Sohi's anti-racism strategy proposal passes unanimously; city administration to start work immediately

At its first full meeting on Monday, Edmonton’s new city council unanimously passed a motion to create a plan to address hate-based violence and champion anti-racism work.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who made the proposal, was one of several on council who recalled hearing action on racism was wanted by Edmontonians on the campaign trail.

“They want to feel this is their city, that this is a place they can feel safe. They can walk out in public places with dignity and that they have the respect that as human beings they deserve,” he said in a pitch to councillors.

He was also one of several who acknowledged the ways in which systemic racism has affected him.

Sohi recalled being told while campaigning in Mill Woods “how terrible it would be to have someone like me to be in the mayor’s seat.”

Re-elected Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack said he was told by a small number of people while door knocking “they weren’t going to vote for a mayor who was brown.”

“The fact that some people were willing to say that out loud, to somebody at their door, shows just the sheer amount of challenge this issue creates,” Knack told his colleagues.

“That’s why to me this body of work is so important, because it's things like that where if we don’t address it properly, can then go further into serious crimes, serious hate-based violence.”

In the first half of 2021, there had been reports of at least eight apparently hate-motivated attacks on Muslim women in the Edmonton area. As of late June, Edmonton police had received reports of 21 hate-motivated crimes involving people and 23 involving property.

Ward Dene’s Aaron Paquette -- whose family, he noted, as residential school survivors had “literally fought for their right to exist” -- expressed gratitude to Sohi for bringing the motion forward.

And Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi Coun. Jennifer Rice acknowledged previous anti-racism work was likely part of the reason she had earned a seat as one of four BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) councillors.

Administration will deliver a report in February on action that can be taken immediately, derived in part from recommendations already put forward by local organizations.

The ongoing strategy will be developed in collaboration with partners like Edmonton’s community safety and wellbeing taskforce, and will also advocate to provincial and federal levels of government for resources and legislative tools.