Calgary wants to have that awkward conversation about systemic racism

Calgary wants to talk about its systemic racism problem, regardless of how uncomfortable it could get. That's the mission of a two-day public forum that began Tuesday.

Nenshi says 2-day event has to end with more than just talk

Nyall DaBreo is a Calgary lawyer. He says his education gives him an advantage when dealing with racism. (City of Calgary)

Calgary wants to talk about its systemic racism problem, regardless of how uncomfortable it could get.

That's the mission of a two-day public forum, along with creation a committee to address it head on.

"It's pervasive and it doesn't stop," a contributor said Tuesday during a break from the hearings.

Nyall DaBreo is a Calgary lawyer. He says that's given him a unique perspective on this topic.

"Being educated has not removed some of the harm I have endured, but it's enabled me to navigate it a little bit differently and maybe be standing on this side of the fence sometimes," DaBreo said.

"It's harmful when police are the ones perpetrating what I would call illegal conduct."

'It's not right'

A handful of Black Lives Matter protests in Calgary last month drew several thousand people calling for change in how police deal with citizens, specifically people of colour.

"We need to keep demanding, as a society, to improve ourselves. There are people that are not treated equitably or fairly in society and it's not right," DaBreo said.

"We are all responsible for our own conduct, but it starts by looking in the mirror and recognizing what we can do differently."

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the goal of this two-day committee hearing on racism is more than just talk. (CBC)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says this project has to be more about results than conversations.

"I have no idea where this is going to go," Nenshi said.

"We can't confuse listening and learning with the actual action. That is just work avoidance."

Embracing different views, even within one person, is a good thing.

"The world is changing. It is OK for us to hold two different views," he said.

"I think we have to define how to move from a good place to a place where people have an opportunity to live a life of dignity."

Vicki Bouvier is an assistant professor of Indigenous studies at Mount Royal University. (Submitted by Vicki Bouvier)

An Indigenous studies assistant professor at Mount Royal University says racism in Canada has existed for several hundred years.

"They dehumanized Indigenous people to justify the so-called discovery of new lands and the subsequent taking of land, which used genocide as a means to achieve their goals," Vicki Bouvier said.

"These racialized attributes are embedded in the colonial system and we can see them today. If we are not white, we are not civilized and thus cannot be treated as human. These racist demarcations were not created by us but they were transplanted here and have been nurtured for hundreds of years."

Bouvier says her lighter skin has exposed her to racist rants by people who were unaware of her heritage.

Dr. Malinda Smith is co-chairing the meeting. As the new vice-provost of diversity at the University of Calgary, she says real change won't come from simple discussions.

"Self-reflection and knowledge alone will not undo the structures that uphold anti-black, anti-Indigenous and anti-Asian racism," Smith said.

More than 130 members of the public have registered to speak to the committee.

The hearings continue Wednesday.