Anti-racism festival and march held in Quebec City

Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Anti-racism marchers make their way up Rue Haldimand on their way through the Old City.

Last fall, Nicolas Villamarin and several friends began calling local musicians to organize a festival against racism in Quebec City. 

Donald Trump’s inauguration still lay months in the future, and the fatal shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (CCIQ) had not yet jolted the city into a new and painful conversation around racism and Islamophobia. Even then, Villamarin hoped to launch an event that would bring Quebecers together to talk about race and racism. 

He stated: “Racism is not new in Quebec. Ten years ago, the situation was similar. Quebec City’s radio stations spread a lot of divisive discourse…. We’re against commentators and politicians who use that airtime to establish a much narrower definition of what a Quebecer is. Our way of showing that is through music.

“Quebec City isn’t a racist city. If it were, we wouldn’t be standing here, as Quebecers of different races, getting ready to put on a show that celebrates cultural diversity,” Villamarin said. “But there is racism in Quebec, like there is in other cities, and we need to talk about it. It’s not Quebec-bashing to talk about racism in Quebec. On the contrary, it’s saying that we have a proud history of racial diversity which needs to be valued more. Having these difficult conversations strengthens us as a society and makes us better.”  

“C’est peut-être la faute à Atalante,” said co-organizer Vania Wright-Larin to a packed Fou-Bar crowd, referring to a white nationalist group active in Quebec City that caused controversy earlier this year by distributing recruitment posters at Université Laval. “People are worried and scared. But we need to be ready to stand up and contradict the extreme right. It takes much more than a festival to counter what just happened at the mosque, but it’s a good starting point.” 

“Certain media personalities and politicians … are not really racist, but because of political opportunism, they show indifference to racism, and that lets racism thrive,” said participant Sacha Callixte. “It’s horrible that it’s taken the mosque attack to prove that point.”   

The festival included concerts at the Fou-Bar, Le Cercle and La Source de la Martinière, as well as a march through Vieux-Québec on February 18 attended by several hundred people. 

Participants, including Sébastien Harvey of the Ligue des droits et libertés, called for a proposed parliamentary commission on systemic racism to be put in place. Others called for better treatment of asylum seekers from the United States, who have been crossing Canada’s border by the dozens since the election of Donald Trump, and for the suspension of an agreement granting wider powers to U.S. border agents in Canada, in the wake of alleged Islamophobic treatment of legal border crossers. 

“Since the passage of the executive order from the new U.S. administration we have seen an increase of ‘extreme vetting’ of Canadian citizens trying to get into the U.S., especially of Canadian citizens of the Muslim faith,” said Simon Jacobs, speaking in front of the American consulate. “Given the atmosphere in the U.S. at the moment and the zeal with which U.S. border guards have gone about targeting some Canadian citizens, we call on … the Canadian government to suspend the passage of this bill until all Canadians … are treated equally.” 

Mohamed Labidi, vice-president of the CCIQ, was among the speakers in front of the National Assembly at the beginning of the march on Saturday. “Long live a united Quebec, a Quebec without discrimination and without racism,” said Labidi as he addressed the crowd. “We still have a way to go. From this wave of solidarity, let’s retain the idea that we’re all one family.”  

“Quebec City is my home, and I’ve never not felt at home here,” said Callixte, a second-generation immigrant from Haiti. “In the media here, you hear a lot of racism, because people are uninformed. But we’re not alone in calling for improvement. The Quebec City I love, my Quebec City, is not a racist Quebec.”
Simon Jacobs (left) spoke at a stop in front of the American Consulate about the recent problems encountered by Canadians trying to enter the United States simply because of their faith and/or country of origin.