“If I could replicate her DNA, I’d clone four or five Cecilia Rossanders,” laughed Anthony Baldo, Assistant Warden Interventions at William Head Institution.
Anthony was not joking, though. There are many good reasons why he nominated Cecilia Rossander for—and why she won—the Emerson Douyon Multiculturalism Award. The annual award recognizes a Correctional Service Canada (CSC) employee who has contributed to the promotion of multiculturalism and diversity within CSC.
Cecilia is a Social Program Officer at William Head, a minimum-security institution outside Victoria, British Columbia, that has between 120 and 190 inmates. Her responsibilities include coordinating volunteers, facilitating social, cultural, recreational, and hobby programs, as well as delivering the Community Integration Program for offenders a year before their release.
“This is my dream job,” said Cecilia. “It just motivates me and energizes me to be able to help and to build connections, so when the inmates are released into the communities, they’ll have supports in place in all areas—whether it’s housing, leisure, cultural support, education, or mental health. I really am passionate about it.”
Cecilia works closely with the Ethnocultural Inmate Liaison, who is the voice of up to 25 percent of the offender population. At meetings, they discuss what areas the offenders want to work on and how they want to learn. She then brings in speakers and organizes multicultural events that meet the offenders’ needs, helping their rehabilitation and preparing them for release.
“Cecilia couldn’t be a better person for the face of our ethnocultural portfolio because she is so dynamic, so engaged. She really does embody that inclusivity and diversity—that whole genre of working together,” said Anthony, who manages the ethnocultural portfolio.
Nine years ago the ethnocultural portfolio was working with a budget of $1,000 and used it to bring in a speaker. Anthony said the portfolio’s budget now is $15,000. And they spend every cent. Anthony explained that is because Cecilia realized how important ethnocultural awareness and education was to the offenders. Since starting with this portfolio in 2013, she began actively reaching out and making strong connections with local city council, the Citizen Advisory Committee, the Victoria and Saanich police services, and prominent faith-based cultural leaders.
“That is not an easy thing to do, as Victoria is a very British, white, privileged kind of area. Cecilia was able to cut through that and really engage with our local partners,” said Anthony. “Her connections right across the board with real key stakeholders continue to prop up and support William Head in our work under the ethnocultural portfolio.”
One of the speakers Cecilia invited to William Head was Dr. Lisa Gunderson, who provides anti-racism and equity workshops to organizations. Dr. Gunderson’s work was so valuable to both staff and inmates that CSC invited her to speak at other institutions in the Pacific Region.
Cecilia said that growing up as a Métis person in a small, white community, she learned to stifle that part of herself. However, her daughter has really encouraged her to honour her heritage. Cecilia also noted that Dr. Gunderson and the multicultural events she’s been part of have also inspired her pride in her culture.
Last year, Cecilia organized the first ethnocultural fair at William Head. She brought in people from the Victoria Filipino Canadian Association, BC Black History Awareness Society, and the Greater Victoria Police Diversity Advisory Committee, as well as an African drummer, a bagpiper, and a poet. They also had food from seven cultures. The festival attracted 100 people, including inmates, staff, volunteers, and community partners.
“My AHA moment was when I was helping serve, and l Iooked across and saw inmates, volunteers, and community partners all sitting together, talking and laughing, learning,” said Cecilia. “I had goosebumps. Now, we have momentum. We want to continue those bonds with community.”
Anthony noted how impressive attendance at the fair and other events Cecilia organizes has been with a full third of the offender population attending and participating. He credits Cecilia as having earned great respect from the offenders she works with, and from staff.
For Cecilia, winning the Emerson Douyon Multiculturalism Award is an acknowledgement of her work and passion. She noted how more recent police brutality events have highlighted the prevalence of racism, and emphasized the importance of understanding and increasing our knowledge of racism issues.
“Recognizing ethnocultural diversity is an important aspect of our everyday work at CSC. Being a part of the solution makes me feel really good about my work,” said Cecilia. “My hope is that the work we are doing will continue to inspire us to be kind, supportive, and safe to share our differences so we can come together to build long lasting connections.
For more information about the annual Emerson Douyon Multiculturalism Award.
Do you have ideas or feedback about working with Ethnocultural Offenders? Do you want to learn more? Visit Ethnocultural services.