“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.
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.
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