One of the first big, breaking national stories I ever covered involved the Cold Lake Mosque.
A mainstay of Main Street in that Alberta city, someone had scribbled “go home” and “Canada” on the side of the building and thrown rocks through the window.
As word spread, as it tends to do in small communities, everyone who could come by to lend a hand in the cleanup, helping to repair the building and comfort their neighbours.
People joined hands and sang O Canada. Cards, flowers and gifts were dropped off with messages like “you are welcome here” and “this is your home.”
Hate turned to love again at the Prince Albert Masjid Wednesday night, as people of multiple faith and cultural backgrounds joined together in solidarity to remember the victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand and to show support of their Muslim neighbours.
Unfortunately, that shine of hope lasted only one day.
I received an email in my inbox from Facebook yesterday afternoon.
Every time somebody comments on a story, I get an email. It helps me watch for any comments that would be considered vulgar or inappropriate. There are certain things we cannot let stand.
The comment consisted of five words: “Go back to your country.”
I immediately opened Facebook and removed it.
It wasn’t the only racist message the Herald received on Thursday.
Someone else opened their email to find a message expressing the racist trope that First Nations people do nothing but “sit around and collect money from the taxpayers.
“She is actually going to get a job and work at it? How unusual,” this person wrote.
We were unimpressed.
Thursday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
If the sentiments we saw Thursday were any indication, we have much further to go.
According to Statistics Canada data from the 2016 census, Indigenous people make up close to 40 per cent of Prince Albert’s population.
Newcomers to Canada make up another eight per cent.
These are our neighbours.
They shop in our stores, pay taxes, own businesses, employ people, raise their kids, and bring us their culture through food and ceremony, making Prince Albert a richer place.
To see these sentiments expressed, especially on a day set aside to eradicate discrimination based on race is nothing short of disgusting.
More must be done.
I don’t mean government intervention. I don’t see value in bureaucrats or politicians policing what is said.
I mean more must be done in our own lives.
When we see someone being racist, or when politicians continue to push the delusion that racism doesn’t exist anymore, it is our job to call them out.
When someone in a position of power fails to denounce racist sentiments, signs, symbols, comments or actions, it is our job to call them out.
We cannot simply express shock and outrage when ugliness consumes others. We must call it out when we see it and offer help and support to those victimized by it.
We cannot just sit back and say “those people don’t represent all of us”, and ignore it, hoping it goes away.
What we can’t do is stay silent. We can’t accept the status quo. We cannot continue to be willfully blind to the ugliness around us.
We can’t let our guard down.
But we can demand better from our elected officials. We can stand up for victims of hate. We can seek to learn more about cultures, religions and backgrounds other than our own.
We can work to build understanding, and yes, hope.
So get to know your neighbours. Take the time to learn more about all the people who call Prince Albert home.
Yesterday may have been the day to eliminate racial discrimination, but that doesn’t mean today we can just move on and forget how to love.
Peter Lozinski is the editor of the Prince Albert Daily Herald