The Culturally Competent City

May 4th, 2017

Keynote speech by Uzma Shakir, Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights, City of Toronto, on the occasion of the Jerusalem Foundation’s 50th anniversary event, the “Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City” Conference, hosted by the Jerusalem Intercultural Center on May 17, 2016 in Jerusalem.

In a brilliant, wide-ranging presentation Shakir describes processes taking place in Toronto and throughout Canada regarding multiculturalism and cultural competency, and responses to the country’s vastly different population groups, from the native populations to the Francophone community of Quebec to recent immigrants from south Asia and elsewhere. She first defined the role of cultural competency:

“Cultural competency can be viewed in two ways: it can either be seen as paternalistic and prescriptive – something you do for others who have either limited or unequal power to claim their rights; or transformative and critical – consciously producing spaces that address those power differentials in a meaningful manner and eventually lead to an equitable and just society.

In other words, cultural competency can mean being nice to people while maintaining the status quo of inequality or it can mean empowering marginalized people to take control over their own destiny and to change the conditions in society to produce equitable and just outcomes for all.

However, this requires an honest recognition of who is marginalized and then consciously co-creating the conditions for inclusion. In this sense, Toronto has its challenges just like Jerusalem and provides some compelling lessons.”


Read or download the Uzma Shakir’s whole speech (PDF): Equity @ Work- A Toronto Story: from Competence to Rights.

Watch Shakir’s full speech (video) at the JICC Conference, May 17, 2016.


Source: Jerusalem Intercultural Center website.



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