It's time for Quebec to launch commission into systemic racism, group says

A group of activists want the provincial government to launch a commission to examine systemic racism in Quebec. The proposal has support from Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, who headed up the province's hearings on reasonable accommodation.

'We have a huge issue in Quebec just talking about racism,' says head of Québec Inclusif

Emilie Nicolas, president of Québec Inclusif, and Haroun Bouazzi, co-president of Muslim and Arabs for a Secular Quebec, are part of a new group calling for a commission into systemic racism in Quebec. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

Does Quebec have a racism problem? It's time for the provincial government to find out, advocates say.

A new group led by Emilie Nicolas, president of Québec Inclusif, is collecting signatures for a petition to launch a public commission into systemic racism in Quebec. The petition will be tabled in the National Assembly when the next session opens. 

The proposal has attracted support from Projet Montréal, Québec Solidaire and some members of the Quebec Liberal Party.

It also has the backing of both Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, who headed up the province's hearings on reasonable accommodation in 2007.

"We have a huge issue in Quebec just talking about racism," Nicolas told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Monday.

"With a commission, we would be able also to engage citizens from across the province. One of the problems is we don't talk about racism and if we do it, often doesn't leave the island of Montreal."

Nicolas said the commission would resemble the Bouchard-Taylor commission in terms of structure, with public hearings across the province, only this time the focus wouldn't be on reasonable accommodation.

Instead, it would be a "kind of an answer or a remedy to what Bouchard-Taylor created, in terms of allowing racist speech into the public sphere," she said.

Haroun Bouazzi, who is also part of the group pushing for a commission, said it would look at the policies in place aimed at countering things like racial profiling, and see how they can be improved.

"The outcome of the commission of course would be public policies with targets, and [on a] yearly basis, seeing how we actually get closer and closer to these targets," said Bouazzi, co-president of Muslim and Arabs for a Secular Quebec.

A 'difficult conversation'

Minister Kathleen Weil is non-committal on the idea of a commission into systemic racism. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
Bouazzi said the middle years of a Liberal majority government would be an opportune time to look at the issue, acknowledging that it would be a politically difficult line of inquiry.

"I think there is perhaps a specificity in Quebec in terms of how francophones themselves have suffered from discrimination and it makes the conversation about racism even more complicated," he said.

"At the same time, it is a difficult conversation to have everywhere."

The office of Kathleen Weil, Quebec's minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness, was non-committal when asked about the possibility of a commission.

In a statement, Weil said "recognizing and appreciating Quebec's ethnocultural diversity and ensuring that all members of society are able to participate fully in Quebec's economic, social and cultural development are priorities for our government."

She pointed out that the province introduced a $42.5-million, five-year action plan in March aimed at eliminating barriers to employment, promoting equal representation and fighting discrimination.

with files from Daybreak