Thursday, January 21

A commissioner on racism that divides

Hailed by some for her qualifications, decried by others for her opposition to the law on secularism: the appointment of the first commissioner for the fight against racism of the City of Montreal has just been announced that it divides.

“It’s a big blunder,” says Micheline Labelle, sociologist and professor at UQAM. She sees it as a “partisan appointment” which “gives a particular color to a commission that did not need that”.

On Tuesday, the City of Montreal announced the appointment of Bochra Manaï, who will become the first commissioner for the fight against racism and systemic discrimination as of next week.

This position was created in response to the recommendations of a report tabled this summer which pointed out the shortcomings of the City in its fight against discrimination.

The news was greeted with “great satisfaction” by Haroun Bouazzi, one of the activists who called for a debate on systemic racism in the metropolis.

Holder of a doctorate in urban studies and two master’s degrees, Bochra Manaï was director of an organization that fights against social exclusion in Montreal-North.

Lack of neutrality?

Some expect his mandate to be more “explosive” than consensual, especially because Manaï is one of the opponents who led the challenge of law 21 on secularism in court. She was then spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

By choosing Mme Manaï, the City took a “courageous decision”, estimates Solange Lefebvre, professor of religious studies at the University of Montreal. “We have the right, in Canada, to be for or against a bill.”

For Micheline Labelle, it would have been preferable to appoint someone “neutral”, since his positions against Bill 21 risk discrediting his actions, she laments.

For Haroun Bouazzi, activist for human rights, it is the opposite. “Anyone who would have agreed with a law like this would have had no credibility.”


The divide therefore seems to follow the divide between prolaïcité and antilaïcité, or even those who affirm that systemic racism exists or does not exist in Quebec.

“It’s appalling,” insists André Lamoureux, political scientist and professor at UQAM. “I find it scandalous that the City of Montreal is providing funds for […] an ideological concept, ”says the one who affirms loud and clear that the notion of systemic racism does not really apply to the reality of Quebec.

“We are shocked,” reacts Ferid Chikhi, co-spokesperson for the Quebec Association of North Africans for Laïcité. He fears the “subjectivity” that he believes comes with the activism of a “victimized minority that cries all the time”.

In contrast, Maryse Potvin, professor of education at UQAM, affirms that systemic discrimination is a well-documented phenomenon, as are the discriminatory effects of Bill 21. “I think we must give the runner a chance” , she says.

“Whether she is an activist against discrimination against Muslims in Canada, I do not see how that disqualifies her for a position which aims, precisely, to fight against discrimination”, abounds Martin Papillon, professor at the University of Montreal .

Avoid demonizing

But behind this cleavage, Solange Lefebvre assures us that it is normal that there are so many debates on such a complex subject.

“We must avoid demonizing people: whether it is the Legault government [qui refuse de reconnaître l’existence du racisme systémique] or those who challenge Law 21 ”, she tempers.

At the time of this publication, Bochra Monaï had not responded to our interview request.

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