Con­sul­ta­tions on ‘sys­temic racism’ in Que­bec di­vid­ing po­lit­i­cal left

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - GIUSEPPE VALIANTE

MON­TREAL — Que­bec is be­ing widely crit­i­cized for its plan to launch public con­sul­ta­tions on sys­temic racism, even by those who agree vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties face many struc­tural bar­ri­ers in the province.

The de­bate has high­lighted a deep di­vide among Que­bec’s po­lit­i­cal left, with some peo­ple say­ing the con­sul­ta­tions en­cour­age an ide­ol­ogy of vic­tim­hood and de­mo­nize the province as in­her­ently racist.

Some civil rights ac­tivists ar­gue the con­sul­ta­tions are mean­ing­less un­less the gov­ern­ment is fi­nally pre­pared to hold its in­sti­tu­tions ac­count­able for fail­ing to up­hold racial di­ver­sity.

More­over, ac­tivists say they will in­creas­ingly use the court sys­tem to push through changes in so­ci­ety re­gard­less of what comes out of the gov­ern­ment’s con­sul­ta­tions.

Michele Sirois, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and pres­i­dent of a women’s rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, be­lieves there is no sys­temic racism in Que­bec.

That con­cept, she said in an in­ter­view, is im­ported from the United States, which has a his­tory of struc­tural racism against peo­ple of colour.

“The Amer­i­cans had a slave trade,” she said. “We didn’t. Our prob­lem is about the full in­te­gra­tion of im­mi­grants.”

Sirois re­cently penned an opin­ion piece in Le Devoir, a left-of­cen­tre news­pa­per, and wrote that the term “sys­temic racism” re­flects “an ide­ol­ogy of vic­tim­hood” and pro­motes the idea that only white peo­ple can be racist.

“The left is di­vided in Que­bec,” Sirois said in the in­ter­view. “And there is an in­crease of peo­ple on the left who are say­ing, ‘Stop these con­sul­ta­tions, which will only in­crease racial ten­sion in so­ci­ety.’”

Que­bec has asked its hu­man rights com­mis­sion to launch public con­sul­ta­tions on sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism.

Only dis­cus­sion on dis­crim­i­na­tion in­volv­ing race, colour or eth­nic and na­tional ori­gin will be al­lowed when the hear­ings be­gin in Septem­ber.

The goal, the gov­ern­ment said, is to forge “con­crete and durable” so­lu­tions in order to “fight these prob­lems.”

The Cana­dian Press at­tempted to con­tact Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Kathleen Weil, whose of­fice is lead­ing the con­sul­ta­tions, but was told she would not be avail­able to com­ment.

Fo Niemi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the Mon­treal-based Cen­tre for Re­search Ac­tion on Race Re­la­tions, said peo­ple who deny the ex­is­tence of sys­temic racism aren’t look­ing hard enough.

One clear ex­am­ple, he said, is that Que­bec’s hu­man rights com­mis­sion is so un­der­staffed it can only ren­der de­ci­sions many years af­ter a com­plaint is lodged. Niemi cited the case of a man who waited seven years to be awarded $33,000 by the com­mis­sion af­ter he was racially pro­filed by po­lice in 2010.

That case also high­lighted the fact po­lice are still not track­ing data on racial pro­fil­ing, five years af­ter the force said it would start tak­ing pro­fil­ing complaints.

An­other ex­am­ple of sys­temic racism in Que­bec so­ci­ety is re­flected in the lack of di­ver­sity in the ju­di­ciary, he said.

Niemi pointed to a 2016 study pub­lished by the In­sti­tute for Re­search on Public Pol­icy in­di­cat­ing that out of 500 judges in Que­bec, three were vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties.

Niemi said ac­tivists are in­creas­ingly go­ing to the courts to force so­ci­ety to be­come more di­verse, be­cause noth­ing else seems to be work­ing.


Michele Sirois, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and pres­i­dent of a women’s rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, be­lieves there is no sys­temic racism in Que­bec.

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