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Montreal mayor vows change after report says city neglected fight against racism

The 261-page document follows a public consultation involving more than 7,000 people


June 15, 2020
By The Canadian Press

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Montreal’s mayor promised on Monday to take immediate action after a report found the city has neglected the fight against racism and failed to recognize the systemic nature of discrimination.

Valerie Plante said Monday morning that the city would implement the report’s recommendations, beginning with a formal acknowledgment of systemic racism.

“Starting today, at city council, I will propose a statement to recognize the systemic nature of racism and discrimination, to affirm the city’s solidarity with the thousands of citizens who have denounced racism and discrimination in all its forms, and, above all, to reaffirm our commitment to act and to put in place the necessary measures to fight them,” she told a news conference.

Also in response to the report’s recommendations, Plante announced the city will appoint a commissioner responsible for the fight against racism and will review its hiring processes to ensure visible minorities are adequately represented in the city’s workforce and have the chance to move up the ranks.

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She said she was also working with the provincial and federal governments to explore the possibility of outfitting the Montreal police with body cameras, a proposal the administration previously rejected.

The 261-page document follows a public consultation involving more than 7,000 people and concludes that the city has trouble translating words into action.

Montreal’s public consultation office makes 38 recommendations, starting with a recognition of the systemic nature of racism and discrimination against racialized groups and Indigenous people.

The report touches on a broad array of aspects including racial profiling, hiring practices, workplace culture, policing and inequalities between neighbourhoods, meaning that areas where visible minorities live often have the worst access to transit and other services.

It also recommends that the city and its boroughs produce data every three years detailing variances between racialized, Indigenous and white people in such sectors as employment, racial profiling, housing and economic development.

At one point, it notes that the city’s efforts have been mostly concentrated on better integrating new immigrants, rather than fighting racism.

“The fight against racism and discrimination has been neglected,” it reads.

“The systemic nature of these phenomena is not recognized. Consequently, the city does not question its policies and practices, nor its role in the production and perpetuation of inequalities within its various jurisdictions, such as employment and public security.”

The office’s president, Dominique Ollivier, said in a letter to Plante accompanying the report that the failure to recognize the problem has left the city without the necessary tools to tackle it.

In a video accompanying the release, Ollivier said it took the city seven months to respond to the office’s request for a document outlining the steps they were taking to fight racism.

Ollivier said the city’s plan lacked specific data and was vague, preferring to use words such as “improve,” and “help” rather than setting concrete targets.

“It’s certain that if you improve from 0.001 you’ve improved, but you haven’t really done anything, and that’s a bit what transpired,” Ollivier said.

While the report acknowledged that the Montreal police have committed to updating their interception policy, the report found that racial and social profiling continue to prevail, and Ollivier said the problem has only been recognized sporadically.

“We have a culture at the SPVM that means sometimes we recognize there exists racial and social profiling, and sometimes we don’t,” she said.

When asked about the assessment of her administration and those before her, Plante acknowledged that, “of course, it hurts,” but said she was ready to accept the criticism and move forward.

“I think it’s just a reason to continue, but also to improve our processes and how we want to make sure there’s more representation within the public servants an all the other aspects I’ve talked about,” she said.

She also noted the steps her administration had already taken to fight discrimination, including the fact that it set and exceeded a target of having 33 per cent of new hires from under-represented groups.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2020.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2020