The marathon meeting of a Calgary city council committee on systemic racism continues to hear from Calgarians and their experiences.
After 36 people made presentations on Tuesday to the community services and protective services committee, another 130 were on the list for Wednesday.
The meeting was approved by city council last month as part of a list of actions to address racism following a series of Black Lives Matter protests in Calgary.
On Wednesday, Adam Massiah spoke of racism being more covert in Canada than in the U.S.
“Store owners will stick their secret shoppers on me or start staring at their surveillance when I walk in,” he said. “But when I open my mouth, you know what they say? ‘Oh wow, you’re actually pretty well-mannered.’
“What does that mean? What does that mean if I’m pretty well-mannered and you’re surprised that I’m articulate? What is my default supposed to be? That’s systematic racism.”
Massiah said he first experienced racism in school when a teacher in a class used the “n-word” in context with a history lesson, saying the teacher told students it was the only time she would use the word and that she did not want to hear it from anyone else.
“She didn’t give any context of the word,” Massiah said. “Every single kid in my class looked at me and I felt this big and that was the first time I felt this big from hearing that word.”
The 26-year-old went on to tell committee of an experience with Calgary police while going to a concert with friends seven years ago.
He said everyone was dressed in white and while facility security dealt with people going in, a police officer specifically pulled him out of the line and asked him to take off his shoes and belt and told him to put his hands on the wall to be patted down.
“I pick up my shoes, put on my socks, put on my belt, put my stuff in my wallet and shake it off because it’s something I experience all of the time,” he said. “I then go to walk in to meet with my friends.
He said he contacted police but his complaint was dismissed so Massiah is calling for a task force, independent of police, to be set up to investigate complaints.
“I’m trying to do my best,” he said.
“I don’t need to feel scared when a police officer pulls in behind me. I don’t need to feel embarrassed in front of my friends because I’m trying to go to an event — something needs to change.
It was a common theme on Wednesday as presenter after presenter complained of incidents with Calgary police.
Some were wondering why police were not there to answer questions. Calgary police did tweet out a response in the early afternoon.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said while this meeting has been about listening and learning, the process towards anti-racism is moving forward.
“If we had this conversation four months ago, you would have had a lot of people denying the existence of racism and systemic racism,” he said. “That’s not where we are at all now. We’re in a place where we’re saying this is true, people are experiencing this in different ways.
“The number of young Black men we’ve heard, all of whom have had a very bad experience with Calgary police, is very eye-opening for a lot of folks — not for everyone, but for a lot of folks. It really helps us think about how we need to move forward differently.”
Still, many presenters were hoping this meeting was more about action rather than presenting their stories.
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, the chair of the meeting, said he is committed to action.
“There is no meaningfulness to the proceedings so far unless they are followed up by meaningful action, and I for one am committed to meaningful action, and I am committed to making it a turning point and not a footnote,” he said.
The meeting will go into a third day Thursday.