Candidates in Montreal municipal election campaign say they’ve been the targets of racism

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Candidates in Montreal municipal election campaign say they’ve been the target of racism
A Montreal mayoral candidate says he’s still coming to terms with what he says happened to him. On Thursday, Mouvement Montréal Leader Balarama Holness says he was subjected to racial slurs and death threats. Other candidates in the municipal election campaign say they too have been the target of racism. Global’s Phil Carpenter reports – Oct 15, 2021

Mouvement Montréal leader Balarama Holness said he was feeling more energized Friday, after meeting with his team in Saint-Leonard to reveal the party’s platform in the borough.

A day earlier, however, things weren’t so pleasant. The Montreal mayoral candidate, who’s Black, said he was targeted with racial attacks.

“I was depressed for a few hours,” he told reporters.  “It wasn’t easy.”

On Thursday, he shared via social media what he says was a letter sent to him, laced with racist slurs and death threats.

In a statement, Montreal police told Global News that their “Hate Crime and Incidents Unit are aware of the matter.”

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According to Holness, this is the worst of the racial attacks that he’s received since he began campaigning, and that he’s had several.

“It’s not easy but to be honest, being here today, seeing the team, being around positive energy was very helpful,” he remarked to applause from his team.

Other racialized candidates who spoke to Global News said they experienced racism, like Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, a Black Project Montréal candidate for borough mayor in Côte-des-Neiges-Notre -Dame-de-Grâce.

The first-time candidate told stated that sometimes it’s so bad, she’s shocked.

“I’m like, ‘Is this really happening to me?'” she said ” ‘Did this person really just say that to me?'”

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She refused to give details, believing doing so could risk giving too much attention to the acts. But she noted that on top of the racism, there’s sexism.

“You know, sexism is sometimes so insidious,” she said. “It’s some comments on the way you look, sometimes they make you feel like you cannot run the borough.”

Ensemble Montréal’s mayoral incumbent for the Saint-Laurent borough, Alan De Sousa, noted that racism can be subtle, too.

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He served five terms as borough mayor and claimed to have not experienced overt racism.

He acknowledged that racism exists, saying he’s not naive, but that he tries not to allow it to preoccupy him.

“When I talk to people, while it might be in the back of my mind, I try to make sure that I can get above that,” the Pakistani Canadian stressed, while insisting that diversity is vital in public office.

“We have to have a space where these people can feel comfortable and safe,” he emphasized.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, believes acts of racism have become more overt.

“This is an attack on what we call mosaic democracy,” he observed.  “Democracy is becoming more diverse, more multicultural, more multiracial, multi-sexual and so you’ll see more of these acts as traditionally marginalized people take their place in the political sphere.”

Holness vowed to keep fighting and had a message for anyone wanting to run for office and is afraid of facing racism or sexism.

“First step is to denounce [racist acts], he advised, “and to ask for help from those around you.”
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Katahwa agrees, saying it’s important to support each other and to stay strong.

“When they go low,” she smiled, ” you go high.”

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Efforts to increase representation of Black Canadians in government

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