Ethnic, visible minorities want Montreal mayoral candidates to address diversity

Daybreak's Shari Okeke meets people concerned about the under-representation of visible minorities and immigrants in Montreal's public service and say it's an issue municipal election candidates should not ignore.

Visible minorities make up 30% of Montreal's population but just 11% of civil servants, 7% of police

Montreal lawyer Dania Suleman says she's concerned about employment for immigrants and visible minorities but hears nothing from Montreal's mayoral candidates. 'I didn't see any suggestions or political vision on that level.' (Shari Okeke/CBC )

As part of CBC Montreal Daybreak's coverage of Quebec's municipal elections, Shari Okeke met people concerned about the under-representation of visible minorities and immigrants in Montreal's public service.

They say it's an issue they're not hearing candidates address.

More than 30 percent of Montrealers are visible minorities.

Yet visible minorities make up only about 14 per cent of candidates for municipal office in this election, 11 per cent of municipal civil servants, seven percent of the police service and less than 2 per cent of the fire department.

Dania Suleman, lawyer

Montreal lawyer Dania Suleman says she's heard so little about diversity during the Montreal municipal election campaign that she feels skeptical when she spots visible minorities on campaign posters.

"It kind of looks like tokenism rather than anything else," she said.

Suleman says it's different in the case of Cathy Wong, a high-profile candidate running for Équipe Denis Coderre, who Suleman knows and describes as "brilliant." 
Cathy Wong, who Dania Suleman describes as 'brilliant,' is running for council with Équipe Denis Coderre, however, Suleman says that in itself isn't enough to persuade her to vote for the incumbent mayor. (City of Montreal)

Wong was the youngest president ever on the Conseil des Montréalaises; she's worked as a development officer for the YMCAs of Quebec and as a columnist for Le Devoir and Radio-Canada.

'Needs to be way stronger'

But Suleman's respect for Wong doesn't mean she'll be voting for Coderre.

"I still think she's done some very amazing things, but for me, it's not enough that they just decided to have Cathy Wong on their team," Suleman said.

"It needs to be way stronger than that," she said. 

When it comes to the issue of better representation, Suleman is not impressed by Projet Montréal either.

"Both teams, I feel, the way they approach cultural, religious or ethnic minorities, it sometimes feels phoney," she said.

As a lawyer specializing in labour law and as a Muslim Montrealer of mixed-race and Eritrean descent, Suleman is particularly concerned about employment equity and the fact that the provincial commission on systemic racism is no longer proceeding with the mandate it was given at the outset.

Both Coderre and Plante say they want to tackle employment issues, but you cannot do that without looking at racial discrimination, Suleman said.

"I didn't see any suggestions or political vision on that level," she said.

Gregory Excellent, business owner & community radio host

Capital Plus owner Gregory Excellent is supporting Haitian candidates in Montreal North. 'If you look at island of Montreal and the people that live there versus the people that rule it, I see a big difference.' (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Gregory Excellent owns Capital Plus, a peer-to-peer lending firm in Saint-Michel, and he considers himself a social activist.

Excellent was raised in Montreal North and wants to see elected officials who look more like the people who live in the community, so he's supporting Haitian candidates running for Projet Montréal in Montreal North.

Excellent had been a solid Coderre supporter until last year.

When Montreal North's former borough mayor stepped down, Excellent teamed up with other citizens to suggest a Haitian candidate to run for borough mayor with Équipe Denis Coderre.

However, he says, Coderre didn't meet them to discuss their proposal, and that was a major disappointment.

"The fact he didn't choose a Haitian candidate, it sent us a major signal that he takes the Haitian community for granted," Excellent said.

That candidate, Kerlande Mibel, wound up running for Projet Montréal, but it was Coderre's candidate, Christine Black, who was elected.

Accountability for targets

Excellent blames the low voter turnout — about 20 per cent — for Mibel's loss. Still, the experience encouraged him to keep supporting Haitian candidates and keep pushing for change.

He wants to see clear diversity targets for municipal employees and accountability for those targets.

"In the private sector, if you have a target and you don't meet it, you could lose your job. That's not the case at municipal level, and I think that should change," he said.

"If we're serious about it, well, heads need to roll if we don't meet objectives or expectations." 

He's also urging voters to hold candidates accountable, ask questions, and get to the polls on Nov. 5.

"Ask them what they're going to change in your life, in your community. Then make a choice." 

Jerome Di Giovanni, executive director of ACCÉSSS 

Jerome Di Giovanni, executive director of ACCÉSSS, which provides workshops for immigrants and help them gain access to health care, says he's heard little to nothing from Montreal's mayoral candidates on issues affecting immigrants. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Jerome Di Giovanni describes himself as one of the last "Pier 21 kids." 

He was part of the mass immigration of Italians to Canada who first arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax before moving to Montreal. 

Now he's executive director of ACCÉSSS,  a federation of 122 organizations from various ethnocultural communities that share an interest in health care and social services for immigrants.

Di Giovanni says he wants to hear Montreal mayoral candidates Denis Coderre and Valérie Plante describe concrete actions their parties would take regarding Bill 62, the province's controversial law that bans face-coverings.

"Bill 62 should be challenged in court. We should scrap it because it really has nothing to do with religious neutrality," he said, calling it "systemic discrimination" that targets Muslim women. 

"We've heard nothing like that in terms of the two candidates," said Di Giovanni.

'Not talking about it'

"The City of Montreal is supposed to have an employment equity program, so where is the employment equity program? How come the two candidates don't talk about the employment equity program?" he asked.

He also wants to hear Montreal's mayoral candidates address relations between police and various communities, beyond suggesting training courses and setting up more committees.

"In terms of actual change, changing culture of the police, changing the way the police works in relation to racial minorities, ethnocultural communities ... They're not talking about it."

More on CBC Montreal's Daybreak

Daybreak host Mike Finnerty (left) interviewed Tiffany Callender (centre), who is running for councillor in Côte-des-Neiges with Équipe Denis Coderre and Balarama Holness, who is running for borough mayor in Montreal North with Projet Montréal. (Balarama Holness/Facebook)

Tiffany Callender, who is running for city councillor in Côte-des-Neiges with Équipe Denis Coderre and Balarama Holness, who is running for borough mayor in Montreal North with Projet Montréal, were on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Tuesday discussing how to tackle under-representation of visible minorities and immigrants in Montreal's public service.