Amnesty International asks Quebec not to ignore systemic racism

Who: Amnesty international, with Taxi for strategy and creative, Ressac for media, and Hill + Knowlton for PR. Directed by Jorge Camarotti.

What: An awareness campaign that takes direct aim at the suggestion that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec.

When & Where: Two pre-roll YouTube ads and a radio spot launched earlier this month, running in French only. Additional creative is in the works that will extend the campaign until the end of the year.

Why: In early June, as BLM demonstrations were taking place around the world, Quebec premiere François Legault refused to acknowledge the problem of “systemic racism” in the province. “I don’t understand why people are trying to stick on one word. I think what is important is to say and all agree that there is some racism in Quebec, and we don’t want that anymore,” he said at the time.

One of the primary objectives of the BLM movement is reframing racism as a systemic issue—deeply entrenched biases and barriers to equality for BIPOC communities—as a necessary first step toward real progress.

A couple of months later,  Amnistie Internationale Canada Francophone approached Taxi about a campaign, said Rafik Belmesk, the agency’s vice-president and head of strategy. “They came to us with a really broad problem, which is ‘we need to raise awareness of systemic racism in Quebec.'”

How: Taxi’s research revealed how hard it can be for people with racialized names or who are BIPOC to get interviews when applying for a job or housing.

At the same time, the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Montreal hospital provided a stark reminder of how systemic racism harms Indigenous people. “We realized that people of colour in Quebec don’t always get access to the same healthcare, don’t get access to the same housing opportunities or the same job opportunities,” said Belmesk.

From that insight, Taxi created the two skippable YouTube ads. Both open with a person of colour—a man applying for an apartment and a woman for a job. When the “Ignorer l’annonce” message appears, both plead for the viewer not to skip the ad—not to ignore them—before going on to explain how it feels to not get the same opportunities as others because of how they look.

“You are listening to this person giving you their perspective,” said Belmesk. “And we wanted to confront people with it: Are you going to ignore them or not?”

Other digital ads similarly play with the unique features of the platform, with the characters asking the viewer not to swipe away or scroll past.

The backlash: The ads have triggered some angry reaction, including from “right wing” journalists who are trying to twist the meaning of the campaign, said Belmesk. The ads simply present the perspective of those who suffer from systemic racism. “But [the journalists] are saying Amnesty is accusing all Quebecers of racism, which is not the case at all.”

What’s next? A second wave of creative is the works now, with the goal to be in market soon. “The first step was doing something that will get people’s attention, considering we had almost no money for this thing,” said Belmesk. “We’ve done that, so it’s now time to talk about the facts and counter some of misinformation out there.”

Representation in production: The decision to work with Camarotti, a Black director who is originally from Brazil, was intentional, said Belmesk. “It was also very important to get a bunch of BIPOC people involved in this work to make sure that their voices were represented properly, and that it’s not just a bunch of white people talking about systemic racism.”

David Brown