Recent events have left me sort of reeling. Story after story, socially and politically, local and national, has challenged almost all of what I have left in me.
I have seen a lot; however, this week has been one gut punch after another.
As a city, Montreal continues to tussle with increased incidents of violence. The senseless spate of crimes and racist acts begs the question, “ who are we? Who are as a nation, as a people, and more jarringly, what are we becoming?
Recently in a scathing decision released by the Police Ethics Committee, police officer Michael Boutin was berated for knocking the Samsung phone out of the hand of Pradel Content, a Black man and then getting him to unlock it so that the police officer could erase the footage of the interaction between them.
The officer also said that in the U.S., unlike Quebec, police “shoot people like you there.”
At the risk of being deemed an alarmist, such a racist statement involving a Black man and police brutality only served to further heighten my fears.
Concomitantly, two young men, both 16 were killed in Montreal in recent weeks.
Thomas Trudel, a Caucasian was shot and killed in Montreal’s St. Michel neighbourhood while Jannai Dopwell-Bailey who was Black was fatally stabbed outside his high school in Cote-des-Neiges in the city’s west end.
Quebec’s Premier Francois Legault after laying flowers at a makeshift memorial where Trudel was shot and killed, summed up his disgust thus: “ We’re at the point where this has to stop,” he said. “It’s terrible to see a little guy of 16 get shot. It’s one thing to fight in the school yard but to get shot in Montreal? That cannot be accepted.”
Recently re-elected Mayor Valerie Plante , accompanied by Montreal’s Police Chief Sylvain, along with elected officials from the Villeray-Saint Michel- Parc Extension borough held a news conference outside of a school near where Trudel was killed.
No similar gestures or outpourings of support were made after the slaying of Dopwell-Bailey. In fact, both elected officials were absent at a vigil held for the slain teen, even after being invited.
Again, I am forced to ask: Who Are We?
On May 20, during a meeting of the special committee on the COVID-19 outbreak in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters: “Anti-black racism – racism – is real. It’s in the United States but it’s also in Canada and we know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day. We have work to do as well in Canada.”
Both Premier Legault and Mayor Plante have denied the existence of any double standard in response to the teenager’s death.
Following the coroner’s report into the death of Joyce Echaquan, Legault repeated that there is no systemic racism, even repeating his stance that he does not agree with the terminology.
To make his case, he referred to the definition of “systemic” found in Le Petit Robert dictionary, further asserting that although it was clear systemic racism existed in the residential school system that separated Indigenous children from their parents, “the question to be asked today is: Is there systemic racism in Quebec?
We are a nation that is flirting with civil unrest. Pussyfooting around the borders of racial and social unrest we are stroking and stoking old fires.
In the haze and blaze of unchecked and displayed behaviour it is blatantly apparent that the premier with his continued denial of racism is unwilling to learn from the past.
Elected leaders seeking votes from already disenfranchised groups, aggrieved people working to rewrite history, white supremacy comfortably emerging from the shadows, and the manipulation of a nation through algorithms are the sparks that ignite and fuel discontent. Political dysfunction is pervading the ethics of good and fair government. All of these are ultimately harmful.
Canada has functioned on the belief that all people were created equal, and are furnished by their creator with certain unalienable rights.
Although this might not have been apparent from the inception, we have had 154 years to get it right. The time has come to cease struggling with who we are and decide to be what we say we are.
Aleuta– The struggle continues.