Groups collecting signatures for petition against systemic racism

Anti-racism organizations and private citizens will be fanning out across the city to collect signatures over the next three months, organizer Balarama Holness said. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

A petition to hold public consultations on systemic racism in Montreal has got off to a good start, organizers said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, supporters gathered in Côte-des-Neiges to launch the petition, which needs 15,000 names to force the city to hold the consultations.

Anti-racism organizations and private citizens will be fanning out across the city to collect signatures over the next three months, organizer Balarama Holness said.

“It’s not just about the 15,000 signatures,” he said, noting that the initiative is also an opportunity to raise awareness.

“I think it’s a learning moment for Montreal and for Quebec in general to touch on this issue, which I think has been neglected,” he said.

Holness was a candidate with Mayor Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal for mayor of Montreal North in the Nov. 5 election, but he said the petition crosses party lines.

“It’s an apolitical initiative and we’re going to need all Montrealers and organizations, with the festival season coming up, to really garner support and get the 15,000 signatures,” he said.

According to the “right of initiative” enshrined in the city’s charter, any citizen can petition the city to hold a public consultation on issues in the city.

The first step was to collect 25 signatures and submit the draft petition to the city clerk, who must rule that it is admissible. The petition passed that hurdle on April 4.

Now the challenge is to collect the signatures — the old-fashioned way, on paper — within 90 days.

“We have multiple events that will be planned through the course of the 90 days to bring the issue to light and serve as educational experiences,” Holness said.

The purpose of the hearings is to examine “the problems and the barriers, like the under-representation of racial and ethnic diversity in employment and in nominations to municipal and paramunicipal organizations,” according to documents on the petition.

It also seeks to bring to light the lack of visible minorities among city contractors; high unemployment and poverty rates among visible minorities; housing discrimination; racial profiling by police; hate crimes; and under-financing of cultural ventures by members of racial and ethnic minorities.

“It’s about recognizing that these issues — whether it’s employment, housing, health, access to recreation and sports facilities, investments in culture — these issues are systemic and we need to start recognizing them,” Holness said.

Mayor Valérie Plante said she supported the initiative and is open to acting upon it.

“As for me, I’m very happy to move forward with concrete measures,” she said.

“As mayor, I can directly influence access to employment and work with the Montreal police force and the committee on racial and social profiling,” Plante said.

She noted that her administration has created a panel that is examining how to make the city more inclusive.

“I just met with them yesterday for a working meeting, which will help us set priorities to create more diversity in the different branches of the city of Montreal,” she said.

As for the petition, “I will let them do their work and of course I will welcome the result with an open mind,” she said.

mscott@postmedia.com

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