Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement contributes to a key report on systemic racism and discrimination in Montreal

Parc-Extension discussions reveal that diversity does not equal inclusion
November 13, 2019
By James Roach

“We’re hoping that this report will provide useful insights to the City of Montreal.” | Photos by Audrey Ann Lavallée “We’re hoping that this report will provide useful insights to the City of Montreal.” | Photos by Audrey Ann Lavallée

Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) is known for its support in mobilizing city residents to advance community-identified priorities.

In August, the OCE collaborated with the Table de quartier pour Parc-Extension, housing initiative Brick by Brick (BbB) and the Tiger Lotus Cooperative (TLC) to plan and conduct a neighbourhood consultation on systemic racism and discrimination.

The OCE became involved in this consultation as a result of its ongoing support of the Community-Based Action Research (CBAR) network, a collective of engaged scholars, and neighbourhood community organizers, to draft a final report and recommendations for submission to the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM).

Part of a city-wide movement

In summer 2018, educator and former Montreal Alouettes player Balarama Holness and members of the community initiative Montreal in Action launched a petition to see Montrealers of all backgrounds demand municipal actions to counter systemic racism and discrimination in, and by, city institutions.

The campaign garnered 22,000 signatures, which exceeded the critical mass of 15,000 required. As a result, the city moved forward with a broad-ranging consultation on this key issue.

In response to the signatures obtained by 50 Montreal in Action volunteers over a three-month period, the city’s executive committee mandated the OCPM to get started with city-wide consultations.

They held several public meetings on the themes of employment, culture, racial and social profiling. Subsequently, several neighbourhoods held their own consultations to consider how these issues affect residents at a community level.

Alex Megelas is program coordinator for the OCE. “The signatures gathered echo the sentiments of Montreal residents,” he says. “They want to see institutions and their leaders take action and commit to the meaningful inclusion of visible minorities and other marginalized groups across all levels of society.”

Megelas drives home the point that diversity does not equal inclusion.

“While the neighbourhood of Parc-Extension is incredibly diverse, as is the City of Montreal, visible minorities are often excluded from decision making at the neighbourhood and municipal level.”


Parc-Extension consultation

The neighbourhood of Parc-Extension held a consultation on September 28, as part of the larger city effort. Facilitators included Megelas and Leonora King, a doctoral student and community organizer. She works with the TLC, an initiative centred on reproductive health, and BbB, a community housing project in Parc-Extension.

Megelas and King engaged participants in the process alongside other community organisers from local groups, including the Comité d’Action de Parc-Extension, the neighbourhood’s housing rights coalition.

“Participating in this public consultation on behalf of TLC was in line with our mandate as systemic racism extends to health-care access, and we stand in solidarity with all those who face systemic injustice and inequality,” King says.

“These discussions were mind-opening and also disheartening because we realized how much Parc-Extension residents, particularly immigrants, were affected by many forms of systemic inequalities and that some of their basic needs were not being met.”

Concordia’s OCE lent additional support by offsetting the cost of childcare and providing catering for neighbourhood participants.

Tatiana Burtin is a community organizer for the Table de quartier pour Parc-Extension.

“One of the main difficulties faced by the Parc-Extension residents, 56.5 per cent of whom are from immigrant backgrounds, is related to the challenges brought by the immigration process itself,” she explains.

“When you arrive and you do not speak French and have limited English, it is difficult to access essential services, develop a strong supportive network beyond the community and know what your rights are,” Burtin says.

“As a result, you don’t go to the hospital when you’re sick and you don’t argue with your landlord when he illegally increases the rent for your mouldy, bedbug-infested apartment. You don’t have any contacts in the main employment channels or know how to navigate the bureaucratic process.”

She adds that it becomes a vicious circle because chances for upward mobility decrease as well as health, resources and opportunities.

Report’s recommendations

The final report and recommendations, “Systemic Racism in Parc-Extension: Summary of issues and recommendations,” were drafted in the weeks following the consultation.

The report was made possible with the assistance of CBAR network members, including Megelas, King, Emanuel Guay and Alexa Ahooja, as well as BbB’s Sophie Le-Phat Ho and Rose-Anne St. Paul, and Burtin and Audrey Ann Lavallée from the Table de quartier pour Parc-Extension.

The report identifies many issues, including:

  • Linguistic and cultural barriers that contribute to the inaccessibility of social and health-care services
  • Impact of unmitigated gentrification on the rental housing landscape
  • Practices of racial profiling by neighbourhood police
  • Exclusion of visible minorities from spheres of political and public decision making

Burtin, Guay and neighbourhood resident, organizer and CBAR member Samiha Hossain presented the report on November 11 to the OCPM commission as part of a public event. They also summarized the recommendations identified by Parc-Extension residents during the consultation.

Among other recommendations, the report encourages public institutions to:

  • Provide public services information in multiple languages
  • Sensitize decision makers on ways to counter systemic racism
  • Promote increased access to postsecondary education to members of racialized communities
  • Ensure that new development projects acknowledge and mitigate their contributions to neighbourhood gentrification

“We’re hoping that this report will provide useful insights to the City of Montreal so that there is a profound systemic change that will improve the quality of life for people in Parc-Extension,” Burtin says.

“We want to get the attention of municipal decision makers to work together to envision a system with concrete measures and mechanisms to make it truly inclusive. We are currently working alongside local partners and residents to provide the neighbourhood with a 10-year plan. This is an occasion to have the community’s unique yet universal voice heard.”

King points to other possible outcomes. “Among many things, what I hope to come from this report on systemic racism is recognition that some members of the population continue to be oppressed because of the barriers in place to keep them from being valuable and influential members of society,” she says.

“There is the perception that marginalized people have equal opportunities; however, their opportunities for social mobility are limited and they are often restricted from entering into positions of influence and power.”

A final report and list of recommendations from the City of Montreal are expected in 2020. The city then will have 60 days to announce the next steps.

Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement web page to learn more about their work and the communities they serve.

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