'There is racism here': Alberta report shares new plan to tackle discrimination

A new government report released Wednesday highlights the prevalence of racism in Alberta, along with plans to tackle it.

Province creates anti-racism advisory council and will provide grants to groups fighting racial discrimination

Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir presents the Taking Action Against Racism report in Edmonton on June 26, 2018. (CBC/Sam Martin)

The Alberta government is looking for 25 people from across the province to sit on a new anti-racism advisory council, and will provide $2 million in grant money to community groups fighting racism.

The advisory council will be the first government organization dedicated to fighting racism in Alberta.

Education Minister David Eggen and Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir made the announcement in Edmonton on Wednesday, where they presented the "Taking Action Against Racism" report.

The plans outlined in the report are just "a start," according to government officials and community representatives present at the event.

"Over the past year, we've heard stories from many Albertans, difficult stories, that remind us both how far we have come and how far we have to go," said Sabir.

"It is clear that there is still work to be done, but I believe with immediate steps it will make a real difference." 

The ministers noted that more than one-third of Albertans were born outside of Canada, and 870,000 don't speak English or French as their first language. About 6.5 per cent of the population is Indigenous.

Board positions now open

The new anti-racism advisory council will include up to 25 members of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds and Indigenous people. It will "shape how we tackle discrimination," said the government report.

The group will help guide the province's work when it comes to fighting marginalization, according to a new framework, which was largely based on conversations with community representatives in 2017.

Ahmed Abdulkadir, executive director of Edmonton's Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta Residents, was one of many people consulted for the framework.

The community advocate said he would like to see a timeline for future programs promised in the report, but is confident the government will be held accountable due to its bottom-up approach.

"That's where the beauty of the advisory council comes in," he said. "The community will have a voice to advocate which direction the province should go and what needs to be implemented."

Abdulkadir said overall he's happy with the new framework, but would like to see a few other problems addressed, such as the speed at which human rights complaints are addressed.

Ahmed "Knowmadic" Ali, an educator and the city's poet laureate, said the province is taking an important "first step" in acknowledging that racism exists. 
Ahmed "Knowmadic" Ali says the government's Taking Action Against Racism plan is a "good start." (CBC/Sam Martin)

Ali said push-back in anti-racism work often comes in the form of people being defensive.

"People go, 'I'm not racist!' And I say, 'I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about a system.'... I'm talking about how do we progress. I'm talking about listening." 

The professional world still lacks diverse faces and voices, which can make it a lonely and challenging place for people of colour to be, he said. Racist comments often come out of fear and ignorance, he said.

"The main problem that I've witnessed as a person on the ground, is the lack of understanding of other cultures. It's important for people who are confused, scared, and concerned about traditions, cultures, and religions to go witness them. Get involved in the communities. Learn about these cultures," he said.

"When you don't know you're scared, you're confused, you're hurt. Find out is my biggest advice. Don't be threatened, there's nothing to be scared about."
This graph based on census figures shows how racial diversity in Alberta and Canada has grown over the past 20 years. (Government of Alberta)

Immediate projects

The community anti-racism grants program will provide $2 million to fund better training and support services for grassroots groups fighting racism, with a dedicated stream of funding for groups led by Indigenous people, the report said.

The grant program will be the first time the NDP government has funded community activities that specifically target racism.

The advisory council and the grant program will get underway immediately. Grant applications are set to open this summer.

The province will share updates on the progress of various anti-racism measures online. 

10 future actions

The report lists 10 other actions the province will consider in the future, following input from the community. The proposed actions are:

  • Creating a provincial hate crimes unit
  • Funding the Alberta hate crimes committee
  • Updating the school curriculum to include more material on fighting racism
  • Expanding the number of languages students can learn core subjects in, from eight to 10
  • Expanding career mentorship programs to smaller cities
  • Starting a foreign qualification fund that measures skills and work experience, not just credentials
  • Making it easier for people to have access to anti-racism resources by creating a multilingual phone line
  • Reflecting Alberta as a government by removing biases in hiring and training employees about Indigenous awareness
  • Making sure Albertans know their rights
  • Celebrating the province's diversity

-With files from Anna McMillan