Just when you thought you had heard the last of xenophobia and hate driving mainstream Quebec politics, they’re back! Or rather, they never left.

I’m well aware that the vicious undercurrent of bigotry in Quebec has only gotten bolder in the past year. There was the attack on the Mosque in Ste-Foy, then there was that Front National copycat poster that went up during the Gouin by-election. Just last week, local members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant group La Meute were spotted marching with neo-Nazis and the Klan in Charlotteville and now a former organizer of the xenophobic group PEDIGA is looking to start a far-right political party.

When it comes to major Quebec political parties (ones that actually have a chance of being elected), though, it really looked like we were finally beyond hate and fearmongering for votes. After all, electoral Islamophobia had failed twice at the ballot box: there was the electoral disaster the Charter of Quebec Values brought to the PQ and the Bloc’s failed attempt to use Harper’s opposition to the niqab as a wedge issue – sure, it did knock down the NDP, but it helped Justin Trudeau sail to a majority government.

While it’s likely the PQ under the leadership of Charter architect Jean-François Lisée may try a re-branded version of the failed legislation come election time, that would really be an act of desperation. It looks, though, like the party that won a majority in 2014 largely by opposing Pauline Marois on the Charter now plans to one-up her with much more restrictive bigoted legislation.

The Charter on Steroids

In 2015, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals tabled Bill 62, the so-called “religious neutrality bill” which banned people providing government services and those receiving them from covering their faces. It didn’t go as far as the PQ’s Charter in that it focused on one religious symbol, the Niqab or Burqa, and had a limited scope in its application.

That scope may be getting wider if the Liberals have their way. Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée wants it to apply to municipalities, metropolitan communities, the National Assembly and public transit organizations and proposed amendments to the bill last Tuesday to make that a reality.

One of the places the Liberals want to ban the burqa (image: Jason C. McLean)

The most jarring aspect is, of course, extending it to public transit. Think about that for a moment:

Not only is being asked to remove a face covering for the duration of a trip on the bus or metro a humiliating experience, it is also something that may very well deny access to public transit to people who need it. Forcing someone to choose between their faith and an essential service that many who live in a city need is just plain wrong.

It is discrimination that serves no valid purpose whatsoever, unless you count getting votes from clueless bigots as a valid purpose.

I have rode on the metro with a woman in a burqa in the next seat several times. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. Just fellow passengers dressed differently than I was. There are frequently people on my commute wearing various religious garb and it is just a part of life here in Montreal. I’m more concerned about the creeps and assholes whose faces are uncovered along with their shitty demeanor.

But, of course, this legislation isn’t designed to appeal to me or my fellow Montrealers. It’s designed to get votes from people in rural ridings, many of whom have never rode public transit with someone wearing a hijab, never mind a burqa, in their lives. Them and a handful of suburbanites and maybe a few big city bigots whose intolerance supersedes their daily experience.

While I rarely give props to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, on this one I have to. He has announced plans to use the city’s status as a metropolis to not implement the amendments if they pass. I’m pretty sure Projet Montreal would do the same if they were in power.

Regis Labeaume’s False Equivalence

The Mayor of Quebec City, however, seems perfectly content fanning the flames of intolerance.

While Régis Labeaume did say that La Meute was not welcome back to the city he governs after last weekend’s protest, he extended the same sentiments to those who showed up to oppose the hate group’s public display of bigotry and intolerance.

La Meute marching in Quebec City (image: CBC)

If you think that sounds a little too close to a certain Nazi-sympathizing American politician’s much maligned comment about hate and violence existing on “all sides” in Charlottesville, you’re not alone. Jaggi Singh was in Quebec as a participant, not an organizer, but that didn’t stop Labeaume from using “la gang à Singh” as a descriptor for those protesting La Meute.

Singh responded in a Facebook statement which has since been republished by several media outlets. Here’s a excerpt:

“Mayor Labeaume, like Donald Trump, is claiming equivalency between anti-racists — and the varied tactics and strategies we use — and the racist far-right. His false equivalency, like Donald Trump’s after Charlottesville, is absurd. With his comments today, Mayor Labeaume is essentially pandering to racists in Quebec City, repeating a disgusting tactic he has used since he’s been a public figure.

More generally, Mayor Labeaume is replicating the rhetoric of the racist far-right by essentially telling people to “go back to where you came from”. This is the main talking point of far-right anti-immigrant groups, including the racists of La Meute, the Storm Alliance, and Soldiers of Odin, all of whom have a strong presence in Mayor Labeaume’s Quebec City.”

It’s not just a moral false equivalence, though, but a numerical one as well. The counter-protesters clearly outnumbered the La Meute gang, who hid in a parking garage for a good portion of the protest protected by police.

That didn’t stop Labeaume from saying that La Meute had won the popularity contest. Putting aside for a minute the fact that they clearly didn’t, to frame a conflict between hatemongers and those opposed to racism and fascism as a popularity contest shows a clear lack of…oh screw it, the guy’s a grade-A asshole Trump-wannabe who at best panders to racists and doesn’t care about it and at worst is one himself.

Quebec bigots, for the most part, may not be so obvious as to carry around swastika flags like their American counterparts, but they are just as hate-filled and virulent and their mainstream political apologists and supporters like Couillard, Lisée and Labeaume are all too happy to pander for their votes.

La plus ca change…

Last night news broke that a gunman had opened fire in a mosque in Sainte-Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, as people were starting to pray. The casualty toll started to climb, eventually settling at six dead and five injured.

Before the details came in, it was pretty easy to guess at what had happened. Quebec’s far-right groups, which we have been hearing about quite a bit in the media lately, and the spate of racist attacks across the US following the Trump victory emboldened some racist loner to the point where he committed a hate crime. Turns out the easiest guess anyone paying attention and not blinded by their own willful ignorance would have made was absolutely correct.

Quebec Police identified 27 year old Alexandre Bissonnette as their suspect. He is white, from Cap-Rouge, Quebec, an admirer of French ultra-nationalist politician Marine Le Pen and a defender of Donald Trump. His Facebook profile was removed following his arrest, but people who knew him and members of immigrant rights groups in Quebec City described him as someone who posted anti-refugee and anti-woman’s rights views quite frequently and was also a troll.

FOX and Islamophobic Friends

Some online commenters, rather incorrectly and incredulously, jumped to a different conclusion the night of the shooting: that the attacker must have been Muslim. You see both Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had labelled it a terrorist attack, and I suspect that if you are brainwashed enough to equate an entire religion with terrorism, then a terrorist attack carried out by someone who isn’t of that religion just does not compute for you.

It didn’t help matters that Quebec Police had also brought in Mohamed el Khadir, one of the worshipers at the mosque to question as a witness. He was of Moroccan origin and FOX News had no problem mentioning that and calling him a suspect:

Screengrab of the original FOX News tweet which has since been deleted, presumably at the request of the Canadian Government. Also, likes? Really?

They later corrected their story, but the damage was already done. Now Islamophobes could blame Muslims for an Islamophobic attack.

Enter Donald Trump

When a major event like this happens, it is customary for leaders of foreign countries to offer condolences to the leader of the country where the incident took place. US President Donald Trump did just that when he called Justin Trudeau. Fine. That’s protocol.

If Trump had wanted to go further and apologize for any effect his policies and rhetoric had on the shooter, that would have been a welcome change of tone. But he didn’t. What his administration did instead is absolutely appalling.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spîcer, after going through the protocol, tried to use the attack on the mosque as a justification for his boss’ ill thought out and wholly terrible Executive Order concerning immigration, the so-called Muslim Ban:

No, Mr. Spicer, it is not. I’d say nice attempt at being an Orwellian asshole, but this is far to serious for that. Trying to turn this horrific hate crime inspired, in part, by your boss’s policies into a justification for those policies is as absurd as it is incredibly insulting, predominately to the victims, but also to any rational thinker.

Speaking of the victims, and we should speak of the victims, they were mainly immigrants, immigrants from predominately Muslim countries. They were looking for a better life in Quebec and have been profiled in The Globe and Mail as such. These are the people Trump’s Executive Order targets. These are the victims of right-wing white supremacist anti-immigrant obsession.

The fucking nerve Sean Spencer. The fucking nerve Donald Trump. You, Marine LePen and our local hatemongers here are to blame, too.

Now, as vigils take place across Canada, solidarity from other communities is expressed and everyone agrees that this was a terrible hate crime designed to terrorize Muslims and all Canadians, we must not forget how we got here.

Four months after its grand opening, Quebecor’s Centre Videotron is at least $1.4 millon in the red. According to the contract signed with QMI Spectacles (a branch of Quebecor), the Quebec City has to cover half the operating deficit up to the amount of the arena’s rent.

Mayor Régis Labeaume’s office confirmed on Monday that they sent a check to Quebecor for $729 126 – which is the exact equivalent of four month of rent and the worst-case-scenario for the city.

The news caused outrage in the opposition, but Labeaume was quick to defend the project he has championed and cherished since 2011. He told the City Council that it was unrealistic to expect a starting business to be profitable in its first four months of existence. “I’ve never seen that,” he insisted.

He further accused the opposition of being “tricky” and misleading for claiming that the city was paying the Centre’s deficit. “We didn’t give a penny to the deficit. We only gave back the rent,” he claimed.

He pointed out that Quebecor had already paid $33.5 million to put the name Videotron on the arena.

A Quebecor spokesperson also commented that it’s “normal and expected” for such a project to not generate profits for the first couple of years.

Not as Popular as Expected

Any reasonable hope for quick net profit was arguably contingent on the return of an NHL team to the old capitol. Since the NHL officially announced last week that Las Vegas was chosen over Quebec to house the next team, a deficit was to be expected.

But certainly not such a big one. According to the Mayor’s own predictions, the maximum cost of the Centre to the city – even without a NHL team – should have been $600 000… per year. If the current trend continues, the cost for 12 months of activity would amount to 2.18 Million.

Régis Labeaume
Régis Labeaume

Labeaume conceded that the ticket sales had been largely overestimated. This is a bit perplexing, as the Centre has already presented some rather large names including Metallica, Justin Bieber and Pearl Jam. When this was pointed out to him, Labeaume responded that he thinks “Céline” will fill up the arena, and “anyway, it’s their [Quebecor’s] job to manage that.”

What we Don’t Know

The exact total of Centre Videotron’s total deficit is anyone’s guess. In February, Labeaume agreed to modify the original 2011 contract to allow the Centre to keep all of its financial statements private.

The Access to Public Records Act won’t be any help either as the city doesn’t keep any copies of Quebecor’s financial documents regarding the arena. Municipal employees must go to the corporation in order to consult them, and are only allowed to bring back “personal notes.”

“We are financial partners and we can’t even have transparency,” said Anne Guérette, advisor for the leading opposition party, Démocratie Québec. Quebecor claimed that the new confidentiality clause was necessary – not because they had anything to hide, but to ensure “healthy competition.”

Here is a recap of what we do know: municipal, provincial and federal governments promised to invest a total of $400 million in the construction of the arena. Only $385 was used and $33.5 million was recovered by the City when the Centre opened.

The City was able to make around $370 000 on the ticket sales and parking fees but had to give back the totality of the rent collected from Quebecor to date.

All in all, Quebecor is left with a bit over $350 million of public money in its pockets, and the public is left wondering when they will start paying rent.

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared.

Québec Solidaire MNA, and co-spokesperson for the party, Amir Khadir was arrested last night in Quebec City. Video from TVA shows him in handcuffs and being led onto a bus with an unknown number of other demonstrators.

A message was posted on the Facebook page of Québec Solidaire, the left wing political party for which Khadir is the only MNA, explaining that Amir left the National Assembly, heard casseroles, and decided to join the completely peaceful march.

The demonstration was declared illegal, some part of it was kettled, arrested and loaded onto a bus. In a statement on Khadir’s arrest, Québec Solidaire says 65 were arrested alongside him.

All, including Khadir, were charged with a violation of article 500.1 of the highway safety code. Something the QS post points out as odd, given that it was an entirely peaceful casseroles march.

The SPVQ (Quebec City police) declared the demonstration illegal because no route was provided. However they proceeded to ticket all those arrested under the highway safety code for obstructing traffic and claimed they were not using Bill 78.

While police in Montreal use a municipal by-law passed concurrently with Bill 78, which replicates many of its provisions, to declare demonstrations illegal which have not submitted a route eight hours in advance, I am unaware of a similar by-law in Quebec City.

Therefore it seems ridiculous for the SPVQ to claim they were not applying Bill 78 when they declared the demonstration illegal. The provision in the Highway Code relating to blocking traffic is meant to be used on people who run around on highways. By definition a protest is “blocking traffic”, so if it can be used on protests then all protests are illegal. Using this law to lay $494 fines on peaceful protestors is an egregious abuse of police authority, and misinterpretation of the law.

The sad and sorry truth of what is happening right now in Quebec is that, insofar as protest is an established pillar of democratic society, our democracy is breaking down.

Kettling has been declared illegal by the G20 inquiry in Toronto, and senior commanders are losing their jobs for employing the technique. Meanwhile in Quebec, it remains the bread and butter of the Montreal and Quebec City police forces.

Bill 78 has been declared unconstitutional by the Quebec Bar Association (representing lawyers and prosecutors) and yet it stands. It is now essentially illegal to protest in this province, and anyone who dares do so risks arrest and a charge or fine.

Democratic society was built by demonstration. It is because of demonstrations that democracy itself exists in our societies. That blacks are treated equally, that women can vote, that we have the weekend. Every good thing about society was fought for, in the streets.

And now Charest, our delusional and demonstrably corrupt Premier, thinks he can eliminate our right to protest? That he can send in the riot squad to arrest peaceful citizens expressing an opinion? That he can arrest a fellow member of the National Assembly for daring to agree with them?

Ya basta! Charest has got to go. Not in a few months, but now. He has taken a broadsword to the fabric of our democracy. He has arrested over 3000 peaceful demonstrators, more than during the October Crisis. He has ignored the will of the people, the very people whose consent he requires to govern.

We have the power my friends. His power comes from our consent. If we withdraw our consent he is powerless, an emperor naked as the day he was born. And I bloody well withdraw my consent!

Forgive my anger, but this latest egregious assault on our most basic liberties has hit me like a final straw across the back. I’ve had enough. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

If you’re in Quebec, you know what to do. Make tomorrow the largest night of casseroles this province has yet seen. Let the very ground quake with the sound of our pots and pans and righteous indignation!

If you’re anywhere else, tomorrow night was already scheduled to be Casseroles Night in Canada. Well over 100 locations around the world have already signed up to hold solidarity casseroles tomorrow at 8PM. Check the list for your town, if it isn’t there start your own casseroles! All you need is an event page, which you should post on the page for the national event. You’ll be amazed at how many people join you!

Let this be the last straw for us all. Nothing is more important than protecting our democracy, and it is most certainly under attack in Quebec.

Some will say the protesters are the undemocratic ones, not respecting decisions of elected representatives. Some will say protest is nothing to do with democracy, that the institution is confined to the ballot box. They should read more, because they are ignorant to the history and meaning of the word democracy.

A democratic government is responsive to the people. Charest is not. A democratic government allows all protests, no matter their cause. Charest does not. A democratic government does not arrest the innocent, does not sweep up large swaths of people on the street. Charest does.

If we lose this struggle, if we allow ourselves to be bowed and beaten yet again, I promise you it will not end here. This is our moment, our line in the sand, our primal scream “This far, no further!”

Wherever you are, whatever you do, join us in the street. To rail against the wicked, but also to celebrate the beauty, the love and the community of our movement.

In the flames of this debacle was born a beautiful thing. Call it civil society, call it community, call it the 99%. In the joy of our casseroles, we came together and shared our love.

An amazing indy filmmaker I met this week has a tattoo on her arm which reads “Love is the movement” For her, we all do what we do out of love. Love for our fellow people, love for our children (born or unborn), love for the earth.

This movement has awakened our communities, and set the fire of love burning in our chests. We are together, we are strong, and we’re done being pushed around.

We’re done being called crackpots and communists for questioning our governments’ slavish obedience to big business. We’re done being arrested, beaten and threatened for exercising our democratic rights. We’re done with greed, with austerity and with unbridled and unhinged capitalism.

You don’t need to be a communist to think our system is out of control. I daresay Adam Smith would agree.

So tomorrow, and every day after, send a message to the world. Our love is greater than your violence. Our community is stronger than your repression. Our dreams of a better world are better than your empty cynicism.

Across the globe, they rally for us Quebec! Because we will win. Because we must win. Because the consequences of losing now are too grave to contemplate.

I know some of you are scared. You have every reason to be. But we cannot let that fear win. If the fear of the police keeps us at home, they have already beaten us. Be peaceful, be joyous, be loving. Stand together and be strong. They cannot arrest us all. There is strength in numbers, and there is strength in each other.

Tonight, my heart is with Amir, and all the others. Tomorrow, I will be in the street. It’s too important not to be.

 

Follow me on Twitter. The revolution may or may not be televised, but you can bet it will be live tweeted! @EthanCoxMTL

In a move that surprised many this morning, Premier Jean Charest announced that the provincial budget Finance Minister Raymond Bachand announced on Tuesday will be reworked.

“It has become apparent that we made a mistake,” Charest told reporters assembled for an early morning press conference in front of the National Assembly, “the budget we brought down the other day only helps the rich and they’re not the majority of voters.”

Happier times: Charest and Bachand two days ago (photo Reuters)

The controversial budget, which would have seen fee hikes across the board including increased tuition for students, Hydro rates and even a user fee for Medicare drew the ire of Quebecers from different walks of life. It seems that for the first time in a long time, the Charest government listened.

“We realized that much of what’s in the budget is unacceptable,” Charest commented to the somewhat bewildered press corps, “I mean, part of it goes against the Canadian Health Act. We thought we’d be able to use the state of the economy as an excuse to ram through some of our neoliberal agenda. We were wrong.”

He did stop short of a complete Mea Culpa, however. After explaining how an alternate budget will be drawn up and released later this afternoon, Charest laid the blame squarely on his Minister of Finance: “Raymond Bachand is to blame. No, I’m not going to fire him so I can scapegoat him again, but rest assured, he’s the one to blame.”

However, Charest did conclude with some reassuring words for his wealthy friends, almost all supporters of policies like those included in the soon-to-be-scrapped budget:

“APRIL FOOLS!”

While this news story is false, the only fake part is Charest admitting what he is doing. If you were upset to find out that the recent budget still stands, then come to the protest. It starts at 1pm in Phillips Square (Ste Catherine and Union, McGill metro). For more, please visit nonauxhausses.org