The Public Consultation on Systemic Racism and Discrimination

Our democracy is at its best when young Montrealers from all backgrounds are engaged, and supported, in democratic initiatives and decision-making processes. The inclusion of diverse voices among young Montrealers is essential to engendering a sense of community and empowerment for current and future generations. Young people, particularly those of colour, are hoping for change in 2020 and beyond. There is a new generation of leaders working to build an inclusive Montreal—a Montreal that respects, protects and fulfills the rights of all its people, regardless of who they are or where they’re from.

Led by Balarama Holness, more than 50 young community leaders took action to request that the City of Montreal hold a public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination. The goal of the public consultation was to tackle employment discrimination; eliminate racial and social profiling by police; improve funding for, and representation of, diverse communities in the arts and culture; end housing discrimination; increase diversity at City Hall; and establish a holistic framework for tackling systemic racism and discrimination in Montreal that is in keeping with municipal jurisdiction.

The mayor and city counsellors chose not to mandate the public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination. However, these young leaders were not deterred and took matters into their own hands. Through a participatory-democracy clause of the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities—article 16h, “The Right of Initiative”—the young community leaders were tasked with collecting a minimum of 15,000 signatures in 90 days in order to force the public consultation. Day and night for 90 days, across Montreal’s streets, parks, metros, universities, events and festivals, the youth leaders petitioned Montrealers, shared their vision for an inclusive city, and enlisted partners and supporters from across the island. Despite all these ups and downs, the young leaders never wavered. On many occasions, critics claimed that they wouldn’t succeed, that the task was too great, and that the challenges were too many. Against all odds, on July 27, 2018 the young leaders marched down to Montreal’s City Hall and deposited 22,000 signatures. On August 17, 2018, the City of Montreal officially approved the petition and mandated the Office de Consultation Public de Montreal (OCPM) to hold the public consultation. The message was clear: Thousands of Montrealers had stood up for a more inclusive and equitable city.

Thanks to youth engagement, this grassroots movement continues to thrive. These young community leaders are bridging the gap between a homogenous city hall and a city that is diverse and multicultural. With the recommendations of the public consultation due in March 2020, this youth-led grassroots movement will serve as an example and an inspiration for a new generation of leaders. This display of civic engagement by young leaders has shown all Montrealers the impact that empowered, dedicated youth can have in promoting social justice and equity in our city.

Having witnessed our collective potential, moving forward, the public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination will serve as a springboard for leaders, movements and entrepreneurs who want to advance our shared goals.