Couillard government to look into systemic racism in Quebec

The Couillard government is looking at tackling systemic racism in Quebec in the "short-medium term," as voices calling for a legislative committee to look into the matter get louder.

Pressure on province to launch commission mounting in recent months

From left to right, Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir and petition organizers Emilie Nicolas and Will Prosper. (CBC)

Premier Philippe Couillard's government says it will soon announce measures for consulting the public on systemic racism in Quebec, as voices calling for a legislative committee to look into the matter get louder.

Gabrielle Tellier, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil, said she's working to "find the best approach for a constructive consultation, that will draw on the numerous initiatives and progress already made on this issue in recent years."

The news comes after a 2,662-signature petition calling for "the creation of a consultation commission on systemic racism" was tabled by Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir last Thursday. 

Quebec society 'not on trial'

Emilie Nicolas, one of the people behind the petition, said the request is "not about having Quebec society on trial."

"This is just about building towards equality which is a value everyone should hold," she said.

Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Kathleen Weil's spokesperson says the province will tackle the issue of systemic racism in the "short-medium term." (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Systemic racism refers to the exclusion of people of colour from political, economic and social opportunities because of their race.

According to a 2012 study by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, job candidates with a French-Canadian last name were 60 per cent more likely to be invited for a job interview than someone with a last name of Arab, Latin American or African origin.

While legal tools exist for addressing overt racism, Nicolas said systemic racism is more subtle and unconscious and results in the exclusion of  "people who are racialized from opportunities, employment, access to media, and access to arts and culture."

"People aren't used to thinking about [racism] in this way," says Nicolas.

Multiplying calls for commission

Nicolas said the petition is one of a growing number of initiatives calling for a legislative commission to look into systemic racism since the beginning of the year.

On May 6, more than a 100 people signed an open letter printed in the La Presse newspaper calling for such a commission.

That call was echoed on May 14 by the Quebec Liberal Party, which passed a resolution favouring a commission at their party's general council.

The Young Liberals repeated that demand in August.

At the time, Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters he takes the issue seriously.

In her email, Weil's spokesperson said the minister hopes any future consultation "paves the way for sustainable solutions, developed with all the relevant stakeholders."

Amir Khadir, however, said stakeholders are ready for a commission now.

"The way to get the appropriate results needs to engage the actors in society who are already involved, already mobilized around this issue. And those actors are saying 'organize a commission,'" he said.