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Dan Philip leads a chorus of voices for change

“Our capacity to represent ourselves has improved,” Dan Philip says, but there is work still to do. (Debrah Gilmour)

“Our capacity to represent ourselves has improved,” Dan Philip says, but there is work still to do. (Debrah Gilmour)

Longtime human-rights activist Dan Philip is well known to Montrealers who care about issues of social justice.

Whenever instances of alleged racism surface in the media or on the street, it is often his opinion journalists seek.

High-profile cases have included celebrity psychiatrist Pierre Mailloux, who made comments many thought to be racist on the popular talk show Tout le monde en parle in 2005, and Bye Bye 2008, a New Year’s special on Radio Canada TV for which the broadcaster received more than 1,000 complaints.

Over the four decades Philip has worked with the Black Coalition of Canada and later as president of the Ligue des noirs du Québec, he has advocated on behalf of many people away from the public eye who suffer racism at work or when seeking a home.

Longtime colleague Gabriel Bazin has taken over as the Ligue’s president, while Philip, 77, maintains a steady presence as director at the organization he founded in 1980. He has a long view of what has improved over the years, as well as what has not.

“Our capacity to represent ourselves has improved,” Philip said, recalling that in the ’60s, the black community had little or no access to legal representation. “We did not have access to justice and we did not have access to any person of authority to whom we could have addressed our problem.”

Now there are increasing numbers of people from visible minorities in positions of authority, Philip says. “At that time, it was someone else who spoke for us in terms of the problems that faced us, but this has changed. There has been a great sense of mobility.”

In 1969, there was a large student protest at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) stemming from racism charges leveled against a professor by two students. There was rioting and 97 people were arrested, including Anne Clare Cools, who would become in 1984 the first black person to be appointed to the Canadian Senate.

“It is perhaps because of the protests that the Black Coalition of Canada was formed,” Philip recalls. “From Day 1, the coalition was formed as a human rights organization to give people their rights through the courts.”

Eventually, Philip said, it became necessary to create an offshoot in Quebec.

In 1980, he became president of the Ligue des Noirs du Québec, which continues to field calls for help on a daily basis. The organization deals with cases of discrimination around problems obtaining housing and work.

“We deal with a wide range of subjects and also we have been involved in discussing social problems with the police.”

Challenges remain, Philip says. “One is how are we going to apply ourselves in society, and the other is the inability of society and those who are in power to reduce racism in a more significant way. We are faced with racial profiling in terms of brutality against our community and it seems to be a problem that has no end.”

In 1991, the year 24-year-old Marcellus François died when police mistook him for a murder suspect, Philip said, “Every year someone is getting shot and hurt and they talk to us about inquiry boards and all that nonsense. If nothing is done, the situation will get worse.”

According to Jacques Frémont, president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, in the last 20 to 24 years, 25 people who were racially or socially profiled have died during police interventions; in the last 10 years, 108 were killed or injured, with only two officers being charged. Frémont said on CBC’s Daybreak that under the present system of one police force investigating another, “evidence is almost impossible to get.”

For years, a chorus of voices have called for an independent inquiry concerning deaths involving the police. Last May, Bill 12, a law calling for an independent oversight body was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly. However, it remains to be implemented.

Following the recent deaths during police interventions of Donald Ménard in November 2013 and Alain Magloire in February, both 41, the call for independent investigation has intensified. Quebec Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron estimates it will take two years to implement the bill.

Both Frémont and Philip say that police investigating police does not work.

“If you’re going to get justice there should be a process where justice can be given,” Philip says.

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One Comment

  1. Clive Corbett says:

    I need your help. I will tell you my story and then you can let me know if you are able to help me or point me in the right direction. My name is Clive Corbett , I worked for over 1 year for Axis Lighting 2505 senkus LaSalle, 514-948-6272.When I started with that company, they had already gone through at least 20 + individuals who couldn’t do the job or find that position hard. After a day and a half training, I knew how to set up this system and make it work properly. Everything was going fine and my evaluation was A+. However, the next year, the company changed the supervisor; then came Pierre Gagnon, an ex military Quebecois racist individual. He immediately started focusing on the black guys and joking with the whites everyday. In his office he put the camera on myself and watch me working daily; how do I know this? There is a gap at the back of his office so my friend hid himself while watching him. In the morning he speaks to everyone and turn his back on me.Whenever I do my work would make up things just to try to get me upset so that he could get a reason to get me fired. If he speaks to me he always refer to me as “u people” but I still remain calm.We had a new worker and as he walks around and introduce that individual to the guys ,when he got to me he said he couldn’t remember my name. He had an assistant who was confining in me at the beginning ,his name is Kamal. Kamal told me that Pierre asked him to make sure that the black guys always be working and anytime he sees two or more standing together to break it up. This is the old slavery rule. Kamal stop giving me info. after Pierre advised him to separate himself from us if he wants to be his assistant.
    > One day the manager came into our department (Stores) and said to my friends and I “there are too many blacks in stores” with a smirk on his face. A few weeks later he came back again and said the same thing to us “there are too many blacks in stores”, we now realized that he was serious. Working with us was a Russian “Azat ” he saw the ongoing harassments and decided that it was enough and something has to be done; so he asked us to stop working one day so that we all can go upstairs to make joint complain against the supervisor.when we began to go,Pierre gangon stood up at the door and the rest of the guys got intimidated and returned to work,but Azat went and made the complaint against Pierre.
    > I sent an email to Neal Greenspoon (CFO) and asked him for his help to stop the harassment so that i can work peacefully.I met with him and human resources and in two weeks i was fired without explanation.I told he was making a mistake but it fell on deaf ears.However,feeling the guilt of consciousness, Mr Greenspoon called me at me home three times the following week stating that he was sorry and he thought he was fair to me and how sorry he was when he found out how educated i was.Mr Greenspoon asked me on the third day to give him an offer to compensate me for his wrong doing and to get me from talking to any news media about what they had done to me.I gave him my offer in which had agreed upon but i believed he changed his mind after because the next day i received a letter via bailiff asking me not to speak to any news media because it is not good for the company’s reputation.
    > Axis Lighting was found guilty of violating the labor standard and violating my human rights.After one year,they asked to meet me via a mediator to make a settlement but that day when we met,they came with a lawyer and fabricated statements in an effort to tarnish my character.We did not settle but they are still asking me not to talk,even-though they are still harassing me. I am unable to file my income tax this year because they refused to mail me my T4.I told the mediator about this and she sent an email requesting that they mail me the T4 but still won’t send it to me.
    > I would do whatever it takes to resolve this issue and i hope that you are able to help me.
    > Thank you
    > Clive Corbett…….514-992-6296

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