Montreal mayor vows change after report says city neglected fight against racism

Montreal mayor vows change after report says city neglected fight against racism

Montreal’s mayor moved to formally acknowledge the existence of systemic racism on Monday after a scathing report noted widespread failures and neglect in the city’s efforts to fight discrimination.

The report tabled Monday noted the city had not recognized the systemic nature of racism and discrimination, which has negative repercussions on hiring practices, organizational culture, policing, housing and the distribution of services.

Mayor Valerie Plante said Monday that the city would implement the report’s recommendations, beginning with a formal acknowledgment of systemic racism.

“Starting today, at city council, I will propose a statement to recognize the systemic nature of racism and discrimination, to affirm the city’s solidarity with the thousands of citizens who have denounced racism and discrimination in all its forms, and, above all, to reaffirm our commitment to act and to put in place the necessary measures to fight them,” she told a news conference.

In addition, Plante announced the city will appoint a commissioner responsible for the fight against racism — a key recommendation — and will review its hiring processes to ensure racialized groups are adequately represented in the city’s workforce and have the chance to move up the ranks.

She said she was also working with the provincial and federal governments to explore the possibility of outfitting the Montreal police with body cameras, a proposal the administration previously rejected.

The 261-page document follows a public consultation involving more than 7,000 people and concludes that the city has trouble translating words into action.

Montreal’s public consultation office makes 38 recommendations, starting with a recognition of the systemic nature of racism and discrimination against racialized groups and Indigenous people.

It also recommends that the city and its boroughs produce data every three years detailing variances between racialized, Indigenous and white people in such sectors as employment, public security, housing and economic development.

The report notes that the city’s anti-discrimination efforts have been mostly concentrated on better integrating new immigrants, rather than fighting racism.

“The fight against racism and discrimination has been neglected,” it reads.

“The systemic nature of these phenomena is not recognized. Consequently, the city does not question its policies and practices, nor its role in the production and perpetuation of inequalities within its various jurisdictions, such as employment and public security.”

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Monday the creation of what he called an “action group” of legislature members who would come up with a series of concrete steps to address racial inequality by the fall.

The premier said that while he hadn’t read the Montreal report yet, he agreed with many of its conclusions.

“I’m not surprised to hear there is some racism in Quebec,” he said. “We know the unemployment rate is very high, too high in Quebec for Black people in Quebec, we know we also have to settle some problems with the police.”

However, Legault continued to reject the use of the word “systemic,” insisting that it’s divisive and its meaning is debated.

“Why do we have to fight for months over one word instead of fighting together over racism?” said Legault, who maintained that most Quebecers are not racist.

The public consultation office’s president, Dominique Ollivier, said in a letter to Plante accompanying the report that the failure to recognize the problem has left the city without the necessary tools to tackle it.

In a video accompanying the release, Ollivier said it took the city seven months to respond to the office’s request for a document outlining steps being taken to fight racism.

Ollivier said the city’s plan lacked specific data and was vague, preferring to use words such as “improve,” and “help” rather than setting concrete targets.

“It’s certain that if you improve from 0.001, you’ve improved, but you haven’t really done anything, and that’s a bit what transpired,” Ollivier said.

While the report acknowledged that the Montreal police have committed to updating their policy for stopping people on the street, the report found that racial and social profiling persist, and Ollivier said the problem has only been recognized sporadically.

When asked about the assessment of her administration in the report, Plante acknowledged that, “of course, it hurts,” but said she was ready to accept the criticism and move forward.

She noted the steps her administration had already taken to fight discrimination, including the fact that it set and exceeded a target of having 33 per cent of new hires from under-represented groups.

The Ligue des droits et libertes, a civil rights group, praised Plante’s decision to acknowledge systemic discrimination, but warned it was “only the first round” of the fight against racism.

President Alexandra Pierre said the administration would have to show “unflinching political will” to follow through, particularly when it comes to ensuring the police recognize and address profiling.

She also called on the Legault government to stop “playing with words” and follow Montreal’s lead in acknowledging the existence of systemic racism.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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