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Racism

As you will find in other sections of this website, racism has been an element of concern and experience through much of Alberta's history.  The meeting of cultural and racial groups that have not previously co-existed or had uninformed perceptions of others has been part of the challenge of building good communities and a civil society.  With more recent events, concerns about these attitudes have emerged. One year after the events of September 11th related to the destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York, Charlach Mackintosh, Chief Commissioner of Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission wrote the following open Letter to the Editor, dated September 12th, 2002: 

"In the year that has passed since the horrific events of September 11, much in our lives has changed. Increased security has become the accepted norm in almost every segment of our society, Canadian combat troops have fought and died on foreign soil for the first time in over fifty years and our daily news media are filled with reports on terrorist and counter-terrorist activities around the world. We suddenly find ourselves living in a climate of fear and mistrust that most of us have never experienced before. It is at times like these that our commitment to human rights is truly tested. 

The events of September 11 were particularly worrisome because of the immediate backlash of anger that was directed to the Arab and Muslim world. At the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission we were concerned that some Albertans would allow anger to overtake their common sense and that the Commission would receive a rash of complaints of racial stereotyping and prejudicial treatment. In a statement shortly after the attacks, I called on all Albertans to be vigilant in defence of human rights and not succumb to the temptation of treating others disrespectfully. As I reflect back on the past year, I am torn between giving a positive message of praise to Albertans and a cautionary message urging continued vigilance. I've come to the conclusion that both messages are warranted.

On the one hand, I am pleased to say that the Commission has not experienced the substantial increase in complaints we feared in the areas protected by Alberta's human rights legislation, such as employment and services. There has been no appreciable increase in the incidence of complaints on the grounds of race/colour, religious beliefs or ancestry/place of origin. On the other hand, when we listen to the community we know that not everyone who experiences discrimination files a complaint with the Commission, and we know that there have been some shameful incidents that do not fall under our human rights legislation, such as harassing and intimidating comments made by anonymous people in the street. These incidents tell us that we need to continue our efforts of working together to build a fully inclusive society where everyone feels valued and respected, safe and secure, and where all know that their human rights are protected. One act of racism or religious discrimination remains one act too many.

For many, the events of 9/11 resulted in kindness and support and strengthened the bonds between people of different faiths and beliefs. We need to recognize and commend the people who have worked together, sometimes on a one-to-one basis, and sometimes through community organizations, to build more understanding about our diversity, eliminate stereotypes and combat racism. I believe we can all be proud of the fact that most Albertans have not succumbed to fear, mistrust and anger. The majority of Albertans continue to demonstrate understanding and fair treatment in their dealings with others, and recognize no one should experience bias, verbal abuse, or discrimination. No one should suffer emotional distress or fear for the safety of themselves and their families because of hostility in their communities.

One year after September 11, I urge Albertans to continue their efforts toward creating a society that truly respects the personal dignity of every individual without prejudice. The Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission is dedicated to the realization of that goal and, ultimately, to the establishment of Alberta as a leader in human rights protection and promotion."

Charlach Mackintosh, Chief Commissioner of Alberta Human
Rights and Citizenship Commission

This letter was reproduced with permission from the Alberta Human Rights Commission,

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