Balarama Holness has had enough. The former Montreal Alouettes player and current McGill law student is part of a group demanding the city ramp up the fight against racism.
“We will no longer accept discrimination and racial profiling,” he said Sunday to the packed basement of Union United Church, the same church Nelson Mandela once visited.
A group of community activists and elected officials gathered there to send the city a message.
“We’re going to launch a petition to ask the city to hold public consultations on systemic racism and discrimination,” said Fo Niemi of the Center for Research-Action of Race Relations.
“We have identified a dozen issues from employment to housing to policing that we want the city to consult on, not just to have another discussion but to find concrete solutions to these problems,” Niemi told Global News.
One of the main issues raised was minority representation in city council.
“On one end of the spectrum, our prisons are engulfed with visible minorities, and our executive committee is void of visible minorities. Something is missing,” said Balarama.
Opposition councilor Marvin Rotrand was among those who came to support the petition. In 2016, he filed a motion calling for more to be done to bring visible minorities into council.
“In Montreal, we talk and twiddle our thumbs and nothing ever changes,” he told Global News.
If the petition gets enough signatures, the city will be forced to have a public consultation, but the road will not be easy.
“They have to get 15,000 names of people living in the city of Montreal supporting a public study on racism and systemic discrimination,” explained Rotrand. “They have to use the forms issued by the city of Montreal. Nothing online.”
Activists hope the city decides to launch consultations of their own volition. If not, they’re ready to get to work collecting those 15,000 signatures.
“It’s 15,000 voices saying we want to move toward equity. We want to gravitate toward change,” said Holness.
Projet Montreal city councillor Craig Sauvé told Global News the city takes the issue very seriously and plans to take concrete action moving forward to hire more visible minorities. He said Mayor Plante is still reflecting on the request from the activists, but for now her administration is encouraging people to sign the petition.