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Is Black History Month being ignored in Montreal’s West Island communities?

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Is Black History Month being ignored in Montreal’s west island communities?
WATCH: Members of the Black communities in Montreal's West Island say they're disappointed that more isn't being done in some municipalities to recognize their needs. This, despite pledges made by elected officials last summer to strengthen relationships with the groups. As Global’s Phil Carpenter reports, they feel ignored. – Feb 2, 2021

Members of the Black communities in Montreal’s West Island say they are disappointed that more isn’t being done in some municipalities to acknowledge Black History Month.

Some, like Pointe-Claire resident Allison Saunders, say they can’t even find any information on their city’s website about activities to celebrate the month.

“I sent an email to city councilors and mayor to inquire to see if there’s any programming that’s planned,” she claimed. “I haven’t been able to find it on the city’s website or on any other logical places to look.”

She said she hasn’t heard back from officials.

Kemba Mitchell, who heads the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA) also said she’s had very little information about planned activities in some municipalities.

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“I haven’t seen any formal events hosted by any of the of the boroughs or cities in terms of Black History Month,” she told Global News.

Mitchell pointed out that the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro is helping her organization with events, but overall she said she expected more from the various municipalities following promises made last summer by elected officials.

“That they would be supportive in terms of the concerns and issues faced by the Black community in the West Island.”

Click to play video: 'West Island community takes a knee'
West Island community takes a knee

In June 2020 West Island residents were outraged at what they saw as the local elected officials’ silence about racism and problems within policing, in light of the death of George Floyd in the United States.

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After Black residents spoke out about their own problems in West Island neighbourhoods mayors voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and vowed to address the concerns and challenges raised by Black community members.

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Mitchell and others insist political leaders now need to show they were serious.

“So it isn’t just OK to put a statement and out a hashtag,” Mitchell noted. “You have to own up to those words.”

Saunders was blunt. “I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little bit disappointed that we haven’t progressed much further,” she said.

In response to questions from Global News about activities to celebrate Black History Month, some West Island city officials did point to plans to announce events later this month.

Dollard-des-Ormeaux Mayor Alex Bottausci said his city plans to have information on their website about events in his community.

In Kirkland, Mayor Mike Gibson said the library “is celebrating Black History and Culture Month with recommended reading lists.” He also noted that there is a link on his municipality’s website to the Black History Month program on the city of Montreal’s site. “The truth is that culture is under the Agglomeration responsibility of which Kirkland is part of, and subsidizes some of the programs.”

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A Beaconsfield official wrote in an email that because of the pandemic the city has fewer activities than usual, but that “the library is preparing a virtual display on the home page of our online catalog. It will present recommendations for e-books, for adults and children, in French and English.”

Both Lachine and Dorval officials pointed to one and two events respectively on their websites.

Mitchell said a prominent acknowledgment of Black History Month on all the websites would’ve been a good gesture, saying they make the effort for other causes and events.

“It is the second day of February,” she stressed. “It wouldhave been nice to see it on the first.”

A city of Pointe-Claire spokesperson said council members would be meeting to discuss the issue and that they would have more details.

Saunders insists that it’s not hard to plan something.

“Maybe it’s a display at the library, maybe it’s just Black history facts on the city’s billboard, maybe it’s posters around the city celebrating the Black residents of Pointe-Claire,” she noted. “There’s 110 things that could be done.”

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Still, Mitchell admitted that there has been some progress since last summer. Her local provincial representative, Carlos Leitão, MNA for Robert-Baldwin just made a $15-thousand donation to WIBCA to help build a youth centre.

“There’s a lot of work ahead for groups like WIBCA and so this tells them that we are with them,” Leitão said.

Mitchell and others say they’re looking forward to continued collaboration.

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