EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — While protests continue around the world, including drawing tens of thousands to Alberta cities like Calgary and Edmonton, questions are arising about how local governments can tackle systemic racism.
This includes a petition calling on the City of Calgary to hold a public consultation about systemic racism, which has garnered tens of thousands of signatures.
But moving to a higher level of government, Premier Jason Kenney could not provide specifics about what his government could do.
“What are your thoughts on these Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and moving ahead, what role will the province play in addressing systemic racism in Alberta?” asked 660 NEWS reporter Tom Ross.
Kenney, first off, reminded people that there are limits to public gatherings during the COVID-19 crisis, and encouraged people who feel passionately about an issue to express it in different ways but if they do go to a protest, to maintain physical distancing and refrain from shouting.
Though we've made progress in combatting racism in Canada, our work is not over.
We can continue to learn from our history, fight institutional racism, and strive for equality of opportunity for all. pic.twitter.com/n2HUNc7E3P
— Jason Kenney (@jkenney) June 5, 2020
But on the second part of the question, Kenney acknowledged it is a significant issue.
“Legitimate issues that people are talking about, absolutely, these days,” he said.
“Racism is sadly a reality in our own society in Alberta.”
But Kenney also said Alberta is a lot better than other jurisdictions, and that gains had been made in the past to right some wrongs, such as residential schools.
“One of the things I worked on proudly as the federal multiculturalism minister was the federal government’s redress and apology for racist policies like the Chinese head tax and exclusion act.”
But Kenney largely dodged the essence of the question and did not offer any specific actions that he planned to take.
“The greatness of Canada is that we strive to learn to overcome those things and always to do better. I think the message that we are hearing loud and clear is we need to redouble those efforts,” he added.
The response, posted on Twitter following the news conference, was then widely criticized by activists and members of the opposition NDP.
you literally introduced the niqab ban, cut refugees' access to healthcare, and have had known white supremacists running for your party.https://t.co/eag7k3GoWb
— Emma Jackson (@EmmaJackson57) June 6, 2020
He cut funding to anti-racism programs and groups by two-thirds in 2020.
He campaigned on a “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line in 2015.
— Shannon Phillips (@SPhillipsAB) June 6, 2020
The responses criticized actions Kenney had taken both before and after entering public life, and policies he promoted as a member of Stephen Harper’s federal cabinet as well.
David Shepherd, MLA for Edmonton-Centre, said Kenney missed the point with his response.
“What systemic racism actually means, in the current sense as well as historical, is that the appearance of equality of opportunity often overlooks the hidden systemic barriers that make it far more difficult for members of racialized communities to actually access those opportunities,” he said.
Some of those opportunities include issues around childcare and housing, issues that disproportionately affect people of colour and immigrants and highlight policies taken by the United Conservative Party.
Shepherd said Kenney disenfranchised people of colour by cutting the $25 per day childcare program, which hindered an initiative launched by the Africa Centre that assisted people with language classes and help families integrate with other programs.
“We have to look at this as a holistic lens,” said Shepherd. “This is not simply a question of us all feeling better or needing to change our perspective and like other people different from us better, it is recognizing that there are actual problems built into the system.”
The UCP also cut funding to anti-racist initiatives, and during the provincial election campaign Kenney came under fire for not removing two former candidates from his party after discriminatory comments came to light.
Looking back, Shepherd said the promotion of the barbaric cultural practices tip line and the ban of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies while he was in Ottawa are past examples that raise eyebrows.
Other activists worry that initiatives that remain in place under the government are also only there merely as lip service.
“The (Anti-Racism Advisory Council) hasn’t been very active. I almost feel like the council is just there for namesake,” said Iman Bukhari of the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation. “What have they done? I want to know the concrete actions that the council has taken.”
Shepherd echoed these concerns as well and added that Kenney needs to be upfront with some of his own actions and make a stronger commitment towards taking a strong stance against systemic racism.
“He himself, unfortunately, has been the cause of some systemic racism in Canada.”