In Quebec the road has never been easy for any member of the human race sporting a darker pigmentation from that of the mainstream culture, even if the individual claims French as his/her mother tongue or first language.
This is the sad reality now facing lawyer Tamara Thermitus as she aspires to ascend to the post of Head of the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
The current head, Jacques Fremont, has vacated the post to take up a position as rector of the University of Ottawa.
For consideration of her nomination the support of at least two thirds of the members of the National Assembly is needed, although a consensus is preferred.
On Friday, December 9, the Parti Quebecois and the Coalition Avenir Quebec carried out filibustering of sorts and blocked the nomination of this well accomplished Black lawyer. After reflecting, the P. Q recanted and said that they would support the nomination.
According to an article in La Presse, the P.Q. initially refused to support this appointment because they said that Thermitus, who is employed at the Federal Ministry of Justice is too “multiculturalist” and too close to Dominique Anglade, Quebec’s Economy, Science and Innovation minister who is also of Haitian origin.
Quebecers in general and racialized people in particular should be very concerned by this statement, because the Charter of the Rights and Freedom prohibit discrimination based on political convictions. Ms. Thermitus also has extensive exposure and experience in the field of racism, including systemic racism and relations with Aboriginal peoples, both important issues provincially and nationally.
If appointed, Mme. Thermitus would be the first person in the Black community to occupy the presidency of this organization, and the second woman. The first and only to date since the creation of the organization 40 years ago (1976), was Francine Fournier, appointed in 1981.
In September, Parti Québécois leadership candidate Jean-François Lisée pointed out the presence of systemic racism in Quebec, and called on the government to spring into action rather than hold public consultations. In response Premier Philippe Couillard’s government said it would soon announce a plan to look into the issue, as voices calling for a legislative committee grew louder. Seemingly, the voices were either not loud enough or were totally ignored as nothing has been done.
Head of CRARR, Fo Noemi, asked the P.Q for an explanation of the term pro-multiculturalism, its stand on systemic discrimination, and whether it opposes all appointments to the presidency of head bodies or whether this is just an isolated case.
The likely appointment of Mme. Thermitus is somewhat of a Catch 22 situation as the Quebec Human Rights Commission has a similar skeleton in its closet.
Despite the extensive case law in Canada recognizing systemic racism, there has been great institutional resistance to similar acknowledgements in Quebec, and since the creation of the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal in 1990, the Human Rights Commission has never brought a case of systemic racism before the tribunal.
The first court decision on systemic racism in Quebec was issued only in 2013 by the Superior Court.
The time is now for the Quebec government to start recognizing and addressing systemic racism. Amending the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to prohibit this problem would be a first step in ensuring that the Quebec Human Rights Commission ends its denial of systemic racism.
CRARR has called upon other opposition parties, Coalition Action Quebec (CAQ) and Quebec Solidarite to come out in support of Thermitus’ appointment, simply because she is highly skilled and competent.
The appointment is currently on hold until the legislature reconvenes. If present day Quebec government holds true to form this delay is only a fortuitous opportunity for all parties to strategize on how best to disguise racism while resolving to maintain the status quo at the level of the Human Rights Commission.
The impact on race relations and the place of racial minorities in the public service are enormous, and while change is needed it’s still a long way off.