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City Spotlight: Edmonton, Canada

The City of Edmonton is the capital of the province of Alberta (Canada). Edmonton’s more than 1.4 million inhabitants (as of October 2023) make it the fifth largest municipality in Canada. It is home historically to several First Nations peoples and currently boasts a diverse multi-ethnic and multi-religious population that includes communities of East, South and Southeast Asian, African, South American, Middle Eastern and Caribbean descent.

The City has been a member of the Strong Cities Network since 2018 and has contributed to numerous Strong Cities activities. This includes a June 2023 Transatlantic Dialogue event  in Berlin (Germany), where Mayor Amarjeet Sohi shared the City’s approach to addressing rising levels of racism, hate and extremism that his communities are facing, and at the Fourth Global Summit in New York City in September 2023.

What is the local government concerned about?

Like in many regions across the globe, levels of hate and extremism in Canada have seen a rise in recent years. For example, the Organization for the Prevention of Violence (OPV) found that between 2019 and 2022, incidents of xenophobic hate and extremism increased significantly in Alberta. Further, in 2020 and 2021, a string of hate-motivated attacks were reported in Edmonton, targeting primarily Black Muslim women and girls. While such incidents were not new to the city, the rate at which they occurred, at nearly one attack per month, deeply concerned the local government. This took place in a context of observed increases in White Nationalist activity in the city

How is the local government responding?

In November 2021, then-newly elected Mayor Amarjeet Sohi responded to the spike in hate-motivated attacks in Edmonton by placing the fight against racism high on the political agenda. In close collaboration with affected communities, he set in motion a plan to develop a city-wide anti-racism strategy. The strategy was approved in February 2022 and is now being rolled out to bring communities across the diverse city together with the aim of improving equity, ending poverty, eliminating racism and making progress toward Truth and Reconciliation.

Through this plan, the City seeks to reduce – with the intent to eliminate – racist incidents and address the underlying causes of hate-based violence. Other goals include supporting the recovery and rehabilitation of victims of hate and increasing a sense of solidarity between communities of all cultural backgrounds in Edmonton.

One of the administration’s key priorities while developing the strategy was to involve affected communities in the decision-making process. As such, the city consulted BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) community leaders as well as representatives from civil society organisations and academics to provide input into the strategy. Edmonton’s Anti-Racism Advisory Committee (ARAC), which was established in 2019 “to raise awareness and catalyse action on racism and anti-racism in Edmonton and provide advice to council regarding community perspectives on issues relating to racism”, held community meetings to jointly identify priorities for the strategy. Around 60 individuals and organisations were consulted, with a focus on the most marginalised in BIPOC communities, especially Indigenous Peoples and BIPOC LGBTQ+, youth and Muslim women. The collaboration between ARAC and the City culminated with the elaboration of final strategy that is centred around three pillars:

  1. The first is to establish an independent, community-based organisation, which is fully resourced and dedicated to oversee anti-racism efforts in Edmonton. An advisory board currently helps to shape and inform the creation of this body, which is expected to be established and begin work in 2024.
  2. The second entails the City’s ambition to lead by example to address systemic racism by c elevating anti-racism as a priority within the administration. The City Manager’s Office hired two senior staff members in 2022 to lead this anti-racism, intersectionality and reconciliation work. The City is also working on setting up an anti-racism office: a high-level office that has the mandate to challenge racism and develop a culture of anti-racism within the administration. Once active, this office will embed anti-racist action into all bureaucratic processes and act as a partner to create a longer-term anti-racism strategy for the city. The City is currently exploring options of what this office will look like.
  3. The third is the allocation of funds and provision of training and other capacity-building to support anti-racist action. The City is delivering core and operational funding and capacity-building support to community organisations that do anti-racism and anti-hate work, with the aim of strengthening grassroots BIPOC-led organisations. By supporting these activities, the City believes other organisations in Edmonton will be inspired to create anti-racism strategies and policies. The City has also allocated 1.2 million USD allocated to support community-based projects that enhance the involvement of youth and the elderly in anti-racist work, provide capacity building and innovation around anti-racism programming, deliver participatory research and otherwise elevate the voices and perspectives of under-represented communities. 
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi providing a keynote on mayoral leadership in prevention at a Transatlantic Dialogue in Berlin (June 2023)​

What’s next?

The City will continue to implement its anti-racism strategy over the coming months and Strong Cities will liaise closely with city officials to ensure learnings from this process are shared with other cities both in Canada and globally, particularly through ensuring the City continues to play an active role in the Transatlantic Dialogue Initiative.

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Strong Cities membership is open to local authorities at the city, municipal or other subnational level. Membership is free of charge.