On March 17, the city’s Community Development Committee voted unanimously to change the terms of reference for the group tasked with fighting racism in Calgary.
The meeting involved a number of city councillors along with the Anti-racism Action Committee and its members.
Latjor Tuel, a Sudanese immigrant and former child soldier suffering from a mental health crisis was shot by Calgary Police on Feb. 19. Ward 9 Coun. Gian Carlo Carra asked if changes to the committee’s terms of reference can help prevent deaths in the future.
“When Mr. Latjor Tuel was killed on the streets of Calgary by police in a mental health crisis, we received a very powerful message from the anti-racism action committee, but it came through webmail, there was not a direct channel,” said Carra.
Carra suggested more effective ways for committees to reach city council and make sure their concerns are heard.
According to Melanie Husker, who is the acting director of Calgary neighborhoods, there is a clear chain for direct members to be able to communicate through the link they have with the administration.
However, the volume of communications may pose challenges. Lorelei Higgins, who is the community lead for the anti-racism program team, said there are over 1,500 community members engaged with their work.
“We’re really looking at a community interface that is much broader than a similar committee that can serve to help address this work in a community facing way,” said Higgins.
Another matter brought up by Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott was the potential blindspots of the committee in terms of representation of council members. Walcott said the presence of Black and Indigenous women’s voices on the council helps “prioritize lived experience.”
“If my memory serves me, I’d be happy to be corrected, that even the first iteration of this actually found itself without a Black woman on it,” said Walcott.
In response, Higgins explained how meticulous the screening process is for the anti-racism action committee.
“Every single person who applies, we talk to, they get a blind interview, it’s a telephone conversation,” said Higgins. So when I say we’ve talked to over 1,500 people, a lot of those people are the people that applied to be on the committee but we just didn’t have a spot for them.”
The number one thing the anti-racism action committee has learned through that process is being able to engage and hear the community it’s trying to serve.
“Picking up the phone and thanking somebody for applying and then spending 15 minutes hearing about their life and why this matters to them, yields returns because those people come back,” said Higgins .
Although the work is rewarding, Higgins said there are structural challenges that delay the city’s anti-racism goals.
“Why do we have a separation between the Indigenous relations office and between anti-racism? There can be umbrellas, but why are we separate streams with separate budgets, separate ways of doing things, separate levels of decision making?” Higgins said.
Need for long-term solutions
Anti-racism is an essential stepping stone that will make Calgarins feel more safe, co-chair of the anti-racism action committee, Sonia Aujla-Bhullar said.
“An anti-racist city long-term is one that afford the basic human digintiy to Black, Indigenous and racialized persons,” said Aujla-Bhullar.
Aujla-Bhullar said to make it in the long-term the anti-racism action committee needs to respond to immediate concerns of racism in Calgary.
Auijla-Bhullar said it’s hard to imagine what a safe Calgary looks like due to recent events.
“As of today, there are white supremacist and white nationalist ideas on our streets. And I use that term broadly with purpose, because it is Calgarians, such as myself as a racialized Brown woman, who do not feel safe,” said Aujla-Bhullar.
She commented that issues like anti-racism take empathy and a collective mindset.
“My apologies, I’m getting emotional here because we can’t think long-term unless we can walk out our doors and know that our children are safe. We are holding onto anything to feel like we are included as whole entities, as whole human beings,” said Aujla-Bhullar.