Sask. premier acknowledges systemic racism exists, asks people to treat others with respect

Saskatchewan’s premier says systemic racism is real and can be ended if everyone treats each other with dignity and respect. 

Some provincial organizations say acknowledgement is a good start, but call for additional changes

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, seen here at a premiers' meeting in December 2019, acknowledged systemic racism's existence in Saskatchewan on Tuesday and called on residents to treat each other with respect. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan's Premier says systemic racism is real and can be ended if everyone treats each other with dignity and respect. 

At a provincial news conference on Tuesday, Moe was asked to voice the province's stance on systemic racism. 

Moe said yes, systemic racism was real. He said the solution has to come from the people of Saskatchewan.

"We need to take this time at this point in history to just remember our personal responsibility in not only protecting ourselves from COVID-19, but ensuring that we are also taking personal responsibility in the manner that we treat people," Moe said. 

He said people need to treat one another with the same dignity, respect, love and caring that they expect to be treated with. He said this is a very simple responsibility, but one of the most important ones.

A statement from the premier's office said Moe's comments about the citizen's of Saskatchewan's responsibility on Wednesday would not preclude opportunities for the government to address systemic racism.

The statement cited its expansion of police oversight as one step it was taking toward addressing systemic racism in Saskatchewan. On Wednesday, the province introduced the Police Amendment Act 2020, which will see more oversight work done by the Public Complaints Commission (PCC), a five-person, non-police body appointed by the government.

'A good start'

Kazima Katende, president of the Regina chapter of Daughters of Africa, said the government has to take ownership of the issue of systemic racism. 

She said because some perceive that they're unaffected by systemic racism, or they believe the government isn't involved in quashing systemic racism, they don't have to care about the issue.

"Take it from the root so we can be healed, all of us," Katende said.

"If everybody's aware that the government is standing up for us, then we are all going to be working toward the same thing."

Rhonda Rosenberg, the executive director of the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, agreed with Moe's sentiments that friendliness blooms in Saskatchewan, but said that sentiment alone is not enough. 

"We really need to recognize that colonialism and white supremacy are aspects of racism that are equally, deeply rooted in our society," Rosenberg said. 

"It's good he's talking about both that individual and the systemic [racism] but we really do need to focus on the systemic, because it makes huge differences in people's lives."

Rosenberg said it's not enough to just be a nice person and treat everyone well. She said people need to recognize the systems and cultures that are in place and how they benefit some and exploit others. 

Man addresses crowd in Indigenous attire
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations chief Bobby Cameron, like Moe, called for people to be kind to one another and seek an understanding of different cultures, histories and pasts. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said he was happy to hear Moe acknowledge the existence of systemic racism. 

He said the government's expansion of police oversight on Wednesday is a good building block for the future. 

"It's a great start, it's a good start. We want to thank our Indian Justice Commission for the support of having those types of changes happen," Cameron said. 

"It's part of the items that we have been lobbying for and it's a good start. Now we can build on it."

Going forward, in the justice system in particular, Cameron said he'd like to see more changes that would address systemic racism, including more First Nation judges, Crown prosecutors and jury members.