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Calgary approves anti-racism strategic plan

Five focus areas have been outlined, each with a series of actions and measurables in Calgary’s newly adopted anti-racism strategic plan.

The item was presented at Calgary’s regular meeting of council on Tuesday and was unanimously approved by city councillors.

Dr. Linda Kongnetiman, managing lead for the City of Calgary’s anti-racism, said the easy solution is to not take a stand against racism, to not talk about things that make people uncomfortable, and to sweep this conversation under the rug.

She said the reality is there is a dedicated team behind this work at the City.

“Calgary has a history of overcoming difficult times, and Calgarians always come together through adversity and innovative solutions to create positive, sustainable change,” she told city council.

“This strategic plan isn’t any different. This shows the true spirit of Calgarians coming together to ensure that we become a racially just city.”

The five focus areas of the plan include:

  1. Develop and implement anti-racism education and training.
    2. Promote and integrate disaggregated race-based data.
    3. Increase representation of Indigenous, Black and diverse Racialized Peoples in positions of leadership.
    4. Develop, promote and deliver racially equitable programs, services and policies.
    5. Create anti-racist safe spaces and processes that are free from hate.

Within each of the focus areas is a series of actions and directions on how success is to be measured.

The plan is the next step in a journey that began nearly three years ago after a petition with 70,000 names calling for a public hearing on systemic racism in Calgary.

Following that was an emotional public hearing that saw dozens of Calgarians share their lived experience in dealing with racism in Calgary. That led to the creation of the city’s Anti-Racism Action Committee.

Words are good, but actions matter: Coun. Walcott

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said when he read the work he was scared. He said that work on the anti-racism file was “terrifying,” because of that fear of walking into spaces like city council and have it be dismissed.

Coun. Walcott said that it’s difficult to step forward at a time when there’s “a national debate on whether or not we will even validate the stories that are within these documents.”

He said approving this document is the easy work. They just vote yes and move on.

“I’m greatly in appreciation for the maturity model, and especially really understanding that council is at the complacency stage where we’re doing the easy work right now,” he said.

The important part, he said, are the very specific policy directions that come forward through the actions outlined in the focus areas.

“There will not be sweeping policy changes that are going to come back every six months. Instead, it’ll likely be one recommendation at a time as work progresses,” he said.

“That’ll be the day when it’s really significant. It’s to see that at the end of this process, have we stood on our morals and voted yes to every single one that comes forward.”

Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal said showing leadership was important.

“I just want to remind everybody this is about commitment. This is about leadership and the leadership starts with us,” he said.

“But systemic racism from organizations can only be eliminated if this leadership is committed and they’re willing to work with us.  This is just the start. This is the bare minimum. This is not the full story.”

Moving toward anti-racism is a never-ending process, said Walcott

Coun. Walcott said this plan differs from many others put together by the city in the past. It comes with very specific actions and ways to measure success. Walcott said that is a critical component.

He said anytime an aspirational document is built, it’s not acknowledging the fact the goals may not be reached.

“Building in measurables from day one means that failure is a question of pivot. It’s a question of change. How do we adjust and how do we move forward?” Walcott said.

“That is built into this policy and that is so important for it to be successful in the long run.”

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the team that worked on this document is very committed to its success. That’s a strong indicator it’s not just another report that sits on a shelf, she said.

“There are clear actions we need to take, and we can’t be quiet about this,” Mayor Gondek said.

Dr. Kongnetiman said it’s tough work ahead.

“It can be difficult to implement anti-racism actions and take a stand against institutional racism and systemic racism,” she said.

“Especially when the easy way out is not to talk about things that make other people feel uncomfortable and to just take a moment and sweep it under the rug. That would be easy.”

City of Calgary Anti-Racism… by Darren Krause