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  • Vermilion Voice

Systemic Racism In Vermilion?

If you’ve been following the latest community events then you probably heard about the racism discussions in Vermilion. Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota by a police officer during an arrest and a video of the incident going viral, many protests erupted all over the United States and the world against racism and police brutality. In Vermilion things weren’t any different. On Facebook Brad Gallamore started a call for a “Vermilion Unites for Equality” protest which garnered many comments. Most of them weren’t very supportive and were skeptical of the need to have such an event since according to many, “Racism is not a problem in Vermilion.” On June 18, the supporters of the protest gathered at the Vermilion Pollinator Garden to share their experiences with racism and “Stand up for systemic racism and demand that the Government of Canada take action and dismantle the systems that keep minorities oppressed,” according to Tigra-Lee Campbell who introduced the event with Brad. I went and attended the protest briefly. Part of me was being curious about what would be discussed, and the other part was that I believe in freedom of speech and that the participants had the right to speak their minds freely no matter how much myself or anyone else disagreed with them. I was also asked if I wanted to share my experience to which I declined because most of the experiences I heard sounded like nothing but minor inconveniences that most of us have to deal with from time to time when you bump into a rude person. I never heard any examples of current “Systems that keep minorities oppressed.” As an immigrant myself and now a Canadian citizen, my experience differs from what I heard and it doesn’t line up with the narrative of the whole protest. I immigrated to Canada over five years ago from the Middle East and I’ve been living and working in Vermilion for almost four years now. During my time here I have never experienced any of the “Systemic Racism” the organizers claimed are, “Alive and well.” When I heard their claims about racism in Vermilion my first reaction was “What?!! Where? Here in Vermilion?” This was news to me. Most people that I interact with in this community are friendly, supportive and don’t care about your ethnicity. They just treat you like a fellow human being. There are racist individuals in town for sure; I met one myself. A guy shouted a racist slur towards me while I was walking back home one time. One guy in four years! A guy that I’ve never seen around town since. Does that really count as a problem? Does that sound like a systemic issue? Should I use this incident to paint the whole town as racist and let it shape my experience here? You tell me. For that one incident though, I can remember hundreds of experiences that contradict it. From little things like people smiling at me in the street, being cheery or wishing me a good day, to coworkers who helped me settle in and find a good place to live or calling on cold mornings to pick me up for work so I didn’t have to walk since I didn’t have a car back then. None of them cared about my skin colour before helping me. My neighbour who has been more than helpful since I moved in, jump started my car more than once, took the time to go with me to find a car battery and then helped me install it; he also didn’t care about my skin colour before helping me. To the nice gentleman who stopped to make sure that I was okay when my car slid into the ditch outside of town and gave me a ride back home; he also didn’t check my skin colour before stopping to help me. Many experiences of residents being kind and friendly anywhere I go - from store workers to school teachers and staff at my son’s school to doctors and healthcare workers at the hospital and almost every business I’ve dealt with - all have been nothing but friendly and supportive. This is my personal experience. It will probably differ from others but for me, I feel grateful for everyone who made me feel welcome in this town. Thank you. That brings me to my first issue with the protest. For them, to “share your experience with racism,” is to only focus on the negative experiences no matter how few and inconvenient they were, letting them shape your whole experience by ignoring the good experiences. Doing this paints the whole town with a big brush stroke of racism while trying to shame your fellow residents for the actions of some bad actors who are nothing but a fraction of the majority of people here. My second biggest issue with this protest is the lack of any evidence to support their claim. If you claim that there’s a “Racism Problem” in Vermilion then you better bring numbers, statistics, data and well documented cases and not hearsay. According to Wikipedia, Systemic Racism is a form of racism which is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other issues. Does that sound like something that is “Alive and Well” here in Vermilion? Wouldn’t a lot of newcomers - like me - quickly take notice of such discrimination? If their claim has any legs to stand on then they should come forth and produce evidence to support it. And if you have been discriminated against by your employer, any organization or institution or if you’ve been refused access to any service because of your skin colour, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc., you should come forth and speak up. Report it to the RCMP, write to your local newspaper, write to your MLA and your MP, bring it to the attention of Town Council, don’t be shy or quiet about it. Discrimination is ILLEGAL in Canada. The Canadian Human Rights Act (1977) ensures equality of opportunity and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation and many other categories. Should there ever be a complaint of discrimination, the Alberta Human Rights Commission can investigate through human rights tribunals or court hearings. Unfortunately all of what I heard at the protest was in the realm of complaints of mean words or encounters - and despite that these encounters can definitely be hurtful - it does not measure up to a “systemic problem of racism.” Contrary to the narrative that “minorities are kept oppressed by the systems in place”, if you examine the status of immigrants in Alberta you will see many success stories. Many immigrants have advanced in their careers, many own successful businesses, and many went into politics and became Mayors, MLAs, or cabinet members. Their skin colour and background didn’t hinder their success in Vermilion or other Alberta communities. Their skin colour and background did not deter voters from voting them into office. So who should you believe - Social Media Claims or reality? Again you tell me?

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