While Calgary city council is allowing public voices to be heard on systemic racism, many say action should have already been taken.
It was the second day of public consulatation on racism. Dozens of Calgarians had their chance to contribute once again. This followed day one, where an expert panel shared their perspectives on racism in Calgary. Then public submissions began.
Many members of the public criticized council for not taking action much earlier. People of colour have been speaking out for years to no avail.
“You have a list of calls to action, you have a list of calls to justice,” said speaker Vanessa Ortiz.
“You don’t need to do any more of these hearings. You need to go and do your job because we’re exhausted.”
One speaker called the public event “theatre”.
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, chair of the Community and Protective Services committee, who was holding the public hearing, emphasized the need to listen to people who want to speak and tell their truths.
“We are all here exploring how to be better citizens and how to create a better society in which we can all be citizens,” he said.
Suggestions for the police
Most submissions discussed the role of the Calgary police. They share their own personal experiences and offered suggestions and recommendations to improve.
People discussed how they’ve experienced violence, profiling and humiliation at the hands of the Calgary police and how it has negatively impacted their lives and careers.
Speaker Tyra Erskine said we need to incorporate ongoing and consistent citizen oversight of the police and hold them accountable.
“If racism runs so rampant in the police that we need to police them, then that has to come out of their own budget,” Erskine said.
Many expressed that there needs to be a recurring assessment for police to evaluate their racial biases.
“The same way you have fitness tests … is the same way you need to create some sort of assessment to determine whether there’s an implicit bias being created in these people’s heads,” said speaker Adam Massiah.
Syed Bokhari said at least 25 per cent of the police budget should be reallocated to other public and social services or be given back to the public. $400 million is way too much, he said.
He’s also pushing for more training to become a police officer. He compared Canada’s training to other countries where it takes years.
“Six months training. That’s all it takes to become a police officer and start shooting people, start ticketing people, start ruining lives by giving them a false charge,” Bokhari said.
More suggestions included anger management sessions, leaving guns in cars instead of on their person, removing cops from mental health situations and schools. Further, it was suggested having recurring consultations with Black and Indigenous communities.
Problems in the education system
Massiah said the first time he heard the ‘N-word’ was when he was in Grade 5. It was by his teacher in private school.
“Because it was part of the curriculum,” he said, referring to Slave Dancer, a book from a white narrative.
He said while the municipal government doesn’t control education, they need to know that it’s whitewashed. It allows for racist ideas to be bred.
“From K to 12 it’s been whitewashed and omissive to Canada’s role in slavery and genocide,” Massiah said.
The problem is not just with the curriculum, but also with the board.
One submission spoke about how their fifth-grade teacher ingrained the racial difference. The person was labeled as ESL, special needs, and was not allowed to associate with different people. They said it made them ashamed of being black.
When parents raised concerns, the CBE was dismissive.
“Nobody wanted to believe that racism was occurring within the school system, so they chose not to investigate.”
Submissions also pushed for fairness in the CBE. They want the board to hire more BIPOC staff and have the ability to teach and impart their knowledge to children.
Many submissions highlighted the power of education in helping combat racism and racial inequality in the country.
Lanre Ajayi said systemic racism plays out in the education system and it needs to be addressed immediately.
“People of colour and Indigenous people have a heritage,” he said.
“If you deny our kids the knowledge of their inheritance, we’re doing more harm than good.”
Council addressing public remarks
Since many submissions were talking to the police, Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who sits on the Calgary Police Commission, said the police chief and his team are committed to listening to these stories. They aren’t there, she said, because they wanted it to be an open dialogue without any influence.
She said the police commission wants to make sure they have heard all speakers and have proper responses to the concerns raised.
“I will definitely make sure that they are communicated back, not only to the police service, but in a public format as well,” she said.
Coun. Evan Woolley agreed that there needs to be an accountability conversation with the police.
Woolley said the city only has control over some things. They need to use their jurisdiction to the best of their ability. They must communicate with the province on issues like education and police.
“Relying on that complexity of jurisdiction has been our failure as a municipality to address some of these things,” he said.
“We need to take significant action as a municipality with the powers that we have to leverage these concerns.”
Coun. Gondek said when the public gets involved, it allows the city to be better heard at other levels of government.
“With the power of your voices behind us, we have more influence,” she said.