Winnipeg’s mayor is calling a race relations summit for next month as the city tries to shake off being dubbed the most racist in Canada.
Mayor Brian Bowman said the race relations summit, to be held at the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, will continue a much-needed discussion about racism.
“We do have a problem here,” Bowman said Tuesday. “Cities across our nation have the same problem — intolerance, ignorance, racism. We have a problem. It’s not Winnipeg’s alone but together we are ready to lead the nation in the battle to take on racism together.”
The summit comes as Winnipeg struggles with its image as an intolerant city, especially for aboriginal people.
Winnipeg has come under a harsh spotlight numerous times. Brian Sinclair, an aboriginal double-amputee, died during a 34-hour wait in a Winnipeg emergency room in 2008 while many assumed he was drunk or homeless rather than someone seeking medical care.
Some have called Winnipeg the epicentre for missing and murdered aboriginal women following the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine whose body was pulled from the Red River wrapped in a bag last year.
Earlier this year, a Winnipeg high school teacher made national headlines when he ranted about aboriginal people on social media, accusing them of being lazy and seeking free money from non-aboriginals.
Bowman tearfully promised to tackle such intolerance in January when Winnipeg was labelled the most racist city in Canada in a cover story in Maclean’s magazine. Since then, he has appointed an indigenous advisory council and said the two-day summit will bring people together to share ideas on how to fight racism.
“No single summit of leaders can or will end racism. We all know that,” Bowman said. “We need more than words to affect the most necessary change in Canada … But the summit is an attempt to begin that process.”
The summit is to feature a keynote speech by award-winning author Joseph Boyden and American civil rights speaker Gerald Durley.
Grand Chief Terrance Nelson with the Southern Chiefs Organization said a two-day summit does little to address soaring aboriginal unemployment rates, hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women, the disproportionate number of aboriginal people in jail and the thousands of aboriginal children in the care of child and family services.
If Bowman was serious about addressing the plight of First Nations, Nelson said he would focus his attention on creating an urban reserve rather than organize a summit.
“We all know the problems,” Nelson said. “We have to have concrete action, not simply another conference.”
Education Minister James Allum said the province will help fund the summit and congratulated organizers for tackling the issue head-on.
“There are some in this community who don’t think we need to have this conversation. There are some who have said it’s not a problem, we shouldn’t talk about it,” Allum said. “(It’s) a conversation that needs to happen among all of us.”