British Columbia

Several bands pull out of Surrey Canada Day concert over city's lack of anti-racism policies

The controversy comes in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests across North America, as city governments grapple with criticism they could do more to combat racism in their communities.

Mother Mother, The Beaches and Said The Whale say the city hasn’t responded to a petition

'We hope that this will encourage the city to re-evaluate their approach and begin taking steps towards dismantling systemic racism,' Said The Whale said on Twitter, announcing it was pulling out of its Canada Day performance. (Said The Whale)

A virtual Canada Day concert put on by the City of Surrey is losing a number of performers because of the city's policies on racism — or lack thereof. 

Mother Mother, The Beaches and Said The Whale posted messages on Twitter on Thursday, saying they would no longer participate because there had been no response to a petition calling on the city to make a public statement committing to anti-racism.

"We hope that this will encourage the city to re-evaluate their approach and begin taking steps toward dismantling systemic racism," said Said The Whale. 

"We are proud to join those voices who have already called for Surrey's leaders to speak up," said The Beaches. 

Other artists still committed to perform at the virtual concert include 54-40, Alex Cuba, Bif Naked and Colin James. 

The petition, which has over 3,000 signatures, suggests a public statement by Surrey "Clarify what percentage of the executive leadership of the City is diverse, and how that can change" or "Commit to a policy ensuring that Surrey is an inclusive and equitable place for Black and Indigenous and POC communities."

Mayor Doug McCallum responded to the news by saying "we do not take this for granted and we are constantly looking at how we can strengthen the diverse and inclusive society we have in Surrey."

"Despite the gains we have made, racism against Black, Indigenous, Asian and people of all creeds, colour and sexual orientation has not been eradicated. I can assure you that we will continue to condemn and eliminate all acts of hate and discrimination in our city."

Internal pushback

The controversy comes in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests across North America, as city governments grapple with criticism they could do more to combat racism in their communities. 

The City of Surrey put out a statement on June 8, saying "Surrey is a city that has been built and strengthened by its diversity. Racism, discrimination, and intolerance have no place in our city, our province or our country. Surrey takes tremendous pride in our cultural diversity and the inclusion and respect we show one another every day."

It came several days after statements from Vancouver and Richmond.

CBC News has learned that multiple staff members pushed the city to speak out further against racism and outline anti-racism policies — but were told by senior managers that the direction needs to come from Mayor McCallum or council.

In the 2016 census, 58 per cent of Surrey residents identified as a person of colour, but just two of eight councillors and three of 11 senior staff did. 

Last year Surrey renamed its Social Policy Advisory Committee the Social Equity and Diversity Committee, but like most Metro Vancouver municipalities, it lacks detailed equity or anti-racism policies

"When I first got elected, I looked around the room at how many other people of South Asian descent were sitting in the meetings and making important decisions for this community," said Surrey Coun. Jack Hundial.

"And it's no knock against people that are already there. But if you don't have that exposure and understanding of the community and culture, it makes it very difficult to govern."

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