MONTREAL -- Quebec City's mayor called on his police force to continue working to diversify its ranks, and said he believes there is systemic racism in Quebec.

Regis Labeaume, the notoriously plain-spoken mayor, made the comments at a press conference announcing the retirement of current police chief Robert Pigeon. Both Labeaume and Pigeon acknowledged a lack of diversity on the force, which does not have a single Black police officer. Roughly 20 Quebec City police officers are Indigenous or from a minority cultural community.

Labeaume said he believes the force needs to better reflect the city's population, which has grown increasingly culturally diverse. He added he believes Pigeon made "every effort" to engage in outreach and recruit Black people to join the force, but said it has been a challenge to attract youth because "they have a history of fear of authority."

“Systemic racism does exist. We need (in the police force) some Black people, some Muslims, we need some people from First Nations,” said Labeaume. “We have to diversify the membership of this department.” 

This is not the first time Labeaume has expressed his opinion on the issue. Last October, he shared his point of view in a Facebook post following a meeting with Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador. They spoke after the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman who turned to Facebook to livestream staff at a Joliette hospital hurling insults at her as she lay dying in a hospital bed. 

Labeaume's latest comments are at odds with the provincial government, which has repeatedly denied any issues with systemic racism in Quebec.

“I'm the mayor... and I'm a sociologist and I think (systemic racism) does exist. That's it. That's my opinion.”

In a brief statement, Premier Francois Legault's office said the government's position has not changed.

Last fall, Quebec City hired Irena Florence Harris, a Black woman, to advise its municipal departments on diversity, equity and inclusion. Labeaume said Harris is currently working on an action plan for the police force, one that Pigeon's replacement will be expected to continue work on.

Pigeon's retirement takes effect in June.