Refusing to Accommodate Racism

Community Groups Oppose the Bouchard-Taylor Commission


Photos and text by Tatiana Gomez

The Bouchard-Taylor Commission on “reasonable accommodations,” mandated to consult Quebeckers on the practice of accommodating cultural differences, made its way to Montreal at the end of November after a highly sensationalized tour of rural Quebec.

The tour, marred by media attention that mixed issues of multiculturalism, expressions of religious faith, the rights of women, and the alleged dangers to the French language and Quebecois identity, became a forum where the open expression of racism was normalized. As the commission arrived in Montreal, community groups were ready to introduce the media to a new discourse and organized to oppose the commission they deemed racist.

Coming together under the banner “rejecting intolerance in Quebec,” over twenty Montreal groups united to oppose racism, sexism, and xenophobia. At a press conference held on November 20, they explained that the premise on which the commission is based is racist. “Using the term ‘accommodation,’ where the Quebecois identity is monolithically defined as that of the white settler, and the action of allowing the expression of religious or faith-based identity of the ‘newcomer’ is an ‘accommodation,’ implies a hierarchy of identities,” explained Nazila Bettache from No One Is Illegal-Montreal (far right). “Further, calling this accommodation ‘reasonable’ implies a hierarchy of reason where the reason used by the white settler sets the limits of the so-called debate. This is representative of the systemic racism that prevails,” she added.

In addition to injecting an anti-racist analysis into the prevalent discourse, the groups used the press conference to launch a series of actions that began with a picket organized by the Immigrant Workers’ Centre, a labour rights organization based in Côte-des-Neiges. The group picketed the first Montreal consultation, which was held at the Côte-des-Neiges Intercultural Library. They denounced the commission for obscuring the real issues that immigrants face, mainly underemployment and exploitation in the workplace, which present the real obstacles to integration, not the expression of religious or faith-based identity.

Hosting a speak-out, members of the community were invited to express themselves in response to the so-called debate on reasonable accommodations. Anger and frustration were common sentiments, as were expressions of the daily struggles to integrate in the face of pervasive systemic racism. One woman, through tears, explained that her credentials were not recognized when she arrived to Canada and that her efforts to integrate through schooling have been thwarted by racist instructors and employers.

Inside the consultation, an audience composed mainly of migrants and racialized communities, the first such audience to find itself before the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, echoed the critiques raised by “Reject Intolerance in Quebec.” They denounced the commission for failing to address the real issues affecting them and for being a platform for racists and bigots.

The actions against the commission continued on November 27 at the Palais des Congres, where the commission held its second Montreal consultation. Organized by No One Is Illegal-Montreal, the protest made its way past security and to the door of the consultation on the third floor.

At the door of the commission, protesters unfurled a banner that read “we will not accommodate this racist commission.” Refusing to submit to a commission that is forcing so-called minorities to justify their very existence while ignoring the intolerance and injustice lived by migrants in Quebec, they sought to make their voices heard.

Protestors were there to denounce the commission and not to engage in disingenuous dialogue. Banging on the walls in an effort to disrupt the commission, they chanted “immigrants in, racists out!”

The protest was never declared unlawful and demonstrators accepted to leave the premises after receiving an eviction notice. However, the protest still ended in police violence when police officers, without provocation charged the crowd as they were exiting the building. During the attack, according to witnesses, they pushed and punched protesters and hit them with their batons.

On December 9, the actions continued with a community convergence on “reasonable accommodations.” The community forum aimed to create a space to collectively examine the political and social roots of “reasonable accommodations” in order to challenge its racism and xenophobia as part of the growing efforts to build solidarity with the communities targeted by the debate.

Declaring that racism is not reasonable, the Reject Intolerance in Quebec network has stated it will continue its work in the coming months as it organizes in the aftermath of the commission and the racism for which it has created an open platform.

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