Montreal creates commissioner for the fight against racism and systemic discrimination

The City of Montreal has officially created the position of a commissioner for the fight against racism and systemic discrimination as well as a bureau out of which the person will operate. 

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante made the announcement at a news conference on Friday morning. She pointed out that the creation of the position was the second recommendation that came out of the OCPM report in the spring, which accused the city of turning a blind-eye to the problem. 

“The first (recommendation) was to recognize there is systemic racism and discrimination throughout the city…,” Plante said. “So, we did.” 

“The third was to appoint an elected official specifically to that dossier,” she continued, highlighting her choice to give the role to Cathy Wong, city councillor for the downtown borough and a member of the Commission de la sécurité publique. 

The job posting will be made public on Wednesday, Plante said. The person who will occupy the role will be responsible for advising political bodies in the fight against racism and discrimination, to do consistent moderating of the processes of municipal services, and to make sure citizens and employees are aware of their rights. 

“This is more than just a symbol," Plante said.

“The commissioner for the fight against racism and discrimination… will play a strategic role to ensure Montreal becomes a fair and more inclusive city," Wong added. 

Plante pointed out that today's announcement means the city has responded to the first three recommendations from the OCPM report. 

“I’m proud to have done this so quickly," she said. 

The bureau will be composed of a team of professionals "with varied expertise and experience, including a city resource specializing in racial profiling who will work full-time within the police department of the City of Montreal," the city said. 

“The SPVM has unveiled its policy on police checks, this summer, it was the first in Quebec…,” Wong said. “Training of patrol officers has already started, it’s already underway.” 

Plante and Wong are inviting Montrealers to share the job posting when it goes up in order to find the "rare pearl" who will occupy the position. 

Lionel Perez, leader of the official opposition at city hall, said the mayor is moving too slowly on this file.

"Almost five months ago, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal recommended that the City appoint a Commissioner to fight racism and systemic discrimination. Five months later, the mayor invited the media to announce... that she is actively seeking the new commissioner," he said, calling it "ludicrous" and "another PR stunt from Valerie Plante."

"When it comes to installing bike paths, it takes them three weeks in a pandemic, to post a job offer it takes them five months. It says a lot about the priorities of Projet Montreal."  

When asked about Premier Francois Legault's refusal to characterize the racism in Quebec as "systemic," Plante responded: "It's for the premier to decide which words he wants to go for, but I do think that recognizing that it exists doesn't make Quebecers or Montrealers racist." 

She said that acknowledging its existence rather points out "collective biases, stereotypes we've been carrying without even knowing it." 

"I can definitely say that naming is part of the process," she said. "It is important to name things." 

Those who fought hard to launch the public consultation called the move a good step forward.

“We now have permanent positions within the city of Montreal that are going to be working on the files of employment, of culture, of infrastructure, of policing,” said Balarama Holness of Montreal en Action, who spearheaded the initiative.

Included within the commissioner's office will be a specialist on racial profiling who will work with the Montreal police. 

Problems won’t be solved overnight, said Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer who works with the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations.

“Racial profiling within the SPVM or by the SPVM has been denounced since the early 80s. So you're looking at nearly 40 years of this issue,” he said.

The city says the commissioner will work closely with its two other commissioners for Indigenous peoples and the homeless. 

And advocates will be watching.

“The key aspect of this individual is going to need to be honesty and courage. They're going to have to honestly speak to Montrealers about where we are at in the implementation of these 38 recommendations. And that's going to require courage,” said Holness.

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