City of Edmonton urges employees to choose respectful Halloween costumes

The City of Edmonton has issued guidelines to its employees, asking them to think twice before wearing a Halloween costume to work that could be offensive to others.

Traditional Mé​tis costume sparks debate around cultural appropriation

Traditional Metis sashes represent culture and identity and shouldn't be worn as a costume, said Miranda Jimmy. (CBC)

The City of Edmonton has issued guidelines to its employees, asking them to think twice before wearing a Halloween costume to work that could be offensive to others. 

The city's guidelines were issued before Kate Gunn, the city's director of community initiatives, apologized for a social media post in which she shared pictures of her husband wearing a traditional Mé​tis outfit over the weekend. 

Cree advocate Miranda Jimmy, who co-founded the group Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton (RISE), called out Kate Gunn on Twitter.

"Unless we point it out when we're offended by other people's choice in costume, then the conversation can't happen," Jimmy said. "If we just allow it to happen, then no one will really learn."

The costume is inappropriate because it includes a traditional sash, which represents culture and identity for Mé​tis people, Jimmy said.

"It's not right to be able to take someone's outfit, put it on for a day, and pretend to be them through your own lens, without having to experience what it actually means to be discriminated every day."

Gunn should have followed the city's guidelines for choosing a Halloween costume, she added.

"Those are all great questions that anyone should ask themselves, it shouldn't be just workplace related," Jimmy said.

The internal memo from the city suggests that if an employee has answered "yes" to the following questions, they should think twice before wearing the outfit:

  • Does it have ties to race, ethnicity or culture?
  • Do I plan to lighten or darken my skin colour?
  • Does it have ties to violence or assault against a specific group of people?
  • Does it have clothing or accessories that other cultures or religions would find meaningful or sacred?
  • Would any accessories be emotionally triggering to any communities?
  • Does it involve figures from a religion?
  • Does it connote mental illness?
  • Does it oversexualize traditional roles or other cultures?
  • Are you going as a "victim" or "survivor" of a traumatic event?
  • Would you think twice about wearing your costume around a specific group of people?

Gunn has since removed her post and issued an apology on Twitter. CBC could not reach her for comment. 

"I would like to apologize to the Indigenous communities that I have the honour of working with. I did not live up to my own standard and I hurt people in the community I serve," she wrote.

Gunn was accountable for her actions, deputy city manager Kim Armstrong said in an emailed statement.

"I am satisfied that the employee's apology was swift, compassionate and conscientious. The employee is an exemplar of the accountability that is one of the City of Edmonton's cultural commitments," Armstrong said.

The incident is a good reminder of why people need to be aware of how their costume could be interpreted, said Maya Daniel, an instructor at NAIT's School of Business. 

"This speaks to the changing structure of society and what is deemed appropriate and inappropriate," Daniel said. 

"Hopefully this will help people side step some of the mines, because it is quite a minefield out there."

In the age of social media, an offensive costume can have far reaching consequences, she added.

Future employers may be turned off by a person's thoughtless choice in Halloween attire. 

"If this comes to the surface, you may have to answer some difficult questions because you didn't consider the connotations or implications of your costume at the time."