TORONTO — A year ago, Balram Holness wasn’t sure he’d run for mayor of the city he calls home — Montreal.

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He had exams left to write and a law degree to earn; He had student loans and a new family. Holness was mobilizing like-minded change makers under the grassroots organization Montreal en Action and contributed to a radio show; Volunteered to sit on board and talk to teenagers looking for guidance.

Now, just weeks away from an election in one of Canada’s most influential and diverse cities, Balram Holness’ name is on Montreal lawn signs and leading rallies. To be its next mayor. He is now a lawyer, yet still an activist, has a master’s degree in education, and it is not sad that he won the Gray Cup while playing for the Montreal Alouettes.

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“I feel empowered,” he said. “If you have a certain element of pure equality and an understanding of justice, is it right or wrong to be inclusive? It’s right.”

“In this world where people are exclusive, it’s very easy to just win, so you run away knowing that people are anglophones or out of color. It’s too easy. You’re on the right side of history.”

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In 2019, Holness and his movement, Montreal en Action, forced a dialogue on systemic racism, which led to a damning report and 38 recommendations, many of which focused on police reform in Montreal.

Recalling the horrific scene and video of George Floyd’s death in the United States in May 2020, Holness said, “The world knew that a white police officer had kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, and eventually died in broad daylight. killed George. I didn’t watch the video for more than five seconds. What I saw, felt pain and trauma. All the videos of black bodies being killed have an impact on our collective mental health. It’s very difficult for me to watch it.”

Holness took a bird’s eye view of the global outrage, noting specifically how Canada and Quebec reacted, saying, “We don’t need the United States to have a conversation about systemic racism in Canada. We have our own issues.”

With legal armor, Holness cites the 1987 case of Anthony Griffin, a 19-year-old black man who was shot and killed by Montreal police officer Alan Gossett. Gosset was acquitted of murder two separate times.

Thirty-three years after that case, Holness is still concerned about the brutality of Juliano Gray on a Montreal subway platform by transit officers, for which no charges of wrongdoing have been filed.

Montrealers are still demanding justice for Bonnie Jean-Pierre, who was shot and killed in 2016 by a Montreal police officer who was acquitted of manslaughter.

“Change will not happen at a rapid pace as politicians cheer,” Holness says, but in the wake of the historic George Floyd verdict in America and a report acknowledging racism in Montreal, Holness is calling on police to stop carding. based on race and skin colour, and calling on officers to use de-escalation techniques that integrate experts in mental health and social work in the case of police.

‘Hopefully, yes, but have we reached real change, I’m reticent to go that far,’ said Holness.

Watch Granthshala W5s Balaram, Saturday, October 9 at 7 p.m. EDT