“This time it’s different.” – Masai Ujiri, president of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors
The death of George Floyd ignited extraordinary protests around the world. Black, brown, and indigenous people and their supporters are saying this time it’s different.
Albertans joined thousands of people across the globe calling on their leaders to address systemic racism in their institutions and their places of work.
Based on the Legislative debate on two motions on systemic racism, it appears the call for Mr Kenney to show leadership will be ignored.
The NDP presented a motion asking the government to create a province-wide panel to examine and make recommendations with respect to systemic racism in Alberta. The panel would be made up of members of the Anti-Racism Advisory Council, provincial indigenous leadership, and Black Lives Matter (Alberta) and would bring back its findings and recommendations by October 1, 2020.
Given that panels are near and dear to the UCP government’s heart, one would have thought they’d leap at the chance to convene a panel that would focus on something real for a change.
Nope. Afraid not.
Mr Kenney said he was pleased we were having “social debate on the evil of racism” but the only thing his government intends to do is pass a motion that condemns racism and all forms of bigotry and hatred, affirms Alberta’s commitment to human dignity and the equality of all before the law, acknowledges the pernicious and durable nature of antiblack racism, acknowledges the tragic history of racism directed at indigenous people in Canada, and also urges the government to consider these issues in the context of the Police Act review.
Wow, the only concrete step Mr Kenney is prepared to make to address systemic racism is to consider it in the context of the Police Act review, which Mr Schweitzer, the justice minister, says will include reaching out to First Nations police chiefs and indigenous leadership. Schweitzer hasn’t mentioned consulting with blacks and people of colour, hopefully he’ll correct this oversight immediately.
Tinkering with the Police Act to address systemic racism which, by definition, is racism embedded in our society and institutions including the criminal justice system, employment, housing, health care, education and politics just doesn’t cut it.
Why won’t UCP go there?
Given Mr Kenney’s position that systemic racism can be addressed by fiddling with a mechanism in our criminal justice system, the government should have been amenable to the NDP’s amendment* to the Parole Board Act which will allow Alberta to set up its own provincial parole board.
Nope. Afraid not.
Kathleen Ganley, the NDP justice critic, proposed an amendment that would require the 5 to 9 member board to include at least one member who represents the indigenous community and one member who represents other minority communities that are disproportionately represented in prisons.
The UCP government objected to this amendment for a number of reasons, none of which made sense. They said:
- It would increase the minimum number of parole members (well, you could replace two white parole board members with two minority members, couldn’t you?)
- The government would have to find a qualified minority parole board candidate who was actually interested in the task. (Are you seriously saying that in all of Alberta you can’t find two members of minority communities who are both qualified and interested in parole matters?)
- The parole board will have its own processes that are “culturally sensitive” to minority offenders which will be much more effective than having an actual representative of that minority community on the board.
- The amendment is offensive because it’s a quota. No one needs quotas, all they need is to “take the first step”, network, and they’ll succeed.
The Tinkerbell Effect
It is true that Mr Kenney condemned racism as “an unqualified evil” and “a sickness of the soul” but when he suggested racism could be rooted out by “the power of relationships” where individuals reach out to each other and try to understand each other, he fell prey to the Tinkerbell Effect (believe in something hard enough and it will happen). Sorry premier, that’s a fairy tale.
Given Mr Kenney’s faith in the power of the individual to eradicate systemic racism, it’s not surprising his government dismantled Rachel Notley’s programs to combat racism.
The UCP government is no longer actively funding the Anti-Racism Advisory Council which was established by the NDP to evaluate the action plans against racism (these plans are outlined in the Taking Action Against Racism report). The Council hasn’t met in months.
The UCP government terminated community grant programs like the human rights education fund and the antiracism community group program established by the NDP to help communities combat racism and increase awareness.
All of this leads us to the conclusion that while Masai Ujiri may be right and this time it’s different, in Alberta this will be true in spite of Kenney’s leadership, not because of it.
*See Alberta Hansard June 16, 2020 starting at p 1386
*See Alberta Hansard June 16, 2020 starting at p 1415