WHO conference kicks off

Pipers, a children’s choir, and hundreds of volunteers, parents, and community members gathered on Tuesday morning to welcome the world to Fort Frances for the World Health Organization’s 11th International and 5th National Conference on Safe Communities.
“Welcome to the greatest district in Ontario and also the safest,” said Mayor Glenn Witherspoon as he addressed the crowd at the opening ceremonies at the Memorial Sports Centre.
Mayor Witherspoon praised the more than 600 volunteers involved in preparing for the three-day conference, including the 300 who helped turn the Ice for Kids Arena into a myriad of colour.
Doug Anderson, chair of the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition, said community support is how this conference—and the hundreds of safety programs in this area—got off the ground.
“This building did not exist two years ago,” he said. “The people of Fort Frances built the building. That’s community involvement.”
Anderson gushed with pride at seeing the culmination of 11 years of work to make Rainy River District a safer place.
Also proud were the more than 60 members of the children’s choir directed by Diane Maxey, who welcomed delegates with their songs and dances, as well as the Rainy Lake Highlanders Pipe Band, who helped local Sea Cadets parade dozens of flags around the arena.
Gilbert Smith and Brian Perrault also conducted a welcoming pipe ceremony to kick off the conference.
Ontario NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton stressed the importance of learning from the experiences of delegates from 33 countries.
“It’s an opportunity of all of us in the middle of North America to hopefully learn a great deal from you,” he said.
Dr. Leif Svanstrom, head of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Community Safety and Promotion in Sweden, said part of the learning process is to move away from measuring safety by the number of injuries in a community.
“Safety is something much wider than the absence of injury in the same way that health is much more than the absence of disease,” he said.
Local MP Robert Nault, also minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, provincial Labour minister Brad Clark, Jim Leonard, of the Fort Frances Chiefs Advisory Services, Fort McMurray Mayor Faulkner, Paul Kells, founder of the Safe Communities Foundation, and Times publisher Jim Cumming also spoke Tuesday morning.
At a community dinner/dance Tuesday night, Rainy River District will be designated as one of just three “safe communities” in Canada.
The WHO conference continues Wednesday and Thursday at various venues across the district, including Emo, Rainy River, and Atikokan.