By Clarence S. Bayne
Whenever, we are discussing the history of Blacks in Montreal and Quebec there are two tendencies that I observe in both official circles and among local Black community historian. It starts with Mathieu DaCosta and Oliver Le Jeune and gets stuck at Marie Joseph Angelique. Then in official circles we seem to have been forgotten and neglected for a hundred years between 1863 and 1963. And by the mid- sixties we spring into modern Quebec’s consciousness with the dramatic impact of changes in Canadian immigration patterns and race relations; and identity politics in Quebec. This is dramatized by the Black Writers Conference in October 1968 and the trauma of the Sir George Williams University computer crisis of 1969. However, the reality is that as early as the fifties the Black communities of Montreal were being mobilized by a leadership that was both activist and integrationist; and reflected the vision of a more diverse and equal Canada and Quebec societies. There can be no question that the “big bang effect” of these two events serve as markers in the history of the City and the Black Community. There can be no doubt that the “bravé danger” and evangelistic nature of the events fit more effectively to the “fire and brimstone” prediction of the self-destructive evil of capitalism and modern oppressive dictators. But the brutal fact is, that the Black radicalism of the Sir George Crisis was not supported by the leadership of the Union United Churched nor the NCC. Moreover, both indigenous Blacks and immigrant Black leadership of Montreal challenged the priorities given by Black Writers Conference to American and International agendas; and boldly and explicitly favoured Canadian problems of integration and equality. They ran a competing conference (Problems of Involvement in the Canadian Society with Reference to the Black People) at Sir George Williams University in the two weeks preceding the Black Writers Congress; and rejected the confrontational proposal of the Black radical student representation that it be postponed in the light of the dire circumstances faced by the students. They created the National Black Coalition of Canada in 1969. There was no question about the support for and admiration of the courage of the students stand for their rights and bold confrontation of the Sir George William administration failure to address the central issues in a transparent manner. And certainly we were not going to let the children of our friends, families, and neighbours be crucified by an angry racist crowd shouting “let the niggers burn” and send “them the niggers back.” But there was a deep sense that the final confrontation was fueled by a foreign agenda (legitimate as it might have been in the world context), and that the student leadership discounted and dismissed the importance of the Black indigenous political and social priorities and agendas. The local established Black leaders were tracing their lineage back to Federick Douglas, Henson, Tubman and Shad and the students were quoting C. L. R James, Stokeley Carmichael, Markus Garvey, and Manley. In creating the National Black Coalition, the statement being made was that the Black Canadian agenda was going to be determined by Blacks in Canada, and I dare say Blacks committed to creating a new Canadian society based on multiculturalism as a policy for nation building.
In the years that followed, 1969 to 2005, we see a significant social entrepreneurial response from the indigenous and new immigrant populations. A large number of new dynamic Black organizations and leaders began to emerge on the Montreal landscape and to reflect the social, political and economic realities of that landscape. They differed from those created in the previous ten years because of their pan-black/pan-Africanist philosophies and perspectives: the Cote des Neiges CDN Development Project; the NCC Outreach Programs; the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal, the local Black Coalition and Regional Organizations; the National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC) Research Institute ; Black Studies Center; Quebec Board of Black Educators; The Black Community Council of Quebec and its outreach programs (La Salle. NDG, Cote des Neiges, West Island, South Shore); Black Community Resource Center; the West Indian Day Carnival Development Committee that created the Carifete /Carifiesta; Maison d’Haiti, CIDICHA; Rythme du Monde; Black History Month Round Table and events; Vues D’Afrique, Nuits D’Afrique; the Black Film Festival; Caribbean Festivals: Trini-day, Jamaica day; the reggae festival, Taste of the Caribbean, the Emancipation day events of la Ligue des Noirs.
It was from the Canadian oriented activism of the English speaking associations and leadership that in 1990 and 1991 proposals were made to the City (Jean Doré Administration) and the Provincial Liberal Government for the more effective engagement of the Black Communities with the Government and in the society. This lead to the City’s declaration in 1992 that February is Black history Month to be celebrated by all Montrealers and Quebecers in recognition of the contributions of Blacks to the culture and development of Montreal. Also in 1991 a Table de Concertation was created by the Federal and Provincial governments in collaboration with the City to address problems affecting the social, political, educational, economic, arts and cultural life and vitality of the English speaking Black communities of Quebec. To ensure that the policy discussions taking place at the Table informed and involved the wider community a forum was organized. After six weeks of community wide consultations forty five (45) delegates representing thirty five (35) organizations gathered at Val Morin, Quebec, July 3-5 1992 and formulated a number of recommendations, principles, and protocols which were directed to the Community, Canadian and Quebec Public institutions, and the three levels of Government. Challenges were identified in the areas of education, youth employment and employability; health, racism and discrimination, strengthening the Black family, strengthening Black community organizations, economic development; and the arts and culture. The Question is, what recommendations have been addressed in part or full and which were not over the last 25 years. For the purposes of this article we will focus on government and the community.
Recommendation 184.108.40.206 of the Val Mori Report demanded that the government provide a centre for the practice and the development of the performance of Arts and Culture of the Black community. In response and based on research conducted by Cultur Inc and a number of strategic initiatives taken by the Black Theatre Workshop, office, rehearsal and theatre spaces were made available at subsidised rates to the Black Theatre Workshop at 3680 Jean Mance in the MAI Complex, by the City of Montreal. After forty years of close work and inter-actions and negotiations with the Canada Council, CALQ, CAM as well as the Multicultural Directorate, Heritage and private sector funders, BTW is beginning to make an impact on the value of diversity in the Arts, and is increasingly being recognized for its work and the artists it supports, in Quebec and Canada. In 2016, the collective of “Adventures of a Black Girl in Search for God” received six (6) METAS at the Montreal META Awards. Also, the MAI provides office space for the Black History Month Round Table. In addition, the Round Table is partially funded by the City and Province of Quebec to cover rental costs and limited operating cost for the promotion and advancement of Black Arts and culture in the City. The City and the Borough of NDG-CDN, and the Sud-Ouest have made facilities available that house Black and visible minority community activities, events and meetings free. In a very general sense, this does not apply across all municipalities where Blacks reside in significant numbers. For example, in 2003 the French and English speaking Black communities entered a consultation process with the City of Montreal to develop an intervention plan for the Black communities. The process involved Francine-Sénécal, Marcel Tremblay and the representatives of the Black African, Haitian, and Black English speaking communities: Communautés Noires , Opportunités d’action pour les Arrondisements. The study and report were done by Direction des Affaires Interculturelles. It is to be noted that only five boroughs agreed to participate: Cote des Neiges – NDG Borough; Montréal–Nord; Sud Ouest, Riviere–des-Prairies/Pointe–aux-Trembles/Montreal Est. The borough of Villeray/ Saint-Michel/Parc-Extention withdrew from the plan. Moreover, the commitment of these municipalities were independent of each other and constrained by local borough policy and a strategy based on the fusion of cultures into a borough type ethno-cultural mixture, a reflection of Quebec settler class fears of multi-culturalism and preference for the French assimilationist model. Certainly, the process could not be implemented in a uniform way or evaluated by a common social index of assessment over all boroughs. In fact, there has been no attempt made, or known to us, to assess the effectiveness of the plan of action for the Black citizens of the participating boroughs. In particular, the study states that all boroughs claim that they take “an inclusive approach in establishing services thus favouring the intersection of ethno-cultural minorities.” What that means to me is that some cultural practices are ignored and supressed. It certainly suggests a reason that traditional Eurocentric cultural spaces seem to be more easily provided and supported compared with spaces for steel bands, African and Caribbean dance and cultural performances groups; space for Carifete/Crifiesta costume design and implementation activities and workshops. Spaces for diversity exhibitions are still ridiculously under the radar in Montreal. And the Carifiesta as a community festival requires being redeveloped based the new knowledge and advances in management related to cultural tourism.
Education and development
Recommended 220.127.116.11.advocated government reform the educational system so that the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Quebec society is portrayed accurately, and that, Black students, as well as others, will learn to respect each other’s culture. Posting this demand in 1992 just months ahead of the Charlottetown referendum meant that it was doomed to be ignored by the political elite. In fact, the writings were already on the wall. In an intervention with Robert Bourassa in Montreal May 19 1992 the Premier was very positive and directive in addressing many of the issues presented to him by the delegation (Drs Leo Bertley and C. Bayne, Dan phillips, Noel Alexander). But when questioned about the social legitimacy of the Notwithstanding clause he stated clearly that he was fully aware of how we felt but followed up by saying that it was Mr Trudeau who gave Quebec that right, Quebec never asked for it. Then he concluded, it would be stupid for Quebec not to use it.
French Quebec elite was embroiled in a war with the rest of Canada over its sovereignty. No such noble thought based on tolerance and respect for diversity cultures occupied the minds of the political leadership in Quebec. There was only one nation in the state and that nation was French. The Charlotttetown Accord referendum on constitutional amendment was an attempt by the two groups of ruling political elites in Canada to find a way to amend the Constitution to accommodate each other’s nation building visions without tearing the Country apart. Initially, the negotiations favoured a compromise in Quebec’s favour. Essentially, it reinforced the political reality, that Quebec was already given the right to disregard minority National constitutional Charter rights and freedoms if the White French settler classes felt that the French Language and culture was put at risk by the cultural vitality of the English speaking populations (Anglophones). However, at the end the ordinary people across the country voted against their political elites. But it should be noted that the reasons for voting against the Charlottetown proposal were different in French Quebec than elsewhere: The two Quebec sovereigntist parties, Lucien Bouchard’s Bloc Québécois and Jacques Parizeau’s Parti Québécois, both strongly opposed the Accord, as they believed it did not give Quebec enough powers. But it would seem that even they under estimated the will of the ordinary people in Quebec. In 1995 Quebecers narrowly voted against the sovereignty referendum for Quebec to separate from Canada. And Jacque Parizeau in a bombast of political rage blamed the loss of the Referendum on English money and the vote of the non-French speaking immigrant. This was further underpinned by Pauline Marois’ criticisms of the English model (England) of multiculturalism as creating a society where she says “no one can find a place for himself” versus her preference for the more elitist French model and her conceptualization of the Quebec (French) charter of values. We have come to understand that for the political elites harmonious and equitable existence is not just a simple matter of everyone speaking French; it is about the dominance of the French culture and everyone being made to become as French as they possibly can; assimilation. Contrary to what one on the surface of things is inclined to believe, the Official Languages Act does not protect the linguistic rights and vitality of all English speaking cultural minorities in Quebec equally or with the same degree of fairness as language minorities are treated elsewhere in Canada. This is a case well documented by the QCGN at recent consultations of the Federal Government on heritage and languages. Their case for respect for charter rights and strengthening the vitality of English speaking communities in Quebec has been customized by the QBBE and the BCRC to the particular historical and local circumstances of the Black minorities of Quebec. BCRC and the Secretariat of the Black Community Forum recently made the case at consultations in Ottawa that the official language spoken is not a sufficient differentiator for purposes of identifying disadvantaged communities of people and formulating policies and strategies to eradicate those inequalities and injustices. Like CQGN, the BCRC and the Secretariat of the Black Community Forum realize that minority institutions and community organizations must be strengthened if the vitality of minority communities is to be sustained.
Cultural and Educational institutions are critical to retaining and sustaining viable minority culture in Quebec. The Quebec Board of Black Educators has a long standing partnerships with the EMSB, Dawson College, Concordia University, Mc Gill students Union. And the BCRC is a member of the Board of Directors of the CQGN which has played a significant role in influencing the scrapping of Bill 86, an Act to modify the organization and governance of schools, widely believed to be an infringement of the rights of English speaking minorities, and the rights and freedoms of parents and communities in general to participate in the education process of their youths. In fact, we believe that notwithstanding the improvements in the new act that it falls short of guaranteeing us the sustenance of gains made under the multicultural-multiracial education policy adopted by the EMSB school system in 2001 (Code: CS-13). It was in response to the organized pressure of the Black Community Council of Quebec and the Quebec Board of Black Educators acting on the recommendation 6. 4.1.5 of the Val Morin Black Community Forum that the EMSB entered into a partnership with the key the education agencies in the Black Community, the QBBE and the BCCQ. The agreement generally known and publicised as the 17-Point Agreement was later broadened into the EMSB Multicultural/Multiracial Education Policy. The EMSB created the Community Services Department to implement the Multicultural/Multiracial Education Policy and created an MC/MR Advisory Committee to involve client communities representatives (Chineses, Blacks, Jewish, East Indian, Community Parent Committees), Officers of the School Board, the Various Unions, Staff and Administration in in the implementation process. Recommendation 18.104.22.168. of the Val Morin Forum stated that school boards with large multicultural and multiracial populations select teachers with particular attributes which encourage the motivation and development of our youth. It advised that training, monitoring of performance, etc., may be required to ensure teachers are effective with multiracial students. It recommended that Black community organizations develop partnerships with educational institutions to ensure significant involvement in the monitoring of the effectiveness of the human resources teaching in a multiracial and multicultural school environment. The Secretariat of the Black Forum and the QBBE continue to support this recommendation and the EMSB Code: CS-13. The Forum strongly recommends re-installing the MC/MR Advisory Committees as part of the governance structures of the EMSB, the Lester B Pearson, and other School Boards. This would be consistent with the broad based demands to democratise the education system to include parents and the communities in which schools are embedded. We recognize that the stripping of English School Boards of funding and restricting the supply of student to English schools have reduced the quality of services affordable. And we continue to support the larger community demands presented by QCGN for respecting the constitutional rights of linguistic minorities . But we have long been dissatisfied with the undemocratic and non-consultative process of administrative discretion that has been used by EMSB to terminate the MC/MR Advisory Committee.