The two first leaders of groups to speak before the city’s public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination Monday night might have come to it with very different points of view, but they both shared the same opinion.
Approaching Montreal city hall with a problem that involves discrimination produces bureaucratic runaround and little solutions.
Linda Gauthier, a spokesperson for Regroupement des activistes pour l’inclusion au Québec (RAPLIQ) — a grassroots movement challenging the city on issues of accessibility, was the first person to speak during the public consultation process held at the Office de la consultation publique’s offices in downtown Montreal.
The OCPM began the process by holding an information session on May 15. Then, over the summer, 700 people attended citizen-organized activities that were encouraged by the OCPM to generate ideas that can be debated during the current hearing process.
While referring to a document that RAPLIQ submitted to OCPM earlier, Gauthier highlighted problems like the difficulties physically-challenged people face in getting hired and the lack of bathrooms available in Montreal restaurants or how employers interested in hiring physically challenged people often do not have wheelchair-accessible offices.
She also expressed frustration in how RAPLIQ gets passed around when it brings up issues with the city. They are often passed off to the Quebec government or Montreal borough offices while city officials deny their problems fall within Montreal’s jurisdiction.
“People often toss the ball around. It goes back and forth between the city and the boroughs,” Gauthier said while highlighting the issue of whether physically-challenged people can access restaurant terraces. “The ball often gets tossed to Quebec. It is getting frustrating.”
Gauthier argued that the city-centre has to take control of such issues and come up with uniform solutions that can be applied in all boroughs.
“We don’t want pity. Far from it. We pay the same taxes,” she said while adding the city needs to do more to make the city attractive to physically-challenged people who live outside the city and are considering it as a tourist destination.
“I have friends who are handicapped who live elsewhere (and who have rejected the idea of visiting the city),” she said. “They can’t take part in 50 per cent of the things they’d like to do (as tourists).”
Balarama Holness, of Montreal en Action, the anti-racist group that collected more than 22,000 signatures (well above the 15,000 minimum required) on a petition that forced the city of Montreal to hold the consultation process, was the second person to speak Monday night.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Holness said before five OCPM commissioners while noting Montreal en Action began collecting signatures in December 2017.
Like Gauthier, Holness expressed frustration in getting little results while bringing up issues to the city ombudsman’s office. While the point of a city ombudsman is to “manage issues that relate to the Montreal charter,” the answer Montreal en Action often gets to the issues it raises is: “do it yourself — see what happens and get back to me,” Holness said.
Holness, a McGill University law student, also called on the city to create more sports, leisure and recreation programs in parts of the city like Montreal North, where young visible minorities are much more likely to get arrested by the Montreal police than white people.
“Sports saved me,” said the former Montreal Alouette.
“There needs to be an educational moment in Quebec to understand the realities of a diverse Montreal, and policies should equal the realities of that diversity,” Holness told the Montreal Gazette before the meeting was held. “So whether it is housing discrimination, employment discrimination, whether it is a lack of representation at city hall, people have neglected these realities. There needs to be an educational moment to let politicians and the government know that this issue is happening and to give a voice to people who are often marginalized and who are not represented at city hall, not represented in the media and have no access to justice.”
The OCPM hearing continue hearing representations on Tuesday. After the consultation process ends in early December, the OCPM will make its recommendations to city hall.