Robert-Falcon Ouellette faces racism during mayoral campaign

Winnipeg mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette is exposing the racism he's faced so far in his campaign.

Aboriginal Winnipeg mayoral candidate target of online abuse after speaking French in debate

Winnipeg mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette faces racism on campaign trail

9 years ago
Duration 2:38
Is Winnipeg ready for an indigenous mayor? Hear how Robert-Falcon Ouellette answers

Winnipeg mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette is exposing the racism he's faced so far in his campaign.

Ouellette, 37, spoke entirely in French at the Francophone Chamber of Commerce mayoral debate in St. Boniface last week.

Not long afterward, abusive comments were posted online on Ouellette's Facebook page, first about his decision to speak French, then about his aboriginal heritage. He also received hateful emails.

The comments ranged from "you are lower-class" to angry obscenities about Indians and French people.

"Go back to drinking. That’s where Indians belong," said one.

Ouellette, the program director for the Aboriginal Focus Programs at the University of Manitoba, said that instead of turning the other cheek, he's talking about it to expose what's out there.

"I simply can't sit back and say this is acceptable. We have to be talking about this,” he said.

“If there's one person saying it, there's 1,000 people thinking it."

Oulette said this isn’t the first time he’s experienced racism.

"You know, I have my PhD, two master's degrees and a bachelor's degree. I was in the army for 18 years, and no matter, it seems, what I do, for some people it's never enough," he said.

"What courses through my veins will never be enough for some people."

Other candidates, such as Winnipeg Coun. Dan Vandal, said they've also experienced racism on the campaign trail.

“There’s an ignorant and uneducated part of the population that is small who are going to engage in this sort of thing,” said Vandal, who is Métis.

Comments must be challenged

Ouellette said he decided to speak French at the debate because he could, and to honour the fact he was in St. Boniface.

To demonstrate respect, he said, one should be using the language of the group hosting you, if you have the capacity.

“Winnipeggers from across our city take pride in our country’s vibrant French culture," Ouellette said.

"French is not only the founding language of our province, but also one of our two national languages, spoken by 13 per cent of the population in Winnipeg and central to our identity as a creative, diverse and successful society."

The reaction to the mayoral debates "demonstrates that we still have ways to go to creating a completely inclusive and respectful society," Ouellette added, saying the comments represent a very small vocal minority that must be challenged every day.