"Denying racism is the new racism" — Bill Maher
After Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir tabled a 2,662-signature petition in the province's National Assembly calling for "a consultation commission on systemic racism" to be created, Premier Philippe Couillard's government announced that it would look into the issue.
Then in May, Kathleen Weil, immigration, diversity and inclusion minister,unveiled plans for a public consultation on systemic discrimination and racism in Quebec, which was scheduled to start in September.
Public consultations would address discrimination in employment, education, health care, housing, public security and culture. Premier Couillard mandated the Quebec Human Rights Commission to organize and lead the consultations, with the aim to put forward concrete and permanent solutions that engage all of Quebec society in combating these problems.
The commission would submit recommendations to the government, which was expected to release the findings and an action plan next spring.
In April, just a month before plans were set to be revealed, the Parti Quebecois accused the Couillard government of playing with fire. The party launched a petition against the commission.
On Oct. 18, the Couillard government announced an overhaul to the controversial initiative, cancelling systemic racism hearings and changing the focus to economic opportunities for visible minorities and immigrants.
Blacks, along with other racialized people, have been left out in the cold and they cannot afford to be put on hold.
In addition, Weil lost her immigration and diversity portfolio to David Heurtel. The project is now called "the commission on valuing diversity and fighting against discrimination." I hope that there are no plans to sweep racism under the rug, as the emanating dust would be too much.
My recent column, "Political Demission at the Quebec Human Rights Commission," is now being revisited, because there has been no response to the announced cancellation.
Quebec appears blind to the reality of racism and discrimination, and also the possibility of ensuing pain — a pain that unleashes itself in structural circles, meanders through the docks of courtrooms, finally ending in the unjustifiable deaths at the hands of law enforcers.
Politically speaking, the pendulum of public attitude regarding racism and discrimination has reached the limit of its swing, once again exposing the cold, hard truth that the story of racism will never be told, especially since from the outset opposition parties had in no uncertain terms called on the government to scrap the consultation process altogether, claiming that it puts Quebec society on trial.
In a Sept. 9 La Presse piece, Francois Cardinal also urged Couillard to abandon the consultations, if he didn't want to be found guilty of arousing the ashes of intolerance.
If the truth is to be both known and told, not only is a trial needed, but also long overdue. This continued reluctance to forthrightly confront racism persists and is also responsible for the economic disparities which impede race relations gains.
Another challenge lies in the fact that Couillard, among many others, covertly dismisses the fact that in Quebec, certain privileges are afforded and enjoyed by certain people, and further discounts any relevance of past practices having a bearing today. To behave as if racism does not matter is to deny the absolute truth, and this again is part and parcel of how wide the divide is.
Plainly put, the cancellation means that there will be no focus on understanding the perilous effects of interpersonal and institutional racism on both the psychological and physiological well-being of minorities. Let us not be misguided in thinking that institutional racism applies to a physical institution or building. We are the institutionalized racism, and become part of institutionalized behaviour each time we fail to stand up, turn a blind eye, walk away thinking that it is not our problem, hold our heads down or fail to intervene when we see someone being harassed or discriminated against.
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Yes, the very racism which Quebec has so long failed to acknowledge can psychologically affect its victims by allowing society to deny their true value as individuals, and by compelling them to internalize the racist conceptions of them held by the dominant culture. Notwithstanding the odds, it is imperative that the present cancellation be seen as an opportunity to bring collective weight to bear. Sustained public pressure is the only way to make this happen. Blacks, along with other racialized people, have been left out in the cold and they cannot afford to be put on hold.
The overwhelming response of disbelief at the cancellation should herald the beginning of new commitments to sustain and transform righteous outrage into a collective resolve, focusing on strategies that would unapologetically benefit all affected racialized minorities. Racism remains a major issue that cannot be ignored. The facts are undeniable and should Quebec continue on the path of disingenuousness, a very painful confrontation may eventually ensue. According to Pope Francis, "racism today is the ultimate evil in the world."
Premier Couillard cannot have his say and also his day — he put in motion an independent process under the control of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, only to dabble at the rumblings of a rabble.
Sustaining righteous outrage is now more important than ever.
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