AHS pauses part­ner­ship with Big White Wall

On­line men­tal health ser­vice plan­ning to re­brand after com­plaints about name

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - JEFF LABINE With files from Ash­ley Joannou and Tyler Dawson jlabine@postmedia.com On Twit­ter.com: @jef­flabine

ED­MON­TON Al­berta Health Ser­vices (AHS) is paus­ing its re­cently formed part­ner­ship with U.k.based Big White Wall fol­low­ing com­plaints about the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s name.

On Satur­day, the prov­ince an­nounced the on­line men­tal health ser­vice would be get­ting $1 mil­lion un­der a $53-mil­lion plan an­nounced in April to help Al­ber­tans ac­cess sup­port dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic. Big White Wall al­lows any­one 16 or older with an Al­berta postal code to post anony­mously on its mes­sage boards for free. Along with get­ting sup­port from others who might be go­ing through sim­i­lar is­sues, the boards are con­stantly mon­i­tored by reg­is­tered pro­fes­sion­als in­clud­ing social work­ers and psy­chol­o­gists.

On Tues­day, AHS said via Twit­ter the part­ner­ship had been put on hold.

“We heard loud and clear the strong re­ac­tion to the name of this men­tal health ini­tia­tive,” AHS tweeted. “The com­pany has com­mit­ted to a full re­brand that will launch this sum­mer. At that time, the ser­vice will be avail­able to Al­ber­tans who need it. (Any­one who has al­ready signed up can con­tinue to ac­cess the pro­gram.)”

While AHS would not of­fer de­tails on the com­plaints, some peo­ple have de­nounced the name on social me­dia, say­ing it de­picts the sys­temic racism and bar­ri­ers vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties face.

Khurram Ja­hangir, a physi­cian in Toronto who has worked in Al­berta, tweeted about the name Wed­nes­day, say­ing there are many rea­sons why it is prob­lem­atic for peo­ple of colour like him­self.

“It’s not the word ‘white,’ it’s the com­bi­na­tion of the words ... that comes across as wrong,” said Ja­hangir in an in­ter­view with Postmedia. “It does re­mind you of, Big White Wall, it re­minds you of the struc­tural racism that ex­ists.”

Cal­gary res­i­dent Heather Laird said she tweeted at AHS on Mon­day about her con­cerns with the name.

“It doesn’t scream men­tal-health well­ness or progress on that jour­ney,” she said. “(The name) just sounds like a re­stric­tive wall and then the term ‘white’ be­ing in there is just tone-deaf right now. “

Big White Wall gen­eral man­ager Matthew Mcevoy said in a phone in­ter­view on Wed­nes­day the com­pany, which has been op­er­at­ing in the United King­dom for 13 years, has been work­ing to re­name it­self since late 2019. He said AHS was made aware of the is­sue with the name prior to the part­ner­ship.

“We ac­knowl­edged that our name could be con­strued dif­fer­ently than it was in­tended and was hav­ing a dif­fer­ent im­pact than we ever would have in­tended,” he said. “One of the things that have been on­go­ing for us over the last six months or so was a plan to launch into a re­brand­ing ef­fort for Big White Wall as an or­ga­ni­za­tion. (We) want to choose a name that is re­ally much more outwardly re­flec­tive of our value of in­clu­siv­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity.”

Mcevoy said he re­grets that peo­ple have been of­fended by the name

It does re­mind you of, Big White Wall, it re­minds you of the struc­tural racism that ex­ists.

and the com­pany is con­sult­ing with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and eth­nic­i­ties on a new one.

Big White Wall’s name was in­spired by dis­placed com­mu­nity mem­bers in Lon­don, U.K., writ­ing their thoughts and feel­ings on the walls of their homes be­fore they were de­mol­ished and re­built, says the com­pany’s web­site.

Mcevoy said “Big” is meant to rec­og­nize the in­fi­nite na­ture of hu­man emo­tion, “White” is meant to re­flect a blank can­vas for com­mu­nity mem­bers to ex­press them­selves and “Wall” rep­re­sents shel­ter and sup­port as well as bar­ri­ers for peo­ple to over­come.

Kas­san­dra Kitz, spokes­woman for as­so­ci­ate min­is­ter of men­tal health and ad­dic­tion Ja­son Luan, said in an email that men­tal health and ad­dic­tion af­fects Al­ber­tans of all races, eth­nic­i­ties, and creeds.

“We find ef­forts by a small num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als on­line to tar this valu­able men­tal health part­ner as frankly bizarre,” she said.

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