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Chahal: Hatred must not flourish in Calgary

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Calgary Herald

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March 27, 2021 • • March 27, 2021 • • 3 minutes read • • 47 comments Coun. George Chahal poses as a young boy with his grandparents, Hargobind Singh Chahal (left) and Udham Kaur Chahal. George writes that he looked up especially to his grandfather, who often suffered racist attacks with dignity and strength. Photo by Submitted /.Chahal family

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Last Saturday, a young Muslim woman was attacked in Prince’s Island Park. This follows the attacks on five Somali-Canadian women in Edmonton in the past three months. Since the beginning of the pandemic, reports of anti-Asian hate crimes in Canada have increased. Many of my colleagues have condemned the recent recurrence of hatred, racism and violence, but our words are not enough. We won’t win this fight if we don’t treat it like one. We should know this through our history together. I think of mine a lot.

My grandfather came to Calgary in 1972, a 65-year-old farmer who did not speak English. He loved his family, stampede wrestling, and Canada. From the early 1970s until his death in 1998, he saw himself as a Sikh and a Canadian. He wore a dark blue turban and walked with a stick. As a child I was often by his side, in awe of his dignity and strength. He was mocked, yelled at, spat at and frequently attacked with trash, and yet he was not afraid. Faith gave him strength and he tried his best to share that with me. But I was scared, and for many years I avoided groups of white men and kept my head bowed as I passed. Before I immigrated to Canada, my father and uncles fought regularly against National Front members and skinheads in the UK. They were always on guard. My older brother taught me that it was better to fight and hit than to live in fear. We were often ridiculed with racist slurs. A lot has changed in the last 45 years, but many things haven’t changed.

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There has never been a Calgary where anyone can be successful just because of their earnings. It is a myth that offers intellectual comfort to the political and business establishment. Ethnicity, belief, gender, and sexual orientation are still barriers to success, even though we like to tell ourselves that they are no longer. Not so long ago, Jewish people were denied entry to certain facilities, people with “strange-sounding” names were denied work, and Sikhs in turbans could not drive for certain taxi companies, let alone be hired by large employers. This is what systemic racism looks like and how it persists in our workplaces and institutions.

Victims of racism and assault never forget. I have not forgotten and today I am afraid for my daughters. Public safety is no longer a given, if it ever could be. The pandemic has brought out both the best and the worst in us. While a large majority of the Calgarians make the necessary sacrifices, a small but significant group kindle the flames of hatred, spreading misinformation and suspicion, and blaming all but themselves for their perceived misfortune. Today we see Muslim women attacked for their beliefs and appearance, Asians blamed for the pandemic, and white supremacists marching our streets without shame. Social media companies serve as platforms and echo chambers for right-wing extremist indoctrination. Klansmen crawled out of their holes in suits and ties. Neo-Nazis veil their real intentions in irony and subversive humor. Fascist ideologies never went away, they just hid. Now let’s see what happens when they come back up.

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As councilors, we have a responsibility to speak and take action on behalf of all Calgarians, not just those in our communities. Calgarians value freedom of expression and expression, but we must draw the line when it comes to hate speech and incitement to violence. I am proud of the work this Council has done on combating racism and I am grateful to my colleagues who spoke in a clear and compassionate column on Monday. But we still have to do more. All Calgarians should feel safe where they live, work and play. Intimidation and fear must be expressly rejected by the vast majority. We have the opportunity to build a better city by using our strengths. We will attract investment and young workers by being inclusive, but the opposite will happen (and frankly) if hatred is allowed to flourish.

For too long, the voices of those involved in anti-racist work have been received with silence or indifference. These hateful events will continue and the organizers will be encouraged by their perceived immunity if we continue like this. The Calgary Police Service needs to take more determined action in dealing with these events and their organizers in the future. We cannot simply accept the limitations of our current system and must work together to create the conditions necessary to make real change happen. As the Calgary Police Commissioner, I will do everything I can to promote this action.

George Chahal is the Alderman for Ward 5 in Calgary.

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