Rising against racism

Winnipeg filmmaker promoting integration has some simple advice: 'just be a good neighbour'


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Since being branded Canada's most racist city by Maclean's magazine, Winnipeg is establishing an office of public engagement and resurrecting a coalition of municipalities against racism and discrimination.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2015 (2827 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Since being branded Canada’s most racist city by Maclean’s magazine, Winnipeg is establishing an office of public engagement and resurrecting a coalition of municipalities against racism and discrimination.

But dealing with racism really isn’t that complicated, says a Winnipeg filmmaker.

“Just be a good neighbour,” said Saira Rahman, who returned this week from Norway and Sweden with her sister, Nilufer Rahman, where their documentary Arctic Mosque was screened by Canadian embassies as a shining example of integration.

SUBMITTED PHOTO Winnipeg filmmakers Nilufer (left) and Saira Rahman just returned from Sweden and Norway, where they were guests of the Canadian embassies and invited to screen their documentary Arctic Mosque.

They were invited by Canadian diplomats to show their film following the 4,300-kilometre 2010 journey of the prefab mosque from Winnipeg by road and barge to Inuvik and its growing Muslim community.

Sweden and Norway have welcomed an influx of asylum seekers, many from Muslim countries. They are looking to other countries that belong to the Arctic Council — which Canada chairs — for ways to smooth the newcomers’ integration, Rahman said.

“The whole reason to screen the film and invite us was to talk about Arctic integration — how a visible minority integrated into the community — that was really appealing to them,” said Rahman. “What does integration look like and how is it done successfully?”

The Mosque of the Midnight Sun, as it was formally named, was welcomed by the northern community where the majority of people are indigenous and in charge, said Rahman. “Their values are all about compassion and acceptance and being non-judgmental,” she said.

They told film-goers in Oslo, Stockholm, and other Scandinavian cities that most Canadians are accepting, but it is no “utopia,” Rahman said. Television programs such as Little Mosque on the Prairie helped to build bridges with Canadians who knew next to nothing about Muslims, they told the crowds at screenings and workshops.

Rahman didn’t tell the Norwegians and Swedes about her own “worst racist experience” in Canada. When she was five, her family moved to a new development in North Kildonan. One day, she saw a bunny and chased it onto the lawn of a home several houses down from hers. “I heard loud shouting — there was this young cop in full uniform, and he had a police dog barking at me, and the woman standing behind him looked really worried,” she said.

“He told me to get off his lawn and called me a nigger or a paki — I forget which — and was shouting ‘I’ll sic my dog on you if you don’t get off my lawn.’ That was my worst racist experience. I was really confused. He’s a cop. They’re not supposed to do that; they’re supposed to protect me.”

A few years later, she was a school patrol member and mentored by another police officer. “He was such a lovely person that any kind of notions that I had of police officers being racist or unkind were diminished.”

Since the notorious Maclean’s cover story, Winnipeg’s first Métis mayor, Brian Bowman, has pledged to address racism in the city “head on” with an office of public engagement. The Citizen Equity Committee has a working group to resurrect a coalition of municipalities against racism and discrimination, said chairwoman Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre).

Rahman said people can get bogged down dissecting and discussing the issue of racism.

“How do we live together? It’s not complicated — just be a good neighbour,” she said. “That is a universal concept — ask someone in Kenya, Indonesia, Sweden or here describe what it means to be a good neighbour and it’s the same thing.”

Arctic Mosque airs on APTN Apr. 29 and May 4.


Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.


Updated on Monday, March 9, 2015 7:03 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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