff member said.
“If you wish to address the falsehood of the information, you may do so in your presentation and/or address this directly with [them],” they said.
After I complained again, the letter was removed from the Township’s website by the acting CAO, but it had already been made available to the public. I subsequently filed an HR complaint against the clerk, which was upheld.
One week later, on May 6, 2021, I received a letter at my home address. It contained personal details about my day-to-day activities in the community, as well as mocking, derogatory comments about my ancestry. The writer also claimed that I was spreading misinformation about racism in Wilmot.
This, too, was reported to the police, but the anonymous writer has not been identified.
On Oct. 26, 2022, I became aware of a Foxboro Green resident’s blog post that focussed on me, with my name in the title. It included the following introduction.
“Nigel self-identifies as Sino-African. I expect that reflects an appropriate degree of pride in his being of Chinese-African ancestry. It is notable to some, perhaps to wonder, ‘If he is identifying as a hyphenated person, why is the word Canadian not included? If he has a strong aversion to racist labels or behaviours, why does he not just refer to himself as a Canadian?’,” they wrote.
The author is a columnist with The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette, a newspaper that I also contributed to.
I wrote to the paper’s publisher to inform him I would not be submitting any more articles because I refused to share page space with a bigot.
I didn’t issue an ultimatum, nor did I request any kind of action. Using an intellectually lazy expression, I wasn’t trying to “cancel” the writer. I simply pointed out that I would be leaving the paper and I explained why.
It was 45 days before I received a reply, but it didn’t refer to the racist blog post.
I can think of only three reasons why someone might not respond to evidence of bigotry: they don’t understand it, they don’t care about it or they agree with it.
These aforementioned incidents were initiated by just a handful of people, but many more have offered me their support and condemned the offenders.
I appreciate the uplifting comments, but not the suggestions that I should ignore the attacks, as if that is easy or even wise. Remaining silent about racism feeds the myth that it doesn’t exist in Wilmot.
After becoming the target on numerous occasions, I don’t have the luxury of living in that fantasy.
While it’s only a small number who have directed their hatred at Cheryl and me, I nevertheless feel overwhelmed by the negative behaviour I’ve experienced.
A friend who’s faced their own dilemma about balancing “good” people with the “bad” shared this observation with me: it’s not an equation.
“It’s not a pros and cons list,” they said.
“There has to be a feeling of comfort and security and home.”
The current absence of those feelings isn’t only due to the bullies who chose to target me; it’s also because of the unknown.
In February 2022, during the disturbances in Ottawa, MP Greg Fergus, who is Black, gave a speech in the House of Commons after seeing Confederate flags being carried in the city.
“The Confederate flag is a symbol for slavery. Intellectually, I know that very, very few people today would support what the Confederate flag represented. However, in my heart I was left wondering: Who else supports this flag? Without real-time denunciations, how am I to know? That’s what scares me,” he said.
How am I to know who agrees with the hate and contempt that are being shared openly by some Wilmot residents?
If these comments are being made in public, how am I to know what’s being considered privately? That’s what scares me.
The bullying is becoming more brazen, its practitioners more emboldened. This has taken its toll on me, and led me to sever some of my ties to the community I once loved.
Consequently, I will no longer be contributing to the local events I’d previously supported as a volunteer or led as an organizer.
Having learned of my experiences over the past two years, I hope you can understand why.