There have been lots of news stories lately about racism and Québec after a poll reported that 59% of Québec residents described themselves as ‘racist’. Québec premier Jean Charest and president Jean Dorion of the nationalist Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste — who are both white — have stated in no uncertain terms that discrimination against visible minorities is not a serious problem in Québec. I can certainly believe that Charest and Dorion don’t experience much racism here, but apparently they don’t read the news either: just to give a few recent examples, the Montréal police union is currently defending an officer who wrote a satirical song telling immigrants to integrate into Québec culture or leave, a Muslim school in the city was recently vandalized, and employees of the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM; the main French-language school board) are complaining about time off granted to Muslim and Jewish co-workers to observe religious holidays.
Let’s consider that last example in more detail. According to the 2001 Census, 13.5% of the population of Montréal are members of a visible minority; about 3% are Arabic (an equal number are Muslim), and about 2.4% are Jewish. The CSDM reports paying for 300 extra days of leave for Jewish and Muslim religious holidays, or two to three days per year per person — in other words, they have roughly 100 observant Jewish and Muslim employees. The CBC also notes that in 2006, CSDM employees worked “more than three million days”. This isn’t a very precise figure, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that this translates into 10,000 full-time positions. So, 1% of their employees are observant Jews and Muslims, despite those communities representing 5.4% of the general population,1 and their extra holidays represent a whopping 0.01% of all paid days. And it’s not like this this policy was adopted by the CSDM voluntarily; it was introduced only after they lost a case in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004. Surely the school board could simply allow these staff to make up the time by working from home during the Christian holidays. So why are people complaining? Perhaps it’s worth noting here that the Léger Marketing poll I mentioned earlier reported that 50% of Québec residents reported having negative opinions towards Arabs, and 36% described themselves as racist towards the Jewish community.
What’s my point? Just that there is racism here, and that as someone who is not a member of a visible minority,2 I can’t meaningfully respond to this poll based on personal experience. And neither can Charest and Dorion.
À mes amis québécois : prenez note que je n’ai pas dit que le racisme est plus pire ici que dans le Canada anglophone. Comme j’ai dit en haut, cela n’est pas pour moi. Mais ce problème existe par tout, et si quelqu’un vous dites que le racisme n’existe pas à l’Ontario, je peux vous donner une liste longe des exemples contraires.
1 Yes, I’m fudging the fact that not all people who identify themselves as Jewish or Muslim actually observe these holidays. On the other hand, this census data is six years old, and I’m sure that at least the Muslim population has grown noticeably in that time. 2 My own ethnic background is a little more complicated than that, but for these purposes suffice it to say that I’m almost always taken as white here in Canada.