Systemic Racism in Alberta

“This is hard to watch but it’s important. We cannot ignore that systemic racism persists in Alberta and across the world.” – Rachel Notley commenting on the video of the RCMP taking down Fort Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam

We were grappling with the harsh reality of our own racism, past and present, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, when the video of the Wood Buffalo RCMP taking down Chief Allan Adam and manhandling his wife came to light.

Chief Adam was beaten and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer after being stopped for an expired licence plate. He spent the night in jail.  

The RCMP reviewed the video and determined “the member’s actions were reasonable.”  

Asked whether systemic racism existed in the force both the RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Alberta’s RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, said it did not. They later reversed their positions.

It’s painfully obvious that systemic and institutional racism and racial discrimination exist in Canada and we must do much more to ensure equity for black, indigenous and people of colour in policing, housing, healthcare, education and the justice system.    

Structural change

We need what Anthony Morgan, a racial justice lawyer and manager of Confronting Anti-Black Racism, describes as structural change.

Our governments must identify and implement structural changes because, as NDP MLA David Sheperd put it, “black, brown, and indigenous Canadians are tired of experiencing…the same cycle of violence, speaking out, hearing empty promises, and watching us take short, fleeting glances at the truth before covering it back up again.”*

Last year the federal government developed an anti-racism strategy and created an Anti-Racism Secretariat to lead a “whole of government” approach to addressing racism and racial discrimination. It’s a start.

Unfortunately, the Alberta government is going nowhere. This became painfully obvious in the government’s response to the anti-racism protests and the brutal arrest of Chief Allan Adam.  

Mr Kenney

Government responds  

In a recent interview Mr Kenney was asked to provide specifics of what role his government will play in addressing systemic racism in Alberta.

He had none. He did, however, remind everyone of the perils of attending rallies during the covid-19 crisis.

To be fair Kenney acknowledged racism as a legitimate issue; but veered away from placing any responsibility or accountability on the government to redress it. Apparently, racism is society’s problem and it’s up to society to “redouble” its efforts to address it.  

This is peculiar given his next statement in which he proudly described his efforts as Harper’s multiculturalism minister in redressing racist policies like the Chinese head tax and exclusion act. (He failed to mention that 10% of the $5 million set aside to redress these polices was clawed back by his government, or that in 2011 as federal immigration minister he banned face coverings at citizenship ceremonies, or that in 2015 he supported Harper’s niqab ban and barbaric cultural practices tip line.)

A couple of days after Kenney’s nothingburger press conference, Justice Minister Schweitzer issued a press release saying the government was responding to Albertans’ outrage over “an appalling act of police brutality” in the US (actually there’s been more than one appalling act of brutality and the US and Canada) by expediting the modernization of the Police Act in consultation with police chiefs, First Nations, minority community leaders and other stakeholders, and calling on the federal public safety minister to review the legislation and regs governing the RCMP.

Given how skimpy this announcement was, the NDP Opposition used Question Period to seek clarity on the specifics of what the Kenney government would do to address systemic and institutional racism in Alberta.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Kenney doesn’t want to talk about it. In the last week he did not respond to a single question on the topic, deferring instead to his justice minister. This is curious given Kenney’s habit of leaping to his feet to answer Opposition questions directed to his cabinet ministers. Surely systemic discrimination in policing, a matter that should be near and dear to the heart of the law and order premier, is as important as healthcare and education.
  • The Indigenous Relations minister doesn’t want to talk about it either. He too deferred to the justice minister.  
  • The Justice Minister’s stock answer to every question is a variant on…wait for it…we’re modernizing the Police Act in consultation with First Nations, minority community leaders and other stakeholders and have asked the federal public safety minister to review the laws and regs governing the RCMP.  

We also learned:

  • Schweitzer is “open to having a complete dialogue around the future of policing” which sounded promising until he added he’s increased funding for more police officers, this preempts any dialogue on defunding which by definition would shift funding from policing to mental health and drug addiction services, not increase it.
  • The government will not create an independent panel, with members from the anti-racism advisory council, indigenous leadership and Black Lives Matter, to hold public hearings into systemic racism. Cough. Is this not as worthy an issue as getting a “fair deal” for Alberta and stopping anti-Alberta energy activists?  
  • The government cut funding for anti-racism grants and the human rights education and multiculturalism fund that has supported the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee since 2002.
  • The government failed to seek guidance from its own resource, the Anti-Racism Advisory Council, with respect to the problem of systemic racism.  
  • The justice minister (who’s been at it for a year) has not yet pushed the Feds for additional funding to support hiring more indigenous police officers despite the fact that placing indigenous officers in indigenous communities is one of the best ways to build trust.   

There was one small win though. The Education Minister committed to completing the work the NDP government had started in integrating black history into the school curriculum. Let’s hope she means it.  

Where does this leave us?

What we learned this past week is that the Alberta government can’t be bothered to talk the talk let alone walk the walk.

So it’s up to us. We must learn our history, move past denial, listen and become an ally, put pressure on the power brokers and decision makers including our MLAs, to take meaningful action to eliminate systemic discrimination and, when the time comes as it inevitably will, show up at the demonstrations to ensure black, brown and Indigenous Canadians do not stand alone.

*Alberta Hansard, June 8, 2020, p 1137

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27 Responses to Systemic Racism in Alberta

  1. ed henderson says:

    Here I am,,standing alone, nobody cares. I know many many people, many non caucasians as well, who say they care, say they like me, say they understand me etc etc…but how can I be assured they don’t systemically discriminate me? I just re-read my great Grandmothers Diary where she describes travelling through Ohio on foot helping my great grandfather drag the two wood wheeled carts with their children and all their possessions along the muddy track trying to get to Utah as caucasian Ohioans fired shots at them. Was that systemic discrimination??? Couldn’t be, my Great Grandparents were caucasians.

  2. ed henderson says:

    OOOPPS,,Should be Great Great grandmothers Diary.

    • Ed, I don’t know the context of your story but if you look at the stats you’ll see black, brown and indigenous people are underrepresented in the public and private sectors, but overrepresented in the prison system and run a higher risk of being killed by the police. That’s systemic racism.

  3. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. If people don’t think there is racism in Alberta, and in Canada, they are very mistaken. Canada does not have a clean history. Neither does Alberta.The First Nations and the Metis were treated shamefully. The Chinese were mistreated when they helped build the railway. Many perished. The Ukrainians were interned in labor camps. The Japanese were interned in camps, during World War 2. Jews fleeing Europe, during World War 2, were denied entry into Canada. In Alberta, Social Credit premiers, William Aberhart and Ernest Manning, were anti Semites. Even within the last few decades, we have had bad incidents with people like Jim Keegstra. Recently, in Innisfail, when a young woman wanted to have an anti racist, Black Lives Matter March, she was met with angry backlash, by the community, including death threats by nearby farmer’s and ranchers, who were showing their racism. Wexit founder, Peter Downing also seemed to speak out against the march. In North America, and in Canada, racism is still a problem. Certain groups of people are left behind, because of systematic racism, and from problems due to generational mistreatment. On social media sites, like YouTube, there is racist comments posted on things, like news sites. The political world in Alberta still hasn’t effectively dealt with racism. We had the Wildrose, who never properly addressed how they would deal with racism, and they had candidates like Ron Leech and Bill Jarvis. Then, we have the UCP. Jason Kenney never dealt with their own party members, like Grant Hunter, after the inappropriate things he said. The police have to deal with this issue themselves. We have seen this with incidents like Randy Fryingpan, in Alberta, George Floyd, in America, and other instances in Canada, and in North America. We can’t say that all police officers are bad, but we have do effectively deal with the ones who aren’t good, so that trust can be regained. It’s getting ugly in America right now. I also don’t condone the rioting and the looting. There are songs come to mind, when I see what’s going on. You Can All Join In, by Dave Mason, who wrote the song when he rejoined Traffic, a group that Steve Winwood was also in. Part of the lyrics go. Black, white stop the fight. Does one of these colours ever bother you? The song was recorded in 1968, but makes sense today. Another song, is Black Day In July, by Gordon Lightfoot, from around the same time period. Part of the lyrics go. Why can’t we all be brothers? Why can’t we live in peace? But the hands of the have nots keep falling out of reach. I think we are not learning from our history, and sadly we are repeating it.

    • CallmeHal2000 says:

      This is by design, Dwayne. Cause a race war, divide and conquer. June 19 is days away. What happens then determines what hapoens here.

      • CallmeHal, yes, so much of what Trump does is mirrored here, albeit a bit more subtly. We certainly remember Harper praising “old stock Canadians” and Kellie Leitch doing such a good job promoting her “Canadian values” message in the last Conservative leadership race that she was endorsed by the white supremacists.
        I think Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay are trying to soft peddle the Trumpisms this time around but I don’t know how long that will last.
        And we can’t forget the CPC let Derek Sloan stay in the race, that probably tells you all you need to know about CPC values.

      • Dwayne says:

        CallmeHal2000: Regardless of what happens in America, which is bad, there are still bad things here. As an example, federal NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh has many racist comments aimed at him. This is especially apparent on news sites. It’s bad.

    • Excellent comments Dwayne. You provided a good list of examples of racism which reminded me that many Canadians really don’t know their history. The Canadian Museum of HIstory has an excellent blurb on the slavery in the Upper and Lower Canada. It started in 1629 and was officially abolished by the British Empire in 1833. Here’s the link:
      But systemic racism and discrimination continue as you rightly point out in your modern day examples.

      • Dwayne says:

        I have friends who are black. They are hard working people. They have encountered racism, themselves. It’s not a good situation.

      • Dwayne says:

        Susan: Unfortunately, there are Canadians who think systematic racism doesn’t exist in Canada. News site comment sections show that a lot.

  4. Brent McFadyen says:

    The police messed with the wrong chief. Chief Allan has a friend in a high place in Ottawa who has the ear of the Prime Minister. This is not going away this time.

  5. CallmeHal2000 says:

    Systemic racism? Look at who has been eliminated from the committee selecting provincial court judges. Look at how judges will be selected now.

    All of these things that fly under the radar of most people start to add up to a bigger picture.

    • CallmeHal, thank you for bringing this to our attention. As you point out, many of these changes fly under the radar, but when you add them up a pattern emerges. The pattern I’m seeing is one where Kenney surgically removes the nonpartisan foundation of our institutions and replaces it with his own brand of conservatism which, like Harper’s conservatism, is not conservatism at all but some kind of warped IDU ideology.

  6. lindamcfarlane says:

    great thanks

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  7. Paul Pearlman says:

    I believe the last federal election the Siamese twins Kenney and Harper participated in part of the platform was Canadian Values a under the table racist gaslight if there ever was one so why would we expect anything different from the present day UCP.One more time Kenney skating to where there is no puck more damage as you report every week!!!

    • Good point Paul. It’s interesting how the man who “holds the pen” manages to be missing in action whenever tough questions about his policies (or lack thereof) come up in the Legislature. He’s not much better in press conferences. The journalist Graham Thompson said reporters are only allowed one question, no follow ups.
      Kenney likes to present himself as a tough guy but when he’s faced with tough questions he hides.

  8. James Mather says:

    One thing I haven’t seen covered-Chief Adam said in the video he was tired of being harrassed by the RCMP. Anyone know anything about previous Chief/RCMP encounters?

    • Sorry James, I don’t know have anything specific about this. When I heard Chief Adam’s comment I assumed it was a general comment about the RCMP harassing him and other members of his community.
      In an recent Globe article the criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein said the majority of the time when the police stop a citizen they’re not criminally charged, just hassled. but members of the Indigenous and Black communities are disproportionately stopped and interfered with by the police and while these harassing experiences happen in the shadows they’re “lodged in the collective and individual psyche” so BIPOC knew they can’t drive, walk or live without the fear of harassment or interference.

  9. Keith McClary says:

    In the US there is concern that minorities are more impacted by Covid-19. We don’t have that in Canada/Alberta – because we don’t keep statistics, AFAIK. Most of the meat plant workers who got sick or died after Kenney declared them safe were minorities.

    From the UCP War Room:
    “Calgary ‘Indigeneer’ shaping the future of Canadian Energy”

    “Deanna Burgart is somewhat of an anomaly: She’s an Indigenous woman, a pipeline expert, an engineer and an educator who is passionate about balancing respect for Mother Earth with sustainable energy practices.” Why exactly does the UCP think she an “anomaly”? Alberta has 38,693 engineers and 6.5% Indigenous population, so statistically you would expect 1257 Indigenous women engineers, if Alberta was not racist and sexist. How many minority engineers (or doctors, lawyers) do we actually have? I can’t find any statistics for Alberta or Canada.

  10. ronmac says:

    Maybe it’s time to hit the pause button on the racism debate and give ourselves a pat on the back. Despite what we are being told maybe we are not as racist as we think. Canada continues on its pace of becoming a multicultural society. Recently a major political party elected a minority Sikh.

    In the United States, supposedly a racist country, voters elected a black man as President in 2008. This would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

    • CallmeHal2000 says:

      Exceptions are not the rule. It’s hardly time to pat ourselves on the back when we see disproportionate numbers of First Nations people in jails, and police three troubling police shootings.

      The Muslim mayor of Calgary is a Harvard graduate. How many previous mayors were Harvard graduates?

      “But for the millions who continue to confront both racial and economic oppression, simply encouraging folks to work harder, while refusing to address the systemic hurdles that impede their success won’t cut it either.”

    • Carlos says:

      ‘In the United States, supposedly a racist country, voters elected a black man as President in 2008. This would have been unthinkable a generation ago’

      ronmac with all due respect the use of the word ‘..supposedly..’ amazes me, to be honest.
      The US is an openly racist country period. Not everyone of course but collectively, racism wins hands down.
      Progress obviously has happened and there is no denying that at all but there is a long way to go.
      You may ask the question – is it possible to end racism? I am not sure but I certainly hope so.
      The reason I am not sure is because racism is not sole property of white people and this is where I disagree with the mainstream protester groups.
      Racism is active and doing well in the center of black people original land – Africa.

      • CallmeHal2000 says:

        While it is true that even white-on-white racism exists (think discriminatory terms by white people, for white people who came from from one country or another that was seen as “lesser” at various times in history), at the core of the current protests is institutionalized police brutality against racialized minorities, i.e. people who are not white, specifically black people.

        The summer race riots of 1919 in various U.S. locations were white-on-black. These “Red Summer” attacks led to the attacks of 1921 on blacks in Tulsa, involving turpentine firebombs dropped by airplane on black-owned businesses and homes. A century later, there has been one black president. Police brutality directed at black people continues. The U.S. president is holding a rally in Tulsa that has been postponed by one day after public outcry that he was hosting this event on the Juneteenth celebration of freedom from slavery, in a place where a horrific attack on the black community took place in June 1921. Fanning flames of old fires that razed an entire black community and killed hundreds in another century: not smart during the BLM protests of this century.

        Canada and Alberta have our own sorry history of racism. It still goes on today. We’ve seen multiple fatal police shootings of First Nations in the past couple of weeks alone. Should anyone be clotheslined and punched by the police for an expired licence plate sticker? At the very least, incidents like the one involving Chief Allan Adam should be independently investigated, and the findings made public. If he weren’t so high-profile, we probably wouldn’t have seen on video that things like this go on. Systemic racism in one of its manifestations, police brutality, is all around us. It’s about race. It’s about violence by those entrusted to serve and protect, against people whose skin is not white. This topic is as inconvenient and uncomfortable as its actions are inexcusable. It is also something we in Alberta cannot ignore.

      • Carlos says:

        I could not agree more CalmeHal2000
        I was just making a comment about racism to answer Ronmac who seems to have doubts about systemic racism in the RCMP,.
        I never had any doubts about it in the RCMP or any other police force in Alberta.
        This blatant attack on Chief Adam is not an exception at all. This is the rule because they know they can get away with anything when it comes to indigenous people and I for one and along with you am tired of this attitude that reflects an obvious racist attitude that is totally wrong. This officer comes out of the car with his racist rage and attacks a person that had done nothing but drive with an expired license. He would never dare to do that to a white person driving with an expired license and there are tons of them. I have one in our community and nothing is ever done about it despite not just the driving but the noise and the bad behaviour towards the rest of us. Police avoids him if anything because of course they are very busy and they need more money for more policing. It is a vicious circle that never stops and in the meantime they are there to defend anti-democratic rules and behaviour of our own premier who is an idiot in the first place.

    • Ronmac, I understand what you’re saying. I heard an interview on The Current with the black author and political analyst Bakari Sellers whose father was at the South Carolina protest in 1982 where 3 black students were killed, and others, including his father, were shot. His father was wrongly convicted of a felony and imprisoned for years. And now in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, Bakari said “we made progress. I don’t ever want anyone to believe or to say that…we haven’t done anything because we’ve made progress. My father’s work, his generation’s work was not in vain, but we still have yet a ways to go.” Seems to me if leading black activists can see the progress (even though there is a long way to go) we should acknowledge that.

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