Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities in Calgary do not trust city staff, administration and council to achieve their anti-racism goals, a city administration report has found.
The report, which was first presented to council on Tuesday, said many of the 2,500 Calgarians surveyed in a community engagement process indicated that racism and discrimination are widespread in the city.
Indigenous, Black and other people of colour (BIPOC) expressed distrust towards the City of Calgary because there have not been meaningful changes to address systemic racism in the past, the report read.
Dr. Linda Kongnetiman, managing lead of the city’s anti-racism program, said more work needs to be done to combat racism in the city.
“No more talking, we need to take action,” said Kongnetiman.
“The community consistently told us that this has been spoken about before. What makes it so different this time?
“The more we isolate the community and staff, the more we will have people continue expressing this distrust.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek commended the “honest report” from city administration and said it is everyone’s responsibility to end systemic racism in the city, adding the burden should not be put on BIPOC communities.
“I think sometimes there’s an expectation that a person of colour will be the one to step forward and say this is happening, but it shouldn’t be. It’s everyone’s responsibility,” Gondek told reporters on Tuesday.
“More importantly, recognizing that everyone has unconscious biases is the biggest step.”
Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said anti-racism work requires patience and is a long process that cannot be rushed overnight.
However, Walcott noted the report is a good first step and a major milestone for the city.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we have elevated our language. We know how to describe it in a way we’ve never been able to in the past,” Walcott said during Tuesday’s combined meeting of council.
“The amount of work that needs to be done to undo the assumptions is not short. It’s not something we can do in a year or two. This will be way past us here.”
Kongnetiman said she’s seen many community members talk about the city’s anti-racism work.
“In only 19 to 20 months, people who were in that position of distrust are making changes because they see the city is making changes and they see the program is not going away,” she said.
“They want to help develop this.”
Racism exists in the workplace, say city employees
Tuesday’s report also detailed findings of racism within the City of Calgary itself, according to findings from a preliminary racial equity assessment.
Some city employees said they have experienced, witnessed or been told about a racist incident at work, city administration said.
Many are also hesitant to raise racial issues with human resources and leadership due to lack of trust.
Others felt that there are not as many opportunities for BIPOC employees compared to white employees, the report read.
“The conversation we had today was very telling. We’re putting an unfair expectation on members of administration that report up to the people that they will be challenging,” Gondek told reporters Tuesday.
“We need some sort of an advisory group or a coach that council and senior leadership can tap into when we have questions or when we are called out on racist behaviour.”
Gondek added she isn’t surprised by the findings.
“I’m not surprised that people would feel uncomfortable going to someone they report to with an issue. Sometimes they don’t know if they’re going to be believed,” she said.
“There’s a lot of reasons someone might not go to the person that they report to. We have to fix that culturally.”