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Quebec immigration minister skips federal human rights meeting addressing systemic racism

Quebec’s immigration minister Nadine Girault pulled out of a virtual meeting among provinces about human rights, drawing criticism from federal government officials who say it is because of the province’s refusal to acknowledge systemic racism.

Girault sent a bureaucrat to observe, instead of participate in the meeting, citing scheduling issues. Alberta and Saskatchewan also sent observers, rather than participating.

But Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault says he was told by Quebec provincial officials Girault’s absence was because of the meeting’s portion on systemic racism, which Premier François Legault has refused to say exists in Quebec.

“I deplore the Quebec government for not wanting to have a conversation with the federal government, the provinces and the territories, the national Indigenous organizations and representatives of civil society, on the issue of systemic racism,” Guilbeault tweeted. 

A spokesperson for Girault, Flore Bouchon, said Quebec had been active in the preparations for the meeting, and that it decided to send an observer instead of the minister as soon as it received the official invitation. 

“Quebec acts autonomously on its territory and internationally, particularly in the defence of human rights,” Bouchon wrote in an emailed statement. 

Guilbeault, who is the Liberal MP for the Laurier—Sainte-Marie riding in Montreal, says he was told by colleagues in the Quebec government Legault saw the meeting as a way for the federal government to shape provincial policy.

“There is no question of a policy, of a national standard. We’re having a conversation about systemic racism,” Guilbeault told Radio-Caanada. 

“It’s an exchange of best practices, to see how we can work together.”

The summit was partly organized by Heritage Canada and is focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on human rights, particularly on marginalized and vulnerable groups, as well as on issues of systemic racism, discrimination and inclusion.

Quebec’s decision not to participate is disappointing to Marisa Berry Méndez of Amnesty International, too. 

“It’s a symbolic gesture to send somebody, but if they aren’t actively participating and making commitments on behalf of the province, then it’s not going far enough,” Méndez said.

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