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Edmonton’s new anti-racism initiative kicks off at a crawling pace

The city of Edmonton’s new anti-racism initiative, which has yet to bring about any noticeable change, has already met with criticism. Criticism of the strategy stems primarily from its stretched timeline, which has Edmontonians wondering when to expect results.

The initiative needs an independent board to consult with the city council and develop strategies to combat systemic racism. The board consists of 15 people. Their primary mission is to “maintain trust and uplift the voices of Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) communities.”

The initiative lists several goals. These include supporting communities through support for grassroots organizations and fostering robust relationships between marginalized communities and the proposed board. The City Council is also proposing to record incidents of hate crimes and discrimination for their own data and public knowledge. In addition, the City would like to hire BIPOC individuals with experience working in their communities and grassroots organizations to work on this body.

Ideally, this aspect creates a capable board capable of navigating complex experiences. As a result, the board will be better at understanding, acting and advising appropriately.

The initiative is ambitious, with big proposed goals and a firm desire to align the City Council with the needs and pressing issues of Edmonton’s diverse racist communities. After more than a year, however, the project has not made any progress.

The current standoff is the result of a lengthy selection process that doesn’t seem to have a deadline in mind. The city council is currently in the process of recruiting board members who will advise on who should sit on the independent body.

The initiative’s lack of progress in over a year to complete even its first step is enough to raise concerns about how viable it actually is and whether it will begin to address the complex issues of racism and discrimination in Edmonton.

The Board’s strategy has the right intentions and demonstrates a conceptual understanding of what racialized Edmontonians face today. But intentions alone are not the catalyst for change. Often, as citizens, we need to track projects to verify that there is a follow-up. We do this because ultimately it is the only way to achieve the change we want to see.

Beyond the board, the initiative sometimes formulates goals that are too vague to encourage change. An example is the statement setting out one of the board’s missions: “to stimulate thought about and challenge systemic racism at all levels in Edmonton.”

In theory, that’s a good idea. But good as it is, this statement lacks clarity or functionality and can seem to leave room for empty promises that lead to no progress.

Initiatives like Edmonton’s anti-racism proposal are not new. There are similar ones at the federal level, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), showing why effect is more important than intent. This initiative has provided a much-needed discussion and raised awareness of indigenous issues. However, the federal government has not acted on many of the 94 calls for action by the TRC.

In 2015, the Commission proposed 94 different recommendations. These outlined steps could be taken by the Canadian government to address the impact of institutionalized racism against Indigenous Peoples in Canada. She has only completed 13 of those 94 calls to action in seven years.

Such a blatant example of inaction provides an interesting parallel to Edmonton’s anti-racism initiative. The government’s attempts to tackle racism lack substantial measures and clear goals. These proposals are often made without any real urgency, even if they are sometimes backed with large budgets.

The city allocated $2 million to this initiative directly from the Edmonton Police Services (EPS) budget. This sounds like progress at face value, as if they were choosing to invest in meaningfully supporting marginalized communities rather than going through the police force.

But currently, the city’s 2022 operating budget includes $1.8 million in savings for the anti-racism program. That money should have gone to the independent board, but the lack of board members has proved an obstacle to the strategy outlined. This comes in conjunction with the City Council’s $7 million increase in the EPS budget this year.

Leaders need to be held accountable for the big promises made in political office that go unfulfilled. It’s easier to calm public demands for change by proposing impressive measures that may never be fulfilled.

Raising awareness of critical social issues is ultimately only the first step. Measurable goals that improve community life, challenge laws that fail to serve marginalized people, and respond to the urgent needs of racist communities are difficult. However, they should be a critical part of such goals.

To be honest, it’s radical actions that count. Such actions need a clear presentation of the goals and the absolute will to implement them promptly. More than just acknowledgment of inequality or pain, we should demand an initiative to truly transform citizens’ lives.

We should consider whether Edmonton’s new initiative has the potential to support racialized Edmonton residents. Or if it simply follows the political strides of many other government-based strategies of this type, harboring lofty promises with little enforcement. We should demand that promises be kept and actions that really change lives. How can we be content with movements translated into words if no action follows?

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