Address root problems to combat racism in Montreal, urges RDP activist
Montreal’s first public consultation into systemic racism and discrimination continued Tuesday
Since adolescence, Dexter Xurukulasuriya has been subject to racial discrimination by police.
"I've been subject to verbal abuse and anti-immigrant racism," said Xurukulasuriya, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they. "An officer said, 'It's my country, it's not yours. Go home.'"
Xurukulasuriya testified at the first full day of hearings at Montreal's first public consultation into systemic racism and discrimination Tuesday.
The Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) launched the consultation after human rights advocates gathered 20,000 signatures on a petition demanding the consultations happen.
Once, Xurukulasuriya said, they were picked out of a crowd of white teens and ticketed for jaywalking. Another time, their head smashed in by a police officer, who broke their hand.
Xurukulasuriya says their experience with racial discrimination is not unique nor an extreme example.
"It happens to a lot of us," said Xurukulasuriya, who was the first to testify.
Police who engage in racism and brutality should face heavier consequences than they do now, they told the five-person commission.
"Not sensitivity training," Xurukulasuriya said. "Police who lie should be fired; police who engage in police brutality should be charged. They should be held accountable."
'Take time to dialogue'
Eleven people testified for various community, activist and cultural groups, and two, including Xurukulasuriya, testified as citizens. Groups representing people with disabilities and immigrant communities and people of colour proposed solutions to the discrimination their members face daily.
Pierreson Vaval, who's been working with a community group called Équipe RDP for 22 years, said the most effective way to fight systemic racism is by engaging in dialogue.
"The people working [in state organizations] should be linked to the community," Vaval said. "The secret is time. You need to take time to dialogue with your community … and to reach out to all the people — and the most vulnerable people."
That's the way to come up with workable solutions for our increasingly diverse society, he said.
Systemic racism starts with root issues like access to basic living standards, he testified.
In a recent case in Rivière-des-Prairies, he said, a social housing building moved its tenants with large families into smaller apartments due to a vermin problem.
Since their new homes were too crowded, Vaval said, young people wanting to socialize went outside to hang out with their friends, which then garnered complaints to police from neighbours, opening the possibility for discrimination.
"We don't address the problem, which is that the HLM isn't adapted to the needs of these young people and their families," Vaval said. "[The city] needs to change these systems to make them more flexible; to adapt to new realities."
The hearings will go on until Dec. 4.