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COLUMN: Terrace City Council acknowledges ‘systemic racism’ in joint statement

Terrace city council apologizes to Jessica McCallum-Miller for ‘systemic racism’ in joint statement
The City of Terrace has apologized to Jessica McCallum-Miller, shown here being sworn in as a city councillor in 2018, for what it terms “system racism” causing her to resign. (Black Press Media file photo)

By Andre Carrel

Ms. Jessica McCallum-Miller and the Terrace city council have issued a joint statement bringing closure to the discord leading to her mid-term resignation from council in 2021.

I am pleased that the matter has been resolved to Ms. McCallum-Miller’s satisfaction. As to the City of Terrace, the joint statement raises some troubling questions. The essence of the statement is that:

“The parties acknowledge that while the City never intended to do or say things that would have a negative impact on Ms. McCallum-Miller, she was impacted by systemic racism and by municipal processes and policies in a way that caused harm to her sense of dignity and equality as an Indigenous woman which forced her to resign from city council. The city apologizes to Ms. McCallum-Miller for those experiences.”

To the question of what constitutes “systemic racism” the city states “the municipal government system is an inherently colonial structure and thus systemic racism can be present in any of our practices”.

“Systemic” means something done with organized regularity. “Inherent” means forming a permanent and essential element or quality of something.

That systematic racism should be inherent in local authorities established under British Columbia’s Community Charter and the Local Government Act, two statutes adopted under the umbrella of Canada’s Charter of Rights, is astonishing.

When claims of discrimination such as racism or sexism are raised, they are usually backed by examples ranging from the specific, such as the now notorious case of the Women’s Soccer World Cup victory kiss, to the general, such as hiring or promotion practices.

In the case at hand Council acknowledges that one of its members “was impacted by systemic racism and by municipal processes and policies in a way that caused harm to her sense of dignity and equality as an Indigenous woman”.

That admission notwithstanding, by the rationalization of confidentiality, Council does not provide a single example of what may have caused harm – no word, no statement, no act, process, or procedure, and no policy or bylaw – to help citizens understand how racism may occur inadvertently.

On the subject of costs, the city holds that information on the costs related to this matter is privileged and confidential. This was not a court order; this arrangement was negotiated! Council voluntarily agreed that, while citizens will have to pay the bill, they need not know how much they are paying. How will council hide this expenditure in the city’s financial statements?

From 2014 to 2018 Ms. McCallum-Miller served as the director for Area “C” on the Regional District of Kitimat Stikine which is the rural area surrounding Terrace and points south that is not Thornhill. The regional district’s offices are just a few blocks from city hall and, by the city’s definition, the regional district is rooted in the same colonial past with its inherent systemic racism as is the City of Terrace.

Yet, after a full term as a regional district board member, Ms. McCallum-Miller was not alienated from participation in local government. To the contrary, she set out to win a seat on Terrace city council. It is only there, as a city councillor, that she was subjected to the city’s inherent systemic racism.

Nobody at city hall intended harm and nobody acted improperly, the city states. It’s all our colonial history’s fault. Things just happened, nobody is responsible. I am disillusioned and I am disappointed.

I am too old to get angry, but I am deeply saddened by the sorry state of our municipal democracy and by my council’s lack of political accountability.