OCPM commissioners hear diverse suggestions for combatting systemic racism

Proposed solutions range from firing Montreal’s police chief to encouraging members of minority communities to start their own businesses.

From firing the police chief to holding a major festival to celebrate diversity: commissioners examining systemic discrimination and racism in Montreal heard an array of potential solutions to the problem on the second day of public hearings yesterday,

Dexter Xurukulasuriya told the hearings he loves Montreal for its diversity, but he denounced systemic racism as the city’s “burden of shame.” He said it was insulting when city leaders and the police chief seemed shocked at the recent report showing Montreal police are far more likely to stop black, Arabic and Indigenous people for questioning than white people.

“That to me is an insult, as a community organizer and a racialized person,” he said. “We’ve been saying this for decades.”

Xurukulasuriya, who says he has been stopped many times by police for no other reason than his skin colour, said police Chief Sylvain Caron should be fired for denying there are racist police officers in the SPVM.

“Anyone who can say with a straight face in public that there are no racists in this police force is not competent to hold that position,” Xurukulasuriya said.

Anne Pelletier and Yvon Provencher of DéPhy Montréal, a group of 50 organizations that advocate for people with various disabilities, told the commissioners the city has a long way to go to respect their clients’ rights to equal access to the built environment and to employment. They suggested each borough in the city of Montreal should have one person responsible for overseeing accessibility issues.

Several community groups held discussion groups on systemic discrimination to prepare for the hearings. Alessandra Devulsky of the Centre Bon Courage in St-Laurent, said Muslim women who participated in a forum at her centre spoke of insults and abuse they experienced on public transit, both by other passengers and in some cases, bus drivers.

“Black men and women also told us troubling stories of job hunting where they felt judged because of their skin colour and ethnic origins, and were convinced that certain jobs were denied them because of their race.”

She noted none of these people denounced these incidents to the authorities concerned. She suggested boroughs conduct workshops aimed at members of minority communities to help them access the city’s complaints processes.

Pierreson Vaval, of Équipe RDP, a group that works on intercultural integration in Rivière-des-Prairies, spoke of the need to get all Montrealers talking frankly about these issues.

“How can we symbolize in Montreal that diversity is our strength? Can we have a major event in Montreal that celebrates this diversity and invites the whole population to exchange and share in this strength?” he asked.

Lamis Hashim of Centre d’encadrement des jeunes femmes immigrantes relayed concerns about high rents many immigrants have to pay for cramped apartments with sanitation issues. She said the city needs more subsidized housing, and more housing inspectors to hold negligent landlords responsible.

Organizers at a youth centre in Cartierville spoke of the casual acceptance of racism at their centre. Kersmirne Joseph said teens at the centre told her they had all experienced racism, at the hands of police and others, but seemed more concerned about under-representation of people of diverse racial backgrounds in Quebec media.

And Thierry Lindor, a black entrepreneur who grew up in St-Michel, called on Montreal to create an institute to encourage members of minority communities to start their own businesses.

Lindor said he has also been pulled over for questioning by police many times, because he is a black man who drives a nice car. He suggested police be given incentives, such as exemptions from the welcome tax, to live in the communities they police.

The OCPM hearings on systemic discrimination and racism are public and continue on Thursday at 1 pm at 1550 Metcalfe St. After the consultation process ends in early December, the OCPM will present its report and recommendations to city hall.

Un article de Michelle Lalonde, publié le 6 novembre 2019 dans Montreal Gazette.

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