In reacting to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, under a police officer’s knee, Premier François Legault restated his position that while there is some discrimination here, there is “no systemic discrimination, no system in Quebec of discrimination.”
Quebec, it is true, has been remarkably open in many ways over the years, for example in receiving immigrants and refugees. However, our province has also been a place of discrimination and racism.
The perpetrators include people who live here from all ethno-cultural backgrounds, as well as the francophone majority, and many of our institutions. For example, for years there was housing discrimination targeting Black people. That is among the reasons for predominantly Black neighbourhoods, such as in St. Henri, the Barclay area near Côte des Neiges, and parts of Walkley in N.D.G. There continues to be under-representation of racialized minorities in Quebec’s public services – facts on the ground that constitute systemic discrimination.
Most urgently, Montreal police have to recognize that there are some in their ranks who practice racial profiling. A report by independent researchers released in October found that black, indigenous, and Arab people are far more likely to be stopped in random streets checks by Montreal police.
That is systemic racism.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has defined systemic discrimination as patterns of behavior, policies or practices that are part of the structures of an organization that create or perpetuate disadvantage for racialized persons. That definition certainly applies to practices across North America, including Quebec. As Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois put it: “In Quebec, right now, if you are part of a visible minority it’s harder to get a job, it’s harder to find an apartment, but it’s easier to get arrested by police.
“That is systemic racism.”
Montreal council unanimously passed a motion asking the Montreal police service stop doing police checks, and police chief Sylvan Caron has promised to make public a new policy on street checks in July. It was supposed to be released in March.
It’s a start that a Quebec government committee is examining police practices in the province — including racial profiling. But its conclusions should be made public and acted upon.
We were pleased that Mayor Valérie Plante, in reacting to the Floyd killing, acknowledged that systemic discrimination does exist. And in that context, Plante reversed previous city policy and called for further study with a view to equipping city cops with body cameras “as fast as we can.” Police carrying body cams will help identify what she called “possible systemic discrimination and social and racial profiling.” Other measures are necessary and urgent such as improved training and education. This includes how to handle complaints regarding people in distress.
Equally important, the department’s human resources division need to focus more effort in hiring cadets from racialized communities, to better reflect the city’s ethnocultural diversity.