Richard Banville knows a little bit about what it’s like to be a visible minority.
The new executive director of the Central Alberta Diversity Association stuck out like a sore thumb the year he spent in Japan.
“You walk down the street and people stare at you, little kids say things,” Banville said Thursday, on the second day of the job. “It gave me a perspective, that for a white guy in this culture, you don’t necessarily have.”
Banville — who, besides being fluent in English and French, also speaks Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish — takes the reins during a time of change at CADA, which has been around since 1998.
Recent shortfalls in government grant money means the group has to look towards corporate sponsorships, individual donations and fundraising activities to stay operating, an initiative Banville plans to spearhead.
He also wants to “professionalize” the association, start making more contact with community groups and address the fact that, as he sees it, not many people know CADA exists, Banville said.
“Red Deer, rightly or wrongly, being in Central Alberta, has a reputation of homogeneity . . . But what we’re seeing is more and more we have diversity in our community and we have to accept this as a fact, and go beyond that as merely tolerance to really embracing this reality that we’re living,” said Banville. “It’s not something to be afraid of.”
CADA is pursuing the idea of having an educational outreach program whereby they can go out to different organizations and companies to train particular staff members to be diversity co-ordinators who can take on employee spats.
“Say we’re having a certain problem on the shop floor here, there’s a lack of tolerance, there’s nasty remarks or cruel nicknames,” he said. “The diversity co-ordinator can work within the business to resolve that.”
Banville is from Quebec, but came to Alberta and spent a decade teaching French to Parks Canada employees in Jasper before moving to Red Deer several years ago. His knack for languages comes from travels and from a degree in East Asian studies, and his family still regularly takes in exchange students from around the world.
“It’s enriching. It’s been good for our kids to be exposed to people from different cultures,” he said. “And I think it would be good for everybody.”
The previous executive director, Leslie Ann Crawford, resigned in January.