By Yvonne Sam
Finally Quebec is moving in step with its neighbour, Ontario, following the aftermath of a 2,662-signature petition, tabled by Québec Solidaire MNA, Amir Khadir, which called for “the creation of a consultation commission on systemic racism”.
On Thursday, May 20, Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister, Kathleen Weil, unveiled plans for the public consultation on systemic discrimination and racism in Quebec, scheduled to commence next September.
To this end, the government and the Quebec Human Rights Commission, along with non-profit groups, intend to hold province-wide meetings, geared towards listening to experiences of racism, and to institute action, based on what it hears.
In an endeavor to garner a wide variety of responses, there will be several different ways for the public to participate in the consultation process, including a website, where Quebecers can share personal stories, and answer a questionnaire.
An additional four working groups will be created, in areas such as work and employment, health, education, social services and housing, where discrimination is a concern.
On the issue of racism Quebec was extremely slow coming out of the starting block, failing to hear the starter’s pistol, due to denial.
While all these new plans may be regarded as long overdue moves in a much needed direction, it is nevertheless apparent that trouble looms ahead.
To begin with, the Quebec Human Rights Commission has no policy acknowledging the existence of systemic racism and intersectional discrimination, which lends itself to double obstacles for racialized victims, who are English-speaking or have a disability.
Of note, is the fact that the proceedings of the recent unveiling session were conducted entirely in French, with nary a word, not even the minimum salutation, being spoken in English. An introduction of such a nature, speaks volumes, in and of itself.
Racialized communities must be included from the get go, and be dealt with in the language that best tells their story of racism and discrimination. How does the Commission intend to cross the linguistic hurdle, in order to target the linguistically alienated, and increase their awareness of systemic racism?
The process has begun with the highest of hopes, but fears exist that this Commission, like so many others gone before, will end up being just more paper, more appointments, and more lip service that means absolutely nothing to an already disillusioned linguistically marginalized community.
Consideration must be given to language-specific, anti-racism initiatives.
Hopefully, the first ball thrown is not indicative of how the game would be played. A province watches on.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.