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Winnipeg has frequently been accused of being Canada's most racist city.
John Woods/The Canadian Press

Winnipeg is often referred to as one of Canada's hot-spots for racism, but a new summit, starting tonight, aims to repair the city's reputation.

The ONE Summit, officially titled "ONE: Mayor’s National Summit on Racial Inclusion" was called in response to Nancy Macdonald's Maclean's magazine January cover story titled "Welcome to Winnipeg: Where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst".

Macdonald wrote:

"For decades, the friendly Prairie city has been known for its smiling, lefty premiers, pacifist, Mennonite writers and a love affair with the Jets. Licence plates here bear the tag “Friendly Manitoba.” But events of last fall served to expose a darker reality. The Manitoba capital is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It manifestly does not provide equal opportunity for Aboriginals. And it is quickly becoming known for the subhuman treatment of its First Nations citizens, who suffer daily indignities and appalling violence. Winnipeg is arguably becoming Canada’s most racist city."

The ONE Summit has a goal: "generating ideas of inclusion that can ultimately be embraced by individuals and organizations across the country."

But reaching that goal appears to be a daunting task, as demonstrated on ONE's own website.

The group recently invited Canadians to share their thoughts on racism by posting a comment. Unfortunately, the opportunity attracted some toxic viewpoints.

"We are not a racist city. We just states the facts," wrote one person. "Aboriginals are also complaining about how we have to save their women, meanwhile its [sic] them who are killing their women."

Another commenter added, "I get frustrated over seeing intoxicated aboriginals stumbling around downtown."

The racist comments were not unexpected by ONE Summit's organizers, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said when he announced the summit,. "“That’s why (the summit) is important, to start this discussion," Bowman told Metro Winnipeg.

However, ONE Summit faces criticism for being well-intentioned but not inclusive enough, especially given the topic at hand.

High-profile guests have been favoured over community activists, and the summit costs a fee to attend.

This prompted a group of local anti-racism activists to organize their own free summit, CBC News reports.

"(ONE Summit) seems like a way of repairing Winnipeg's image, and it sort of screamed of political lip service," Our Summit organizer Lenard Monkman told the CBC. "(Our Summit) is open to anyone and everyone who is sincere about talking about racism in this city."

Bowman said he applauds Our Summit's decision to hold a concurrent summit. "We shouldn't be afraid to have those discussions in multiple forms, and no single summit or conference or individual or group of people have a monopoly on good ideas," he told the CBC.

Meanwhile, ONE Summit will livestream their conference, in response to the criticism over accessibility.

ONE summit kicks off tonight with a keynote by Giller-prize winner Joseph Boyden, followed by a full day of workshops tomorrow.

Community-organized event "Our Summit" will be held tonight at The Forks.

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