Mayoral candidates discuss livelihood of human rights in Winnipeg

The University of Winnipeg played host to the mayoral candidates on Sept. 27, who met to engage in a dialogue about human rights.

The forum, organised by the U of W Global College Student Advisory Council and University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA), was held to familiarize students with the mayoral candidates by providing them the opportunity to connect with the candidates through the topic of human rights.

Mayoral candidates Brad Gross, Rav Gill and Judy Wasylycia-Leis attended to interact with the collection of students in attendance.

Organizers of the event explained that the topic of human rights was chosen because of the building of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and because human rights are often dismissed as a national or international issue, but are most prevalent on the local level.

Wasylycia-Leis stated that she is running for mayor to “end the neglect of [Winnipeg] and open up city hall” and felt that Winnipeg was not yet a leader of the human rights movement.
“We’re definitely not a leader. We’re probably middle of the pack or middle to near bottom of the pack in terms of major centres that are really focusing on human rights strategies,” said Wasylycia-Leis.

She felt there is deep-rooted systemic discrimination affecting people of colour and aboriginal people in Winnipeg, which should be addressed by all levels of government.

“[ . . . ] We have a human rights museum opening up, but we still have huge problems to deal with ourselves,” said Wasylycia-Leis.

Gross also recognized Winnipeg’s potential for improvement with regards to human rights.
“I think there are some cities that are worse and some cities that are better. We have a lot that we can offer and a lot that we can do to make the lives of people better,” said Gross.

Gill agreed with running mates about Winnipeg’s human rights status, citing disadvantages that aboriginal people face as the biggest threat to its livelihood.

“It’s no secret that more aboriginals live below the poverty line then any group in Winnipeg. They also have the highest incarceration rates in Manitoba,” said Gill

“We need more education and employment for aboriginal people. It has got to start younger, and it has got to start while they are in school.”

Wasylycia-Leis felt that Winnipeg has not responded to the rapid movement of aboriginal people from reserves into the city.

“[ . . . ] As a result, [Winnipeg] is dealing with a lot of people who are without proper housing, food, jobs and training and many who are living on the streets to survive.”

Gross, on the other hand, felt that the biggest threat human rights in Winnipeg faces is the lack of safe, clean areas.

“Some of the parks you’re unable to use because of crime. Certain people that hangout there aren’t using the parks for the proper purposes,” answered Gross, when questioned about what single major issue most threatened the maintenance of human rights in Winnipeg.

Wasylycia-Leis also touched upon the topic of crime in Winnipeg and how to end its impact upon the human rights of citizens.

“The first would have to be comprehensive community safety strategy that gets at the roots of crime,” said Wasylycia-Leis.

She stated that the roots of crime are poverty, homelessness, alienation, despair and lack of access to jobs, education, and training.

“That means the city, within its jurisdiction, should be looking at programs that provide services to people who are trying to get a hand-up,” Judy said, discussing strategies.
The candidates also addressed the pressing issue of growing numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Gross explained that offenders should be dealt with quickly, as this would squash the issue early, preventing individuals from committing repeat offences.

Wasylycia-Leis felt that evidence had to be taken more seriously and acted upon in cases of missing women, stating that the seriousness of cases should never be diminished because it involved aboriginal women.

She went on to explain that women trying to escape the sex trade need more support and that the issue needed talking about, so that it would be introduced into the mainstream.

Wasylycia-Leis also proposed a segmented police force, with a unit that focused on the cases concerning missing women.

Gill stressed that women’s shelters need to be seen as temporary fixes, not long-term solutions. He suggested that the issue of why women were there had to be discussed and addressed, so that the women could leave to build better lives.

A student questioned the candidates about the high level of immigrants and lack of housing for them, asking what they would do to help.

Gross responded that he felt strongly that it was a basic right that everyone should have good affordable housing, saying that it is a core aspect of his platform.

He explained that “more housing would increase the taxes and get rid of some derelict housing. If you increase taxes, then you have more dollars to spend in the area, so more funding.”

Gill and Wasylycia-Leis agreed that proper housing was a right, and Winnipeg is in dire need of more housing solutions. Gill proposed better rental laws, while Wasylycia-Leis said zoning laws in the downtown sector needed to be changed.

Mayor Sam Katz was not in attendance at the forum, although a space had been reserved for him.