Edmonton , Canada

Racism Free Edmonton

City of Edmonton

February 20, 2013

A municipal commitment to end racism creates space for a community conversation about race, diversity and inclusion

What would you do if you heard someone tell a racist joke, or use racist language? Would you say something? In Edmonton, Canada, 24,000 residents have pledged to speak up for a city free from racism.

The population of Edmonton has grown by approximately 25% in the last ten years; now more than a million people call the city their home. And while Toronto and Vancouver are often thought of as the hometowns of Canadian diversity, the provincial capital of Alberta is catching up – 18.5% of Edmontonians are immigrants, 17% are visible minorities, and 5% are Aboriginal peoples.

Diversity can bring challenges as well as opportunities, so when the Canadian Commission for UNESCO spearheaded the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD), Edmonton was among the first cities to join. In 2007, Racism Free Edmonton was established and incorporated into the Deputy City Manager’s Office as an expression of the city’s commitment to action.

By choosing to take an anti-racism approach to its work, Racism Free Edmonton explicitly names the racism and discrimination that many Edmontonians face. This challenges the often polite Canadian conversation on multiculturalism and the idea that racism is no longer a problem in Canada. It is also a clear statement that racism is unacceptable in their city.

In addition, by framing the issue to include immigrants, racialized, and Aboriginal Canadians, Racism Free Edmonton brings together the city agencies and community organizations that work closely with each of these communities.

While both of these approaches have come with challenges, they have also presented opportunities – to acknowledge experiences of racism and discrimination, to create a space to talk about those experiences openly, and to explore how widespread these experiences are.

“Eliminating racism is another step towards making Edmonton a great place to live for everyone,” explains Ann Mah, Edmonton Public Schools.

Turning words into action

The City of Edmonton is a lead member and funder of Racism Free Edmonton, a collaborative partnership between 16 government departments and agencies, educational institutions and community organizations. It aims to build an inclusive community that respects the cultural diversity of immigrant, racialized and Aboriginal communities.

Racism Free Edmonton started out by consulting with the community and developing an action plan that identifies specific activities to address barriers to full participation in economic, social and political life. Through consultative community meetings with Aboriginal and racialized participants, Racism Free Edmonton identified six areas of focus: education, employment, housing, media, policing and justice, and youth. Significantly, the plan includes specific tasks to monitor, evaluate and report on successes and challenges.

In 2010, Racism Free Edmonton launched a public awareness campaign called, “I’m Committed to a Racism Free Edmonton.” Over an eight-month period, the Racism Free Edmonton partners distributed postcards and 100 large scrolls around the city and in public institutions such as schools. By signing the scrolls and postcards, or by making a pledge on the Racism Free Edmonton website, people in Edmonton committed to specific actions to eliminate racism in their city.

For example, residents committed to “accept people for who they are,” to “stand up for those being discriminated against,” and to “believe that there is more to a person than a ‘single’ story.”

Throughout the campaign, Racism Free Edmonton was supported by its partners and by public figures such as City Councillor and Multiculturalism Initiative Liaison Amarjeet Sohi. “Edmontonians have affirmed their commitment to being an inclusive city,” said Councillor Sohi. “Now we must work together to continue our strategic work to identify and prevent discrimination. This work calls for courage, and, above all, partnership.”


By the end of the eight-month campaign, 24,000 Edmonton residents had pledged their commitment to ending racism in their city. Further, 20,000 people visited the Racism Free Edmonton website during that time.

To keep up the momentum created by the campaign, Racism Free Edmonton continues to hold public events such as an employment symposium, a free speech forum and intercultural awareness events for adults and youth. To learn more, in 2011, the city partnered with the University of Alberta on a study that explores Edmontonians’ experiences with racism and discrimination.

The Racism Free Edmonton website has information for the public on understanding institutional, systemic, and individual racism, as well as the importance of standing together with the victims of racism, thinking critically about what is presented in the media, and re-considering the use of words like “disadvantaged” and “underpriviledged.”

Racism Free Edmonton also provides three-day anti-discrimination training to public institutions and community organizations, at no cost to the participants. All of the senior leadership at the Edmonton Police Services have taken this training.

“The Edmonton Police Service has a long history of working with community partners. We will continue to strive to break down language and cultural barriers and foster respect and understanding — the cornerstones of our commitment to a racism-free city,” said Michael J. Boyd, C.O.M., Chief of Police, Edmonton Police Service.

As a result of its work, Racism Free Edmonton has been recognized as a promising practice by both the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD) and by UNESCO. By 2012, 54 Canadian municipalities in nine provinces and one territory had joined CCMARD.

In the future, Racism Free Edmonton is considering broadening its work to address other kinds of discrimination, to continue to build an inclusive community for all Edmonton residents.

Making it Work for You:

  • Leadership matters. The support of someone influential, such as the Mayor, City Manager or a city councilor, can marshall the political will and resources needed to drive your work forward.
  • Consult with community before and after your campaign to identify ongoing areas of concern and local champions that can help increase the reach and impact of your work.
  • Name the issue that you want to address. Explicitly acknowledging people’s experiences and creating the space to talk about them can be a powerful way to raise awareness of the issue.
  • Report on your progress using clear language and accessible formats to ensure a wide readership across your community.

For this Good Idea contact:

Kaylin Betteridge, Racism Free Edmonton
8th Floor CN Tower, 10004-104 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,
T5J 0K1

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