Quebec premier, Montreal mayor disagree on ‘systemic racism’ in the province

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WATCH: CAQ government launches anti-racism task force – Jun 15, 2020

A report published on Monday states the City of Montreal has neglected the fight against racism and failed to recognize the systemic nature of discrimination.

The 261-page document follows a public consultation involving more than 7,000 people and concludes that the city has trouble translating words into action.

Montreal’s public consultation office made 38 recommendations, starting with a recognition of the systemic nature of racism and discrimination against racialized groups and Indigenous people.

“There’s no more time to waste,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante during the press conference. “It’s a report people have been waiting for. It’s a collective awakening that systemic racism does exist.”
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Racial and social profiling within the Montreal police force were among the issues discussed on Monday. The consultation comes a week after thousands of activists held protests in the streets of Montreal against systemic racism, inequality and police brutality.

READ MORE: West Island community comes together to speak out against racism

Plante noted the Montreal police will have to formally recognize systemic racism within its force.

When asked about Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron’s silence and Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur’s response about there not being an issue of racism within the Montreal police force, Plante said: “The report tells us in black and white that there’s systemic racism, which includes the SPVM.”

Late Monday night, the Montreal police issued a statement recognizing there is systemic racism. “The SPVM recognizes the systemic character of racism and discrimination and we engage ourselves to take action to fight against it,” the statement read. The SPVM also acknowledged the recommendations, particularly those which require a response from the force and promised to take action.

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Report says Montreal turned “blind eye” to systemic racism – Jun 15, 2020

The mayor said the city’s police are set to unveil their new ‘street check’ plan in July, which is among the “tools necessary to fight racism and discrimination.”

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“Police cannot just arrest someone just because they feel like it, just because they think that he looks like a thug,” said Marie-Livia Beaugé, a lawyer who helped organized Montreal’s Black Lives Matter protests.

“There has to be procedures that that officers respect and do, and that they are also accountable for.”

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Community groups call for concrete action to be taken following the OCPM report on systemic racism in Montreal – Jun 15, 2020

Plante said she was also working with the provincial and federal governments to explore the possibility of outfitting the Montreal police with body cameras, a proposal that the administration previously rejected.

The president of the Montreal office of public consultations (OCPM), Dominique Ollivier, said in a letter to Plante accompanying the report that the failure to recognize the problem has left the city without the necessary tools to genuinely tackle it. In August 2018, the City of Montreal mandated the OCPM to prepare and hold the consultation alongside the Diversity and Social Inclusion Service, as the business unit responsible for this file.

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READ MORE: Montreal petition to take down statue of McGill University’s founder gains momentum

In a July 2019 response, the city said it “does not recognize the ‘systemic’ nature of the two phenomena, namely racism and discrimination.”

The 2020 report released on Monday accuses the mayor of turning a blind eye and focusing on the inclusion of immigrants, forgetting the systemic issues Black people and other racialized people face within the jurisdiction.

Following the report’s recommendation, Plante announced the city will appoint Serge Lamontagne as the commissioner responsible for the fight against racism and review its hiring processes to ensure visible minorities are adequately represented in the city’s workforce and have the chance to move up the ranks.

The commission also recommended that the city and its boroughs produce data every three years detailing variances between racialized, Indigenous and white people in such sectors as employment, racial profiling, housing and economic development.

Plante pointed out on Monday that in December 2019 there were only 21 per cent of racialized people working for the city and they’ve increased this number by 36 per cent.

“But it still isn’t enough. There’s a new plan already in motion where we aim to hire (more),” she said.

Members of Montreal’s Black and Indigenous communities hope the report leads to real action.

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“We hope for real, concrete, authentic action on the part of this administration, then we will trust the rhetoric and the motions.” said activist Balarama Holness, who brought the petition demanding the public consultation to City Hall in 2018.

Nakuset, the director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, wonders why it took the city so long to formally recognize systemic racism, and hopes the mayor’s words are coupled with real action.

She pointed to the Viens Commission, a 2019 public inquiry into relations between Indigenous people and Quebec.

“They had a big inquiry and then they had the report that came out in September, and nothing has been implemented,” Nakuset said.

She claims Indigenous women are afraid to call the police in emergencies, out of fear of police brutality. She said she regularly advises them to go to the hospital over calling 911, out of fears of police brutality.

“When indigenous people are afraid to call the police because of what happens, that’s hard. When are they going to improve that?” Nakuset wonders.

Quebec announces committee against racism

Quebec Premier François Legault held a press conference on Monday afternoon alongside Black ministers Lionel Carmant and Nadine Girault to discuss the government “action group against racism”.

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The group plans to hand in their recommendations by next fall and will look at issues such as housing, education and employment.

“There is racism in Quebec; we must not tolerate racism anymore,” said Legault.

But unlike Plante, he again refused to say systemic racism exists in Quebec, adding there’s no use fighting over a definition.

“I don’t think there’s a system of racism,” he said, adding that although racism exists, “the majority of Quebecers aren’t racist.”

Nadine Girault, minister of International Relations, when asked by a Montreal Gazette reporter whether she believes there’s such thing as systemic racism in Quebec, said she’s experienced it many times in her life but seconded the premier’s opinion.

When asked by a Canadian Press reporter about the province’s secularism law, Bill 21, which many who oppose the legislation say it’s discriminatory, the premier insisted “secularism isn’t racism. That’s it, that’s all.”

The action-group includes Indigenous Affairs Minister Sylvie D’Amours but doesn’t have any Indigenous people in it, admitted Legault.

Consultations with Indigenous people and groups will me made, according to the premier.​

— With files from The Canadian Press, Global’s Gloria Henriquez and Dan Spector

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