'I got called the N-word': Candidates talk about racism during Edmonton campaign
Many Edmontonians celebrated on Monday as voters selected a more diverse council than the city had before, but the campaign trail was still a rough road for racialized people seeking the job.
Eight of the twelve councillors elected are women and four are people of colour.
Edmonton has never elected a Black councillor or mayor. Thirteen Black people put their name on the ballot this election.
“When I was in Duggan, I got called the N-word about five times within one canvassing shift,” candidate Haruun Ali told CTV News Edmonton.
Ali finished fourth in Ward papastew.
The closest a Black candidate came to earning a seat at city hall was Rhiannon Hoyle, who lost by just 33 votes in Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi.
“To this day, we still have not elected a single Black city councillor. In a time when we needed Black voices, we don’t have one,” Ali said.
Ali went as far as to stop door knocking in Duggan and he paired volunteers together because of safety concerns.
“A couple folks told me, to my face, that they’re not ready to have a Black person represent them,” he said.
“I’m sure everyone who ran that is Black has some horror stories. It’s just an unfortunate fact.”
SOHI CALLED A ‘TERRORIST’
The new mayor-elect also had a “terrible experience” while door knocking for votes.
On Sept. 14, the often-stoic Amarjeet Sohi – who was born in India and first moved to Canada in 1981 – opened up during a mayoral forum.
“An angry person, not just once but almost for five or 10 minutes, just yelled and screamed at me and called me a terrorist. And telling me to go away, and all that. Very persistent in his hatred,” he said.
Sohi took a moment during the forum to thank all of his fellow mayoral candidates for speaking about combating racism.
He promised that during his very first council meeting as mayor he will bring forward a motion that will help empower communities to “fight against racism and descrimination.”
“I am concerned about the rise of hate, hate violence, and racism and discrimination. It has no place in Edmonton,” Sohi said.
‘BARRIERS’ HURTING BLACK CANDIDATES
Shamair Turner finished third in the Ward Karhiio council race. She called the campaigning experience “difficult.”
“I experience racism all the time… The campaign wasn’t different,” she said.
Turner wasn’t subject to direct slurs or violence, but pointed out there's more to racism than a handful of belligerent people shouting from their doorsteps.
“When we talk about racism there are a lot of layers to it. And when we talk about racism I think it’s very important, especially in conversations like this, to not only look to the most extreme,” she explained.
“Because that’s when folks are like, ‘Well, I'm not racist because I don’t use that word.’’’
She celebrated the fact that two women of colour are now on council, but added that still only six people of colour have been given the job since the city was founded 125 years ago.
“It’s barriers, it’s access to resources, it’s access to networks, it is access to funding, it is conversations around credibility or viability,” she said of what needs to change.
‘WE NEED EACH OTHER’
One of the bright spots in the campaign saw four candidates come together to condemn the racism their competitor was facing.
Adrian Bruff said he was being targeted while trying to campaign in Ward O-day'min.
"I'm constantly receiving harassing, vitriolic messages online, to being called the N-word while door knocking," said Bruff on Sept. 22.
As a result, Gino Akbari, Joshua Wolchansky, Anne Stevenson and Gabrielle Battiste all signed a statement condemning the barriers some face when running for public office – whether they be women, BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+.
"To hear that he's going through that, it's really painful to watch," Akbari said. "Right now, I think more than ever, we need each other, we need each other as a country, as a city, as neighbours."
Bruff finished third, behind Stevenson and Battiste.
‘WE CAN’T STOP’: ALI
Despite the rough ride, Ali is not quitting now.
“We can’t stop. We gotta keep going. That’s how change happens,” he said.
Ali promised to be on the ballot again, and he will continue speaking out and organizing in the meantime.
He’s creating a think tank called Edmonton’s Future with the goals of addressing police funding, fare-free transit, housing for all and climate action.
As for what it’ll take to get a Black candidate elected, Ali said he’s not holding out hope of changing every mind.
More tangibly, he believes it’ll take $100,000, an older candidate and a big ground game to overcome the barriers that obviously still exist.
“I’m going to be back. I think we need to get more diversity, because at the end of the day, we’re building a city for everyone,” Ali said with a smile.