If a landlord in France turns down a potential tenant because of his skin color or ethnicity, he can receive a 45,000 euro fine and three years in prison. This is the result of the anti-discrimination agency known as HALDE (High Authority for the Fight against Discrimination) created in 2005 by the French government (at the behest of the EU institutions in Brussels), and advocated by then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
While it is normal to sense the injustice of depriving someone of housing because of who he (she) is, it is equally normal to place self-preservation ahead of any unrealizable Utopian considerations, especially when there are so many precedents that point to the likelihood of increased danger for the residents and a greater possibility of neighborhood decline.
Yet, most people will persist in saying that they oppose discrimination. It's an issue of an ideal confronting reality. People will always say what they think they are expected to say, but they do what they must.
HALDE uses techniques similar to spying and entrapment to catch the guilty in the act of discriminating. This article from Le Parisien, dated February 27, provides anecdotes, but does not address the underlying problem of immigration:
Fifteen rental agencies and landlords from Ile-de-France were "set up" last November by HALDE during a "testing". For the first time in the history of the institution that was created in 2005, HALDE has sent incriminating evidence to the courts for litigation. In the department of Essonne alone, there are six agencies and private landlords (three of each) against whom the justice system has opened a preliminary inquiry (...)
The relatively new French word "testing" refers to the entrapment process, where spies are sent to verify that landlords and employers treat everyone equally.
HALDE has certainly been accused before of being a type of special court. At one point it petitioned the French Parliament for judicial powers, but the legislators refused. If the article is correct, this is the first time the agency has actually taken offenders to court.
To check on people's conduct two lawyers from HALDE called 36 landlords, ten minutes apart. "The calls were recorded (...) One had a name that sounded African, with an accent. Both lawyers presented themselves as being in identical situations, with long-term work contracts. They asked to visit the available lodgings," according to assistant district attorney of Evry Michel Lernout. Among the rental agencies cited for refusing to show the lodgings, two took the trouble to fire employees held accountable for improper conduct. One rental agency justified its actions by saying that it had African clients, but that it was following quotas, something that is obviously illegal. "There are clients who ask us to turn away foreigners", admits one agent under cover of anonymity. "We refuse and we explain to them what the risks are. Generally, people are more flexible than they were three or four years ago. There should be no conditions."
If the problem exists in renting, paradoxically when it comes to buying, money is color-free. "There are always racists, but things are evolving," notes another agent from Val d'Orge. "As with apartment sharing, it takes time to become accepted."
Apartment-sharing and house-sharing are not common customs in France.
HALDE stresses that "today people know what discrimination is. Those that practice it do so more discretely."
I think HALDE is really saying: Today people know what will happen to them if they discriminate. So they are more careful.
Two years ago, an investigation conducted by HALDE showed that colored persons had nine times fewer chances of obtaining a lodging than did white Frenchmen.
A related article from Le Parisien calls discrimination "an insidious phenomenon, difficult to quantify, yet more and more wide-spread," and relates the various ways an energetic activism is being employed to respond to the numerous complaints from racial minorities and others who feel discriminated against. Michel Lernout (mentioned above) has been given the job of seeing to it that every complaint receives a response. Form letters have been made available to make it easier to file a complaint in the courts. Is this effective? One representative from Nouveaux Pas, a minority rights association, says that they have been waiting a long time for this progress:
"People must be educated [to learn about the evils of discrimination], but we need also to punish what is after all a crime. There can be no education without constraints!"
It is interesting to note how important education (of whites) and punishment are to minority groups when it comes to discrimination, but when it comes to doing academic school work and classroom behavior, suddenly constraints and punishments are SIGNS of discrimination.
The cartoon (above) posted at François Desouche (FDS) shows a couple watching TV. He says, "Another h..mful minority!" His wife cries, "Be quiet! Be quiet!" while the giant eye of HALDE peers through the window. The second part shows Sarkozy with the chairman of HALDE, Louis Schweitzer. "Another of my success stories!" says the president. At the top we read: "The eye of HALDE is everywhere." At the bottom: "Thank you Sarkozy."
French readers may have seen this video also posted at François Desouche in which a white woman relates how she was forced to leave her home in the neighborhood of les Bosquets, in the city of Montfermeil, in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis.
Time does not permit me to attempt an English translation of the video, but here is the short text that accompanies it:
Amidst general indifference, every day, poorer French families are forced to leave their homes because of the immigration/invasion. A phenomenon that is of no concern to politicians, public authorities and least of all to human rights organizations. What is worse, not only must the victims flee, but the "anti-racist" legal arsenal and moral pressures forbid them to complain, since the mere fact of talking about the phenomenon of which they are victims can be considered as racist.
In short, if you are white, even if you are a victim, you are guilty...
We tend to think of the "suburbs" surrounding Paris as being completely Maghrebin or black, forgetting that many white families still live there. Tough it out would be a better way of putting it. These are the poorer, or lower middle-class whites, who can't afford to move, who have been in their homes for decades and for whom the legal machinery is totally ineffective – in other words, the "Français de souche."
One last remark before I close this post that could go on forever, such is the current volume of articles about anti-discrimination laws and forced diversity.
In a televised discussion Yazid Sabeg, Sarkozy's "commissioner" on diversity, about whom I wrote here, made the following comment:
"There cannot be last names that are ethnically French and others that are not ethnically French, in the name of the unity and indivisibility of this country."
Question: Does he propose to change everybody's name so that all names rhyme with "diversity"? And where is diversity, if the country is "indivisible"? Will Mr. Sabeg change his name to Jacques Dupont? Or will it be Jacques Dupont who becomes Mohammed... ?
For the entire French-language video, from February 3, 2009, see Toutes les France. Or just this one-minute excerpt posted at FDS.