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‘A master class in systemic racism’: Committee co-chair describes public hearing in Calgary

Calgary council committee on anti-racism hears from citizens for second day
WATCH: Calgary council committee on anti-racism hears from citizens for second day

The co-chair of the Calgary city council committee public hearing on systemic racism says it has been astonishing to hear the stories from young and old over the past three days.

“Coming out of these hearings there is no business as usual,” said Dr. Malinda Smith, a political scientist and incoming vice provost of equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Calgary.

“We cannot say we did not know, we cannot say it’s the odd case here, the random incident here. What we are hearing and what we are getting is a master class in systemic racism”

Read more: Public hearings on systemic racism in Calgary begin Tuesday

Thursday is the third day of the public hearing set up by Calgary city council with 200 people signed up to speak to the committee about their experiences with systemic racism.

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Smith said after three decades of working in the field she thought she had heard it all.

“I’ll tell you there are moments that I thought, ‘How is this possible, the pervasiveness that decades on after talking about a comittment to racism, diversity and inclusiveness, we are still hearing these stories.'”

Public hearing on racism
Public hearing on racism

Some controversy arose when a man in his presentation denied systemic racism exists, with many members of the public expressing outrage at the comments.

Smith said the man proved to be an example in how such activity unfolds as microaggressions, as denials, as dismissal.

“And how in fact it’s quite possible that everyday ordinary people feel freely empowered to come to a venue like this and say no it doesn’t exist, despite over 120 testimonies saying just the opposite,” she added.

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“Ordinary men like him have power. And they use it to maintain the racial pecking order. That is part of the challenge council has to address. Shutting it down may give a moment of small victory but the struggle is much larger than that.”

Nyall DaBreo, a Calgary lawyer, is part of an expert panel and has sat through the majority of the hearing.

“It’s not up for debate whether systemic racism exists.” he said.

“However, myself sitting up here and I think the vast majority of people in this room can kind of identify that’s a weak and scared individual, who’s approaching this in a safe place, a public setting, but he’s not a safe person, he’s a dangerous person in my perspective.”

The city is encouraging people who are experiencing trauma from the presentations to contact the Distress Centre. A therapist has been retained with experience in racial informed trauma.

Political mobilization by Indigenous Peoples in Canada is key to the fight against systemic racism
Political mobilization by Indigenous Peoples in Canada is key to the fight against systemic racism