Montreal mayor pledges to fight systemic racism after report accuses city of 'turning a blind eye'
MONTREAL -- A report made public Monday says the city of Montreal has failed to recognize systemic racism and discrimination on its territory, prompting Mayor Valerie Plante to pledge to take action.
The 252-page report was released just a day after Montreal’s third Black Lives Matter event and at a time when millions around the world are taking to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic discrimination in the wake of the murder of George Floyd – a Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes until he died.
Produced by the Office de Consultation publique de Montreal (OCPM), the report contains 11 main findings and 38 recommendations for the city moving forward.
By failing to acknowledge systemic racism and discrimination, Montreal has also failed to recognize the role it plays in the perpetuation of inequalities, the report says. As a result, actions taken by the city to fight systemic racism and discrimination are few and far between, and there’s no effective body in place to hold it accountable, either.
“It’s important to recognize that the recommendations brought forth by the OCPM are the result of a citizen-led initiative that was sparked due to political inaction by the Plante administration,” said Balarama Holness, the founder of Montreal en Action, one of the groups that called for the public consultation to take place.
“Thanks to this report we have a roadmap to guide our efforts,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante during a press conference to address the document on Monday.
Plante acknowledged the report’s first recommendation is for the city to recognize the prevalence of systemic racism and discrimination throughout Montreal.
“Starting today, at city council, I will propose a statement to recognize the systemic nature of racism and discrimination,” she said. “I’m committed to implementing systemic solutions to these systemic problems.”
In the summer of 2018, Montreal received a petition with 22,000 signatures requesting a public consultation into systemic racism and discrimination. The city then mandated the OCPM to conduct a consultation, which it did from Aug. 29, 2018 to Dec. 4, 2019. The process involved pre-consultations in 16 boroughs, information sessions, citizens’ contributory activities, online opinions, travelling information sessions, and hearing of opinions among 7,000 participants.
Colour blindness, a lack of precise language, and a particular focus on inclusion initiatives that don’t have the power to address existing problems are among the ways the city has avoided fighting against systemic racism and discrimination, according to the report.
While the city has done a good job at integrating newcomers, the fight “entails much more than simply understanding diverse cultural codes,” the document reads.
Among the 38 recommendations put forth by the OCPM are both “transversal recommendations” that serve to help the city create a strategy to counter racism and discrimination, as well as “specific recommendations” that aim to implement the strategy in the city’s various domains.
- The report found that the city of Montreal’s employment diversity action plan is not comprehensive or precise enough to support its objectives – it “contains no targets, deadlines or diagnostics regarding the various obstacles faced” by the groups it was created to benefit.
- From 2016 to 2018, none of the people hired to upper management positions at the city identified as visible or ethnic minorities or Indigenous people, despite 10 years of equal access to employment plans, the report says. About two per cent or less of the existing staff in upper management belonged to these categories.
- Racial and social profiling is prevalent in Montreal, as demonstrated by years of documentation. The OCPM believes this will continue until the upper management of the city’s police force and its culture is called into question and forced to change.
- Even though the city has a cultural development policy that acknowledges challenges when it comes to accessing cultural institutions, it contains no targets or objectives, the report says. The city hasn’t analyzed its own processes when it comes to the cultural sector to identify how it may uphold obstacles to equality.
- Structures that exist to promote local art and artists’ careers are based on “relationships of power and a Eurocentric vision of what is valued,” the report says. The city has the ability to influence organizations to value the presence of artists who are racialized and Indigenous within their institutions, given the fact that it is a funding body.
- When it comes to urban planning, the OCPM says that land use is “the visual echo of inequalities present in the city.” Many opinions expressed during the consultation brought up unequal distribution within the boroughs, as poorer neighbourhoods receive less funding and municipal services. Fighting poverty and fighting systemic racism and discrimination are inextricable, the report states.
- Montreal’s housing crisis disproportionately affects members of racialized, Indigenous and immigrant communities.
- While gender parity may have been reached among elected officials, the OCPM still finds that the municipal council “does not reflect the sociodemographic reality of the city.”
Plante announced on Monday that she is mandating for the director general, Serge Lamontagne, to create the position of a commissioner for the fight against racism and discrimination between now and the fall.
There are also plans to move forward with equipping the Montreal police force with body cameras. Plante said that despite the force denying the existence of systemic racism within it, it's part of the city of Montreal and the city has been found to have systemic racism.
As an employer, the city will take "concrete and measurable actions" to make sure its staff is more representative of the diversity that exists in Montreal.
When asked if she thinks the findings of Monday's report will result in change when so many like it have not, Plante said the timing of this one is notable. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused everyone to slow down, which she said might be why so many have mobilized following Floyd's death.
"Usually it would be a hashtag and after two weeks, it's gone," Plante said. "Somehow I feel like we've had more time as a society to reflect on these things."
Holness said the mayor's move to speak out against systemic racism rang hollow.
"The mayor today is recognizing systemic discrimination, but that was done by brute force. She did it because 22,000 forced a consultation. This is not out of authenticity or good will. This is done out of the obligation to speak on the issue," he said. "The lack of willingness to speak on the issue was reflected in her comments today that were not substantive, that did not touch on the issues."
The Ligue des droits et libertes, a civil rights group, praised Plante's decision to acknowledge systemic discrimination, but warned it was "only the first round" of the fight against racism.
President Alexandra Pierre said the administration would have to show "unflinching political will" to follow through, particularly when it comes to ensuring the police recognize and address profiling.
She also called on the Legault government to stop "playing with words" and follow Montreal's lead in acknowledging the existence of systemic racism.
- The Canadian Press contributed to this report