Quebec Premier François Legault rejected calls from all opposition parties in Quebec’s National Assembly and the Mayor of Montreal to exempt the homeless from the province’s 8pm to 5am curfew.
In a press conference today, the Premier said that if there was an exemption, people who weren’t homeless would essentially fake homelessness (tell police they were) to be able to walk around at night without getting a fine.
On Sunday, homeless man Raphael André’s body was found in a portable toilet near a homeless shelter that had recently been forced to not allow overnight stays. This prompted the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois to call on the premier to exempt the homeless from the province’s curfew.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante joined in the call this morning. It was her, though, that Legault directed his response, asking why she didn’t trust the SPVM (Montreal Police).
Legault stressed that the police aren’t there to ticket the homeless, but rather to direct them to the nearest shelter. Homeless advocates said that the SPVM had issued at least six tickets to the homeless in the curfew’s first week.
We didn’t hear all that much about Montreal municipal politics in 2020. Plenty was happening on the local front, but with COVID-19 raging for most of the year, our focus remained on the response.
Yes, our city administration did play a part in that response, but it was mostly limited to initiatives to cope with what was happening. The big picture stuff like what money is coming to bail individuals out and whether or not we are on lockdown and what that means were the perview of our Federal and Provincial governments respectively.
Throw the political madness south of the border into the mix and our local politics just got buried, for the most part. It looked like that would change in 2021, but almost right out of the gate we got a curfew across Quebec and a failed (but still ongoing) coup attempt in the US.
This year, though, is an election year in Montreal, so the local political scene will undoubted come to the forefront, whether world events want it to or not. I spoke with Niall Clapham-Ricardo about the upcoming election in the latest FTB Fridays and one thing that became clear was that this was Valérie Plante’s election to lose.
Who is the Opposition?
While Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and her party Projet Montréal suffered some setbacks in 2020 and did some things that really annoyed even some die-hard supporters, their opposition is divided. She is running opposed by many, but at the same time running pretty much unapposed.
The primary and Official Opposition in City Hall is Ensemble Montréal, formerly known as Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal. Lionel Perez is their interim leader.
And by interim, I mean he’s not running for Mayor of Montreal against Plante. At this point, no one is.
There are rumours that Denis Coderre might try for another kick at the can in 2021, something the former mayor hasn’t ruled out and even hinted at. If he does go for it, he will undoubtedly be able to retake the reigns of the party created for him.
This could explain why Ensemble has waited this long to pick his replacement. If Coderre decides not to run, though, they might find themselves scrambling to find a new standard bearer to challenge Plante.
If the former mayor is in, though, the fact that he chose to stay on the sidelines for four years will undoubtedly be a factor, as will stuff that he did as mayor before losing. The 2017 election was as much a repudiation of Coderre’s pit bull ban, his handling of the Formula E race and his general demeanor as mayor as it was a vote for Plante.
Meanwhile in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Borough Mayor Sue Montgomery is starting her own party. Originally elected under the Projet banner, Plante kicked Montgomery out of the party’s caucus for refusing to fire her Chief-of-Staff earlier last year.
Montgomery recently won a court case against the city and my colleague Samantha spoke with her last week about the decision and the political situation in the borough. It’s important to note that while they’re not against branching out, Montgomery’s new party will currently only be running candidates within the borough (same with the upstart CDN-NDG party which has no affiliation with Montgomery’s organization).
CDN-NDG is the city’s most populous borough, and while losing ground there will almost certainly affect Projet’s control of City Council, there is still no direct challenge to Plante’s leadership coming from the borough. That is unless you count Ensemble Interim Leader Perez, who I don’t.
As for other potential challengers to Plante, some have floated David Heurtel’s name as a potential candidate, but it looks like the former Quebec Immigration Minister is waiting to see if Coderre is in or out before going for Ensemble leadership.
Meanwhile, former Montreal Allouettes player and former Projet candidate for Borough Mayor of Montréal-Nord Balarama Holness is considering a run for the city’s top job, but hasn’t said with which party.
Even former Projet councillor Guillaume Lavoie, who lost a leadership bid to Plante in 2017, is considering running. Some speculate he is looking to take the reigns of Mélanie Joly’s former party Vrai changement Montréal.\
Currently, there is only one declared candiate to unseat Plante as Mayor of Montreal: Félix-Antoine Joli-Coeur, who has previously counselled former Mayor Gérald Tremblay and former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. This will undoubtedly change, but whether or not they sign up with enough time for the voting public to get to know them remains to be seen.
So, this election is shaping up to be all about Plante. With that in mind, let’s look at how that could play out electorally:
Haters Gonna Hate, Loyalists Gonna be Loyal
Even before the latest election season began, there were people predisposed to hate everything Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal might do. These are people who, for the most part, didn’t vote for them the last time, and certainly won’t vote for them this time.
They’re the type who will find any story that could be spun to show the current administration in a negative light and do just that. You had better believe they will be voting on election day and will likely coalesce behind the candidate and party that has the best chance of beating Plante and Projet, regardless of who that is.
On the other hand, Projet has its loyalists. People who have supported the party since Richard Bergeron was leader and continue to do so. For them, the party can do no wrong.
These two groups will presumably cancel each other out at the polls. So the decision then falls to two other groups:
Group 1: The Projet Machine
This is the smaller of the two groups, but potentially the most influential in the outcome. Voter turnout in municipal elections isn’t traditionally the greatest, so a dedicated group of people getting out the vote can be, and frequently is, the difference.
The Projet Machine is impressive, or at least it was when I last witnessed it in action on Election Day in 2017. Full disclosure, I not only supported and voted for Projet since it was formed, but also volunteered on the phone for the party for the past few elections.
I saw a well-organized, smart and motivated group of people. There were seasoned political professionals as well as people just giving all the time they could to help out.
The one thing they all had in common was dedication. Not to the Projet brand specifically, but to the progressive approach to city management it represented. To a new way of doing things.
While Plante and her party have lived up to many of their promises, they have also taken some decisions that could alienate a good chunk of their militant base. So the question becomes: How much of that base will stick with them?
While I see myself as part of this group, I can’t speak for it as a whole. What I can do is go over some of the things Plante and Projet have done that weaken my resolve to support them.
You won’t find blocking cars from taking a shortcut across the mountain, more bike paths, cancelling the Formula E contract or any of the measures like expanded terrasses and decreased traffic passed to encourage neighborhood tourism during a pandemic on this list. I strongly supported those initiatives and still do. This is what we voted for.
Here is where, IMHO, they screwed up:
Sending Riot Cops to a Homeless Encampment: While homelessness is a complex issue, going full authoritarian is never a good move. Instead of coming down personally to the tent city the homeless had built as a safe alternative to shelters in a time of COVID and demanding the Legault Government provide an adequate alternative, Mayor Plante sent in the riot cops.
Not Standing Up Forcefully Against Bill 21: This should have been a no-brainer. Montrealers oppose Bill 21 (aka the Religious Symbol Ban) by a wide margin. The current Quebec Government, which only won two seats on the Island of Montreal, wants to impose it to appease their rural base. While Plante said she is personally against it, she decided not to oppose and potentially block its implementation here.
Waiting Too Long to Appoint an Anti-Racism Commissioner: Ultimately this one turned out to be something Plante should be applauded for. Naming Bochra Manaï as the city’s first Anti-Racism Commissioner last week was a good move, and one that drew the ire of Premier Legault because Manaï had strongly opposed Bill 21 (apparently Legault had hoped someone from the SPVM would be appointed instead – really). The question remains, though: Why did Plante wait this long?
Changing Names: Now this one is a bit personal for me and may not resonate with other former Projet die-hards. Shutting down calls to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after Oscar Peterson is one thing (and one that is arguably not the city’s call). Changing plans to rename a street after Daisy Sweeney is another (and one that is very much the city’s call). Randomly suggesting that the Griffintown REM stop be named after Bernard Landry and then doubling down on it speaks to a pattern: we don’t mess with history unless it pleases the majority.
Honestly, I’ll probably still vote for Plante again, because the alternative is probably worse. But it would take either a major shift in the administration responding to Quebec City (not on COVID, they don’t really have a choice) or other progressive priorities or the scary prospect of a Coderre victory to get me to volunteer again. Not sure, though, if they can bring the rest of the base back.
Group 2: The General Public
This is the group that doesn’t pay close attention to municipal politics for the most part of each four-year cycle. Their vote will be decided, most likely, in the weeks leading up to the election.
While a solid persuasion campaign, followed by a get-out-the-vote campaign is crucial, people first need to believe that they are voting in their best interest.
Plante is the name that they know. If they are reasonably satisfied with how things are going under her leadership, they will vote for her.
That is unless another name, say Coderre, comes down the pipe and convinces them otherwise. If the challenger is Coderre, then his legacy as Mayor comes into play as well.
Regardless of who it is, this is Plante’s election to lose, or win.
Quebec is now officially under an 8pm to 5am curfew which began Saturday night and is scheduled to last for four weeks. This is the first time there has been a curfew here since the October Crisis of 1970.
While previous and current measures implemented by Premier François Legault’s government to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been about restricting what we can do (selected business closures and bans on gatherings) or hygiene (masks and hand sanitizers), this one is different. It’s not about what we can do, but when we can do it.
First, it’s important to stress that COVID-19 is a very real threat and Quebec’s numbers are the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic. Any measures that will significantly drop the spread of COVID are worth implementing. Full stop.
That said, will this new strategy work? I honestly don’t know, but I don’t think Legault does either.
Unlike the premier, or at least unlike what he says publicly, I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of fighting a virus that spreads at any hour, day or night, by restricting the specific hours we can be outside of our homes.
I wonder if it could end up having an opposite effect to what is intended. Well, let’s start with a hypothetical, though very plausible scenario…
For Your Consideration
Let’s say there are 100 people who all live in the same area and go for a walk each day. 70 of them take their walks during the daytime, while the other 30 prefer a quieter walk at night.
Now impose an 8pm to 5am curfew.
The 30 people who walked at night and want to keep active now have to take their strolls during the daytime to avoid breaking curfew and getting fined. The other 70, meanwhile, continue their daytime walks.
So, instead of 70 people out during one period of time and 30 during another, we now have 100 people on the streets of the same area in the same period of time. We now have crowded sidewalks where social distancing is more difficult.
Likewise, night time grocery shoppers in the same area now have to get their shopping done before 8pm alongside the daytime shoppers. There will be more people in the stores at the same time and when the store hits its limit of patrons, lines will form outside, creating additional obstacles for the increased number of people going for a walk.
Grocery store and depanneur employees will be exposed to more people seeing as the stores will have the same number of customers, but these will now be spread out over fewer shifts. Also, many of these employees will pack public transit at the same time to get home before curfew.
So, in this scenario, the risk of COVID-19 transmission actually increases, albeit minimally, even if everyone is wearing masks and trying to socially distance as much as possible.
Quebec’s Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda made the same argument I just did a lit quicker when asked about curfews in the March 16, 2020 presser (this video should start at the right spot, but if it doesn’t, skip ahead to 14:32):
A Very Real Problem For The Homeless
Meanwhile, Quebec’s homeless population faces a situation that is very much not hypothetical, nor is it just an inconvenience. Fining or even harassing someone who can’t afford a place to live for being outside past curfew is just plain cruel and appalling.
Legault’s claim that there “is enough room available” in shelters is out of touch at best and willfully ignorant at worst. The situation wasn’t great before the pandemic began and while shelters have been able to find some additional space in old hospitals, social distancing requirements offset quite a bit of that.
Also, there have been COVID outbreaks in shelters, prompting many this past summer to set up tents instead of taking the risk.
A petition demanding that homeless people be exempt from curfew enforcement and fines already has over 6500 signatures.
More Than An Inconvenience
When it comes to people who have homes, yes, for some, like me, the curfew is a mild inconvenience. Well, in my case it’s a mild inconvenience mixed with a bit of existential dread.
I have a roof over my head, set my own schedule and have access to friends and family via the internet. I don’t need to go for a walk or the dep after 8pm, but the fact that I am not allowed to scares me.
Others aren’t so fortunate:
People who work a standard 9-5 or 10-6 shift from home now have limited hours for exercise, grocery shopping or even a bit of fresh air.
People from visible minority communities who work at night and are legitimately heading home or to work may be disproportionately stopped and harassed by police who now have wild discretionary powers to enforce the curfew (and without the potential of a citizen journalist passing by and filming the encounter).
People in domestic abuse situations who minimize the risks by going for long walks at night when the abusive partner is home no longer can.
People who, for their own mental stability, just need to get out of the house at night (for whatever reason).
What the Government Actually Wants
One thing that became clear in the press conference announcing the curfew and in subsequent pressers by government officials is that people going for strolls or buying groceries at night as well as the homeless are just collateral damage. Their real target is people visiting friends or family at home in small gatherings that bend or slightly break the rules.
The government admitted that they didn’t see that many large parties (those get reported and shut down anyways), but knew there were many small gatherings (which are harder to track). A curfew may eliminate some of those, but the rest will just move to the daytime or have their friends stay over or catch the first metro home once the curfew lifts at 5am.
The curfew will also put an end to people gathering outdoors in parks at night. Now, if this was the summer, that would have a measurable impact, but it’s not. It’s frickin’ January in Montreal!
Sure, there may have been some people out there previously risking hypothermia along with COVID who now won’t be able to. So add them to the people who decide not to crash at their friends’ places or gather earlier.
Is that enough reduction in potential transmission to offset the potential increase by having everyone go for walks, buy groceries and take public transit at the same time? Best case scenario, (that I can see) yes, but not by much. Worst case: COVID numbers actually continue to rise more.
Curfew Success Stories
It’s true that curfews have been part of successful COVID fighting packages of measures. The key word here is packages.
In Italy, they went from nothing except maybe wash your hands more to a full-on lockdown that included a curfew. Yes, that worked, but going from nothing to everything doesn’t prove that one part of the everything, the curfew, solved the problem.
In Melbourne, they imposed a curfew along with several other measures. As a great editorial in The Gazette points out, though, their success wouldn’t have been possible without serious restrictions on the manufacturing sector, including meat packing plants, something Legault hasn’t done.
He isn’t even keeping the schools closed (there’s even a petition now to implement more safety measures in schools) or halting construction. It’s akin to fighting climate change by banning plastic bags and straws without doing anything to curb the giant corporate polluters.
Shock and Not Much Else
In the press conference, Legault and his colleagues referred to their move as “shock therapy” and shock is just what we have seen since the curfew took effect. Images of deserted Montreal streets and highways from Saturday night coupled with stories of large fines for people being outside their homes after 8pm filled our newsfeeds Sunday morning.
Given that last time we had a curfew here, it was for a terrorist threat, having one now, 50 years later, is most definitely a shock to the system.
Yes, it may shock some of the people visiting friends to stay home. It may also shock people like me, who have been following the rules and doing our best to fight the virus, while at the same time trying to retain some semblance of normalcy by not thinking about COVID 24/7, into being more perma-disturbed.
But the question remains: Will it shock the spread of COVID-19 so we also get the awe of the numbers going down significantly? Or is this just a bit of performative paternalistic pandemic management that will do much more harm than good?
While I hope it’s the former, I feel like it may be the latter.
Legault Knows Best?
While Legault’s initial reaction to the pandemic was swift and in line with nothing but the facts, it seems like since the fall, his government’s approach has been guided by a different principle: Protect the 9-5 economy as much as possible, it’s social gatherings that are to blame!
Now while the virus most definitely can spread when people from different households have dinner and drinks at home, it also can spread at school or in a manufacturing plant. For Legault, though, work is important, socialization with those you don’t live with isn’t.
It’s beyond capitalism, it’s the preservation of whatever the Quebec version of Norman Rockwell is at all costs. It even took a numbers spike too big to ignore to get them to cancel Christmas gatherings.
When the numbers kept going up, rather than re-think their strategy, Legault and his government decided to ignore other options like keeping schools closed or restricting manufacturing and construction and double-down on it. Instead of admitting their approach was wrong, they’re going to implement extreme measures to force it to be right.
It seems like the curfew is a strategy to prove Papa Legault knows best regardless of the consequences rather than one to effectively stop the spread of COVID-19.
The rumours were true, or at least most of them were. Quebec Premier François Legault announced in a press conference that Quebec will be under an 8pm to 5am curfew from January 9 to February 8.
As of Saturday and for four weeks, anyone outside at night without a valid reason will face a fine between $1000 and $6000. Work is the only valid reason Legault specifically cited, but there probably will be others.
At first, police will ask people outside if they have a valid reason. Legault said that they are working on a form or a system for people to prove they have a valid reason for being outside.
Grocery stores and depanneurs are asked to close at 7:30pm so their workers and customers can make it home for 8. Deps attached to gas stations are allowed to stay open after 8, as are pharmacies.
Movie and TV production will continue at night and the Canadiens can still play hockey despite the curfew. People in Northern Quebec are exempt as well.
Legault and Public Health Director Horacio Arruda both said that this move was to curb visits in homes. While they acknowledged that there were no big holiday parties, but people did visit homes in smaller numbers, which they want to stop.
While much of this was expected following the stories circulating yesterday, one thing wasn’t: primary schools will resume in-person classes on January 11th as planned and high schools will start online then go in-person on January 18th.
Quebec Premier François Legault had scheduled a press conference for today (Tuesday) at 5pm then rescheduled it for tomorrow. It looks like this extra day is to give the government time to work out some of the details of a possible curfew with public security agencies.
According to La Presse (and then later reported by other sources), Quebec is headed to a total lockdown that will last a few weeks. This will surpass the current January 11th target date for non-essential businesses and schools to re-open.
As with the partial lockdown the province imposed in Spring 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential businesses and schools will be closed. This time, though, it looks like the construction industry will be as well.
The real difference with this lockdown could be a curfew beginning Saturday. According to the report, it would run from as early as 8 or 9 pm until the morning.
La Presse says that Public Health requested the curfew as Quebec’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and threaten the healthcare system’s ability to operate effectively. The government now needs to figure out the details of how such a thing can be implemented with various police forces.
We will update you when we get the official word from Legault’s press conference.
On the latest FTB Fridays, host Jason C. McLean and guest panelists Samantha Gold and Jerry Gabriel take a look back at 2020 covering federal and provincial politics, the US Election, streaming services and, of course, COVID.
Christmas shopping can still happen in person this year, but Quebec’s Boxing Day is cancelled for 2020 due to an increase in the province’s COVID-19 numbers.
In a press conference late this afternoon, Quebec Premier François Legault announced restrictions on businesses following two different timelines.
Non-essential retail stores must close from December 25th to January 11th. The official list of what’s considered essential and what isn’t is out on the government’s website.
It’s similar to last spring’s lockdown with grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, depanneurs, the SAQ, the SQDC and pet stores allowed to remain open. There will be at least one big difference, though:
Big box stores like Costco and Wal-Mart will be allowed to open if they sell essential items like food, medicine and household products, but they will be restricted to only selling those items during the lockdown and not unessential ones like toys, TVs and books that they sell when everything is open. This, according to Legault, is to help small businesses which sell the same items.
Hair salons, manicurists and estheticians will also have to close during this period, but dental and eye care, which are deemed medical services, can remain open.
The other new rules will be in effect from December 17th to January 11th:
Office workers must work from home during that time unless their physical on-site presence is essential to the service being provided.
Quebec’s Yellow Zones will become Orange Zones and Orange Zones will become Red Zones.
Elementary and High Schools, which are already on break and scheduled to come back after the holidays, will remain closed until January 11th.
While indoor gatherings remain banned in Red Zones for people who don’t live together, people who live alone can now insert themselves into one family bubble. People who live alone can also still have one person over.
Up to eight people can now gather outdoors on public space for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and hockey. It is still forbidden to gather in outdoor private spaces like backyards.
Quebec’s Red Zone restrictions, which currently cover Montreal and most of the province, will remain in effect until January 11th.
In a press conference today, Premier François Legault announced that his government is scrapping plans to allow gatherings of up to 10 people between December 24th and 27th. Originally proposed two weeks ago (and scheduled to run from the 21st to the 27th), this temporary reprieve of COVID-19 restrictions was coupled with a “moral contract” for those gathering to self-isolate for the week before and after the holidays.
Legault cited a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations as the reason for backtracking on the earlier plan. Hospitalizations have risen to over 700, with 1500 daily cases on Wednesday and 1400 on Thursday.
“If we continue in this direction,” he said, “hospitals will start to overflow. We have a limited number of nurses, and our nurses are very tired.”
Under the current Red Zone rules, people who live alone are allowed one guest.
While police will continue to issue fines, Legault says he is relying on people’s “sense of responsibility” to ensure that the rules are respected.
Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold (artist, activist, FTB contributor and online makeup instructor) discuss the Legault Government’s seemingly arbitrary holiday rules for COVID-19 Red Zones. Are they following the health data or just playing to the CAQ base by singling out Christmas?
Quebec Premier François Legault announced today “with a heavy heart” (as he put it), that the provincial government is placing the Greater Montreal Region (including Laval and the South Shore), the Quebec City region and the Chaudière-Appalaches region on Code Red due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. This takes effect midnight on Wednesday (early morning Thursday) and means:
A ban on home gatherings (with a few exceptions)
Bars and casinos must close
Restaurants must be takeout or delivery only
Movie theatres, libraries and museums must close
Houses of worship and funeral homes will have a 25 person limit
Being less than two meters apart will be prohibited
Masks must be worn at demonstrations
It’s interesting to note that schools will remain open. According to Legault, this is so parents can still go to work. As such, businesses like hair salons and hotels will remain open.
A good many years before John A. Macdonald’s statue was pulled down from its perch in Montreal’s Dominion Square, my high school history class had a debate on the case of Louis Riel. In real life, Riel stood accused of high treason by the government of John A. Macdonald for the ‘crime’ of resisting the transfer of a Métis settlement to the Canadian government. Our class assignment was called: Riel. Hero or villain?
Riel, as you might remember, went onto become the villain in the real story. He was ordered executed by Macdonald and hung in effigy by my history class, which is regretful, since it was my part of class project to defend him. But what chance would a 15-year-old student have as the defender of minority rights when the only knowledge on the topic was gained from books written by English setters?
As an adult armed with knowledge obtained outside of the education system, it is now tempting to weigh Riel’s ‘crime’ against that of some of North America’s colonizers, whose actions are rarely put to such ‘hero or villain’ scrutiny. Take Christopher Columbus for example, accused of genocide, slavery and torture of the indigenous people of the Caribbean. He is celebrated as a hero in the United States, whose shores he never reached.
George Washington made it to Mount Rushmore despite owning slaves, who some history books prefer to call ‘domestics.’
Canada’s own John A. stands accused of supporting the starvation of First Nations people, instituting the residential school system, and condemning Riel to his death. Hero or villain? Well, when you see his face on your money, and his name on schools, highways, a mountain, and an airport, you know the verdict has been reached.
But there was no ‘hero or villain’ debate in my high school history class about Macdonald, although our teacher did throw in a few ‘fun facts’ about him just to make sure that Canadian history didn’t seem too boring. “Oh sure Macdonald was a drunk,” the teacher joked, and “Macdonald married his cousin too, but both of those things were fairly common in those days.”
“Even our heroes have warts,” our teacher said, a familiar refrain that is still heard today “but Canada needs heroes, and Macdonald built our nation,” so that was the end of the story. If only I could go back in time to ask some very uncomfortable questions about those ‘warts’ and the nation that Macdonald was trying to build. Somehow it was never mentioned in my class that Macdonald was the architect of policies so disturbing and inescapably racist that greater knowledge of this history would undermine Canada’s reputation as a tolerant society.
Macdonald recently joined a growing list of bronzed ‘national heroes’ felled by protesters around the world, from Confederate American leaders like Robert E. Lee to the British slave trade profiteer Edward Coulson.
British PM Boris Johnson accused demonstrators in his country of trying to “…censor our past,” and “impoverish the education of generations to come.” Donald Trump, being the American President who, when asked during a TV interview, was unable to recall the name of a single book he had read, somehow felt privileged to provide lectures on history, saying “We should learn from the history,’ to his partisans on Fox News, “and if you don’t understand your history, you will go back to it again.”
Reaching for the low bar with a more conciliatory tone than Trump, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the Macdonald toppling unacceptable, but added “Of course we need to fight against racism, but that is not the way to do it…we have to respect the history.”
But this is the same Legault who insisted that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec, although it’s difficult to tell, since one sure symptom of systemic racism is the steadfast refusal to acknowledge it. But the ability to express such surefooted opinions on racism from those unlikely to experience it is a Canada-wide phenomenon, starting with education systems that entrench ideas about the British and French ‘founding’ of Canada at the expense of other perspectives. That is what makes Macdonald a hero and Riel the villain. It is also what makes these men lecturing about the need to respect history absurdly hypercritical.
Behind much of the ‘history’ of Canada is the uncomfortable truth that the original plan for Canada was as the North American version of 19th century Britain, designated one of the ‘White Dominions,’ a not so subtle way to distinguish Canadians from others in their global Empire that needed to be ‘colonised’ and ‘civilized.’ Canada’s First Nations stood in the way of that vision, especially since they held valuable land and incompatible cultural values.
The problem with not learning much of this in school and having to find it out for yourself (along with topics such as the existence of slavery in Canada, the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians, the segregation of racial groups on undesirable land such as Halifax’s Africville, the imposition Chinese head tax, and so much more) is that a large part of the population will never know much about them. The sad part about erasing parts of the past that don’t suit the dominant narrative is that it contributes to the ongoing marginalisation of non-White people in the country — in the present.
Still, it is an open question whether dismantling statues is the best way to reclaim history by those left out of it, or as an effective way to protest against racial inequality. Well, actually no, that question is already settled. Macdonald’s downfall has been universally denounced by the press and has provided red meat for the culture war. Such acts are referred to as ‘thuggery’ by some right-wing commentators. The latest example of ‘cancel culture,’ others cry. “An angry mob out to steal ‘your’ history and culture to impose their own,” shout many social media posts.
But how is it not also considered ‘cancel culture’ when the lack of diverse voices in Canada’s mainstream media means that popular opinion is often reflective of that same narrow range of views? Meanwhile, the history, struggles and accomplishments of minorities are minimalised, or even ignored.
These commentators should consider it a privilege not to have been subjected to the ‘cultural genocide’ of the residential schools system. The victims of that system might walk past a statue that reminds them that the country that ignores their history also honours a man who called their people ‘savages’ who ‘must be removed from their parental influence to acquire the habits and modes of White men.’ Is that not also part of the history we have to respect, M. Legault?
We can also question Prime Minister Trudeau’s reaction, saying that such acts of ‘vandalism’ are “…not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.” But how many concrete achievements toward these goals have been ticked off by the Trudeau government in its five years in office, to match all the talk about the strength of Canada’s diversity and reconciliation with its First Nations?
Action is what happens when people get tired of such talk. Marginalised groups turn to desperation only after they talk about their experiences and notice few people listening.
History has not been changed by pulling down statues of racists. But doing so opens a window for dialogue about history that would otherwise not take place. Such drastic action is often ‘plan B,’ as it is often said. Many other ways of raising awareness about issues of social injustice have been tried. But how has that been working out?
Last Saturday, Defund the Police protesters, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter marched through the rainy streets of Downtown Montreal. When they arrived in Dominion Square, a group unrelated to the demonstration organization (no one knows who) pulled off something some have tried to do before: they took down the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald:
It was really beautiful how it played out. While it was the activists that pulled Sir John from his pedestal (not an easy feat), the statue was decapitated by the laws of physics themselves.
This statue needed to come down. MacDonald may have been Canada’s first Prime Minister, but he also laid the groundwork, both rhetorically and practically, for the institutionalized subjugation of the original inhabitants of this land and the cultural (and also very real) genocide that made it possible.
I could spend the rest of this piece talking about the details, but I won’t. We’re publishing an article about just that this weekend, and there are plenty of sources already available online with that info.
Also, no one will forget John A. MacDonald without the statue, we just won’t be celebrating him in Downtown Montreal — he is on our money after all!
Instead of the moral reasons for why the statue needed to come down, I’m going to put on my political hat, my very cynical political hat, and offer some free advice to our current politicians in power. I’m being practical here.
My real hope is that the statue doesn’t go back up. Ideally, something celebrating either our diversity or (even better) the First Nations replaces it and that there are no negative repercussions for the people who pulled it down (if they are ever identified). If I have to appeal to baser political instincts to make that happen, so be it.
So Far, Not So Good
For her part, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded the same day of the incident with a strong condemnation of “acts of vandalism,” followed by saying that she understands and shares “the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society” but that this is not the way, followed by a statement that the SPVM (Montreal Police) are gonna do what they gonna do:
Now I am, for the most part, a Plante supporter, but this was the wrong way, politically, to respond. Of course she can’t be in favour of vandalism, but she could have said just that without the strong condemnation, and not even mentioned the SPVM (and behind the scenes told them to not bother investigating).
Instead she irritated her own base. The people who love Sir John and care about this above all else aren’t generally those who support Projet Montréal.
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault said that the statue will be “dusted off, restored and put back” where it was, presumably with the head re-attached. While I get that Legault’s base is right-leaning, last time I checked, Sir John A. MacDonald wasn’t one of their heroes.
While I believe Quebec Nationalism is just as colonial as the Canadian variety, this is one case where I kinda wished Legault’s latent sovereignist aspirations had reared their ugly head. Instead we found out that the CAQ is more interested in right-wing values of “law and order” than in Quebec values.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, sounded just like you would expect him to. He kept things in the conceptual: vandalism is not the way (appeal to the right), we need to examine the legacy of former Prime Ministers (appeal to the left) including his own father’s (make it personal). End scene!
Of course Trudeau won’t decide if the statue goes back up or not. And neither will Legault. It’s a municipal decision.
So the ball’s in Plante’s corner, and I strongly encourage her to drop it and then kick it back to the wall. She should only pick this particular ball back up when we are ready to move on to a different statue.
That is unless she wants to truly own the moment and either look for or propose other people to honour. But if she doesn’t, then inaction for the moment, in this case, is fine.
The Statue Will Go
Getting rid of paint is one thing. Fixing then replacing a statue that has already been toppled and decapitated is a whole other ballgame.
It would be akin to being the administration that decided to spend money on commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald in the first place. In 2020.
This statue will be down for good eventually. If it gets replaced and the official process to remove it doesn’t work, you’d better believe protesters will take it down again…they clearly know how to do it.
Don’t let the unsanctioned way the statue came down justify putting it back up. The protestors did you a favour by accomplishing what the bureaucracy could not.
Sure, don’t support what they did officially, but don’t go after them either. Be a politician.
Recognize that your base wants the statue down, those who want it back up probably won’t vote for you anyways, and most people just don’t care enough for it to matter.
Do the smart political thing. It just so happens that it’s also the right thing to do.
Last Sunday, approximately 10 000 people took to the streets of Montreal demanding justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence. This Sunday there’s another local protest against police brutality.
Before we go any further, I’d like to address what I knew every newscast would lead with the following day right after it happened: Yes, there was some looting. A bit of looting and some broken windows, nothing that should detract from the valid and necessary reason so many people were out, social distancing as much as possible during a pandemic.
Lenny Lanteigne, owner of Steve’s Music Store, the main target of the looters last Sunday, gets it. He told CTV that he thinks the protest was necessary and while he’s obviously not thrilled people stole his inventory, he knows what’s important. “They’re guitars, not human lives.”
In the US currently, there’s a strong argument that some of the rioting is actually quite necessary to be heard and affect change. In just over a week, the story changed from “the cops are fired” to “we’ve arrested one cop and charged him with third-degree murder” to (just yesterday) “we’re charging him with second-degree murder and the three cops who stood by with aiding and abetting second degree murder”.
The looting last Sunday in Montreal, though, came across more like a mini hockey riot with mostly white dudes using the opportunity to steal stuff than something tied into the message of police racism. The SPVM officers kneeling to put on their riot gear before teargassing the crowd (which preceded the looting), though, was a small reminder that the police here aren’t really all that different than those in the states.
We’ve Got A Long List Too
The protest last Sunday may have been in solidarity with demonstrations across the US and now across the world, but it was also demanding justice for victims of racist police violence in Canada and Montreal too. For every George Floyd or Eric Garner, there’s a Regis Korchinski-Paquet or Fredy Villanueva.
We also have a serious problem with Canadian police indiscriminately brutalizing Indigenous people. From the so-called “starlight tours” out west to a recent local incident next to Cabot Square where a Native woman in distress had to deal with 17 cops and the SPVM (Montreal Police) canine unit before getting an ambulance, it seems like our police don’t think that Native Lives Matter.
Or Black Lives, apparently.
In a CBC study of fatal encounters with police of all levels across Canada over 17 years, Black and Indigenous people were seriously over-represented when compared to the overall population. Meanwhile a 2019 report commissioned by the City of Montreal revealed that the SPVM was four to five times more likely to stop Black or Indigenous people than whites.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did admit that Canada has a problem with police racism, after 21 seconds of awkward, probably staged, silence, while dodging a question about US President Donald Trump. Of course, anything that came after the 21 seconds, he knew, would get lost in the shuffle.
Quebec Premier François Legault, while supporting the protest, denied that systemic racism exists in Quebec. This from the man that, pre-pandemic, was all about systemically discriminating against minorities through Bill 21.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, to her credit, admitted that systemic discrimination does exist in our city. The question now becomes what she is going to do to fight it.
After initially opposing outfitting police with body cameras, she now says it will happen as soon as possible. This is largely due to pressure from boroughs like Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce and the public.
The Spotlight and the Shadows
Body cameras on police would be a welcome improvement, because unlike their counterparts south of the border, our police are camera-shy when it comes to race-based brutality. This helps our political leaders propagate the lie that violent and murderous police racism is a shameful American problem, but there are only a few bad apples here.
In the US, violent racist cops are brazen and kill in the daylight, either not caring who is watching or filming or hoping to be the next white supremacist champion or MAGA hero. George Zimmerman has fans and he wasn’t even trained.
Here, they’re just as brutal, but know to avoid the spotlight as much as possible. For the person on the receiving end, though, the result is the same.
With the only real-world empire most of us have ever known burning before our eyes and crumbling into a failed state, the kind the US would usually think of invading, it’s easy to get distracted. When we see peaceful protesters teargassed and assaulted by gleeful cops, it’s easy to forget that we have problems here too,
Solidarity with those fighting to get out from under Trump’s boot is essential, but remember that the underlying problem of racist police violence is a Canadian one, too.
The next Montreal Anti-Police Brutality Protests starts Sunday, June 14th at 11am at Place Emilie-Gamelin
Quebec Premier François Legault is in Montreal today. Speaking alongside Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Quebec’s National Director for Public Health Horacio Arruda, Public Health Regional Director Mylène Drouin and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, he announced that Montreal-area schools won’t re-open until the fall.
Primary schools across Quebec, excluding the Greater Montreal Area, re-opened on Monday, with Montreal expected to follow on May 25th provided COVID-19 numbers were dropping on par with World Health Organization criteria for deconfinement. With over 20 000 people infected, they aren’t and Montreal has become Canada’s epicenter for the virus, so it will be late August and September before any schools re-open here.
Pushing re-opening back a few weeks only to close them when the school year ends mid-June would have made no sense according to Legault. Daycares that don’t run on the same school year may re-open June 1, provided Coronavirus containment conditions are met.
Non-essential retail businesses not located in malls or in malls with a separate street entrance in Montreal could possibly re-open on May 25th as planned. That date may, of course, be pushed back.
When they do re-open, though, there will inevitably be more people using public transit. Legault announced that Quebec will assist Montreal in providing masks for commuters, which Plante welcomed.
The Premier and his colleagues have been recommending people wear face coverings whenever they leave their home for a few days now, and in particular when they ride public transit. While they won’t rule out making masks mandatory on transit at some point in the future, we’re not there yet.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic due to the Corona virus aka COVID-19. Montreal is not only the epicenter of the outbreak in Quebec, but in all of Canada.
In a move that Montrealers have been begging for since Quebec Premier François Legault announced his harebrained idea of reopening the province on May 11, he has agreed to delay reopening schools and businesses in Montreal until May 25, 2020, and only if the situation here has improved. The decision was made in consultation with Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s National Director of Public Health.
Parents in Montreal can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as reopening too early would only lead to a resurgence of the disease that would overwhelm hospitals already overworked and rapidly reaching capacity. David McLeod told this reporter that if elementary schools did reopen in Montreal on May 19 as planned he and his wife would not be sending their son:
“If we did it would be a prison we would be sending him to, not a school. It is a place for people to park their kids.”
Wendy, a mother with diabetes, had also decided to keep her son at home, declaring that he is not a guinea pig for the government. She worries that her son would pass the virus on to her with fatal results.
Parents were not the only ones worried. Educators in Montreal, who agreed to speak to me on condition of anonymity, were deeply concerned about the health, sanitation, and logistical nightmare of reopening the schools and daycares.
“It takes the whole summer for administration to organize class kits and teacher schedules. It’s not as simple as putting a teacher in a room with 8-15 kids,” said an elementary school teacher. “The school buses usually have 60-80 kids and now they’ll be only 12 kids on one bus…will there be enough busses for everyone?”
She expressed concern that keeping a two meter distance from students would make it harder for teachers to help them, adding that the problem would be worse for kids with ADHD.
A Montreal high school teacher expressed concern that Legault’s plan lacked clarity. She countered the Premier’s claim of reopening the schools for students’ mental health by pointing out that kids have more freedom of movement if they stay home. She also says it’s still not clear whether teaching high school has to be face-to-face or if content can just be posted for students to look at at their own speed.
“Lucy” a daycare educator, told me her loved ones were terrified of her going back to work. The stress of staying clean and safe scares her too, comparing a return to work to “going to war with no gun”.
“Mary”, another daycare educator thinks even reopening Montreal on May 25th is ridiculous.
“You know there’s been an outbreak in a daycare, right?” she said, referring to the recent COVID-19 outbreak at a daycare in Montreal North. “We will be wearing visors at my daycare. Can you imagine a child coming in after months and meeting a monster with a blue face and visors? I don’t see how this will not be damaging to the child,” she said.
As a member of the immune-compromised in one of the hardest hit boroughs in Montreal I have my own worries about what reopening schools will mean for my personal safety. I live within walking distance of two elementary schools, one high school, and one school for students with special needs.
My chronic medical conditions put me on the “Most Likely to Die from COVID-19” list, thus making leaving my home incredibly unsafe until the virus is contained. Reopening the schools would make it more likely that I could fall victim to the pandemic, and with hospitals overcrowded, there’s no guarantee I’d get the help I need.
Even former Montreal Canadien Georges Laraque sees the absurdity of the Quebec government’s initial decision, and though he himself has COVID-19, he was live streaming about his experience in our health care system from his hospital room.
Some parents are calling the change of heart a lot more sensible. Others think Legault’s initial plan of reopening Montreal was a business-oriented decision that showed the lack common sense people have come to expect from his government.
Whatever the reason, Montreal can at least be thankful that common sense has prevailed and that active resistance works. We just have to be loud enough.
Schools and non-essential retail businesses across Quebec are re-opening today, except those in the Greater Montreal Area. While schools in the 514, 438 and 450 area codes are on track to re-open in two weeks, Montreal-area businesses will not re-open on May 11th as planned, but May 18th.
Quebec Premier François Legault announced during the government’s regular COVID-19 briefing today that he was pushing back re-opening Montreal because Montreal-area hospitals were getting crowded. He noted that there are still beds available in Quebec’s largest city and coronavirus epicenter, but not enough to re-open in a week.
This decision comes amid a rise in virus transmission in Montreal Nord. Legault said that there is not enough leeway in Montreal to deconfine as planned as there is in other regions of Quebec.
He also updated his original two world view. Now, Legault says there are three Quebecs: inside seniors’ residences, Montreal and everywhere else.
Re-opening the manufacturing and construction sectors are happening as planned, even in the Greater Montreal Area.