Layla Belmahi's commitment to inclusion and social justice
Layla Belmahi, President of the Intercultural Council of Montreal since November 2022. The CiM is an independent organization for consultation and exchanges in the field of intercultural relations, which advises and issues recommendations to the city of Montreal.
The career of the President of the Intercultural Council of Montreal (CiM), Layla Belmahi, has been shaped since her adolescence by her values of social justice. The one who has held this position since November 2022 is keen to cultivate team spirit within the Council and to continue working to make Montreal a more inclusive city.
“It’s a responsibility to bring something bigger than yourself. I now represent 14 other members on the Board, I hope that I manage to create an atmosphere where people are fulfilled,” Ms. Belmahi told Métro.
A member of the CiM since September 2020, this Montrealer in her twenties, of Moroccan origin, sat as vice-president for a year before taking the reins of the board, made up of 15 volunteer members, of origins and professional backgrounds. varied, reflecting the cultural diversity of Montreal.
Created in 2003 as an independent municipal advisory body, the CiM advises the City on issues concerning racialized populations and intercultural relations. At the head of the organization, Ms. Belmahi is committed to working on the issue of socio-ecological transition and to highlighting the inequalities in the life expectancy of Montrealers in a neighborhood or borough. to another.
She argues that the Council's next opinion will focus on territorial disparities and emphasizes her intention to continue working on housing and mobility issues in Montreal, with a cross-cutting focus related to citizen participation and everything related to access to green spaces.
From here and elsewhere
Born in Montreal to Moroccan parents who settled in Quebec during the 90s to pursue university studies, Ms. Belmahi has a migratory background atypical. “In statistics and research, we often talk about first or second generation immigration, but I am neither,” says the young woman.
“We returned to live in Rabat when I was six months old, but I have always kept a link with Quebec. My mother even cooked shepherd's pie for us in Morocco!”, jokes about the one who returned to Montreal a few times during her childhood to visit her relatives, before settling there for good at the age of 18 years old to pursue a bachelor's degree in communication and cultural studies at Concordia University.
One of the first things I did when I arrived in 2012, just after maple spring, before I even opened a bank account, was to register on the electoral list to be able to vote in the provincial elections.
Layla Belmahi, President of the Intercultural Council of Montreal
“It was symbolic and important for me to be able to express myself because the revolutions that broke out in several countries during the Arab Spring, when I was around 16, really opened my eyes to inequality and justice. social.”
Her quest for social justice took concrete form in Morocco when she co-founded the Woman Chooufouch movement, the first feminist movement against sexual harassment in the country.
Defining your identity
Ms. Belmahi tells us that her culture and identity have been shaped by her educational journey in French establishments in Morocco. “I always wondered why I went to French school if my grandparents fought for independence. I believe that my questions of identity are linked to that.”
As soon as she arrived in La Belle Province, the identity of the young Moroccan was confronted with the perception of others, even if she was born in Montreal soil. “In Morocco, I discovered that I was a woman, but in Quebec I discovered that I was a racialized person”, says the one who remembers the day when she first discovered the expression < em>visible minority.
“I was looking for a summer job and at one point I had to identify myself on a form. So I read the definition on Google and asked my uncle if I was a visible minority. That's when I understood that I was the Other, with a capital A, for many people, and that I am not someone who will necessarily [be accepted] in all spaces. p>
During his master's degree in international and intercultural communication at the University of Quebec in Montreal, his questions about the meaning of the celebration of the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal in 2017 led him to carry his research thesis on the identity perception of Black Montrealers, with a historical perspective on intercultural relations.
“I discovered that we were celebrating the arrival of French settlers when there was an issue of representation of diversity, particularly affecting black communities, which was causing a lot of controversy in the media,” says Ms. Belmahi, referring to , among others, at Robert Lepage's SLĀV show in 2018.
Ms. Belmahi therefore wanted to show in her thesis that contemporary power relations derive from those established upon the arrival of Samuel de Champlain in Quebec at the very beginning of the 17th century. “[He] arrived here with an interpreter named Mathieu Da Costa, a black man who spoke French and an indigenous language, which means he had been here before.”
A committed journey
Ms. Belmahi continued her commitment to social justice by contributing to the MTL sans profilage collective and to several research projects on the reality of women and immigrants from first and second generation.
She has worked at the Maison de l’social innovation and the Montreal Coalition of Neighborhood Tables, and is currently working at the Tamarack Institute, in charge of the strategy of rapprochement between Quebec and Francophone communities elsewhere in Canada through the establishment of partnerships, as well as the “Communities” program building the future of young people, which aims to make systemic changes by mobilizing several sectors in order to to implant projects focused on employability and school perseverance.