INNISFAIL, Alta. – Last summer, this spot in the town of Innisfail, Alberta was the location of a contentious protest, where more than 300 people chanted slogans, demanding an end to police brutality and racism after the killing of George Floyd.
One year later, CityNews returned to find out if this protest, and others like it, have had any impact on the culture of rural Alberta.
“[In] rural Alberta, we are facing a lot of backlash. Innisfail was almost cancelled, as many of them we had to cancel because of counter-protestors, hate groups, and white supremacists. It ended up being a very great event only some issues at the very end with people who ended up following us for the rest of the year,” said co-founder of Inclusive Canada Taylor McNallie.
“They seem to think there are no Black people, no racialized people in these towns and areas. Sometimes we are just hiding because it’s not safe for us. We don’t feel comfortable.”
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Innisfail, a town of more than 7,800 people, wasn’t the only Alberta town forced to reckon with racism and protests.
A Black Lives Matter protest in Ponoka was met with a counter-protest. Things there boiled over when a BLM gathering was met by hate groups.
Last year, the mayor of Innisfail insisted there wasn’t any racism in his town, only to later say, “I need to do better.”
One year on, the deputy mayor reflects on how the town administration is tackling racism.
“We have actually exposed that we do have racism, you know, it took a bit to say, ‘No, Innisfail is not a racist community, the community is not racist, there are individuals.’ And many people have come forth after the rally to share their stories,” said Don Harrison.
“Council brought forth a policy and also a group of concerned citizens came forward. Now we can have an open discussion and dialogue around this systemic racism.”
“For so many years, anti-racism committees have been built and left behind, without any progress forward so it’s sad to not see more progress. It just means we have to keep working, keep being louder, keep showing up,” said McNallie.
Protestors also reflecting on the impact they’ve had in these communities.
After the news conference, I interviewed a Ponoka RCMP officer. When I asked him why RCMP were not taking more action (against the ppl w connections to hate groups) he said “are you suggesting one side's voice is more important than the others? b/c it's not.” pic.twitter.com/HvPzEhkWZ8
— Rachelle Elsiufi (@CityRachelle) September 23, 2020
“I am married to an Asian, I am not a racist. I don’t think so there are people in town here that are as racist as everyone makes them out to be,” resident Terry told CityNews.
“I do understand to the best of my ability that there is an imbalance there and I think there is room for improvement. But it’s definitely not something that I see in my small town every day so to me that says there is improvement,” said Samantha, another local.