FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Councilors in Fort McMurray have asked their Integrity Commissioner to investigate allegations that one of their members accused Native people of coming to town to get drunk and fight.
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Sandy Bowman said in a statement that council. Shafiq Dogar made the comments during a debate Thursday on a motion regarding prevention and awareness initiatives for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people.
Bowman says he didn’t fully understand Dogar’s comments at the time “due to a language barrier”, but later said he was “sorry and shocked” that Dogar seemed to say the Indigenous people from rural areas “come to Fort McMurray to get drunk, fight or have other legal problems.
Dogar apologized in a statement on Facebook, saying his “verbal English is poor” and that he was trying to convey that people in rural areas face higher mortality due to greater distances to services health, or that they lack a place like a gas station to warm up if they are intoxicated.
He says he shouldn’t have used the example of intoxicated people and he didn’t want to equate intoxication with the Aboriginal community.
Bowman, other councilors and native organizations in the area called on Dogar to step down.
“This is hate speech. The Wood Buffalo council chamber is a place of reconciliation, not harmful statements and divisions,” Athabasca Tribal CEO Karla Buffalo said in a statement.
Bowman, in his statement, apologized to the indigenous peoples of the area for Dogar’s comments, which he called “callous, inaccurate and hateful.”
The council was debating the 2022 budget on Thursday and discussing a council motion. Kendrick Cardinal to fund prevention initiatives for murdered, missing and exploited Indigenous people.
Dogar released a video recording of his comments at the meeting, and he denies ever saying that Native people “come to town to fight, drink and have other legal problems.”
“Whenever there are drunk people in the city, as a taxi driver I could smell it, a few meters away, a few hundred meters away you could find a place, you know, where you could get respite or something to relieve you,” Dogar said during the reunion.
“But in your rural areas, you know, it’s a long distance. Some people, drunk, and maybe it’s also a criminal matter, fight, beat someone. He is unconscious, people cannot leave him immediately.
Dogar admitted in the message that accompanied the video that he did not effectively communicate his point of view. He said he should have chosen someone having a heart attack or having an accident as an example, but was relying on his past experience as a taxi driver.
He said he now realizes he was insensitive.
The council held a special meeting on Friday where it passed a motion asking the city’s chief executive to file a complaint with Integrity Commissioner James S. Peacock to determine whether Dogar breached the code bylaw. conduct of advisers.
“We live on treaty land and this relationship is extremely important to me and the whole community,” the councilor said. Stu Wigle, who introduced the motion, told the special meeting.
Dogar responded by accusing the councilors of giving in to a “mob mentality”.
McMurray Metis CEO Bill Loutitt called Dogar’s comments “extremely discouraging.”
“Native people didn’t come to Fort McMurray. We were here long before and we are working to ensure that everyone who calls Fort McMurray their home can continue to live healthy and happy lives in the area,” Loutitt said in a video posted by the organization on Facebook.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 6, 2022.
The Canadian Press