Public consultation on systemic racism in Quebec to start in September

Quebec will hold a public consultation on systemic discrimination and racism starting in September, the province's immigration minister announced Thursday.

Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Kathleen Weil unveiled details Thursday

Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Kathleen Weil unveiled details of Quebec's upcoming public consultation on systemic discrimination and racism Thursday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec's upcoming public consultation on systemic discrimination and racism will seek concrete and permanent solutions, says Kathleen Weil, the province's minister of immigration, diversity and inclusion.

Weil unveiled the details of the public consultation, which will begin in September and continue through the fall, at a news conference Thursday.

"The fight against racism and discrimination is a continual priority in open, inclusive and democratic societies like Quebec.  It's a collective responsibility," she said.​

Weil said the province has created several different ways for the public to participate in the consultation, in order to get a wide variety of responses.

Starting in September, the province will launch a website where Quebecers can answer a questionnaire and share personal stories.

It will also create four working groups to focus on different areas where discrimination is a concern, including work and employment, health, education, and social services and housing.

Quebec's commission on human rights and youth rights (CDPDJ) will submit recommendations to the government at the end of the consultation process.

The government is expected to release findings and an action plan in the spring of 2018.

Input from racialized communities essential, activist says

Will Prosper, a former police officer who is a spokesperson for the community group Montréal-Nord Ré​publik, welcomed the news, but says he still has questions about who will be included in the process and where the consultations will take place. 

He wants to ensure the consultation will travel across Quebec, and be inclusive.

"If you don't have the racialized communities ... [involved] through the whole process, I think we might be missing some key facts from people that are affected by systemic racism," said Prosper.

Montréal-Nord Républik was founded to fight systemic racism and to demand justice for Fredy Villanueva, who was shot and killed by Monteal police in 2008.

Prosper, along with the organization Québec Inclusif, gathered 2,662 signatures in a petition calling for a consultation on systemic racism that was presented in the National Assembly last September.

"In Quebec we've been waiting too long to have this conversation and it's about time we start having it," he said.

Weil said Thursday that non-profit groups located in different parts of the province will be selected to hold consultation sessions with residents through September and October. Their purpose will be to get personal testimonies from people who have experienced discrimination and racism and to gather proposed solutions. 

A public forum is planned for November that will hear expert testimony and information gathered through the consultation sessions and working groups.

'Quebecers on trial'

Not everyone is happy with the government's decision to proceed with the public consultation. 

Carole Poirier, the Parti Québécois whip and MNA for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, said she was "very, very disappointed" with the move.

"You can choose to defend people and you can choose to help people. They choose just to talk," she said.

Poirier said the PQ proposed 20 recommendations in January, and accused the Couillard government of ignoring those recommendations and failing to take concrete action. 

"It's going to be a political strategy," said Poirier, who questioned the timing of consultation's final report, expected in the spring of 2018. That could benefit the Liberal government ahead of the provincial election in the fall, she said.

Poirier said the consultation is effectively "putting Quebecers on trial."

"We don't want that. We want action," she said. 

'A first step'

Haroun Bouazzi, the co-president of the Association of Muslims and Arabs for Secularism in Quebec, said the consultation is a "first step."

"Evidently a commission is not an outcome, it's a start, it's a process," he said. "It's important that the commission isn't just talking about the issues but gets to the bottom of things, to talk about how things are." 

"Unfortunately, there have been a lot of other consultations in Quebec on lots of different subjects where the results have been set aside."

Bouazzi said hearing from people who are oppressed, such as Indigenous people and black and Latino people, should be prioritized during the consultations. 

"One of the problems of systemic racism is that we talk about them, but we don't listen to them," said Bouazzi.

The recommendations that come out of the consultations must be sweeping, Bouazzi said, to cover everything from housing, access to social services, culture, and employment.

Finally, Bouazzi said he wants an evaluation mechanism to chart progress — or lack of it — on the consultation's recommendations.

With files from Radio-Canada, Ryan Hicks and Patrick Butler