Graham Hughes The Canadian Press The Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, during a point of press, last August
The Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, described on Wednesday as “extremely serious” the allegations of racism suffered by City of Montreal employees unveiled in Le Devoir on Monday . Her administration claims to be working hard to counter this discrimination, but rules out the idea of launching an independent investigation, as demanded by Ensemble Montreal.
Ms. Plante “was shocked” when she learned of the investigation conducted by Le Devoirwhich reports testimonies collected from around thirty City employees from nine boroughs of the metropolis who say they have filed a complaint with their employer without having obtained justice. These employees allege that they were subjected to racist remarks or gestures from colleagues or superiors.
“I find that unacceptable, but also disturbing. And I want to be clear: to be subjected to a racist gesture or to hear racist words, whether from a colleague or a superior, it is serious, it is extremely serious, because racism is is a violation of human rights,” Ms. Plante said Wednesday afternoon during a press briefing at City Hall.
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“Reassuring our employees”
She was for the occasion accompanied by City Manager Serge Lamontagne, who said he was “disappointed” by the allegations reported in Le Devoir. Both agreed on the importance of strengthening the complaints system in place to better support victims and reassure them about the anonymous nature of their statements, at a time when many City employees do not dare to file a complaint out of fear. to face reprisals.
“When a person is subjected to discriminatory remarks or gestures, they must be accompanied from start to finish. And that is the will of our administration,” Ms. Plante insisted. She also mentioned the city's intention to create a “one-stop shop” that would facilitate the process of handling employee complaints. “What we want is for a person who experiences a situation of racism, discrimination to feel welcomed, safe and supported,” continued Ms. Plante.
Serge Lamontagne has for his part claimed to have redoubled efforts in recent days to “turn over all the stones” to prevent racial discrimination within the City of Montreal, which has some 28,000 employees.
“It's not normal for an employee to have difficulty filing a complaint,” said the director general, who said he met on Tuesday with “the 53 directors of departments and boroughs” to tell them “that there is an urgent need to go into the field and reassure our employees”. The director general also sent Tuesday “a letter to the 1800 executives” of the City to ask them “to go on the ground” to “reassure” their employees and show “empathy” towards them.
“This is unacceptable”
Earlier, on Wednesday, the elected officials of Ensemble Montréal held a press briefing to demand an independent investigation into the work climate of employees from diverse backgrounds and the City's complaint handling process, in order to make a complete diagnosis. of the problem.
“It is unacceptable that employees who care about the city of Montreal have to live in situations that are contemptuous and that affect the mental health and physical health of these people. It has to stop,” insisted opposition councilor Alba Zuniga Ramos, flanked by other elected officials from Ensemble Montreal. “We need actions, we need sanctions,” added the adviser, who laments that “nothing is changing on the ground,” more than two years after Bochra Manaï's arrival as Montreal's Anti-Racism Commissioner.
Photo: Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir The elected officials of Ensemble Montréal, including Councilor Alba Zuniga Ramos , urge the City to review its processes and introduce “a true zero-tolerance policy”.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, however, rejected the idea of an independent investigation on Wednesday. “For me, the time is no longer for documentation,” argued Ms. Plante, who recalls that this work has already been carried out by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, which published an extensive report at the summer 2020 detailing the problems of racism and discrimination in the City of Montreal.
“We all took these recommendations and put them in the machine to give concrete action,” argued Ms. Plante. As for the work carried out by Ms. Manaï, it is “exemplary”, believes Mr. Lamontagne, who recalled that it is not she who is responsible for managing complaints at the City.
The director General of the City also assures that when City employees “raise their hands” to denounce acts of “violence” or racism, “we are able to get the harasser out of his workplace”, the time that an investigation be carried out. “I can assure you that as soon as it is known to us, we act. »
In Quebec, the Minister responsible for the Fight against Racism, Christopher Skeete, for his part deplored practices worthy of “50, 70 years ago”. “It's disgusting,” he said on the sidelines of a press briefing on racial profiling.
“We don't have to put up with a work environment like that. It is very worrying. The elected representative of the Coalition avenir Québec indicated that he would soon discuss with Bochra Manaï. The latter will also have to report on the City's actions in the fight against racism on March 28, as part of a public meeting.
“I believe that people quietly realize that the party is over. It's no longer acceptable in 2023. It never was, but here people are standing up to say it,” Skeete said in English.
With François Carabin, Jeanne Corriveau and Stéphanie Vallet