Quebec’s newly-appointed Minister Responsible for the Fight Against Racism Benoit Charette’s tweet endorsing a Black woman saying she rejects the concept of systemic racism in the province was met with some criticism on Friday.
“I’ve read a lot of things these past 24 hours, some nice, some condemnable. I invite you to read this text. Personally it did me the most good,” Charette wrote.
Attached to the minister’s tweet was a link to a Journal de Montréal — a newspaper that often publishes op-eds that deny racism in the province — opinion article written by a Black writer who says she rejects the idea that systemic racism is present in Quebec.
Others replied with links and excerpts from articles containing data showing that Black, brown and Indigenous people are racially profiled, stopped, arrested and prisoned at a much higher rate than white people in Quebec.
One person said they thought the government said it was going to distance itself from semantic debates and instead focus on concrete action on the issue.
The discussion around systemic racism has been at the forefront of Quebec politics since the killing of George Floyd in the United States on May 25, 2020, sparking global demonstrations in June led by Black Lives Matter groups.
And while Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she recognized systemic racism existed in the city and vowed to make changes, the Quebec government has continuously refused to accept the term.
Premier François Legault and his cabinet have consistently denied to acknowledge its systemic presence, despite repeatedly being challenged on the matter.
Legault has upheld his statement that “racism exists in Quebec, but it’s not systemic,” a claim that BlPOC activists in the province have repeatedly said is untrue, pointing to data that supports their claim.
Back in June Legault created an anti-racism task force the very day that a report led by former CFL player and community activist Balarama Holness was published.
Holness used a provision in the city’s charter to trigger a public consultation that would include 7,000 participants and produce 38 recommendations, including that the City of Montreal recognize the systemic nature of racism and discrimination against racialized groups.
Earlier this week Legault enlisted his environment minister to take on the racism file, naming Charette to the newly created post on Wednesday.
Charette, 44, is white. His wife is of Haitian origin and they have three children. When challenged on his appointment, he rejected the notion that not coming from a visible minority meant he lacked credibility for the job.
One of the recommendations of the task force that Legault created last summer was to appoint a minister in charge of implementing the anti-racism action plan across the province.
The 25 recommendations outlined in the final report released in December aim to tackle racial profiling and discrimination faced by minorities and Indigenous people.
Charette said he’s given himself until the end of the current mandate in 2022 to see those measures implemented.
“The fight against racism is first and foremost a question of human dignity,” he said, calling Quebec one of the most welcoming and tolerant societies in the world.
–with files from the Canadian Press