By Dr. Clarence S. Bayne
The Enquiry into systemic racism in Quebec is under attack. It is criticized for being conducted behind closed doors.
Yvonne Sam, Chair of the Black Community Ad Hoc committee on rights and freedoms says public hearings inform and sensitize Quebecers on the practice of systemic discrimination and its negative impact on the lives of its victims.
“The assumption is change will take place once we are better informed of each other’s humanity and vulnerability, and when our conscience is awakened by these public testimonies to the inhumanity of these beliefs and acts: the “truth and reconciliation” assumptions. The French nationalist left and the far right also question the necessity for the enquiry and its usefulness.
The far right (la Muete) and some of the nationalist left argue that this is a tactic by neo-liberals and pro-immigration groups to deny them their democratic right of free expression. Both sets of critics have used the defensive counter-strategy of accusing the Liberal government and its supporters of election airing (vote mining) and unjustly judging Quebecers (putting Quebec on trial).
The PQ leadership argue that there have been more than enough studies that have established the existence of a problem of racial profiling, racial, religious, gender and social discrimination in Quebec societies.
But they stop short of admitting that the problem is systemic or sharing the responsibility for it. Several writers to the Journal de Montreal have vented their anger at the Couillard government for creating the “inquiry” and the focus on the systemic nature of discrimination in French Quebec.
The French nationalist left has never taken responsibility for the race-superior attitudes and propensities of francophone Quebec. In les Noirs Blancs d’Amerique, Valière blamed British colonial capitalism for the powerlessness and poverty of the French working class settlers and slavery in the Americas. He rejects the notion that French Quebec could be held responsible for the system of slavery and racist discrimination against Blacks in Quebec and Canada.
This denial continues. A recent poll conducted by the Montreal Gazette shows that Quebec’s non-francophone are more likely than French Quebecers to identify racism as a big problem in Quebec: 37 percent of non-francophones called racism a big problem in the province compared to 10 percent of Francophones.
The Gazette report states that most of the 1501 respondents believe the consultations will be useful; but that non-francophones were more likely to say the consultations would be useful than francophones (Montreal Gazette, August 18, 2017: http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/quebecs-non-francophones-more-likely-to-identify-racism-as-a-problem-poll).
The leadership in the English speaking Black communities believe that not only is racism a big problem in Quebec, but that both French and English settler Quebecers have traditionally been in denial about their exclusion and oppression of Blacks, often referring to slavery in Quebec euphemistically as “household servitude.”
Moreover, most Blacks in the English speaking communities believe that racism is institutionalized and derives from the fragments of stored race superiority thought that make up the “DNA” of White settler identities. The problem is deep and systemic in that sense. We, like the opposition, believe that going back to the late nineties (the Anthony Griffin shooting) and forward that there are sufficient studies, cases, commissions, task forces, judicial decisions, etc. to make the case. On this point we join other critics to say it needs immediate and direct action, not more testimonies.
The opposition has accused the Liberals of putting Quebec on trial. That we consider ridiculous. But it is a politic which the Liberals cannot ignore given the tendency among francophones to share responsibility for the presence of racism and systemic discrimination in Quebec. It would seem that faced with this situation the government has decided to retreat behind the curtains of silence. The key Black English speaking leadership community believe that it is a game played by politicians to gain advantage around a problem that has risen to the forefront of social action in North America, pitting the White supremacists and anti-immigrant forces against the “Black and all life matters” forces.
Blacks in Montreal and Ontario point to the overwhelming evidence that come from both private and public spheres concerning unacceptable levels of systemic discrimination based on race, gender, language and culture. In the common sense logic of it, they pose the following questions: “If everyone is admitting of the existence of racial and systemic discrimination, why is it necessary to conduct another study? We have been studied enough, why not act to correct it? Why does the provincial and municipal governments not honour their commitment under the official policy of accés égalité and increase the level of employment of non-French ethnicities and visible minorities in their administrations? Why has the government not been able to control and reduce the profiling of visible minorities, the homeless and mentally ill in the correction and justice system?
Why is Black unemployment from census to census approximately twice the provincial level? Why do key Black and other visible minority agencies not get funded to strengthen their capacity to provide services on a long-term basis, while key White community agencies under the Official Languages Act are funded to ensure that they can make effective representation and sustain the vitality of their communities?
The answer to these questions go beyond discrimination at the level of the individual. We are all genetically inclined to practice racist discrimination as a primitive outcome of uncontrolled Darwinian selection behaviour. But in advanced civilizations we create values and institutions that replace these gene-directed primitive impulses by inclusion, sharing, and collaboration. However, we have developed a political culture in Quebec that is significantly influenced by the primitive impulse of the search for security of self that is distorted by fear, power, greed.
In Western democracies such as Canada, the social, political and economic systems should provide all of us with the equal opportunity to access resources that enable us to reproduce and perpetuate our kinship groups and to attain the highest levels of national pride and well-being. However, in Quebec society is structured to protect the language and culture of the French settler sub-population by excluding “others” along lines of race, language, religion, gender, ethnicity. That is what the “notwithstanding Clause” and Bill 101 are about. We have created and constitutionalized a more flawed democracy, thus solving this problem goes well beyond addressing behaviour at the individual level.
This problem cannot be solved completely at the level of the individual through guilt and redemption sessions (the Truth and Reconciliation model). It requires rearranging the systems and networks that we have created to sustain and improve life for the few (the settler nation membership group).
In Quebec, systemic discrimination is hardwired into the processes of decision making at the public and private spheres. French Canadians have been given a license by the “notwithstanding clause” and Bill 101 to discriminate against individuals and foreign cultures whose vitality threaten the French language and culture in Quebec. That is the way the society operates.
A recent error in Statistic Canada census data that projected the English populations in Quebec increasing significantly triggered demands from the nationalists for legislation to further restrict the privileges of the English in Quebec (StatsCan admits error: http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/statscan-to-revise-language-results-in-quebec). They justify it on fear, the fear of loosing their language. Pure and simple.
Some of the French leadership justify denial of the rights of even individual French Canadians and discrimination against individuals in general on the principle that preservation of the collective culture of French Quebecers takes precedence over individual rights (not specifically protected by the Canadian constitution). This places dangerous faith in our capacity and capability for empathy. The enquiry is further confounded by contradictions. For if the Government of Quebec is party to a constitutional arrangement with English Canada that legally allows Quebec to discriminate against and disregard the rights of landed immigrants and citizens of Quebec in the interest of the collective (the total physical, political and economic existence of Canada) how can the same government investigate Quebecers with a view to determining and eliminating practices of systemic and institutional discrimination? This is indeed very embarrassing for the Liberal Government. Could this be the true treason that the enquiry is behind closed doors?
If the problem is beyond the mere reconstructing of mindsets of members of White mainstream French and English speaking Quebec, then what should the Enquiry be looking at and addressing beside gathering more testimonies?
It would seem that we would have to revamp Bill 101, amend the Education Act, dramatically modify the language laws, and disband the “notwithstanding clause.” That would lead to a reconstitution of the way Quebec is made to function in Canada. I have this sense that is not going to happen.
This Enquiry is in trouble.