Calgary committees raise concerns about reconciliation and anti-racism work in the city

Calgary’s Anti-racism Action Committee (ARAC) and Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC) have raised concerns about anti-racism and reconciliation work in the city.

In a letter addressed to city council, ARAC co-chairs Sonia Aujla-Bhullar and Eileen Clearsky expressed frustration about the lack of transparency, accountability and communication around anti-racism work in Calgary. Bhullar and Clearsky also raised concerns about remuneration for committee members and the perceived value of their work by the City of Calgary.

Aujla-Bhullar said changes are needed to support the committee’s work and anti-racism initiatives in the city. Currently, all members work on a volunteer basis and she says more funding and staffing are needed to meet the demands of the work.

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“Top-down hierarchies don’t work well. Our input, our expertise and our knowledge cannot occur in this structure … And yet we know that this work is so integral and so important to the foundation of volunteerism within the city,” Aujla-Bhullar said during a city council meeting Tuesday morning.

“It has always been about race. Canada has always been built on colonial history and colonial structures.”

CAUAC raised similar concerns, saying it needs more funding and resources to complete the scope of its work. Committee members said they were only given $17,000 to cover the cost of events, meeting expenses and activities this year.

“So much of (our work) hinges on the review of our existing 10-year plan and developing meaningful next steps as we move beyond 2023. It’s going to be crucial for us to have that support to make sure that we can continue doing significant work,” said Tom Van Dewark, director of western operations for Know History and CAUAC committee member.

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The concerns come after similar issues were raised during a city council meeting in March. Remuneration for ARAC committee members was a major talking point throughout the meeting and Aujla-Bhullar also questioned how the city values the committee’s work at the time.

At the time, ARAC proposed changes to the committee’s term of reference to address systemic racism in the city more in-depth.

The workload has expanded beyond the committee’s monthly meetings and volunteers often meet weekly, sometimes daily, to talk with community members or to make sure the work is flowing, Aujla-Bhullar said.

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“We know that anti-racism is something that is still relatively misunderstood at the structural level. That includes organizations, particularly within governing structures here at the City of Calgary,” Aujla-Bhullar said Tuesday.

“The work around anti-racism is essential to be embedded everywhere … We really look forward to being part of this work and to providing our insight and input that is sustainable long-term.”

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