Wood Buffalo, Indigenous leaders call on councillor to resign for 'hateful' comments
Comments "unacceptable, incorrect and difficult to comprehend," mayor says
Update: On Monday, February 7 the video of the meeting was made available online. A link is now included in this story.
Indigenous leaders and Wood Buffalo council are calling for the resignation of Coun. Dogar Shafiq over comments he made about Indigenous people during a budget meeting.
On Thursday, a motion was presented asking administration to investigate how the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo might improve awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
According to a statement from Mayor Sandy Bowman, Shafiq stated he didn't support the motion because Indigenous people come to Fort McMurray to get drunk or fight. Shafiq denied that claim, saying his point was that deaths in rural communities are more often due to a larger distance from medical centres.
The video of the council meeting is available via the municipality's YouTube page.
Bowman condemned Shafiq, calling his comments "unacceptable, incorrect and difficult to comprehend."
In a special council meeting on Friday, Bowman read out the names of the missing and murdered Indigenous women from the Fort McMurray area.
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"These [women] were not drunks that lost their way," Bowman said, becoming emotional.
"Really it is getting pathetic why the people are emotional because the wrong narrative was given," he said.
Shafiq has asked for the municipality to release the recording of the budget meeting.
After Thursday's meeting, Shafiq posted a statement on Facebook apologizing for what he calls a miscommunication.
Shafiq said he was trying to make a point that people in rural communities are more likely to die due to the lower accessibility of medical services.
"In my mind, I didn't equate Indigenous community with alcoholism or any bad actions," he said. "It was merely an example that popped into my mind and now I realize I was wrong in using that example."
On Friday, municipal councillors asked Shafiq to resign and directed the chief administrative officer to file a complaint with the integrity commissioner.
The complaint includes contraventions to three sections of the code of conduct: that members treat people with dignity and respect, that councillors won't use indecent or abusive language, and that councillors won't speak in a discriminatory way.
Only Shafiq voted against the directive.
Council has no legal standing to remove Shafiq from council.
Coun. Allan Grandison said that in order to "repair the damage that's potentially been done," Shafiq needs to resign.
Grandison said he had difficulty on Thursday understanding what Shafiq said.
"The minute council was aware of what was said, the meeting was immediately stopped and dealt with," Grandison said.
His call was supported by Couns. Keith McGrath, Stu Wigle, Ken Ball, Kendrick Cardinal, Jane Stroud, Loretta Waquan and Lance Bussieres.
Shafiq said the councillors "have surrendered to the pressure of the mob."
Shafiq said he respects his sisters, but "I don't know about the men, how chicken-hearted they are behaving."
Waquan said she will no longer refer to Shafiq as councillor.
"If we were allow you to sit on this council for the next four years, what other damages are you going to do?"
Bussieres said Shafiq has set the municipality back.
"Just when we thought we were moving forward, yesterday occurred."
Bill Loutitt, CEO for the McMurray Métis, has been working on reconciliation with the municipality for years.
Loutitt said he was shocked and dismayed by Shafiq's comments on Friday.
"Just totally disrespectful towards the Indigenous people," Loutitt said. "His attitude is just utterly disgusting and there should be something done."