By Yvonne Sam
On Thursday, May 20, Quebec Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister, Kathleen Weil, unveiled plans for a public consultation on systemic discrimination and racism. The government and the Quebec Human Rights Commission, along with non-profit groups, were expected to hold province-wide meetings, geared towards listening to experiences of racism and to institute action, based on what it heard.
The Commission will then submit recommendations to the government, which is expected to release the findings and an action plan, next spring.
However in a recent article in La Presse (September 9) — titled “Editorial Consultation sur la discrimination systémique — reculez, m. Couillard!” — journalist, Francois Cardinal, urges Quebec Premier, Philippe Couillard, to abandon the consultation on systemic discrimination and racism, if he does not want to be found guilty of arousing the ashes of intolerance (plus.lapresse.ca/screens/5d1ee89a-2351-48a8-b98e-c2c1580af979%7C_0.html).
According to Cardinal, based on current happenings, such as the PQ leader screaming at the “systemic discrimination trial”, of Quebeckers and the Prime Minister accusing him of “negationism”, and the state of affairs at the Human Rights Commission, the stage is fully set for disaster.
It was evident from the outset that the primary players in the scenario, have fallen short of certain basic qualities, requisite for addressing, let alone, remedying such a fragile and volatile issue as racism.
In April, just a month shy of the unveiling of plans for public consultation on racism and discrimination, the Parti Quebecois accused the Couillard government of playing with fire, and launched a petition, opposing plans to debate the issues of racism and systemic discrimination in Quebec (montrealgazette.com/news/quebec/upset-with-systemic-racism-committee-pq-launches-petition-calling-for-more-action-less-talk).Compounding the present mayhem, is the brewing internal cauldron at the Quebec Human Rights Commission, where the head, Tamara Thermitus, mandated to defend rights and freedoms, now has to defend herself, against multiple allegations of abuse of authority, mismanagement and disrespect for her staff.
She has also failed to publicly respond to the many, and overwhelming, allegations that concern her. Let it not be forgotten that her appointment was not a slam dunk, being originally challenged by opposition politicians, who claimed that she was too “multiculturalist” and much too close for comfort to Dominique Anglade, a Liberal Cabinet Minister, who also shares the same roots.
This is all playing out at the very moment when the Commission is supposed to begin the consultation on racism, an issue in which Quebec was extremely slow in coming out of the starting block — failing to hear the starter’s pistol — due to denial.
The question that we must now ask, is whether or not the Human Rights Commission is up to the task, given their chequered history on issues of racism and discrimination (www.huffingtonpost.ca/yvonne-sam/quebec-systemic-racism_b_9904016.html)
The writing was on the wall before the Commission even made its call. It is blatantly obvious, that for them to do their best or to claim any degree of success, they must first clean up the internal mess.
What can the public expect from a Commission, whose house is in disarray?
It is a known fact that, of all the iniquitous and violent psychological and social disorders, few rival racism in its destructive impact.
In my opinion, and for those who truly understand this issue, Quebec will never begin to resolve race relations until it addresses the real — and right — question.
While there has been some progress on racism and discrimination, the progress is nowhere enough.
Minister Weil assured the public that the Commission would do its best to put racism to rest, and such a statement buoyed the hopes of many, especially the Black community, the Indigenous population and the Muslims.
Now it seems as if the Quebec Commission is incapable of sending racism into remission; it must first work out its internal “schisms” before tackling racism.
At any rate, the success of the Commission on racism and discrimination may determine the fate of Premier Couillard. Only time will tell.
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.