At this past weekend’s National Council meeting, more than 80 per cent of Québec solidaire (QS) delegates voted in favour of censuring its Decolonial Anti-racist Collective (CAD).
According to a 2021 report from QS’ working group on anti-racism and anti-ableism, just 3.9 per cent of QS members identify as racialized. That, combined with the publicly-expressed support for censure from the party’s president and two spokespeople, meant the result wasn’t exactly surprising.
Certainly, any party that has an overwhelmingly white membership and leadership is going to struggle with anti-racism. But the feud between the party’s national executive and the CAD points to a more serious problem than representation: Without a deep and active anti-racist analysis, how can QS promise an independent Quebec that isn’t just a colonial reprint of what currently exists?
In order to understand what it may take to make anti-racism a core and active principle for QS, it’s useful to look at how feminists made feminism central to the party.
QS was founded in 2006 by a political party, Union des forces progressistes, and a citizens’ justice organization, Option Citoyenne (OC), which was rooted in the feminist movement. The presence of OC activists in QS from the very beginning, and their subsequent work to build the party, has meant that feminism remains a central principle.
But it isn’t just a principle; it’s active, and it’s driven by feminists themselves. They constantly push back against patriarchy within the party, and QS leadership struggles against patriarchy within Quebec society. It’s all very natural and easy, thanks to the years of struggle within the party.
Meanwhile, racialized members and activist groups have no similar critical mass to define how the party interacts with anti-racism. As a result, QS hasn’t exactly had a stellar track record on anti-racism.
For example, there has yet to be a single press release issued by the party this year that focuses on racism specifically. Even though we’re living through a pandemic that has had a violent impact on racialized Quebecers, the party has barely tied together systemic racism and the spread and impact of COVID-19.
In Quebec City, there has been no QS presence in anti-racism initiatives, besides important support from our elected representatives. As a force that prides itself as being a party of the streets and ballot boxes, a lack of campaigns and political action on racism poses a major problem. This work needs to be coordinated centrally to help educate and mobilize local riding committees and activists.
But QS especially exposed itself earlier this year. In March, University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran tweeted that Quebec Premier François Legault’s government is white supremacist, and that medical lynching is taking place within the province.
Attaran was being inflammatory, but he was also correct in this case: there have been several high-profile cases of racialized women losing their lives under terrible circumstances in Quebec hospitals. Meanwhile, the Legault government has defended white supremacy and attacked minority groups during his mandate. Legault even denies that systemic racism exists in Quebec.
Rather than unpacking Attaran’s comments, QS lined up with all the other parties in the National Assembly to condemn his comments as being Quebecophobic. The CAD condemned QS’ reaction on social media. QS condemned the CAD’s reaction online. The two sides’ behaviour toward each other got increasingly hostile.
At the end of April, the national executive moved the motion to censure the CAD for its behaviour. The motion charged that these actions from the CAD, as well as another social media comment, were unacceptable, and violated QS principles. Supporters of the national executive argued that the CAD is sectarian and polarizing. The membership overwhelmingly agreed.
If white women were dying under terrible conditions in hospital and a Twitter firebrand charged Quebec with medical femicide, would QS have acted in the same way? If Attaran had called Legault a sexist pig who is effectively permitting women in Quebec to die by not responding to a surge in domestic violence, would QS have lined up with other parties to condemn the comments before doing anything else?
The answer is obvious: the party would have used the comments to talk about patriarchy and femicide. Feminists in QS have always tied social issues back to patriarchy.
But racism and colonialism are far outside the experience and expertise of the party’s leadership. And so, QS responds poorly, and little to no political action is taken to intervene in a positive way when a flashpoint issue arises.
The highest-profile victims of racist medical malpractice in Quebec have been women. Medical violence is absolutely a feminist issue, and yet the party rallied against Attaran’s comments rather than demanding justice for these women. Only the CAD made an issue of how QS responded. For that, they’ve been punished.
This past weekend was a blow to the belief of some QS members that we can build a new nation that isn’t racist and colonial out of our current racist and colonial one. Censuring the CAD was a mistake, not just because it shows a stubbornness within leadership to understand systemic racism, but because it makes it impossible for QS to be a credible voice on racism.
In order for anti-racism to hold a place in QS similar to feminism, a sea change in how the party approaches social issues will be needed. It will require a power struggle between a mostly-white national executive and organized anti-racist groups, both within and outside of the party. And critically, it will require deep reflection on the part of white feminists, who don’t understand their conflicted role of oppressed and oppressor, to be open to criticism and make space for perspectives that challenge the party’s status quo.