'Your actual place in society': Minority Montrealers stung by racial divide at Fête nationale parade

A viral video of Saturday's parade quickly sparked controversy with some saying organizers were advertising systemic racism by allowing floats to be pushed predominantly by minorities and ridden predominantly by white people.

Some attendees posted pictures, videos of minorities pushing floats that white people were riding

Emilie Nicolas, the president of Québec Inclusif, said she felt very uncomfortable and hurt when she saw how the division of labour was handled at Saturday's Fête nationale parade. (CBC and Radio-Canada)

When Félix Brouillet saw the first float in Saturday's Fête nationale parade in Montreal, he thought he was looking at a scene out of a 1960s movie about ancient Rome.

A white woman in a flowing blue dress stood on the float, which was pushed down St-Denis Street by four young men of minority backgrounds. They were followed by a chorus of predominantly white people, dressed in white, who were dancing and singing.

Brouillet took out his phone and started filming the scene for Facebook. His video has since been viewed more than a million times.

It quickly sparked controversy, with some saying organizers were advertising systemic racism by allowing floats to be pushed predominantly by minorities and ridden predominantly by white people.

Others rebuffed the racist narrative by defending the scene or attacking Brouillet for filming it.

"I keep receiving hate mail, like people saying, 'You're making us pass for a bunch of racists,'" he said.

RAW: Quebec history float draws criticism 0:32

Systemic racism?

Emilie Nicolas, the president of Québec Inclusif, which has been working to get the provincial government to launch a commission into systemic racism, said she was hurt to see how the parade unfolded.

"As a black Quebecer, you're expecting to go out there in the street and celebrate Fête nationale like everyone else, and what you're seeing is a representation of your actual place in society," Nicolas said.

She said the apparent race divide was visible throughout the parade, not the first float alone.

The Association of Muslims and Arabs for Secularism in Quebec posted a series of photos to their Facebook page showcasing other floats which evoked the same reaction.

"What should we say to the black child who was so happy to celebrate the Fête nationale?" the post reads.

Organizers say event was diverse

On Saturday, the head of the organizing committee for the Montreal celebration, Maxime Laporte, said having black people push the Quebec history float amounted to a coincidence, and he defended the parade's level of inclusion.

"I think it's important to say, I don't think the parade has ever showcased Quebec's diversity to this extent," Laporte added.

Nicolas said that reaction amounts to trying to make people feel guilty for seeing racism. She pointed to the problem stemming from organizers not being diverse enough themselves.

"A lot of the organizations who asked to be part of the parade from other cultural communities have been denied that right," Nicolas said.

Event organizers said this was a very diverse and multicultural parade. (Radio-Canada)

A community organization in Montreal that celebrates Quebecers of Latino origin, Fundacion LatinArte, said they were denied the opportunity to be in the parade.

Angela Sierra, the director of the organization, told CBC News that parade organizers didn't want them to participate, then later changed their mind.

On Friday, her organization was told they could have a float, but she said on such short notice she couldn't book artists, so they ended up being shut out anyway.

Regrets for students participating

A lot of people pushing the floats were part of sports teams at a neighbourhood high school, Louis-Joseph-Papineau.

Their coach was disappointed people only saw the scene through the lens of race.

"I think it's a shame that people saw a colour and not the participants," said Sterve Lubin, a head coach in the athletics department at the school.

Félix Brouillet, who filmed the viral video, told CBC Sunday he regretted the negative impact it might have on the students who became central figures in the controversy. (CBC)
Brouillet said he partially regrets filming the viral video because of the position it put those students in.

"They had a hard job that nobody else wanted to do. I feel bad for them. They didn't ask for any of this," he said.

"I like that there's a conversation but I don't like that it's at these young men's expense," he added.

CBC News contacted event organizers several times Sunday for comment but were unable to reach them.

With filed from Radio-Canada and CBC's Kate McKenna