Valérie Plante promises change after report finds Montreal has 'neglected' fight against racism

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says she will make changes in the city after a report prepared by her own consultation office detailed racism and discrimination across a range of municipal institutions.

Public consultation report says substantial changes needed to resolve what is widespread problem

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante held a news conference on Monday following a report detailing problems of racism in the city. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who has tried to present herself as a champion for diversity, found herself on the defensive Monday after a report prepared by the city's own consultation office detailed racism and discrimination across municipal institutions.

The report, released Monday by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM), outlined 38 recommendations that call for sweeping changes: greater transparency, specific targets and accountability at the executive level, for everything from hiring for city positions to policing to cultural programs to housing.

In response to the findings, Plante introduced a motion Monday afternoon at city council to "formally recognize" systemic racism, appoint a commissioner to counter racism, hire more minorities to public posts and improve accountability among the Montreal police service.

"I want you to know that Montreal is a city where every Montrealer is entitled to have their dignity respected," she said at a news conference Monday.

"I'm firmly committed to implementing systemic solutions to these systemic problems without delay, because there is no time to lose."

WATCH | Montreal mayor's remarks about systemic racism:

Montreal acknowledges systemic nature of racism and discrimination

3 years ago
Duration 0:58
Mayor Valérie Plante says she's committed to implementing systemic solutions to systemic problems.

Plante said her administration has already undertaken "a number of actions" to deal with issues of discrimination, citing the creation of a roundtable to advise the city of issues of racism and diversity and housing policies to ensure "access to safe housing does not depend on the socio-economic status of the population."

Balarama Holness, one of the community activists whose efforts led to the OCPM's public consultations, praised the report but dismissed the actions Plante trumpeted as having had no impact. 

"The mayor of Montreal has to go back to bat because today was a strikeout," he said.

He said the mayor needs to "describe succinctly her action plan to address every single one of these recommendations."

The OCPM report is the result of a 20,000-signature petition presented to the city nearly two years ago, which triggered public hearings on systemic racism.

It arrives at a time of global reckoning on the issue. Recent protests in Montreal in response to last month's killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police also coalesced around local tensions — including Premier François Legault's denial of the existence of systemic discrimination in Quebec.

Legault announced plans to establish a working group to fight racism at a separate news conference Monday afternoon.

The city's approach to issues of race and discrimination, the OCPM found, "turns a blind eye to the debate regarding the relationship of power between majority and minority groups."

It concluded the city has "neglected" the fight against racism and discrimination and does not recognize the systemic nature of the problem.

As a consequence, "the city does not question its policies and practices, nor its role in the production and perpetuation of inequalities within its various jurisdictions, such as employment and public security."

Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in recent weeks in anti-racism protests in Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Reforms needed at police force

On the subject of the Montreal police and racial profiling, the report says major changes are needed.

It calls for two experts on racial profiling to be added to the city's public security committee and for changes to police training.

The report says an "understanding of the phenomenon of racial and social profiling" and "the necessary skills to bring about a change in the culture of the organization" should be requirements for hiring the city's chief of police.

Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron, facing pressure following the protests in recent weeks, said recently the Montreal police (SPVM) was committed to eliminating any practice of racial profiling. 

He said the SPVM will announce a policy for street checks next month, on July 8, in response to a report last year that found black and Indigenous people were four and five times more likely to be stopped by police and asked to identify themselves. 

In a statement Monday, the SPVM says it has taken note of the OCPM report and reiterated that all forms of racism and discrimination are prohibited in both policing and administration of the police service.

"The SPVM recognizes the systemic nature of racism and discrimination and we are committed to taking action to combat them," the statement says.

On Monday, Mayor Plante said that "given their law enforcement power, it is clear our collective expectation of them is higher."

Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron said he would release a new street check policy in July. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Report calls for action 'without delay'

The report's first two recommendations, both of which Plante committed to acting upon, are for the city to "publicly recognize, without delay, the systemic nature of racism and discrimination and commit to fight against these phenomena," and to create the role of a commissioner to counter racism and discrimination.

The report also calls for the city's services to Indigenous people to be revised "in order to better adapt the services to the demographic reality" of that population, and for better resources and more stability for the city's Indigenous Affairs Commissioner.

Most of the city's efforts around racism amount to programs and policies to integrate immigrants and don't address systemic discrimination, the report says.

Balarama Holness, left, and Tiffany Callender spearheaded an initiative calling for hearings on systemic racism in Montreal. (Jérôme Labbé/Radio-Canada)

The report observes that the City of Montreal has had staffing diversity plans for a decade, and in that time, not a single upper management role was filled by anyone who self-identifies as a visible minority, ethnic minority or Indigenous person.

A need for better data

A common theme in a number of recommendations is the lack of data available to adequately assess programs. The report calls for the city to produce and make public, every three years, "comparative and differentiated populational data" in areas such as housing, social and economic development and democratic participation.

"The main takeaway is you cannot fight what you do not name," OCPM president Dominique Ollivier told CBC News.

The report recommends that data be tracked and made public on city hiring, attendance and funding of cultural programs, and the outcomes of complaints around racial mistreatment.

The hearings were prompted after a group submitted a petition in July 2018 calling for Montreal to look into systemic racism and discrimination.

Under municipal regulations, the city is compelled to hold public hearings on the subjects of any petition signed by at least 15,000 citizens.