Letter to the Editor of The Westmount Examiner*

I read with dismay your article entitled “Vagrants consuming alcohol dispersed: WPSU” published in your January 29, 2015 edition.

My dismay did not stem from the report itself, but from the identification of those concerned as being, according to Westmount Public Security, “homeless vagrants of Inuit origin” who were “surrounded by several empty bottles of liquor and beer” and had been observed “drinking alcohol in public on Ste. Catherine Street.”

Montreal is full of homeless people, most of whom are therefore also obliged to be vagrant, but I have not noticed the local media spending its time enumerating their ethnic origins.

Similarly, the houses of Westmount are full of residents who are surrounded by empty bottles of liquor and beer, but we do not inquire into those residents’ ethnic origins because they are not homeless and drinking in public.

It is obvious to those who live or work in southeast Westmount that a certain proportion of the homeless with substance abuse or other problems we see are Inuit from northern Québec (Nunavik). The Inuit have a historic tie to the Atwater and Ste-Catherine neighbourhood due to the presence of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

We may, however, have a tendency to overlook the fact that many of the homeless in Westmount are not Inuit, since we tend to notice that which is different.

For the same reason, most residents probably do not know that on any given day, about 150 Inuit from Nunavik are living in Westmount at the YMCA residence on Tupper near Atwater without creating any disturbance. They are staying at Nunavik House, a facility of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, while they receive medical treatment in Montreal.

Is it reasonable for the Westmount Examiner to report the ethnic origins of the few who may cause a disturbance while ignoring the ethnic origins of the hundreds from the same group who do not?

The Code of Ethics adopted by the Québec Press Council provides that “the media and journalists must avoid cultivating or supporting prejudices.” They may not “use language that would be liable to incite hatred, scorn or violence toward an individual or a group.” While “it may be appropriate to address differences between individuals or groups” in reporting, when the media identify ethnic origins, it “must be pertinent and in the public interest, or essential to the understanding of the story or topic being addressed.”

The fact that Westmount Public Security believes that some vagrants it observed drinking in public and dispersed were Inuit was information that tends to increase prejudice against this ethnic group, but it was neither relevant nor essential information for your news report.

—David Schulze

*This is a letter to the editor of a dead newspaper. The Westmount Examiner is gone, but the problems raised by David Schulze are not.