In Canada, we need government intervention to improve Indigenous education, health care, justice, housing and economic development. The 2005 Kelowna Accord would have started the process, but the federal government changed and the accord was forgotten. Thirteen years later a similar initiative is badly needed. Photo from AffinityMagazine.com

Glen Argan: Legislation alone will not cure racism

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  • February 23, 2018

Last May, my wife, daughters and I stayed at a resort on a First Nations reserve on Vancouver Island to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. The last night we were there, my mother-in-law moved into town, and my wife and I slept in the yurt where she had stayed.

In the next-door yurt, two or three metres away, was a drunken bachelor party of about eight young, white, middle-class guys. Sleep for us was impossible, so eventually I went over to ask the guys to pipe down. One man started shouting at me, saying he was sick of Albertans. The groom-to-be came charging out of the cabin and challenged me to a fight.

The best man told me I should understand that it was the most important night of the groom’s life and that we should tolerate their drunken, rowdy celebration.

I recall this now in the light of the not-guilty verdict for the man who killed 22-year-old Colten Boushie. If Gerald Stanley felt he was in a perilous situation, well, so did I with those young men. They showed clear signs of wanting to engage in violence and I stood there, unarmed and 40 years older than the drunks. The nearest RCMP detachment was miles away.

I don’t own a gun and I didn’t have a mobile phone. But if I had pulled out a gun, I would have been guilty of escalating a tense situation. If I had fired off warning shots, I would have been further guilty of upping the stakes. What I did have was a firm determination to be level-headed and to back away from any altercation.

The rowdiness continued for about another half-hour when the bridal party arrived, and the young men calmed down in the presence of their lady friends.

The next morning, the First Nations people who ran the resort were completely sympathetic to our plight and, without question, cancelled the rental price we were to have paid for the cabin that night.

Still, I have to wonder how a jury — even an apparently all-white one — can acquit a man who entered a similar situation with a revolver in hand, fired two “warning shots” and, accidentally or intentionally, shot the gun which put a bullet through a young man’s brain. When one engages with a group of drunken youth, doesn’t one have a responsibility to try to de-escalate the situation?

When the RCMP went to inform Boushie’s mother that he had been killed, wouldn’t human decency dictate that they treat her with sensitivity and not engage in a thorough search of her house, looking for who knows what?

Roughly a dozen years ago, my family stopped at a gas station in North Battleford, Sask. — not far from the site of the Boushie’s killing — to fill up during a journey from Edmonton to my parents’ home in Regina.

When my wife and I were in the crowded convenience store waiting to pay for the gas, four Aboriginal children entered the store and headed for the Slurpee machine. It was a boiling hot day and, as kids are apt to do, they started fooling around and some Slurpee spilled on the floor. Immediately, the female clerk stopped what she was doing and started yelling for the kids to get out of the store. To us, it seemed like unabashed racism.

Last summer, white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent. It’s been more than 50 years since the civil rights movement brought lasting change for African Americans through government legislation. But legislation does not drive bigotry away.

In Canada, we need government intervention to improve Indigenous education, health care, justice, housing and economic development. The 2005 Kelowna Accord would have started the process, but the federal government changed and the accord was forgotten. Thirteen years later a similar initiative is badly needed.

But Charlottesville and the Boushie killing show legislation cannot abolish racism. People must overcome insular, self-righteous attitudes and come to see the God-given dignity in every person. Cultural education would help, but ultimately it is in families where attitudes are formed. Teach your children and grandchildren the dignity of people of every race and creed, and we will have hope for a tomorrow where the RCMP do not trash the houses of victims and juries are colour-blind in reaching their verdicts.

(Argan writes from Edmonton and has been an editor in the Catholic press for more than 30 years.)

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