By Yvonne Sam
Following the aftermath of a 2,662-signature petition, tabled in the National Asembly by Québec Solidaire MNA, Amir Khadir, calling for “the creation of a consultation commission on systemic racism”, and voices calling for a legislative committee to look into the matter increased in volume, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard’s government announced the immanency of measures for consulting the public on systemic racism in Quebec.
On May 20, Kathleen Weil, Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion, unveiled plans for the public consultation on systemic discrimination and racism in Quebec, that was scheduled to commence in September of 2017. Public consultations on racism would address discrimination in employment, education, health care, housing, public security and culture.
Premier Couillard mandated the Quebec Human Rights Commission to organize and lead the consultations, with the objective being, to put forward concrete and permanent solutions that engage all of Quebec society in combating these problems.
The Commission would submit recommendations to the government, which was expected to release the findings and an action plan, next spring.
In April, just a month shy of the making known 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.
My recent column, Political Demission at the Quebec Human Rights Commission, enmeshed in Premier Couillard’s draconian decision to rename and reframe the Consultation on Systemic Discrimination and Racism, is being revisited because, except for the efforts of Black Lives Matter, neither the community’s response to the cancellation of the consultation and police unjustly killing Black men have changed appreciably.
On Wednesday, October 18, 2017, the Couillard government announced an overhaul to the controversial consultations on systemic racism and discrimination, including a new focus and a new leadership mandate — a decision that followed the Premier’s assurance that the government would review the format.
In addition, Kathleen Weil, who was Immigration Minister for more than three years, lost her portfolio to David Heurtel. The consultations process was also renamed, and is now called “the Commission on Valuing Diversity and Fighting against Discrimination”.
It is my sincere hope that there is no intent to sweep racism under the rug, as the emanating dust would be too much.
Quebec appears visionless to the reality of racism and discrimination, and thus, the possibility of pain — a pain that unleashes itself in structural circles, meanders through the docks of courtrooms, ending in the unjustifiable deaths at the hands of law enforcers.
Politically speaking, the pendulum of public attitude, regarding racism and discrimination, has reached the limit of its swing, exposing, once again, the cold, hard truth that the story of racism will never be told, especially since, from the outset, opposition parties had, in no uncertain terms, called on the government to scrap the consultation process altogether, claiming that it puts Quebec society on trial.
If the truth is to be known, a trial is not only needed, but long overdue, as Quebec is known to be struggling with a pervasive and age old problem called racism.
The continued reluctance to forthrightly confront racism persists, even though it is responsible for the economic disparities that make it nearly impossible for real economic progress for racialized minorities, which is the only measurement for any so-called race relations gains.
The challenge lies in the fact that Premier Couillard, like so many others, is covertly dismissing the fact that here in Quebec a certain group of people enjoy certain privileges that others do not, and discounts any relevance of past practices having a bearing today.
To behave as if racism does not matter is to deny the absolute truth, and this again is part and parcel of how wide the divide is.
Again, in a recent article in La Presse (September 9) — titled “Editorial Consultation sur la discrimination systémique — reculez, m. Couillard!” — journalist, Francois Cardinal, urged 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.
Plainly put, the cancellation means that there will be no focus, ever, on understanding the perilous effects of interpersonal and institutional racism on both the psychological and physiological well-being of minorities.
Let us not be misguided that institutional racism applies to a physical institution or building, for if so, such thinking needs to be halted in mid–formation.
We are the institutionalized racism, and become part of the displayed institutionalized behavior each time we fail to stand up, turn a blind eye, walk away thinking that it is not our problem, hold our heads down or fail to intervene when we see someone being harassed or discriminated against.
Yes, the very racism, whose presence Quebec has so long failed to acknowledge, can psychologically affect its victims by allowing society to deny their true value as individuals, and by compelling them to internalize the racist conceptions of them, held by the dominant culture.
The odds notwithstanding, it is imperative that we see the cancellation as an opportunity to bring collective weight to bear. Sustained public pressure is the only way to make this happen, as Blacks, along with other racialized minorities, have been left out in the cold and the story must be told that they cannot afford to be put on hold.
The overwhelming response of disbelief, at the move made by Premier Couillard, should herald the beginning of new commitments to sustain and transform righteous outrage into a collective resolve, focusing on strategies that would, unapologetically, benefit all affected racialized minorities.
Racism is a major issue that cannot be ignored. The facts are undeniable and if Quebec continues on the path of disingenuousness, sadly a very painful confrontation will eventually ensue.
According to Pope Francis, “Racism today is the ultimate evil in the world.”
Premier Couillard cannot have his say and his day also — putting in motion an independent process under the aegis of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, only to dabble at the rumblings of a rabble.
Sustaining righteous outrage is now more important than ever: R-ally A-gainst C-ouillard’s I-nstinctively S-urreptitious M-ove.
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.