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#4761: It's up to us, Haitians say... (fwd)


Thursday 3 August 2000 MONTREAL GAZETTE
It's up to us, Haitians say  New elected council to speak with one voice
on issues from gangs to discrimination
 LEVON SEVUNTS ______The Gazette

The 100,000-strong Haitian community of Montreal can finally speak with
a unified  voice.  At Montreal city hall yesterday, Mayor Pierre       
Bourque presented to the  public the new Conseil Elu par les Haitiens de
Montreal, a nine-member elected council set up to represent the        
interests of the Haitian community. The council was elected June      
18 by more than 5,000 voters who turned up to cast ballots despite
pouring rain.  "It is the first time in the history of the Haitian 
community in Montreal that an elected body like this was set up," said
Dr. Andre Arcellin,president of the group. "We got a clear mandate to
speak on the behalf of the community. The members of the council come
from all walks of life, but they represent the creme-de-la-creme of the
local Haitian community. "They are the hope of Montreal Haitians,"
Bourque said. In Creole, the council's abbreviation, CEPAHM, is an
acronym meaning "It's up to me." There is a physician, a retired nurse,
an economist, a schoolteacher, a playwright and an actor, a pastor, a
businessman and a retired professor.The newly elected council has its
work cut out for itself. Arcellin and other council members talked of
high unemployment, a high divorce rate, discrimination in public and
private sectors, street gangs and school dropouts. One of the primary
tasks of the council, according to Arcellin, will be to lobby different
levels of government and the members of the Haitian community for more
resources for community organizations. Government cuts have been very
painful for Haitian community organizations, and we must lobby the
government and the fledgling  Haitian business community to invest more
in community projects," Arcellin said.  Pierre-Gerald Jean,
vice-president of the council, said that one of the highest priorities
will be dealing with youth problems. "The youth are our future, they are
our hope and unless we deal with youth problems today, we won't have a
tomorrow," Jean said. The subject of Haitian gangs came up several times
during conversations at a cocktail party on the city-hall terrace after
the inaugural ceremony.  Commander Rene Allard, of the Montreal Urban
Community police crime-prevention and community-relations section, urged
Haitian leaders  to work closely with police to solve the gang issue.
Haitian journalists countered that when the Haitian community sounded
the alarm on the gang phenomenon in the early 1980s, it was dismissed by
MUC police as having only marginal importance.  Allard also urged
mainstream media to stop feeding racial stereotypes. "Personally, I'm
against identifying these street gangs as Haitians; I think it only
stigmatizes the community," Allard said. "When we deal with biker gangs,
we don't say that they are French Canadians; they are just criminals. As
far as I'm concerned, a criminal doesn't have an ethnic origin."  High
on the agenda of the council will be boosting the political presence   
of the Haitian community on the Montreal, provincial and federal scenes.
"There are five districts in Montreal with sizable Haitian populations;
potentially, we are a big force. The problem is that these people don't
vote," Arcellin said. "So we will have to engage in the political
education of Haitians in Montreal."  The Haitian council has already
started looking for strategic partners in its quest for greater
visibility for Montreal blacks, including such anglophone black
organizations as the Black League, the Black Community Resource Centre
and the Quebec Board of Black Educators. A better organized community is
good news not only for the MontrealHaitians but also for their home
country, according to Gilles Bernier, the  Canadian ambassador to
Haiti.  "Canada spends about $35 million a year in humanitarian aid and
technical assistance to Haiti, but because of political instability,
there is very little direct investment," Bernier said. "The Haitian
diaspora, which follows the developments with a very keen eye, can lead
the way."