In Montreal, black workers, on average, earn less and are more frequently unemployed than their non-black counterparts, regardless of age, gender, education, occupation, and bilingualism.
These results from the most recent McGill study on Montreal black community demographics – researched through McGill’s Consortium for Ethnicity and Strategic Social Planning – will be published sometime within the next year.
Jim Torczyner, McGill Professor of Social Work and director of the study, estimated their findings would reveal trends similar to those found in their first project, released in 2001. Then, it was clear that across age, education, occupation, gender, and unemployment brackets, blacks were at a disadvantage.
According to the previous study, it was found that among 15 to 24-year-olds, blacks were unemployed at 37.1 per cent, as opposed to only 17.2 per cent of non-blacks. And for average full-time income, blacks earned only $26,181, whereas non-blacks earned $36,839.
Consortium members hope the new report – which tracks a decade of employment trends – will be more detailed and provide a more accurate and holistic picture than the last.
“We have researchers looking at particular parts of the black experience: religious organizations, migration, language, etc.,” said Torczyner.
David Austin, a community organizer in the Consortium, gathered information on employment equity by surveying the concerns and observations of Montreal groups, adding a qualitative aspect to the census data.
“[Qualitative] data is important… [but] it’s not someone saying, ‘this is what I think, this is how I feel,’” explained Austin.
The members of the black community Austin interviewed pointed to inconsistencies in the hiring practices of employers throughout Montreal, and across Canada.
“[Studies such as this] provide data that reinforce and affirm what many members of the black community already know,” Austin said.
Montreal needs to recognize the realities facing the black community, argued Austin.
“It will inform our understanding of where we are as a community as a whole, regardless of whether it reflects positively or negatively. If there are issues or questions, it’s because these are already there in society,” Austin explained.
Torczyner was reluctant to label discriminatory employment practices racist.
“We can’t say the word ‘racism’ can be applied, [because] there’s a natural inclination to feel more comfortable with what’s more familiar. We inherit certain attitudes. Maybe we’ve not had the occasion to be involved with the ‘other,’” said Torczyner of employers.
According to Torczyner, because prejudices develop in childhood, early multicultural education is crucial to eradicating discrimination among employers.
“Achieving equality in society, while we wish it to happen instantly, takes a long, long time. It’s a process that’s fuzzier than just saying this or that. [And] it seems like we aren’t heading in the right direction,” he said.
Iris Unger, Executive Director at Youth Employment Services Montreal, questioned whether federal legislation would solve employment inconsistencies.
“At the end of the day, people who are going to be prejudiced in their hiring practices are going to find ways around [anti-discrimination laws],” said Unger.
Canada’s Employment Equity Act requires employers to engage in proactive measures to improve the employment opportunities and works in tandem with the Canadian Human Rights Act to curtail discrimination. Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms also protects against economic and social rights.
Torczyner recognized the impact the report could have on public policy and opinion.
“That doesn’t mean things will change without being challenged.”