Public consultations on systemic racism to be held in Montreal for the first time
Activists submitted 20,000 signatures calling on the city to take action on racism, discrimination
Montreal will be holding its first ever public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination in the city — a move spurred by a 20,000-strong petition calling the city to action on an issue that affects more than 30 per cent of its population.
The petition demands public hearings be held on what they say is systemic racism and discrimination against visible minorities and others in various sectors of city life.
It was submitted on July 27 and Montreal had 21 days to ensure at least 15,000 signatures were valid.
Under city regulations, the city is compelled to hold public hearings on the subjects of any petition signed by at least 15,000 citizens.
City spokesperson Geneviève Jutras confirmed Friday that the city's public consultation office (OCPM), an independent body, has been ordered to hold consultations on the issue.
The OCPM, according to its website, is mandated to hold public consultations on municipal projects or town planning, but its mandate can also extend to any project submitted by Montreal's executive committee or the municipal council.
As CBC reported in its Real Talk on Race project in 2016, visible minorities make up about 31 per cent of the population of Montreal, but just 11 per cent of the City of Montreal's workforce.
'The work begins now': Holness
Balarama Holness, spokesperson for Montreal In Action, the group that spearheaded the petition, said his group was confident they had collected enough valid signatures to push the matter forward.
"The real work begins now," he said in a news release issued by the organization Friday morning.
"This public consultation's success and impact depends on the collaboration of organizations, leaders, academics and citizens from across the city. We need your support and your contributions."
Holness, formerly a professional football player, is a McGill University law student. He unsuccessfully ran for borough mayor in Montreal North under the Projet Montréal banner in November.
In an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak Friday morning, Holness said a lot of work went into collecting all those signatures over a 90-day period. Members of Montreal in Action canvassed all of the city's 19 boroughs.
In doing that, he said members came to understand "how Montrealers feel about inclusion and I think that this is a uniting moment for Montrealers."
An opportunity to get it on the record, find solutions
Looking ahead, Holness said the public consultations will give Montreal in Action and its partners the opportunity to present the full depth of what they say are the city's issues with systemic racism and discrimination.
Those issues, he said, could be related to topics such as housing, immigration and employment.
"We're going to demonstrate to the city why this is important and what the issues are," he said.
All that information will be collected and documented. Ultimately, he said, the goal is to produce a solution-based report on what the city can do to improve the situations that organizations and citizens touch upon.
He said, to reach that goal, people will need the courage to come forward to discuss sometimes traumatic experiences they've had with employees, authorities and others.
"I think this consultation will be a safe place where people can feel secure and come to voice their experiences," he said, noting he wants people of all backgrounds, not just visible minorities or members of the LGBT community, to join in the discussion.
"Even if you haven't experienced racial profiling, housing discrimination or [microagressions] in the workplace, being cognizant of these [problems], we want these people to come to the table to support and supply solutions."
With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Arian Zarrinkoub