A lot of people don’t feel safe wearing ethnic head-coverings in Red Deer, says a local anti-racism advocate.
In the wake of anti-racism rallies last summer, Lori Jack, chair of the central planning council of the Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership, feels surveying Red Deerians on their perceptions and experiences of discrimination is needed — and timely.
The Red Deer Immigration Partnership has posted a short questionnaire on racism for anyone to complete during the Black History Month of February.
A link to the survey can be found on Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership Facebook page.
Jack is hoping for high participation as she believes understanding the extent of division in Red Deer is crucial to learning how to create a more harmonious city.
“This is about building a more welcoming, inclusive community,” she explained, at a time when anger, economic frustration and pandemic anxiety appear to be exacerbating aggression against minorities.
In Edmonton, Muslim women wearing head-coverings were screamed at or assaulted in four separate incidents since December.
In Red Deer, people hoisting anti-immigrant signs are regularly rallying and shouting at motorists in front of City Hall Park.
And violence broke out last fall at an anti-racism rally at Red Deer’s Rotary Recreation Park. A Penhold man and a Calgary woman were later charged with assault by police.
Jack believes immigrants and people of colour are being targeted because of societal problems that are not easily fixable.
This simmering sense of “disenfranchisement” has always existed, but “it feels like it’s intensified for the last three or four years,” said Jack. “There’s a different energy to it that’s challenging.”
“A lot of people don’t feel safe wearing head wraps, but it’s important that all citizens feel safe,” she added.
After talking to some sign-carrying protesters at City Hall Park, Jack believes their “deeply entrenched” views can be altered through education about how Canada benefits from immigration.
She hopes to get more public feedback through the survey, which asks such questions as: Have you experienced racism? If so, where? Have you witnessed racism? How did you respond to it?
Ezgi Sarioglu, program manager for the Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership, sees the questionnaire as a first step in an anti-racism campaign that’s being undertaken by the group in partnership with several local social agencies including the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce and Government of Alberta.
The next step will be compiling the survey results in a report and using this information to build grassroots programs in schools and in the community.
Sarioglu said racism, whether overt or indirect, exists in every community even though everybody might not be aware of it. “What is its embodiment? What are the ways to address it?”
Starting a dialogue will help reveal the source of some of the conflicts, said Sarioglu, and from there, answers can hopefully be found as to how to counter misinformation about immigration and different races, and get factual information out to the public.
“We need to broaden people’s perceptions with data and facts.”