Majority of Quebecers recognize systemic racism is an issue for First Nations people, survey suggests

Ghislain Picard, Quebec and Labrador regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, said the results of a Leger survey are a sign that non-Indigenous allies should be involved in developing an action plan to combat racism and discrimination.

Ghislain Picard, AFNQL regional chief, says results show Quebecers' opinions have 'greatly evolved'

Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, says the assembly will be announcing an action plan to combat racism next month. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The majority of Quebecers believe racism and discrimination are problems for Indigenous people but don't admit to having made racist or discriminatory comments themselves, a recent survey suggests.

In an online Léger survey of non-Indigenous Quebecers​, 92 per cent of respondents said they felt First Nations community members are subject to racism or discrimination in Quebec, but 61 per cent said they had never made racist comments or been prejudiced against First Nations people themselves. 

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents also disagreed with the statement that people around them sometimes make racist or discriminatory comments about First Nations people.

The survey was commissioned by the Assembly of the First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) to get a better picture of the progress made in recent years. It polled 1,002 non-Indigenous Quebecers from July 17 to 23.

Ghislain Picard, Quebec and Labrador regional chief for the AFNQL, said the survey results are encouraging.

"I think the fact that we have such a high number of people thinking that First Nations are victims of racism and discrimination is, to me, good news," Picard told reporters Wednesday. 

"I feel the public opinion is more aware of our situations and realities, and the kind of challenges that we have and obstacles that we have when dealing with governments." 

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he hasn't had a chance to review the full survey results yet, but said systemic racism against Indigenous communities is a reality that he is very much aware of. 

"I spend a large part of my days fighting against the ignorance that continues in Canada's non Indigenous communities," Miller told Radio-Canada.

The AFNQL had commissioned a similar survey in 2006, and while Picard says the results were similar back then, he feels there have been significant improvements in the recognition of Indigenous issues in Quebec. 

The survey's respondents felt that issues of discrimination have been more systemic than individual — 70 per cent of respondents felt First Nations people are not treated the same as non-Indigenous Quebecers within the province's social structures, including in schools, the justice system and healthcare. 

Most respondents also felt that relations between police officers and First Nations people in Quebec are poor, and that the media does not pay sufficient attention to Indigenous issues. 

The majority admitted they had little to no knowledge of the issues and realities of First Nations in Quebec, and said they were willing to learn more.

Mohawk activist and artist Ellen Gabriel says that willingness to learn is probably due to the hard work Indigenous activists and their allies have done to highlight issues that affect First Nations, such as missing and murdered women, land rights and the environment.

"It's a baby step forward and there's a long way to go before we actually have the kind of change we should have," said Gabriel. "We're still struggling and fighting against institutionalized racism."

Working with allies

For his part, Picard said the results are a sign that non-Indigenous allies should be involved in developing an action plan to combat racism and discrimination.

"We're going to call on the people themselves of Quebec to tag along and support our work," said Picard. 

The AFNQL said that, aside from this survey, it has also been prompted to create its own action plan because it believes the action group to combat racism announced by Premier François Legault in June is insufficient. 

Picard accused the premier of biding his time instead of taking concrete actions to fight systemic racism. He said this survey shows a discrepancy between the views of the public and those of the government. 

"We have a government designing a process under its own conditions. Where are we? Where are the groups who face racism?" said Picard. "To me, that's a process that is really flawed to start with." 

He pointed to recommendations already released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commissionnational inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls last year, as well as the Viens commission

Picard said the AFNQL will review the recommendations made in all three in order to develop a set of recommendations of their own. 

"In the [Truth and Reconcilliation Commission] recommendations, a number of the calls to action involve institutions —learning institutions, schools, universities and so on, and I think they have a place in developing a means to combat racism and discrimination," Picard said. 

The details of the AFNQL's plan are expected to be announced by the end of September. 

The results of the survey were weighted based on 2016 census data. Because it was conducted online, it does not have a margin of error, but a probability sample of the same size would have a margin of error of 3.1 per cent within a confidence interval of 95 per cent.