Don Iveson is the mayor of Edmonton
When I was three years old, my best friend in daycare was a kid named Carl. Carl and I did everything together – we shared toys, collaborated on macaroni art projects and ate lunch side by side, every day. It wasn't until later that Carl's skin colour became something that seemed to matter, something people actually paid attention to. Carl is black, but when I was 3, he was just Carl.
In general, and especially around Canada 150, we have a perception of Canada as a deeply caring and wonderfully inclusive place founded upon multicultural values and traditions, but recent expressions of hate and racism in our cities have cast doubt on that story.
There has been renewed attention on hate crimes and intolerance – so much so that the government of Alberta announced this week that it would "gather input on ways the government can fight racism, foster acceptance and promote an inclusive society." We know that all orders of government play key roles in addressing racism, but I also believe that youth and community are key change agents in addressing racism.
For example, when my friend Jesse Lipscombe launched the #MakeItAwkward movement last year after he experienced discrimination from strangers on the street, it was about much more than just a hashtag. It was about recognizing that it's important for all of us to have frank, sometimes awkward community conversations about racism, and to educate and hold people accountable to be the inclusive Canadians we aspire to be.
Jesse and I are both fathers and our families are what some people refer to as mixed-race. So when we spoke about truly addressing racism, our minds both turned to engaging youth in making change. Partly so our kids can grow up in a city and country with fewer acts of hate and violence, but chiefly because children tend to have moral clarity about these issues. They start off knowing what's right, and what's wrong. Curiosity (even confusion) over difference is natural, but the clench of hate, mistrust, bigotry – all that is learned. It is passed down from influencers and elders and soaked up from systemic manifestations, overt and subtle.
I also believe this applies to gender roles, to sexual identity, "ableism" as experienced by persons with disabilities and all other forms of discrimination from Islamophobia to transphobia. It is learned behaviour. It is not innate in our children.
The City of Edmonton has undertaken a lot of work to try to better understand root causes of racism in our city. For example, through our work on End Poverty Edmonton we were reminded of the ugly truth that economic marginalization is all too often a consequence of other forms of discrimination – in particular, racial discrimination experienced by Indigenous and newcomer Canadians. Looking for a job, finding a place to live, feeling at home in a city – all of these outcomes can be impacted by a person's appearance.
As the City of Edmonton continues to work with the community, we are also trying to address policy and institutional barriers that contribute to racism – everything from hiring practices, programs and services, affordable housing and community supports. We also recently launched a community survey for Edmontonians to provide input on their perceptions of racism in our city, and the results of this survey will help inform further community engagement on this topic.
We know communities have creative solutions. In Edmonton, for example, community organizations are doing their part to raise awareness – everything from Truth and Reconciliation projects, anti-racism film festivals and mosques holding open houses to the Global Indigenous Youth Coalition founded by Somali-Canadian and Indigenous youth who have come to together to advocate for each other and build a more equal society for all.
We aspire to a city and country where racism doesn't exist, but it won't happen by sitting on the sidelines. All orders of government need to continue to reach out to bring youth and community together in order to capture hearts and minds.