Alberta Premier Danielle Smith addresses comments about unvaccinated being ‘most discriminated-against’

Just days after being sworn on as Premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith is doubling down on comments made about unvaccinated Albertans being “the most discriminated against group.” Jillian Code reports on how some groups are saying her comments are harmful.

Alberta’s new premier, Danielle Smith, says she “did not intend to trivialize” people who face discrimination when she made comments Tuesday about unvaccinated people being “the most discriminated-against group” she’s witnessed in her lifetime.

Smith made the remarks at a media availability after she was sworn in as premier.

She received fierce backlash from many on social media, including Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and members of the opposition NDP.

“Yesterday, I made comments regarding the discrimination unvaccinated individuals have suffered through over during the past two years. My intention was to underline the mistreatment of individuals who chose not to be vaccinated and were punished by not being able to work, travel or, in some cases, see loved ones,” Smith said in a statement Wednesday.

“I want to be clear that I did not intend to trivialize in any way the discrimination faced by minority communities and other persecuted groups both here in Canada and around the world 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, 51, also mentioned that she intends to change the Human Rights Act, as well as make major changes to provincial public health advisors.

Alex Montiel, CEO of Diversecities, a community organization working with marginalized groups in Calgary, says it’s important to remember being unvaccinated is a choice.

He says Smith was equating unvaccinated people to people who have been physically, mentally, and emotionally harassed because of their colour of their skin, or the way they speak.

“She didn’t apologize about the statement. She’s just trying to explain or again, trying to level what she wants to address with a group of people who decided not to get the vaccine on the same level with other communities who have been underrepresented or have been mistreated in the past several years.”

Montiel adds he understands unvaccinated people faced barriers when it came to looking for a job or dining in a restaurant, however, he points to discrimination and violence faced by others during the height of the pandemic.

“The Asian community has been especially targeted since the beginning of the pandemic because of anti-Asian sentiments, blaming them for their race, for the outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada and around the world.”

Diversecities released a statement disagreeing with Premier Smith, saying her comments are surprising and deeply concerning.

“This is incomparable to the uncountable cases of people who have been subject to racially-motivated harassment, intolerance, and assault while walking with their children on the streets, demanding them to ‘return to where they belong,’ being spat on and subject to racial slurs while performing their jobs or walking in the park just for their physical characteristics because they are of Asian descent,” the statement reads. “Or as the tragic cases of people who have been assaulted and killed for having a different skin colour or cultural heritage, or people who have been killed or prosecuted around the world for having a different political opinion, for seeking to express their own opinion in an open and free manner or are seeking equal rights for themselves and communities.”

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, told The Canadian Press Smith’s comments would be laughable even if she weren’t the premier of Alberta.

He says the comments Smith, 51, made are offensive because there was still forced sterilization and residential schools in her lifetime.

Bratt notes that gay marriage also wasn’t legal across the country until 2005.

–With files from Alejandro Melgar, Hana Mae Nassar, and Jillian Code

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