Systemic Racism in Québec

Montréal, 3rd October 2020. Photo: R.Shearmur

Last Tuesday, Joyce Echaquan died in Joliette hospital. It’s a desperately sad story: as she lay telling nurses that she was being overmedicated, the nurses threw racial slurs at her, telling her she was getting what she deserved. She died crying for help, belittled and insulted by ‘care’ staff.

The Prime Minister of Quebec puts this down to a few bad apples, now fired. Maybe he hasn’t read the Viens report (Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec: listening, reconciliation and progress, September 2019).

It is about systemic racism in Québec’s public services, and it sits on M.Legault’s desk. For instance, he must have missed the following:

Disorganized, unable to care for their families and children, uninformed, violent, dependent, neglectful of their health and property, privileged due to their exemption from paying taxes— the list of prejudices about First Nations and Inuit extends along a broad continuum, ranging from inferior to entitled [….] More importantly for this Commission, so many testimonies illustrate how this incomprehension can end up limiting access to care and even jeopardizing the life and safety of individuals. A good example is the story of Edmond Moar, who died after a cancer that was diagnosed but left untreated when he refused to be hospitalized due to the difficulties he experienced with staff.” (pp 207-208)

So yes, M.Legault, there is systemic racism in Québec, particularly (but not only) against indigenous people, and it kills them. It is not just a few demonstrators who claim it exists, but your own commissioner, after extensive research, interviews and fact gathering. How many more deaths, insults and inequities are needed before this simple fact registers?

The Prime Minister, along with all Quebecers (of which I am), need to recognize that it is not just a few bad apples that are racist. but the system itself: a system that of course condemns overt public racism, but that gives private racism a pass (provided no one dies), and that is simply unaware of small, unconscious, but cumulatively damaging biases. Indeed, most individuals in the system are well-meaning (that is the paradox of systemic racism) : but unless systemic racism is acknowledged, the province – us Quebecers, led by M.Legault – cannot even begin to start to address the problem.

Montréal, 3td October 2020. Photo: R.Shearmur

Published by Richard Shearmur

I am a professor at McGill's School of Urban Planning. I perform research on innovation, on how we locate work activities (in a world where people often work from many places), and on urban and regional economic geography. I used to work in real-estate, and teach a course on this. I am an urban planner, member of the Ordre des Urbanistes du Québec and of the Canadian institute of Planners.

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