Despite calls for her to apologize for saying that unvaccinated Canadians are the “most discriminated group” she’s witnessed in her lifetime, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith stood by her remarks on Wednesday, but did try to explain the intention behind her words.
Smith’s comments came during her first media conference on the job on Tuesday, in which she said the way unvaccinated residents have been treated is “unacceptable.”
“That’s a pretty extreme level of discrimination that we have seen,” she said.
In a statement released Wednesday, the premier said she “did not intend to trivialize” the discrimination faced by “minority communities and other persecuted groups” or to “create any false equivalencies to the terrible historical discrimination and persecution suffered by so many minority groups over the last decades and centuries.”
Smith says her intention was to “underline the mistreatment” of unvaccinated Canadians and how they were “punished” by “not being able to work, travel or, in some cases, see loved ones.”
Her comments Tuesday sparked swift criticism, including from Alberta’s Official Opposition.
“Danielle Smith needs to apologize for these comments,” NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said. “She has already demonstrated on her first official day in office that she is not ready to lead for all Albertans.”
In an interview with CTV News, Sabir said there has been discrimination in all fronts in Alberta.
“People are literally getting hurt because of their faith,” he said. “Hate-motivated crimes are on the rise.”
Sabir said Smith’s comments will only “further divide our province” and take away from the hurt that racialized Albertans and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community feel every day.
Alberta NDP critic for women and LGBTQ2+ issues Janis Irwin says she was upset with Smith’s remarks.
“I was incredibly disappointed, disgusted and I’ve joined countless Albertans in calling her out saying this is not acceptable,” Irwin said.
“It shows that we have got a premier who is fine with minimizing, with dismissing, the very real experiences of so many Albertans.”
Irwin says Smith’s comments set a dangerous precedent in her first day in office.
“I think we should all be alarmed by the tone that this premier is setting.”
“I think she has shown us who she is, and I think sadly she will continue to show us who she is.”
Smith says her office will be reaching out to minority community stakeholders in the next few days to set up meetings so she can better understand the “different concerns of their individual communities.”
Lorian Hardcastle, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary, says Smith’s bold plan to change the Human Rights Act, to accommodate unvaccinated people so they can no longer be discriminated against, is a ‘pretty exceptional’ change.
“Most of the grounds in the Human Rights Act, we tend to think of as immutable characteristics or things you can’t change, like your race, like your sexuality,” she said.
She believes Smith’s comments about discrimination are unjust.
“I think that’s hugely problematic in light of some of the issues that have existed during her lifetime, around gender discrimination, discrimination against people with AIDS, HIV, some of the discrimination that indigenous people have experienced,” said Hardcastle.
“I think her comments diminish that long history of discrimination experienced by many groups.”
Jarvis Googoo, an indigenous advocate, says Smith’s comments are hurtful and ignorant.
“Something like that shouldn’t have been said in the first place,” said Googoo.
“I think about the last Indian residential school closed in 1996, so when we say ‘our lifetime,’ if you existed or were alive at this time, there is a world of difference between safety measures with respect to keeping people healthy – and the systemic assimilation of indigenous children to wipe out their culture.”
Her comments also sparked a public outcry on social media:
John Horgan on Wednesday called the comment “a good example” of what he won’t miss when he steps down as B.C. premier in the coming weeks.
“I can’t respond to that because it’s laughable, quite frankly,” Horgan said during an interview with Victoria radio station CFAX 1070.
Horgan, who says he will retire from provincial politics once his successor is chosen in an upcoming B.C NDP leadership race, said there are more pressing issues facing Canadians than protecting the rights of the unvaccinated.
“These are critical times, and for the incoming premier to focus on a sliver of the population who chose not to get vaccinated when there are all these other challenges, seems short-sighted to me and I just disagree with her,” Horgan said.
“I don’t agree with the premier of Alberta and perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m not required to do that,” the premier said. “I’m quite happy to walk away from that.”
With files from CTV News Vancouver
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