Half a century after the 1969 student riots that exposed institutional racism at Concordia University, the institution has apologized to black people who were arrested, jailed, abused, or ostracized following those violent events.
The English-speaking University of Montreal has been conducting a major exercise for two years aimed at turning a page on what it sees as “systemic racism” that continues to rage on campus and elsewhere in the country — including in Quebec.
In a 108-page report unveiled on Friday, the establishment is making a series of commitments to repair its ties with the black community. The university is committed to increasing the number of blacks among students and all categories of staff. It is also preparing to “rename its major facilities, recognizing its historical ties to Black and Indigenous communities.”
Concordia University rector Graham Carr apologized to the black community at a ceremony Friday afternoon. He spoke bluntly about this dark – and little-known – page in Montreal’s history: 97 students had been brutally arrested while they were investigating institutional racism at Sir George Williams University (the ancestor of Concordia, born in 1974 from the merger of this English-speaking University and Loyola College), rejected by the establishment, had turned into a riot by the winter of 1969.
“Unfortunately, the measures taken by the university, as well as its inaction, clearly testify to the existence of institutional racism. This behavior has had far-reaching negative consequences in black communities, not only in Montreal but elsewhere in the world – particularly in the Caribbean, where many of the students involved in the protests at Sir George Williams University came from,” the principal said .
“We recognize the serious and often catastrophic consequences of the university’s actions at the time and their enduring impact over the years. Furthermore, we deeply regret our silence in the decades following the protest. This silence contributed to the weakening of trust and severing ties between Concordia University and black communities. It shouldn’t have taken more than 50 years to realize the mistakes that were made back then,” he added.
The Concordia Racism Task Force was formed following the violent death of George Floyd, a black American, who was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020. Police violence against blacks in the US has sparked outrage around the world, including in Montreal. “Systemic racism” has come to the fore again in Quebec, in part due to the mistreatment of Aboriginal people.
discrimination and violence
This painful episode began in May 1968. Six black students at Sir George Williams University had filed a discrimination lawsuit against an assistant biology professor, Perry Anderson. Despite evidence that he treated black students differently, including the fact that he consistently gave them lower grades than their white peers, the university denied accusations of racism.
Rodney John from St. Vincent in the Caribbean was in Professor Anderson’s class in 1968. The 13 black students in the group were all discriminated against by the teacher, he says. “He clearly thought we were inferior to white students,” said the retiree at a ceremony at the Concordia on Friday.
A white student who copied the work of a black colleague word for word received a 9 out of 10 point – two points more than his black classmate.
Department management cleared Professor Anderson of any guilt, but the report was never made public. “I was told it got lost in the internal mail,” Rodney John recalled.
About 400 students protested by occupying the school’s computer lab on January 29, 1969. The protest remained peaceful until February 11, when the school asked police to end the occupation. The students ransacked the lab and threw objects through the windows. A fire broke out.
Concordia University admits that the police arrested 97 students “sometimes by force”. “These arrests and the neutralization of the demonstration had serious and lasting consequences for the lives of many people. Prison sentences, deportations, psychological trauma, physical injuries, job loss, social alienation and the interruption – also the termination – of studies,” said the rector of Concordia.
Montreal resident Lynne Murray was among 38 black students (out of 97) arrested that day. She was jailed for several weeks for denouncing racism, which she believed was very real. “We were labeled as criminals. It’s a mark that will remain tattooed into our lives forever,” she said on Friday.
The protesters struggled to travel, find jobs and find housing. Most of them still got their degrees (at another university for Lynne Murray) and became lawyers, accountants, social workers, judges…
Two of the arrested students have become notable figures: Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas, sentenced to two years in prison, served as Prime Minister of Dominica, his country of origin, and Anne Cools, a native of Barbados, sentenced to four months, became a Senator in Ottawa appointed. But other student victims of repression are still living with the aftermath of the racist events of 1969, according to the report released on Friday.
Angelique Willkie, task force chair and special adviser on black integration at Concordia, said she hopes the rector’s apology will usher in a new era “so these events cannot repeat themselves.”
“I have an 18-year-old son and I want to be able to tell him, ‘Concordia is a place where your voice counts,'” she said Have to.
We were labeled as criminals. It’s a mark that will stay tattooed in our lives forever Lynne Murray”