Mayor Sandy Bowman and Indigenous leaders around Fort McMurray are asking for Councillor Shafiq Dogar's resignation after he said Indigenous people come to Fort McMurray to get drunk, fight or cause legal problems.
Dogar made the remark during a presentation from the municipality’s Indigenous and Rural Relations (IRR) department during the municipality’s budget consultations.
Councillor Kendrick Cardinal, who is also president of Fort Chipewyan Métis Association, proposed asking administration to investigate how the municipality can support the calls National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s calls to action. Since 2004, there have been nine MMIWG2S+ reported in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area.
Dogar said there was no “campaign against the Indigenous people,” and the issue should be a provincial and federal matter.
“These people are in the rural areas and whenever there’s any drunk people in the town, I am a taxi driver and I can feel it after a few yards, few hundred yards, he would find some place where he would get some respite or something, for some relief and a taxi driver might get ahold of them,” he said.
“In your rural areas… some people drunk and maybe it is a criminal case. Also fighting, beating somebody, he’s unconscious, people can’t leave them immediately.”
Dogar said his comments were misinterpreted because his English skills “aren’t that great.”
“I said that a drunk person is more likely in (sic) die in rural area vs in town where there are gas stations in near vicinity to help a drunk person warm up and closer access to hospital/ essential services,” he wrote.
“In my mind, I didn’t equate indigenous community with alchololism (sic) or any bad actions. It was merely an example that popped in my mind and now I realize that I was wrong in using that example due to the unfortunate stereotype. For that I unequivalically (sic) apologize.”
The leaders of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Fort McKay First Nation and Fort McKay Métis Nation have called for Dogar’s resignation. Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) CEO Karla Buffalo called the comments “hate speech” in a statement.
“Wood Buffalo’s Council Chambers is a place for reconciliation, not harmful statements and division,” she said.
McMurray Métis CEO Bill Loutitt also asked for an apology and resignation. He also invited council to take part in McMurray Metis’ cultural awareness training.
“Tonight I’m enraged and appalled by what Councillor Dogar would utter, such racist and offensive language. We condemn this hate speech,” he said.
“Indigenous people do 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.”
Bowman, who is Métis, apologized after the meeting and said he did not challenge Dogar because of “a language barrier.” He said he will complete cultural training. The municipality typically releases recordings of meetings within hours of their completion.
“I do not have the power to unilaterally remove a democratically elected councillor from office, however I will be joining in this call for Councillor Dogar to personally apologize and resign and will be discussing with council our options as next steps,” he said.