Editorial – Not-in-my-backyard bigotry has no place in society, especially against former foster children

Mac Olsen

Residents in the Edmonton area Municipality of Sturgeon County have bluntly made their case that a special camp for former foster children should not be allowed to open, saying they fear for their safety if it does.

This fear-mongering and the not-in-my-backyard bigotry should be dispelled and its advocates shamed for being closed-minded.

In an Edmonton Journal story on May 23, Pastors John-Mark Gal and Pat O’Connor detail their plan to open a summer camp on the banks of the Sturgeon River, near Fort Saskatchewan.

The 10-day theatrical production program would encompass costume making, set building, performance and all other aspects of theatre production. It is designed for young adults 18 to 24 who have “aged out” of foster care and would benefit from the skills and spirit of cooperation they would learn through the program.

As Gal says in the story, “They need help. They need a leg up. They’ve been beaten down. We’re not going to give them false hope. We’re going to give them the tools they need to get on with life.”

A video of their plans is also found on the Edmonton Journal website.

But Gal and O’Connor’s plans are vehemently opposed by some residents, who have demanded that it not be allowed to open at all. One resident, D.J. Andrews, made his concerns very clear:

“I’m worried about the security of my family, the safety of my family,” said Andrews. “My house backs right onto the camp. There’s not even a fence between us. I don’t want anyone stealing my truck and I don’t want anyone breaking into my home. I have three daughters. I don’t want issues.”

If John-Mark Gal and Pat O’Connor were taking in young people who have a history of violence and at risk to re-offend, Andrews’ position might have some merit.

But Andrews’ position is based on unsubstantiated claims and stereotypes. He and the others who oppose this camp are perpetuating a form of bigotry against a group of people who are already marginalized.

Why does this not-in-my-backyard bigotry exist? Why do some in society, who have more affluence and social standing, insist on preventing former foster children from getting a good start that will help put them on the right path in life?

Moreover, we live in a society that should not allow such vilification and demonizing of any group or individuals. It is for us to stand up to such malevolence and make them understand that their conduct is not acceptable.

What Gal and O’Connor are offering to these former foster children is the opportunity to improve their social and interpersonal skills. If you watch the video, they make a concise and compelling case for what they plan to do

And they are motivated by a sense of compassion and their religious faith. There’s nothing disingenuous or self-serving about their plans for the camp, or the help they want to provide to former foster children.

We should support and praise Pastors John-Mark Gal and Pat O’Connor for trying to improve the lives of this group of young adults who are marginalized or may become so, through no fault of their own. And that too, in its own way, contributes to a better society.

End the not-in-my-backyard bigotry against former foster children. It has no place in society.


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