On July 1, 2018, Canadians celebrated the country’s 151st birthday, a day which commemorates the beginning of the union of our provinces and territories. In 1867, at the time of Confederation, Canada simply consisted of 4 provinces where the range of ethnic and cultural identities consisted of the Indigenous people of Canada, as well as the French and British populations. Fast forward to 2018, Canada has expanded to 10 provinces, 3 territories, and is hailed as one of the most socially diverse societies in the world. For Canadians, multiculturalism and respect for diversity in religion, language, and culture are not only national values, but a collective identity. Inspired by Canada Day and our national fabric of multiculturalism and inclusion, the New Westminster Police Department Victim Assistance Unit (NWVAU) asked their volunteers to share some thoughts, feelings and experiences regarding diversity, both in their personal lives, and in their roles as crisis responders. We wondered, what kind of diverse qualities do the members of our team possess? And, how do these different qualities help to assist people in the aftermath of crime or trauma?
Ashely points to being nonjudgmental and having a certain amount of humility as the keys to her success as a NWVAU volunteer. She explains, “I have an open mind to different religions, cultures, and their sexual orientation. By taking a chance to get to know an individual, you may find some similarities. By having an open mind it allows me to have diverse friends and to not judge people. This is helpful in assisting victims because no matter what, I will be there to assist them and not give them an impression of judgement. This also allows the victim to feel comfortable with me and to open up. [When] a victim feels comfortable, they know we are here for them no matter what trauma or tragedy they have gone through.”
Many of NWVAU’s volunteers have lived in different countries prior to residing in Canada and are multilingual. Having people with multilingual skills and lived experiences in other cultures is priceless in a city as ethnically varied as New Westminster. For VAU volunteer and on-call caseworker Katrin, having Armenian roots and attending school in both Iran and India has equipped her with the knowledge of multiple languages, and a diverse understanding of many different cultural practices and traditions. The inability to communicate in someone’s primary language may present barriers to assistance, and a common language can be the tie that connects a client to VAU services. Fluent in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi, VAU volunteer Baljinder sees a shared language as something that can greatly help with lowering anxiety of the unknown for an individual during a time of crisis. She explains, “It allows you to empathize with the same community member because you know the culture and the rituals. I have a passion to help others. My culture and my religion have taught me to be active in the community, and to help the people that need . . . help.”
The benefits of working alongside others with such significant skills and life experience are endless. Not only are the NWVAU volunteers able to build on their existing foundations of cultural knowledge, but they can learn from one another and take immense pride in knowing that the NWVAU team is as diverse as the community being served.