The City of Edmonton won’t say by which forum racist attacks were made against Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi. 

Sohi said he received racist attacks in response to the city’s joint decision with the Edmonton Downtown Business Association (EDBA) not to install a Christmas tree this year at this year’s Holiday Light Up event.

“I am unable to confirm whether the mayor received messages by phone, email, mail or social media,” a city spokesperson told True North.

EDBA executive director Puneeta McBryan said she received received “a combination of racist, xenophobic, and some just outright nasty/foul and aggressive language.” 

She said such comments were made on the organization’s social media account, voicemails, emails and comments under media articles.

One letter to the editor published in the Edmonton Sun, which appears to have been deleted, said the association should have adopted Canada “as is, not with the dream of making it what you chose to leave, or perhaps you shouldn’t have left your home country.”

Another letter shamed the mayor for cancelling the tree. 

“Then to make matters even worse, he says that people who don’t agree with him are racist because they are upset,” the letter reads. “Once again, shame on you mayor.”

As previously reported by True North, the EDBA decided not to have a giant Christmas tree at its Holiday Light Up event for the first time since 1999. The city said it won’t step in to provide a tree due to the environmental impact of cutting down and transporting a mature natural forest tree. 

Following that decision, Edmonton City Manager Andre Corbould and EDBA board chair Martin Kennedy released a joint statement saying a small number of people are using the situation to make racist attacks on Edmonton Downtown Business Association staff and Mayor Sohi. 

“Those actions do not reflect the views of either the vast majority of Edmontonians or the organizations we lead,” the statement reads. “They are inappropriate. We do not tolerate online hate and bullying, and we will not be swayed by such behaviour.”

Corbould and Kennedy told concerned citizens they decided not to install a Christmas tree — it was not the mayor’s or city council’s decision. The pair also apologized for not communicating the activities better, which led some people to believe that Churchill Square would not be a festive place. 

“However, that oversight did not justify some of the activities which followed,” they continued.

In a video posted to Facebook last week, Sohi delivered a poem about the incident. 

“There won’t be a tree in the Churchill Square, but that doesn’t mean the mayor and council doesn’t care,” he said.

“I’ve heard some people call me a Grinch, but accurate info can be found in a pinch.” 

The EDBA previously said the annual Christmas tree display draws in many residents, but the foot traffic doesn’t translate into business for Edmonton shops and restaurants. The group rethought the event to fix the oversight and replaced the Christmas tree with other light installations, like a life-sized bison. 

The city told True North it estimated the cost to install a tree and provide public programming at $124,000.

Instead, Corbould and Kennedy said the EDBA’s Light Up event would include new art installations, music, a Christmas market, games and holiday illuminations.

They said city administration supported the “evolution” of the event, which will decorate trees around Churchill Square as a “festive forest” complemented with lanterns. In addition, the City Hall ice rink will be open, and City Hall will be filled with seasonal holiday decor.  

“While we understand that some are disappointed by the evolution of these holiday celebrations, we want to reassure Edmontonians that there will be fun and family-friendly holiday activities throughout December — including the illumination of living holiday trees in both Churchill Square and Rice Howard Way.”

Author

  • Rachel Parker

    Rachel is a seasoned political reporter who’s covered government institutions from a variety of levels. A Carleton University journalism graduate, she was a multimedia reporter for three local Niagara newspapers. Her work has been published in the Toronto Star. Rachel was the inaugural recipient of the Political Matters internship, placing her at The Globe and Mail’s parliamentary bureau. She spent three years covering the federal government for iPolitics. Rachel is the Alberta correspondent for True North based in Edmonton.