Surely there must’ve been a few folks in the Central Alberta town of Sundre who, when they noticed the racist jackassery of the now notorious “the Liberal” manure-spreader parade float on Saturday morning, thought, “Oh no! Please, God, make them stop!”
Alas, by the sound of it, no one spoke up.
Well, one guy from out of town tweeted “Yikes!” But that was about it during the parade.
I imagine that there are several people in Sundre who now sincerely wish they’d said something, but for whatever reasons held their tongues.
Now that the story’s gone viral, despite all the other good things that may have happened in the Sundre Pro Rodeo Parade, folks from that place will be thought of as the embarrassing cousins of Confederation in many parts of the country and wise travellers from there, asked where they’re from, will say something like, “it’s just a little place in Alberta … you’ve never heard of it.”
Folks in that part of Alberta don’t like Liberals, or New Democrats for that matter, so some still-mostly unidentified brainiacs thought it would be a great idea to dress up like Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh and parade through town on the now-notorious manure-spreader pulled by a vintage John Deere tractor.
That no one had the sense to recognize that a crude caricature of a Sikh man, complete with a tied-on beard and a mis-tied turban, does not send a very reassuring message about, among other things, what’s being taught in the nine or more Christian churches that grace the town of about 2,500 located 90 kilometres northwest of Calgary.
The reaction, as the local paper put it, was fast and furious.
Sundre’s been taking a drubbing on social media ever since. Politicians from all points of the political compass have joined the condemnation of what the Dashmesh Culture Centre, a Sikh gurdwara and community centre in Calgary, called the “horrendous display of racism towards the Sikh community.”
“These kinds of acts have no place in Canada. This should be condemned in strongest terms by all,” said Jasraj Singh Hallan, the Conservative MP for Calgary Forest Lawn, speaking for most Albertans, I am sure.
“Do better, people,” tweeted Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
Faced with the wave of popular revulsion, about the best thing parade organizers and elected town officials could have done would have been to apologize sincerely and vow they’d never let anything like that happen again – and brace themselves for a reaction that might linger like radioactive fallout whenever the name of their town comes up.
Jason Nixon, the United Conservative Party MLA for the riding seemed to have the right idea, saying “I strongly condemn the racist float that appeared in the Sundre parade.”
Parade and town officials didn’t do so well, though. A social media statement from the rodeo did promise, “We do send our deepest apologies and something like that will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.”
But organizers were soon insisting that it wasn’t really their fault. “The entry was not approved and upon further investigation joined the parade without passing through any registration,” a statement insisted on the parade’s Facebook page. “To be clear it was NOT approved.”
The problem with this was that folks pay attention and soon started noting stuff that suggested otherwise.
MountainView Today, a local news site, ran a clear photo of the man in the turban and fake beard wearing a VIP ribbon given out by parade marshals.
Organizers told MountainView Today’s reporter that the volunteers who handed out the tags didn’t know who was registered and who wasn’t – so, obviously, getting registered wasn’t a very meaningful process.
Another shot seen on social media shows the controversial entry lined up with others waiting for the parade to start.
Pretty soon screen captures of a Facebook post last month looking for someone with a tractor to pull the manure spreader were posted. Screenshots of conversation at the time make it clear the plan was well known in the community – and that not everyone thought it was a good idea.
But tracked down by CTV as the controversy continued to boil over, the owner of the parade float insisted the whole bad idea was just political satire. “The last thing it was, was racist,” Lynn Hoff told the network. “… It wasn’t anything to do with the Sikh community.”
Well, that kind of comment isn’t going to help the town now or settle down the controversy.
A suggestion from the Dashmesh Centre, though, just might help Sundre start to put this controversy behind it.
“We need to have serious conversations and actions to stop these forms of racism,” the centre said on its Twitter account. “We welcome @SundreProRodeo and their parade committee to visit DCC and learn about Sikhs.”
The rodeo, town officials, and the people who rode on the embarrassing float should all take them up on their generous offer. There’s contact information on the centre’s website.