Montreal anti-discrimination task force members hope direct line to mayor will lead to real change

"We've all been in the trenches," says Myrna Lashley, one of the 15 people named to a roundtable assembled, in part, to address criticism of the Projet Montréal administration for its lack of diversity.

Projet Montréal, criticized for its lack of diversity, looks for ways to make city more inclusive

This group of Montrealers has been assembled to look at ways to curb discrimination in the city. CBC Montreal's Daybreak spoke to Myrna Lashley, 2nd from left, and May Chiu, 4th from left, about what they hope to accomplish. (Valérie Plante/Twitter)

One of the members of a task force set up to make Montreal more inclusive says she believes she and her colleagues will have a "direct influence" on Mayor Valérie Plante.

The roundtable was assembled, in part, to address criticism of the Projet Montréal administration for its lack of diversity: while about one-third of Montrealers are visible minorities, all the Projet candidates elected are white.

Made up of 15 people from diverse backgrounds, the group will focus on everything from racial profiling to socio-economic issues and employment.

Myrna Lashley, a professor in McGill's department of psychiatry and a researcher at Montreal's Lady Davis Institute, acknowledged the group has a wide mandate but said she believes the members can handle it.

CBC's Daybreak spoke to Lashley and May Chiu, an anti-racism activist, lawyer and member of the Progressive Chinese of Quebec, about the task force Tuesday.

They shared their expectations, what issues they want to tackle first — and whether they believe they'll be able to spark change.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What would you say is the biggest problem Montreal faces with regard to discrimination?

ML: First of all — representation. The executive committee does not have any people who aren't white on it. So that's a major issue; it's a perception issue.

Even if you look within the confines of the employees, the representation is not very good.... That sends a message to the rest of the society about how people are viewed.

MC: The fight against poverty.

There's a new agreement with the provincial government for Montreal to have a bigger financial means to invest in social housing. The mayor is now actively looking into [implementing] social tariffs for public transportation.

What I would like ... to see how we can how we can make sure that racialized communities [and] non-status people can have access and be beneficiaries of these broader, really progressive services for the population.

You will report directly to the mayor. How will that play into being able to affect change?

ML: To be able to say: 'Look, these are our suggestions. This is where we see things going. This is the problems that we see.' I think that that is great. I think that's very, very important.

It means that we have a direct influence. It means that we hear directly from her, and she hears directly from us. If you don't have that, you worry about ... whether what you say is really being given to her in the spirit in which it's being said.

You're tackling several big topics. Do you think you have a manageable mandate?

MC: They are big topics, and that's why the committee is a committee of 15 members.… And you know, we're not starting from zero.

We have people from racialized communities, from disabled communities, from the LGBT communities who have worked substantively on all of these different issues. So I think that we do have something to build on.

ML: I think that's a very important point which needs to be underscored: the mayor is making use of the expertise that already exists, and as May pointed out, there are people from diverse communities. So we can draw on all of that.

These are people who've been working on this for years. We've all been in the trenches.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak