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Quebec’s new minister in charge of racism faces backlash over op-ed endorsement

The newly appointed minister Benoit Charette, right, is pictured next to Quebec Premier Legault. Legault and his cabinet have continuously denied to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

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.

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The article, written by Murielle Chatelier, says she equally rejects the notion of white privilege, adding that Quebec doesn’t need “these types of ideas that come from the U.S. to have our [Black people’s] voice heard and understood.”
Charette’s tweet quickly garnered backlash from the public, with one person replying that he “should educated [himself] on denialism. This article and your endorsement of this article is deceiving, but not surprising. We are used to it, and there’s the biggest problem.”

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.

Read more: Legault government taps Environment Minister Benoit Charette to oversee racism fight

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.

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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.

Read more: Quebec leaders forced to face systemic racism in 2020

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.

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

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 

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