Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has declared 2016 as the Year of Reconciliation and made diversity training for all staff mandatory.

The announcement, met with cheers and applause during an anti-racism event in the foyer outside the mayor's office, also included the creation of an urban aboriginal accord to recognize the role aboriginal people have played in Canadian history.

The event was held to reflect on Winnipeg's progress after being named one year ago by Maclean's magazine as the most racist city in Canada.

But just as the event began, it was sidetracked by a woman who approached dignitaries at the podium, shouting and crying about issues with Child and Family Services.

"I wanna talk. I wanna talk," the woman called out as others tried to comfort her.

She was eventually escorted out by police Chief Devon Clunis after Bowman promised to speak with her afterwards.

Crying woman

A woman interrupts a diversity event at city hall with shouts and cries about issues she has faced with Child and Family Services. (CBC)

Woman comforted

The woman is comforted by others attending the event. (CBC)

When the event resumed, Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said it was important to recognize the woman's situation, as it represents the same sense of injustice many people feel, particularly indigenous people.

Her frustration over a perceived inability to be heard by those in authority is real for many people, he said.

Not long afterwards, however, another woman stood up in the crowd and accused Winnipeg and the province as a whole of failing refugees. Manitoba's licence plate slogan "Friendly Manitoba" is a lie, she said.

She was allowed to speak for a few minutes before she returned to her seat. But those two women weren't the only ones who expressed disappointment.

Sheila North Wilson, the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents First Nations in the province's north, chose a silent protest. She attended the event but walked out, later tweeting her reason:

On Jan. 22, 2015, Maclean's cover store highlighted racial issues in Winnipeg — specifically, the divide between the city's indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

It elicited a mix of criticism and praise from people and prompted a weeping Bowman, as well as many community leaders, to hold a press conference and pledge to make things better.

Friday's event was to give Bowman and those community leaders a chance to reflect on how far the city has come, and what else must be done.

Bowman said the city's leaders have responded to the article "with honest and humility."

"We had to choose between dismissing that characterization or acknowledging we needed to strengthen our efforts in building understanding and empathy, and celebrating the diversity that makes our city strong," he said.

He then listed accomplishments made in the wake of the article, such as last September's One: The Mayor's National Summit on Racial Inclusion, the creation of the Mayor's Indigenous Advisory Circle (MIAC), and numerous grassroots projects led by the community.

"We've been able to reignite the public conversation and dialogue" about racism to push it into the light and confront it better, Bowman said.

Year of Reconciliation

RAW: Mayor Brian Bowman reflects on the past year, and how the city has changed1:20

Wrapping up the event, Bowman made the declaration of the Year of Reconciliation and said the accord would provide the basis on which to strengthen relationships with aboriginal governments and people.

He also promised to implement the calls to action that came out of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission including:

  • Enhancing the City of Winnipeg's existing diversity training for employees by making it mandatory for all city staff, with an increased focus on the legacy of residential schools.
  • Working with residential school survivors, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and existing owners to establish historical signs at the former Assiniboia Indian Residential School on Academy Road.
  • Having Winnipeg Library Services partner with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to become more actively involved in public engagement, education, and reconciliation activities.
  • Visiting every high school in Winnipeg over the next two years to emphasize the importance of civic engagement, reconciliation and diversity.

"Winnipeg is a growing, thriving, and diverse city. Now, more than ever, is a time for us to embrace our values of openness and compassion, and realize that acceptance of new people and cultures are what make us strong," Bowman said.

"I want to challenge all Winnipeggers to find ways in the coming year to respond to the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and continue to take tangible steps to do their part to be more inclusive."