Modifications to vacation competition immediate racist response, Edmonton officers say

EDMONTON — Reaction has turned racist to a decision to move Edmonton’s annual holiday light-up to a new location, according to the city’s manager and the chair of its downtown business organization.

The Edmonton Downtown Business Association had announced plans to move the event from Churchill Square near City Hall to Rice Howard Way, about a block southwest, and that it would include art installations, music, a Christmas market and games.

But much of the public reaction has focused on the fact there won’t be a giant Christmas tree in Churchill Square this year, although plans do include lighting trees around the square as a “festive forest” and other activities.

City manager Andre Corbould and Downtown Business Association Board chair Martin Kennedy say in a joint statement that a small number of people are using the situation to make racist attacks on the association’s staff and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.

The association’s executive director, Puneeta McBryan, had explained the decision to change and move the event was made to encourage visitors to stay downtown and shop.

Corbould and Kennedy say online hate and bullying won’t be tolerated and they won’t be swayed by it.

“Those actions do not reflect the views of either the vast majority of Edmontonians or the organizations we lead. They are inappropriate,” their joint statement on Sunday said.

They also stressed the decisions about the light-up festival were theirs, and were not made by the mayor or city council.

“In retrospect, we should have communicated these activities better, and we apologize that some people were led to believe that Churchill Square would not be a festive place,” they said, adding that the oversight did not justify the attacks that followed.

Sohi responded to some of the criticism Wednesday in a video posted on social media, which he delivered in rhyme.

“For years and years we loved the big tree, but there’s so much more Christmas can be,” he said.

“We will still have events and fun in the Square, and I certainly hope to see you all there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2022

The Canadian Press

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