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Woman whose essay wasn't chosen in Alberta contest wants better apology from judges

Emelia Kazakawich is shown in this undated handout photo. A woman who submitted an essay in a contest put on by the Alberta government says that the two judges should not resign but apologize better and change their behaviour. Kazakawich, who is 23-years-old says that it was concerning to see a winning essay that said women and men aren't equal. She would like the UCP government to respond to her essay. Kazakawich posted her essay to Twitter on Thursday, which touches on the opioid crisis, healthcare and quality of life in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Emelia Kazakawich

EDMONTON — A woman who submitted an essay to an Alberta government contest says two judges should not resign over awarding third-place to another entry that many have criticized for being sexist and racist.

Emelia Kazakawich says the judges should instead deliver better apologies and change their behaviour.

Kazakawich, a 23-year-old who works with people with disabilities in Lethbridge, Alta., says it was concerning to see the essay that said women and men aren't equal win a prize.

"I don't think telling people to resign when they make a mistake is super productive," Kazakawich said Friday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"Whatever is going to be the most productive, which is probably an apology and changed behaviour, then I think that's a better thing to ask for."

The "Her Vision Inspires" contest, meant to promote women's voices in politics, asked young women to pen essays about changes they would like to see in Alberta.

Kazakawich posted her essay — which touches on the opioid crisis, health care and quality of life — to Twitter on Thursday.

In the essay, Kazakawich writes: "I live in an Alberta where the health-care system has been so overloaded for so many years that the opioid crisis and frostbitten people with no place to go land on the bottom of the priority list. I live in an Alberta where our health-care system is purely reactionary, with very few preventative protocols." 

She said it's telling that her essay was not selected for a prize. The United Conservative government has been criticized for its response to the opioid crisis.

The third-place essay was pulled, along with the other two winners, from the government's website after criticism emerged on social media Monday. The essay urges women to forgo careers and focus on baby-making so the province doesn’t have to bring in more foreigners.

"If someone's passion is to be a mother, I think that's really awesome and that they should be a mother. But if it's not, they shouldn't feel like they're doing something wrong or that they are not as valuable as the women who want to be mothers," said Kazakawich.

The judges of the contest, Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, the UCP's associate minister for the Status of Women, and Jackie Lovely, the department's parliamentary secretary, later issued statements. Armstrong-Homeniuk said the essay never should have been chosen. Lovely apologized for her role in the contest.

The government has not answered repeated questions about the contest and how many entries were submitted. But a spokesperson told CBC there were five entries.

The Opposition NDP has asked that the two judges to resign.

Minister of Environment and Parks Whitney Issik, a former associate minister of the Status of Women, said she doesn't hold any of the beliefs expressed in the third-place essay. And she said the two judges have apologized.

"At the end of the day, it's been said by the participants choosing the essay that a mistake was made, an error was made and they've apologized for it," Issik said while at news conference about an industrial pilot project in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., on Friday.

"To me, that's the end of it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

— With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Angela Amato, The Canadian Press