Community groups eager to participate in Quebec's systemic racism commission

The Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion says the response from community groups has been so big that the budget for the consultations has nearly doubled, from $500,000 to $900,000.

Discussions will allow people to share their specific experiences with racism, some say

Marie-Pierre Boisvert, executive director of the Quebec LGBTQ Council, says she believes Quebec's commission into systemic racism will allow groups like hers to be better informed about people's individual experiences with discrimination. (Pierre Ouimet Photographie)

Despite widespread criticism of Quebec's planned commission into systemic racism, some community groups are eager to participate and believe there is merit to hearing participants' stories.

Systemic racism refers to the exclusion of individuals from political, economic and social opportunities because of their race or ethnic background. 

The province committed to holding an inquiry after a petition put forward by anti-racism activists gained traction last year.

In recent weeks, the commission has come under fire for restricting public access to some sessions. Meanwhile, opposition politicians and pundits alike have questioned how useful the commission would be, and whether it's necessary at all.

But the Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion says the response from community groups has been such that the budget for the consultations has nearly doubled, from $500,000 to $900,000.

While 15 groups were initially involved, now 31 from across Quebec are signed up. The commission, originally set to begin in September, will get underway in October when the groups involved begin their work.

The Quebec LGBTQ Council is one of those groups. Executive director Marie-Pierre Boisvert said while she is trying to stay away from the political aspect of the commission, she has heard a number of white men talking about its merits.

"What we're trying to do with our individual consultation is take the mic back to the communities," she said.

The council is an umbrella group and its affiliated groups have members from different racial backgrounds. She said their experiences aren't often brought to light.

They will be speaking to visible minority LGBTQ people to learn about their experiences with racism both within the LGBTQ community and their racialized communities.

A more complete picture

Emily Yee Clare, human resources and anti-oppression coordinator at the centre for community organizations, said her group will be interviewing about 30 deaf and/or disabled racialized women who work or want to work in the public and non-profit sectors.

A lot of the research looks at pay gaps based on race, gender, disability, but there isn't much out there on the intersection of those three identifiers, she said.

Boisvert said the discussions will allow participants to have their specific stories heard, instead of perpetuating generalized ideas of what it's like to experience racism.
Emily Yee Clare said her group wanted to get involved in the commission because it's a chance to gather more information about racism in the community organization sector. (Stacy Lee Photo)

"If we know those experiences, then we can build programs that can address those problems, instead of guessing and addressing the wrong thing," she said.

And while some are not happy with the fact that parts of the proceedings will be held behind closed doors, neither Boisvert nor Clare think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Clare said it is important to make sure participants feel comfortable enough to disclose what may be traumatic stories.

"It's hard enough to get people through the door," she said. 

"There's a long history of marginalized communities being exploited by the government, by academia, even by community groups, so it's our responsibility to make sure that people are getting in the door and sharing their stories."

At the very least, the participating groups will be better informed and create reports, workshops and training courses based on people's experiences, Boisvert said.

The hope is that at the end of the process, their work will contribute to the creation of a list of recommendations that will be implemented.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak