Councillors in Fort McMurray have called on their integrity commissioner to investigate allegations that one of their members accused Indigenous people of coming to the city to get drunk and fight.
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Sandy Bowman says in a statement that Coun. 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 expressed that he was “sorry and shocked” that Dogar appeared to say Indigenous Peoples in rural areas “come to Fort McMurray to get drunk, fight, or have other legal issues.”
Dogar has apologized in a statement on Facebook, explaining his “verbal English is weak” and that he was trying to express that people in rural areas face higher mortality due to greater distances to health services, or that they lack a place like a gas station to get warm if they are intoxicated.
He says he shouldn’t have used the example of intoxicated people and wasn’t meaning to equate intoxication with the Indigenous community.
Bowman, other councillors and Indigenous organizations in the region have called on Dogar to resign.
“This is hate speech. Wood Buffalo’s Council Chambers is a place for reconciliation, not harmful statements and division,” Karla Buffalo, CEO of the Athabasca Tribal, said in a statement.
Bowman, in his statement, apologized to Indigenous people in the region for Dogar’s comments, which he said were “insensitive, inaccurate and hateful.”
Council was debating the 2022 budget on Thursday and was discussing a motion by Coun. Kendrick Cardinal to fund prevention initiatives for murdered, missing and exploited Indigenous people.
Dogar has posted a video recording of his comments during the meeting, and he denies he ever said Indigenous people “come to town to fight, drink and get into other legal trouble.”
“Whenever there’s any drunk people in the town, as a taxi driver I could feel it, a few yards, a few hundred yards, you could find some place, you know, where you could get some respite or something for some relief,” Dogar said in the meeting.
“But in your rural areas, you know, it is a long distance. Some people, drunk, and maybe it is a criminal case also, fighting, beating somebody. He is unconscious, people can’t leave them immediately.”
Dogar admitted in the post that accompanied the video that he didn’t effectively communicate his point. He said he should have picked a person having a heart attack or getting into an accident as an example, but was drawing on his past experience as a cab driver.
He said he now realizes he was being insensitive.
Council held a special meeting Friday where it passed a motion calling on the municipality’s chief administrative officer to submit a complaint to Integrity Commissioner James S. Peacock to examine whether Dogar violated the Code of Conduct Bylaw for councillors.
“We live on treaty land and that relationship is massively important to myself and that whole community,” Coun. Stu Wigle, who made the motion, told the special meeting.
Dogar responded by accusing councillors of ceding to a “mob mentality.”
McMurray Metis CEO Bill Loutitt called Dogar’s comments “extremely disheartening.”
“Indigenous people did not come to Fort McMurray. We were here long before, and are working to ensure that all who have made Fort McMurray their home can continue to live healthy, happy lives in the region,” Loutitt said in a video posted by the organization on Facebook.
— The Canadian Press