Black Lives Matter protesters marched through the streeters of Williams Lake Friday, June 5, led by teen Rea Klar. (Photo: Angie Mindus)

‘We know the city is diverse,’ says anti-racism co-petitioner calling on Surrey to ‘stand up’

More than 4,000 signatures urge city to denounce racism against Black and Indigenous people

An organizer of a petition, calling on the City of Surrey to take a stronger stance in denouncing racism, says now is the time to be making statement about “how you’re going to start making changes to ensure that this does not continue” rather than stating a city is diverse.

A petition, started by Surrey-based 5X Festival and African Heritage Festival of Music and Dance about a week ago, is urging the City of Surrey “to show solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities by making a public statement committing to anti-racism in our city.”

The petition can be found at change.org/p/city-of-surrey-dismantle-anti-black-racsim.

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Did you know Surrey is 60% non-white? Ok, now did you know Surrey has the largest Black population in British Columbia? Currently, we're in the midst of the largest civil rights movement of our generation. Unlike many other cities this past week (Vancouver, Richmond, Toronto), our hometown of Surrey has yet to make a public statement committing to anti-racism in our city. We ❤ Surrey! Please help us encourage the @thecityofsurrey to show solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities by making a public statement committing to anti-racism in our city. These are not just American issues. Racism and bigotry affect our communities right here at home – everyday. Please share and tag the @thecityofsurrey in the comments below!

A post shared by 5X Festival (@5xfest) on

It followed 5X’s call on June 8 for the city to denounce racism as governments, local- and senior-level, in B.C. and elsewhere posted about steps being taken to be actively anti-racist as people around the world protested police brutality and the death of George Floyd, who died while being restrained by police in Minneapolis.

Later that day, the City of Surrey put out a statement from Mayor Doug McCallum: “Surrey is a city that has been built and strengthened by its diversity. Racism, discrimination, and intolerance have no place in our city, our province or our country. Surrey takes tremendous pride in our cultural diversity and the inclusion and respect we show one another every day.”

The Now-Leader has reached out to the City of Surrey.

Then on June 18, McCallum issued a second statement, saying “there is no place” for racism, discrimination or intolerance in Surrey, which is “unequivocally strengthened by our diversity.”

“The pride we place in our cultural diversity and the inclusion and respect we show to one another did not just materialize overnight. We do not take this for granted and we are constantly looking at how we can strengthen the diverse and inclusive society we have in Surrey.

“Despite the gains we have made, racism against Black, Indigenous, Asian and people of all creeds, colour and sexual orientation has not been eradicated. I can assure you that we will continue to condemn and eliminate all acts of hate and discrimination in our city,” he said.

Ezeadi Patrick Onukwulu, the CEO and artistic director of AHFOMAD, said McCallum’s initial statement on June 8 was “the wrong statement, unfortunately.”

“That’s not what this time calls for. This time calls for the city actually being direct. This is not the time for sugarcoating. We know the city is diverse. We know what is going on in the city — we do. There is no more time for sugarcoating things.”

Onukwulu, a Surrey resident, said now is the time to “come out supporting Black Lives Matter and what they are talking about and what it is all about” and “how you’re going to start making changes to ensure that this does not continue.”

He said that whatever statement the city makes going forward, he will “make sure we hold them to it.”

“We will hold them responsible to making sure whatever they say, the do.”

The petition adds that a public statement might “Acknowledge that anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism exist in the City; Acknowledge that civic institutions have tacitly perpetuated systematic racism; Clarify what percentage of the executive leadership of the City is diverse, and how that can change; Commit to actively dismantling systemic racism, discrimination and intolerance from our systems; Commit to a policy ensuring that Surrey is an inclusive and equitable place for Black and Indigenous and POC communities.”

Asked on some concrete steps the city could take going forward, Onukwulu said Surrey is in an “incredible position right now” as it moves to a municipal police force.

“Surrey is in the place where it can have the best police force in the world if it is done properly. They don’t have to dismantle,” he said, referring to calls in the U.S. and Canada to “defund the police.”

READ ALSO: When protesters cry ‘defund the police,’ what does it mean?, June 8, 2020

“They’ve already put the plan together to have a new police force. So why not do it right?”

Tarun Nayar, the executive director of 5X Festival which is the co-petitioner, said there is “plenty of guidance out there online and there are people, thousands of them, that do this for a living, so we made some simple suggestions” when including their asks in the petition.

“I would say how the city takes this forward is entirely up to them. There are many other cities that have done such things, including Toronto, Vancouver and Richmond, and I would encourage them to follow suit and do some research and really engage in a meaningful way with people.”

Nayar said that while one of the things he loves about Surrey is how diverse it is, he only learned recently that it’s roughly 60 per cent BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and it has the largest Black population in B.C.

“We pay attention to these things and we feel a lot of pride in doing our events in Surrey and I think because of it’s young, diverse population, I feel like Surrey should be leaders, moving into the next 10 years,” he said.

With the June 8 statement, Nayar said he felt it was “almost implying as if (racism) doesn’t happen in Surrey.”

“I think that’s what really made a lot of people disappointed.”

By Friday afternoon, the petition has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

Meantime, several acts have pulled out of the City of Surrey’s virtual Canada Day celebrations due to a lack of response to the petition and being actively anti-racist.

READ ALSO: Artists pull out of Surrey’s virtual Canada Day event as anti-racism petition grows, June 18, 2020



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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