Anti-racism report receives mixed reviews

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Photo: Mbaï-Hadji Mbaïrewaye

Radio host and activist Mbaï-Hadji Mbaïrewaye believes that although the GACR report contains a few encouraging suggestions, it doesn’t show the political will needed to tackle the causes of systemic racism.

On Dec. 14, the Groupe d'action contre le racisme (GACR), a committee of MNAs assigned by the Legault government in June to address racism in various aspects of Quebec society, presented its final report. The 54-page document contained 25 recommendations for future government policies aimed at reducing the impact of racism and improving living conditions for Indigenous people.

The report’s recommendations include formally banning racial profiling in police operations, creating “mixed patrols” with police officers and social workers, and introducing systematic diversity training for police officers, civil servants and teachers. It also recommends launching awareness campaigns on racism and housing discrimination, encouraging Quebecers who are members of minorities to apply for public-sector jobs and appointing a minister responsible for “the fight against racism.”

The report, which didn’t take a position on the presence of systemic racism in Quebec, received mixed reviews from Indigenous groups and community activists. “Up to this point, the Legault government has used a piece-by-piece approach which fails to take the time to address the root causes of social problems,” the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) declared in a statement.

Mbaï-Hadji Mbaïrewaye is a former municipal politician and host of Dignité noire, a weekly radio show about African history and the experiences of Black Quebecers. “The fact that they chose not to address systemic racism directly shows a lack of political will,” he said. “Having said that, they’re trying to come up with some systemic solutions. They want to attack the consequences of racism, like racial profiling, without attacking the ideas themselves … to do that, you’d need to consciously deconstruct 500 years of colonialism, to rebuild entire systems to move away from the idea of the Western experience as universal. No politician wants to go that far … so we’re managing the consequences without addressing the roots,” he said, echoing some of the AFNQL’s concerns.

Marjorie Shehyn is an Afro-Indigenous community organizer who, as part of a student group, led Black Lives Matter and Indigenous justice marches in Quebec City earlier this year. She said she was “encouraged and discouraged at the same time,” by the report, noting that mixed police patrols and more diversity in school curricula “are things communities have been calling for for years.”

Shehyn and Mbaïrewaye pointed out that several of the report’s recommendations were taken from previous reports. “The idea of increasing minority representation in the civil service was first proposed in the Gendron report in 1972,” Mbaïrewaye said. Both worry that the action plan lacks the concrete guarantees its writers promised.

Mbaïrewaye would like to see clear penalties in place for discriminatory housing and employment practices. “They’re taking a soft approach, and that won’t work. Take gender equality – those [steps forward] have been made through laws, not awareness.”

“I’m worried because there was no budget attached … to train police officers or change course curricula, you need human resources and a budget; otherwise, it’s just words,” said Shehyn.

Both also found encouraging elements in the report. “I appreciated the measures that were suggested to ban profiling and improve the training of police officers, and the mixed patrols,” said Mbaïrewaye. “I also like the idea of adding racism awareness to the public school curriculum, but we can’t just teach a course about it; we need to rethink how we teach history.” Shehyn was encouraged by the idea of creating a ministerial position to fight racism. “That’s a really promising post, if they use it in the right way,” she said.

Denis Gros-Louis is a member of the Huron-Wendat nation who chairs the First Nations Education Council, one of several dozen groups to testify at the GACR hearings, held over the summer. “We hope that by making sure teachers and future teachers know about [Indigenous] realities, they’ll be better equipped to work in our schools and help the kids themselves accept differences. Focusing efforts on teachers is a good strategy.”

Gros-Louis said he felt that committee co-chair Lionel Carmant, who heard the group’s testimony, was there to listen. However, he still has reservations. “I don’t know if this will make things better,” he said. “Once they table legislation to reduce these barriers, then they can make a concrete difference. If their hands are tied, it’ll be moot.”

 

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Marjorie Shehyn speaks at an anti-police brutality protest in Quebec City earlier this year. She says many of the recommendations laid out in the GACR report “are things activists have been calling for for years.”  Photo courtesy of Marjorie Shehyn