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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Getting trolled (again)

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Dec 3, 2020

About a year ago, I was collaborating with Picbois Productions on a series of videos that would later go viral on social media. Those videos were part of the web section of the documentary Briser le code, which aimed to tackle the racism experienced by Indigenous, Black and other racialized people in Quebec.

One video that I hosted with colleagues Réda Saoui and Garihanna Jean-Louis focused on systemic racism, a concept that is internationally recognized and documented. Even right-wing Ontario Premier Doug Ford recognizes systemic racism. In Quebec though, Premier François Legault still categorically refuses to admit its existence. Legault’s government recently rejected a motion in the National Assembly to adopt and implement Joyce’s Principle – most likely because the document urges governments to recognize the concept of systemic racism.

Our video tried to explain systemic racism, what it stems from and how we can dismantle it. Months after the video was out, I was at work, minding my own business, when I saw that former cabinet minister and Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée was going off on Twitter about the video. He tagged Premier Legault and his ministers in the tweet and attached a screenshot of my face from the video. You’d think that Lisée would take advantage of his political retirement (after leading the PQ to its worst-ever election result in 2018) to contemplate the scenery, relax and write on his blog, but no. Lisée preferred to attack racialized people on Twitter to entertain racist trolls.

Lisée and others argue that because the concept of systemic racism is still being debated, we cannot teach it in school. The videos are not part of any official curriculum. Many instructors in high schools, colleges and universities show them to their students because there are barely any educational tools in Quebec on this topic. 

Youth are capable of critical thinking. We can make up our own mind on social issues. Not too long ago, the same people were out of their mind because a University of Ottawa professor was suspended for saying the N-word in an “academic context”. For them, academic freedom is to be able to say the N-word, but not to teach about systemic racism. Free speech, am I right?

Because of Jean-François Lisée, I have been called a “drunk Indian”, “stupid” and have been compared to Islamic fundamentalists. Unfortunately, this has happened to me quite a lot over the years. 

Lisée claimed that he has not seen the hate I was getting in the comment threads below his tweets. I don’t believe that. The human rights violations experienced by my people are not up for debate and I don’t appreciate being made fun of for raising awareness on a heavily documented phenomenon that affects my daily life. Lisée also claims to be anti-racist, but his petty tweets and interviews polarize and undermine social cohesion. 

I would appreciate a courteous discussion on systemic racism. One that respects the fact that a woman just died while facing racist insults on Facebook live.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.