In Gatineau, the squeaky wheel gets investigated

A resident files a human rights complaint after city officials dig up his past
Gabriela Perdomo

The city of Gatineau in Quebec laid out its “statement of values” for immigrants late last year and immediately set off a firestorm of criticism. Among Gatineau’s instructions to immigrants: avoid cooking “smelly foods,” maintain good “personal hygiene” and abstain from bribing. One of those incensed by the guide was Kamal Maghri, a 38-year-old Moroccan immigrant who moved to Canada 11 years ago. But when Maghri sent an email to the city to say he would like to file a complaint, what he got back surprised him. City officials accidentally copied him on an internal exchange that showed they’d dug extensively into his background, calling a local Islamic centre to ask about him and prying into his financial situation.

In the emails, one employee noted Maghri had come to Canada “just before the September 11 attacks” and that he was in debt. “I was shocked. This is racial profiling,” he says. Even more astonishing, he says he later learned that the city official who wrote the email was a “diversity coordinator.” “They [Gatineau City] have people working on diversity and integration of immigrants who don’t even believe in it,” he says. Only after Maghri went to the media did officials apologize to him.

In mid-December, Maghri was contacted by the Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations offering to help file a human rights complaint, which he did in mid-January. The complaint claims discrimination and racial profiling on the part of the city of Gatineau, both based on the values guide and on the email that Maghri read.

At least one expert believes Maghri has a strong case. Jeffrey Reitz, a professor with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and an immigration expert, says the guide “stereotypes immigrants in a negative way,” portraying them as “a threat” to our society.