Report from Alberta anti-racism advisory council targets health-care cuts, hate crime laws

In a long-awaited report, Alberta's anti-racism advisory council is calling on the province to reverse health-care layoffs it says will disproportionately target women of colour and recent immigrants.

Wide-ranging recommendations call for policing reform, changes to curriculum

The Alberta anti-racism advisory council recommendations were released Friday, nearly four months after they were submitted to Leela Sharon Aheer, minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press)

In a long-awaited report, Alberta's anti-racism advisory council is calling on the province to reverse health-care layoffs it says will disproportionately target women of colour and recent immigrants. 

Released Friday, the report details 48 recommendations to help tackle systemic racism in Alberta. The report's release comes nearly four months after it was formally submitted to the government.

"It's shameful that this report sat on the minister's desk for months as racism and hate-motivated attacks continue to rise in Alberta," NDP MLA Irfan Sabir said in a statement.

The report's wide-ranging recommendations include suggested policing reforms, improved access to anti-racism resources and equitable changes to provincial grant programs.

The report takes aim at the government's plan to lay off up to 11,000 Alberta Health Services employees, most of whom work in laboratory, linen and cleaning services. 

"The Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council strongly recommends that [the] Minister of Health and Alberta Health Services stop these layoffs and protect the racialized workers who will be adversely impacted, economically and socially, by these layoffs," the report says.

Steve Buick, press secretary to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, said many of Alberta's health-care services are already provided by independent contractors.

"The government does not need to be directly in the business of running things like cafeterias and laundry," Buick said in a statement.

Buick has not said whether Shandro would accept the recommendation.

The committee dedicates one of six sections to justice system reforms, including the need for legislated anti-racism training for police officers and the mandated collection of race-based statistics by all police forces in the province. 

It also calls on the province to work with the federal government to strengthen hate crime laws.

In a news release, the Alberta government said it has already taken action on some recommendations, including legislation to accelerate the recognition of newcomers' professional credentials and a hate crime coordination committee to share information across jurisdictions.

The council recommends the government provide sustainable funding for the hate crimes committee to fulfil its role in tracking and reporting hate incidents, while supporting victims.

The UCP government appointed new council members earlier this year, replacing those selected by the previous NDP government when it struck the advisory council in early 2019.

The recommendations were developed before the new appointments, but the current members approved and submitted them in February to Leela Sharon Aheer, the minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women.

The report says that to create greater accountability, the province should establish an ombudsperson with punitive powers to investigate all complaints against police.

A separate office should be established to advance racial equity in the Alberta public service, while investigating complaints of unfair treatment, discrimination and harassment, the report says.

The recommendations then turn to education, with calls to ensure Alberta students are taught about systemic racism and its connection to the "the systemic disrespecting of the human rights" of Black, Indigenous and people of colour. 

"This requires a shared understanding of the historical roots of racism and how the history of discrimination within institutions such as public education has contributed to the erosion of human dignity," the report says.

The government has faced widespread criticism of its draft K-6 curriculum, with critics saying Indigenous people are an afterthought and residential schools are addressed too late.

The advisory council calls on the province to make education accessible in Indigenous languages and to include Indigenous and non-Eurocentric values into the curriculum.

In a statement, Aheer thanked the council members and said she looked forward to working with cabinet to address the recommendations.

Marco Luciano, director of the temporary foreign worker advocacy group Migrante Alberta, called the council's recommendations a "move forward in addressing the ongoing systemic racism in the province."

But he said they are also general and do not give enough attention, including in the recommendation about the AHS layoffs, to the challenges facing immigrants who aren't permanent residents.

"The problem with that is that in times of layoffs or terminations because of these cutbacks, these workers — whose survival in Canada is tied to their employer — will be in a very precarious position," Luciano said.

He said the government and council should have more discussions with the communities affected, who "should also be able to understand what the recommendations are about, because it is about them."

With files from Jennie Russell