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Winnipeg’s anti-racism week looks to help heal divisions, end discrimination

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Winnipeg is marking its first-ever anti-racism week, with a campaign to combat intolerance and hate. The city has a bad reputation for discrimination since being labelled as the "most racist city in Canada" six years ago. As Marney Blunt reports, advocates say it will take a lot to eliminate racial divides – Mar 21, 2021

The City of Winnipeg is launching launched its first-ever Anti Racism Week, coinciding with the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Sunday.

The week-long campaign features a series of events from March 21 to 27.

“It’s just trying to better engage the community and the discussion about what would a city without racism look like,” Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman told Global News Friday. “We know that there’s a role and responsibility for government to take, but there’s also a role for Winnipeggers themselves in part of that dialogue and the actions that we need to build a community that we can all be proud of.”

The week will also feature anti-oppression and cultural competency training for roughly 10,000 city employees.

“We don’t need bystanders in the work of reconciliation or anti-racism,” Bowman said. “We need active participants to combat overt acts of racism, but also a systemic racism and complicit bias, which we know exists in all governments and in all organizations.”

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The week comes approximately six years after Maclean’s magazine published an article dubbing Winnipeg “Canada’s most racist city.”

Barry Lavallee, the chief executive officer for Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin Inc., says Winnipeg still has a long way to go in terms of eliminating racism and working towards reconciliation.

“There’s no progress, generally. Awareness by non-Indigenous people has gone up,” Lavallee said. “So there’s talk about it in different circles — political circles, bureaucratic circles, academic circles, all those kinds of things. The talk is there; what to do and how to do it is much more difficult.”

Lavallee adds that the Maclean’s article is, unfortunately, still relevant six years later.

“The Maclean’s story, it still works here,” he said. “Even our world scholars still point to Manitoba in order to study racism and to work to eliminate racism.”

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However, Lavallee says while Manitoba still has a long way to go, there are many people making strides in the right direction. He says starting dialogue is the first step, and applauds the city for declaring Anti Racism Week.

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“People might criticize it and say it’s soft, but it’s a start. If we can say the word ‘racism’ instead of cultural safety or humility or discrimination, it’s important for us to actually name the thing in order to find solutions to the thing,” Lavallee added.

“And there are many people in Manitoba who are taking this fight on and they’re doing it at every corner,” Lavallee noted, adding, “there’s action going on as we speak.”

Irfan Chaudhry, the director for the office of human rights, diversity and equity at MacEwan University in Edmonton, says that although the 2015 Maclean’s article put racism in Winnipeg in the national spotlight, it’s an issue in Canadian cities coast to coast.

“I think Winnipeg is no different than Edmonton and Calgary, where we are seeing increases around anti-Asian sentiment (and) anti-Indigenous discrimination continues,” Chaudhry said.

“The headline from the Maclean’s article did maybe spur some change, maybe not as fast as some would like to see, (but) at least it provided some mechanism to encourage dialogue and direction to address racism in Winnipeg.”

Chaudhry also says starting the conversation around racism is just the first step, and it needs to be followed with action.

“That’s where the meaningful change goes, it’s not just talking about racism. Talking about it is one piece, but also making sure we have mechanisms in place to address it.”

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