Today, the Plante Administration announced that after City Hall renovations are complete, they won’t put the crucifix back in the City Council chambers. Yes, this move is about secularism of the state, as the Mayor made clear:

“The crucifix is an important part of Montreal’s heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference on March 20, 2019

Plante also reiterated that she still opposes Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like kippahs and hijabs. The state, for her, and for me, and for anyone who really thinks it through, is the democratic institutions, like the City Council. chambers and not the wardrobe of teachers and bus drivers who work for the government.

Or, to put it in other words, a council member wearing a crucifix and, say, a security guard wearing a turban in the council chamber are just two people expressing their personal beliefs through what they wear. A religious symbol on the wall, though, is the state aligning with the particular religion the symbol comes from.

Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve already seen quite a few internet comments decrying the move as an attack on our traditions and I’m sure there will be talking heads on TV tonight and columnists in Quebec’s dailies tomorrow pissed off about what Plante did as well.

I’m sure that a good chunk, if not most, of the people coming out in opposition to removing the crucifix today will turn out to be the same people who were screaming religious neutrality of the state when the topic was Legault’s plan. I’ve already seen some commenters try and spin it that Plante is just anti-Christian and pro-Muslim.

While few will be that openly bigoted, those that previously supported the religious symbol ban and now oppose the move to remove the crucifix should admit that it isn’t about secularism at all, but about assimilation. They just lost any progressive secularist cover they may have enjoyed until now.

Those that support Plante’s move, want to get rid of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly as well and support Legault’s ban, well, at least you’re consistent. Those that oppose both the symbol ban and removing the cross, you’re consistent as well.

Those like me, and now Montreal’s mayor, who don’t want the state to dictate what teachers can wear and think a government chamber is no place for a religious symbol, our logic makes perfect sense.

Those who think we should ban all religious symbols but the Christian ones, you’re not secularists, you’re cultural fundamentalists. And you just lost your political cover.

The past few weeks have been insanely eventful on the political scene. In the US, the Americans are dealing with a president who is a white supremacist, a misogynist, and a fraudster seeking to keep the poor fighting each other so he and his fellow billionaires can enrich themselves with the very institutions established to protect the people. We Canadians would love to point and laugh, but unfortunately, we have a scandal of our own to deal with.

The buzzword up here is actually a name: SNC Lavalin. This article will give a crash course on what is going on and what it means.

Founded in 1911, SNC Lavalin is one of the leading engineering and construction firms in Canada, handling everything from infrastructure to clean energy projects. Though they operate internationally, their head office is in Montreal and they are a major employer in Quebec and thus highly regarded in the province.

Since 2015 SNC Lavalin has been in hot water with prosecutors and the RCMP. This is due, in part, to their dealings in Libya from 2001 to 2011, where they are alleged to have paid out $48 million in bribes to public officials in the country in an attempt to influence the government. The RCMP’s investigation also alleges that the company defrauded Libyan businesses of $130 million, actions in violation of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act which criminalizes giving loans or bribes to a foreign public official “in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business.”

In addition to the charges related to the SNC Lavalin’s activities in Libya, the company is also facing charges for a bribery scheme involving a $127 million contract to fix the Jacques Cartier bridge. In 2017, the former head of Canada’s Federal Bridge Corporation pleaded guilty to accepting $2.3 million in bribes from SNC Lavalin in relation to the contract.

The company is thus facing charges of corruption and fraud which, if convicted, could result in SNC Lavalin being barred from bidding on federal contracts for ten years. SNC Lavalin has maintained that they will cooperate with authorities but claim that the people involved are third parties or are no longer with the company.
In February 2019, prosecutors were ready to start bringing charges against SNC Lavalin.

SNC Lavalin in turn was seeking to avoid criminal charges via the new Deferred Prosecution Law passed in June 2018. Under this law, corporations can avoid criminal prosecution with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in which they must cooperate with the Crown and the courts including paying penalties and reparations, giving up any benefits acquired because of their crimes, stop their wrongdoing (obviously), and adopt any compliance measures.

Agreements are allegedly to protect employees from layoffs, as well as shield shareholders who knew nothing of the crimes while holding corporations to account for them. In order to be eligible for such an agreement, the crimes must be economic in nature, did not cause serious bodily harm, and there must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction for the offenses.

Unsurprisingly, SNC Lavalin was the first company to seek such an agreement under the new law. There was, however, a hitch. Under the law, the Attorney General of Canada must consent to the negotiation of the agreement.

This is where Jody Wilson-Raybould comes in.

Until she was switched to be the Minister of Veterans affairs in January 2019, she was the Attorney General of Canada. According to her testimony before the House of Commons at the end of February 2019, she experienced a:

“Consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould in the House of Commons

The accusation is that the Prime Minister’s office repeatedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and that if such an agreement were not offered, there would be serious political consequences. As Attorney General, Wilson-Raybould had oversight and discretion over whether to intervene in cases that might be prosecuted by the Crown.

The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Russel, informed Wilson-Raybould in September 2018 that her office had decided not to invite SNC Lavalin to negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. By September 17th, having reviewed the materials, the then Attorney General decided not to interfere, despite the pressure from cabinet members and their staff about what this would mean with regards to Quebec and the upcoming election.

In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was informed by the Prime Minister that she would be moved or shuffled out of the position of Attorney General to that of Minister of Veterans Affairs. Shortly thereafter, in February, she resigned from the Trudeau cabinet. Shortly thereafter, Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s principal secretary resigned over the SNC Lavalin affair. On March 4, 2019, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott also resigned from the Trudeau cabinet.

Why is the Prime Minister so bent on protecting SNC Lavalin?

Simple: it’s an election year and SNC Lavalin plays an important role in the Quebec economy. If SNC Lavalin falls, there is a concern about the economic consequences for the province. Trudeau needs Quebec to win the and is clearly concerned that acting against its prized engineering firm will affect his chances victory in November.

Given all the scandal this has caused, protecting the SNC Lavalin may not have been worth the trouble after all. Only time will tell.

Featured image via TechCharts.net

First, let’s talk about our existing rights as workers.

On June 12, 2018 the National Assembly passed legislation changing Quebec labor law, presumably for the better. Some of the changes came into effect immediately, others only as of this January, and others as of May 2019. This article will discuss those changes, what’s missing, as well as provide a crash course on the existing rights of workers in Quebec.

When I was looking for a job I, like many others, had my CV up on a couple of job search websites with a profile indicating that I was actively looking for work. Within a couple of days of posting my CV I was bombarded with phone calls from companies asking me to come in for an interview for customer service work. Upon arriving at the interview I was given the ugly truth: the “job” that was being offered was commission-only and there would be no base pay for my work.

According to Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards, all jobs in Quebec have to pay a wage. That means that whether you sell something or not, for example, your employer still has to pay you.

So these jobs are either illegal or have found a way around the law, possibly by not considering their workers to be employees, but rather independent contractors. If it’s the latter, then be aware that you also won’t be eligible for benefits like paid vacation.

If you are confident enough in your selling skills you feel you can get by this way, then by all means, give the “job” a try. Just be aware that you will also not be able to avail yourself of the important legal protections outlined in this article.

The minimum hourly wage employers must pay you is set by the government and currently stands at $11.25 an hour. As of May 2019, the minimum wage jumps to $12 an hour. Those who make minimum wage with tips will see their hourly pay increase to $9.80 per hour in May.

You are not considered to be paid unless the amount can be deposited within two days of receipt. If you get a call asking you to come in for an interview for customer service work, be sure to establish whether or not you will be paid a wage for your work so you don’t waste your time.

Quebec’s human rights laws also include protections for employees. According the Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights, employers are not allowed to discriminate in “hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” on the basis of “race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.”

The only time the law allows for discrimination on any of the above is if the organization is a non-profit, charitable, religious, or other organization devoted exclusively to the well-being of a given ethnic group.

In addition to paying you and not being a discriminatory douchebag, here’s a couple of other things your employer must do:

  • Allow you to do your job. That doesn’t just mean giving you access to your workspace, it means protecting your health, safety, and dignity in a way that’s consistent with the nature of the work.
  • If your boss decides to fire you, they must give you a reasonable notice of termination, taking into account, once again, the nature of the employment, the circumstances in which the work is carried out, and the duration of employment.

If your employer infringes on your rights, you have a couple of options. You can try to resolve the dispute privately with them, you can go to the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST – what we still call “Normes de travail”), or, if it’s a case of discrimination, you can go to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

If you choose to resolve the dispute with your employer amicably, be sure to speak to a legal professional or the CNESST’s information line before you sign anything. There are lots of affordable and pro-bono legal services available in Montreal. Contact one.

Important Changes to Quebec’s Labour Law

Under the old law, employees were entitled to three weeks of paid vacation after five years working for the same employer. As of this January, you only have to have worked for said employer for three years in order to get three weeks paid vacation. It also allows for more paid time off for illness and or if you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Under the old law, employees had ninety days to report psychological harassment at work, and sexual harassment was not considered a form of said harassment. As of June 12, 2018, sexual harassment falls under the definition of psychological harassment, and victims have up to two years to report the incident, presumably to ease their fears of immediate reprisals.

As of January 2019, employers must have a psychological harassment policy in place as well as complaint management procedures. The CNESST even has a guide available online for employers to help establish such policies and practices.

The new rules also address absences for family reasons, with the definition of “family” expanded to include the family of a spouse or partner. Under the new rules, employees are allowed up to five days off following the death of a loved one instead of the one day under the old law.

The changes also allow employees up to sixteen weeks a year to take care of a loved one, with more time allotted if the person in need of care is a minor.

Another significant change to the rules is that employees have a legal right to refuse to work more than two hours beyond their normal work hours. This change is clearly meant to address the issue of unstable working hours, forcing employers to give at least five days notice if they want their employees to work more than the aforementioned two hours.

The changes, brought in by the previous provincial government, are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they’re incomplete.

They fail to address the increasingly common practice of treating long term employees as temporary hires to avoid paying them the wages and benefits of a permanent hire. Ideal labor legislation in Quebec would penalize employers with workers that have been with them a year or more without permanent employee status.

The government that voted in the changes to Quebec labor law has been voted out. We have a new government in place that wants to fix the labour shortage without bringing in new people.

If the government wants to encourage people to fill vacancies their advice to employers should be simple: treat your workers nice and pay them better.

When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, I was taught that I had to get an education and that it didn’t matter what I studied so long as I got a DEC and a Bachelor’s degree. This seems to be the narrative Gen Xers and Yers were fed, and many of us went into debt trying to get that coveted degree that would allegedly guarantee us a job when we were ready to enter the market.

Sadly, the reality we encountered was very different when we started looking for work in the early 2000s. Employers questioned us on our degrees and why we chose to study a given subject. Unlike previous eras, many were unwilling to give us on-the-job training that would compensate for any specialized education, and many of us went back to school and into more debt hoping get another degree that would get us a job with a modicum of financial stability.

In spite of how highly educated many of us are, Canada, and especially Quebec, is suffering from a massive labour shortage. This article is going to discuss the labour shortage and why it has happened. Next week I will be going over the controversial issue of the recognition of foreign degrees and qualifications in Quebec.

Quebec needs workers.

During the Quebec election, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume called for more immigration to fill the 17 000 jobs on the north and south shores of the city, telling the CBC he didn’t see any other way to find people for them. In October 2018, Montreal Board of Trade President Michel Leblanc expressed concern over the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government’s plan to cut the number of immigrants saying “we need to have more.”

The newly-elected CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent – a clear indication that they feel the solution to the labour shortage is not to bring in more people from abroad. Their platform includes encouraging older workers to stay active as long as possible to address the fact that jobs are not being filled at the rate that the baby boomers are retiring. The boomers did not have as many children as their parents did and the result is fewer native-born people in the labour market.

The CAQ also wants to enhance vocational and technical training programs to fill labour market needs and offer more job-study programs. Whether the labour of students in job-study programs would be paid or not remains to be seen, but it must be addressed as people cannot live on “learning experience” and many young people are reluctant to do them because they cannot pay for living expenses at the same time. Another idea the CAQ has put forward is that of encouraging cooperation between businesses and universities to better tailor education programs to business needs.

Part of the labour problem lies in the mismatch between the degrees people in Quebec are getting and the jobs available. One of the clearest indications of this is the employment offered at Montreal’s most recent job fair.

On October 24th and 25th, 2018, JobBoom.com hosted a massive job fair at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal. The employers present were calling for two types of employees. On the one hand you had businesses calling for highly specialized workers like nurses, accident assessment specialists, engineers, chartered appraisers, accountants, industrial security and safety specialists and so on. On the other hand were employers calling for what my generation was taught were “survival jobs” such as retail, security guarding, telemarketing, customer service, and administrative support.

Employers wanting specialized workers are not seeking people with any old Bachelor’s degree or DEC, but rather people with specific degrees, certifications, and even memberships to professional orders. While there is demand for chartered appraisers, for example, in order to become one in Quebec you need a Bachelor of Commerce with a concentration in real estate, followed by a yearlong internship, interview, and entrance exam, all of which come with their own sets of tuition fees, stage fees, and administration and exam costs. This likely means copious amounts of debt given wage stagnation for survival jobs.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define a survival job as a low paying job in which little experience or education is required. Many born in Canada were taught that survival jobs were meant to be temporary – the kinds of jobs you took to get by until you found a job that fit your education and career aspirations given the low pay and the often mindless, unfulfilling nature of the work.

It must be said that there is no shame in working a survival job. Many of us do not have the luxury of being choosy in employment due to our financial situation and anyone who depends on us for the income we earn. The only thing that’s really shameful about a survival job is how impossible it is to actually survive on the wages they pay due to wage stagnation in Canada. They are also generally the kinds of jobs that immigrants are most willing to fill due to the adjustment period following their arrival as well as the difficulties having their education and credentials recognized in Quebec.

In conclusion, there are jobs to be had in Quebec, lots of them. If you want to invest in higher education to get a good job, in today’s market you need to be very specific about what you study and make sure the program you choose fits a job in demand. If you need to work to survive, there are jobs for that too; they probably won’t be very fulfilling but you might scrape by. Go get ’em!

* Featured image by Brenda Gottsabend, Creative Commons

Only in Quebec could we bungle legal weed this badly.

The Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) is now considering closing stores because they can’t seem to keep their shelves stocked (UPDATE: The SQDC announced that they will be closing all stores on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays until further notice). You read that right, their solution to skyrocketing demand is to close stores, not get more product to meet it

This is an industry that has reaped millions in revenues for state governments in the US, money that can be used to fix roads, invest in new infrastructure projects and do better at providing essential services. And that was just through taxing sales, not even the governments selling the product themselves.

Here, it’s a government monopoly, which is something we’re pretty good at. You won’t catch the SQDC’s parent company the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) running out of whiskey, let alone all hard alcohol, in any of their many (much more than the SQDC) stores.

So did those tasked with setting up and running the SQDC actually think pot was a niche product only enjoyed by a handful, albeit a significant handful, of the population? Did they not realize that once the legal restrictions were lifted, it would rival alcohol sales or come close to it?

Well, maybe, but only if they were so much in their bubble that they limited their market research to data on people who didn’t mind telling a stranger that they enjoyed a product that was at the time illegal. Looking at the data from other places that legalized the plant would have been much more, um, logical.

If they weren’t completely out of touch, though, they would have anticipated that their planned rollout would not meet the demand. So, if that’s the case, either they just couldn’t get a proper operation up in time for legalization or they wanted to not be able to deliver.

If it’s the former, then, geez, c’mon guys, you had a few years to prepare for this. Does everything in this province have to operate at the efficiency of a construction project?

If it’s the latter, then why? Is it a moral thing? If so, then I’d like to point out that the Quebec Government actively promotes and profits from booze and gambling.

It can’t be that they want to help out your friendly neighbourhood dealer. If that was the case, they would have made it possible for people to apply for licenses to sell weed legally, thus eliminating by legalizing much of the so-called black market.

Could it be that they wanted legal cannabis to be difficult to get so people would seek other options and police would be able to continue to arrest and/or fine people (predominately marginalized people and people of colour) for selling what is now a legal substance also sold by the government? Nah, that’s just some wild conspiracy theory with a 90% chance of being true.

So, moving forward, the SQDC and the Quebec Government have two choices:

Open the Market

They could let people apply for licenses to sell weed and cannabis products, either through storefronts, with delivery or both. They wouldn’t have to close the SQDC, or even change it that much.

Government pot stores would be specialized the same way you can get beer and wine at every dep, but some brands only at the SAQ. The government would, of course, tax all sales.

Keep the Monopoly But Do It Right

First, make the supply overshoot the demand. I’m talking about more stores and more suppliers, in fact all the suppliers possible, provided they produce a quality product.

Then, it’s time to market. Yes, I know that marketing cannabis, or even selling t-shirts with the pot leaf on it, is now banned in Quebec, but that doesn’t help anyone. Why monopolize an industry if you don’t want it to thrive.

You’re a pot dealer now, Quebec, start acting like it! Hang photos of buds in the stores and let people smell the product…in the SAQ you can even taste-test wine. Have a points card and sell shopping bags with the pot leaf on it made of, wait for it…hemp! (You can have that idea for free, SQDC)

I do not write this as a pot smoker. In fact I don’t smoke weed. I write this instead as someone who never wants to hear a provincial politician say “How are we going to pay for that?” when an idea like free post-secondary education or a new metro line is floated.

It could be like living in a petro-state, except instead of reaping the benefits of the destruction of the planet’s climate,  we’d be reaping, and hopefully redistributing, the benefits of selling a product probably less damaging to society than alcohol, which has been legal for decades.

Pot is legal here. Time for Quebec to embrace that fact rather than being embarrassed by it and embarrass us as a result. At the very least, we should acknowledge that closing stores is not how you handle too much demand.

* Featured Image via YouTube screengrab

Quebec City versus Ottawa. Quebec’s provincial government versus Canada’s federal one. It’s the sometimes amicable rivalry, sometimes bitter fight that has dominated our politics for the past fifty years or so.

Now, with the election of a Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government for the first time ever, it looks like things are going to change. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have already called out new Premier François Legault a couple of times, there’s only so much he can do without risking federal over-reach, which is never a good ideal in Quebec. Plus he will soon be busy fighting to keep his own job.

It looks like the next great intergovernmental battle, at least for the next three or four years, will be the National Assembly versus Montreal City Hall. Legault versus Plante. Here’s why:

From Side-Pander to Not Necessary

Back in the day, from the late 1960s to a few weeks ago, power always shifted between Liberal (PLQ) and Parti Québécois (PQ) governments. Both parties understood that Montreal votes were important enough for them to pander to us a bit during during election campaigns but not as important as votes off-island and across the rest of Quebec, which most of their policies were crafted to deliver.

Now, the governing party has almost no representation in Quebec’s largest city. They won only two seats here, Bourget and Pointe-aux-Trembles, both on the island’s eastern extremities. Flip them to any other party and the CAQ still has a strong majority.

The Island of Montreal and surrounding area as seen on the 2018 Quebec Election map

Legault has a mandate, but he didn’t get it from Montreal. He doesn’t even have to pretend to care about what Montrealers care about, he doesn’t need us to hold power. We’ve gone from a side-pander to not needed to win.

That doesn’t mean their policies won’t affect us. In fact, the most overtly reactionary will pretty much only affect us.

Montreal needs to stand up to the CAQ and, at least on a few issues, it looks like we already are or are prepared to.

Banning Religious Symbols

Legault has promised to strictly enforce Bill C-62 which bans those providing or using government services (teaching in a school or riding the metro, for example) from doing so while wearing religious symbols. He plans to use the Notwithstanding Clause if the courts stop him.

The PLQ,  who won the most seats in Montreal, are unlikely to fight against the implementation of a law they wrote and passed (sure, they probably thought they would get some votes on the right before the courts struck it down, but Legault won’t let the Canadian Charter stop him).  Québec Solidaire (QS), who came in second here, may help fight this, but they only have ten seats in a Majority Government.

Painting by Samantha Gold

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, on the other hand, has said she has no problem with civil servants wearing religious symbols, including police officers. She opposed Bill 62 as a candidate and while she said she will wait and see what the CAQ plan looks like, opposing it would just make sense.

The Greater Montreal area and the Island of Montreal are the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Quebec. It’s also where most immigrants live. Here, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish man wearing a kippah is not a strange sight, it’s part of daily life. They are members of our community with the same right to provide or avail themselves of government services as the rest of us.

Of course it’s like that. Montreal is a metropolis. Cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are essential parts of being and staying a world-class city, as important as a large population and a decent public transit system.

Close to two million people live on the Island of Montreal and over four million in the Greater Montreal area. The CAQ wants us to look as white and Christian as, say, Trois-Rivières with a population under 150 000. While he claims to be a Quebec nationalist, Legault’s attitude towards Quebec’s officially designated metropolis is not only bigoted, it’s also quite, um, provincial.

If Plante does ultimately end up refusing to implement the new Quebec Government’s plan when it comes to Montreal employees and people receiving services from the city, I don’t know what Legault could do to make her. Things could get interesting.

Implementing Cannabis Legalization

When it comes to legal weed, Plante isn’t taking a wait and see approach. In Montreal, you can smoke your legal cannabis anywhere you can smoke tobacco or vape, but you can’t spark a joint near schools, on a terasse, in hospitals, on a bus, or basically anywhere you can’t smoke a cigarette.

Legault, on the other hand, is considering a province-wide ban on smoking pot in public, such as on sidewalks or in parks. Basically he’s treating it like booze, while conveniently forgetting that there are public places called bars where you can legally consume alcohol and if you bring a sandwich to a park along with a bottle of wine, it’s a picnic.

Five Montreal boroughs, all held by the opposition party Ensemble Montréal (formerly Équipe Denis Coderre), are planning similar bylaws. While it’s a really out-of-touch idea, I understand how a borough can make such a regulation, just as I understand how a city can make an opposing regulation.

What I don’t get is how a provincial government can pass what should be a municipal zoning regulation to supersede existing zoning regulations. Pot smokers aren’t criminals anymore, just people facing fines if they light up in the wrong place.

If Plante tells the Montreal Police (SPVM) not to enforce provincial ban on smoking cannabis in public, except in the boroughs where it was banned, and they listen, would Legault send in the SQ to enforce it? Could that even work?

Public Transit

And then there’s the Pink Line. A Plante campaign promise that would see a new metro line run from Montreal North through Rosemont, the Plateau, Downtown and NDG, all the way to Lachine.

As bold as that is and as pie in the sky as it may sound, Plante already got the Federal Government to sign off on investing money in it. While QS fully incorporated it into their transit proposal, Plante decided to have a photo-op during the campaign with Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard who had only said he would consider it.

It’s clear her transit plan caused her to have an unofficial ABC (Anyone But CAQ) approach during the campaign. And with good reason: Legault had said his administration would oppose the new metro line.

Plan for the proposed Montreal Metro Pink Line

So, faced with the worst possible election outcome for the future of the project, Plante adopted a go big or go home approach and announced yesterday that she was moving ahead with the Pink Line and creating a project office to study the potential impact on urban development, mobility and socio-economic needs.  This office will compliment studies the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is already doing and have a budget of $1 Million.

Basically, if project office determines that the Pink Line is feasible and shows how it can be done right, and two thirds of the money is already there, Legault, who will probably be sitting on a pile of legal cannabis sale revenues and tax money by then, will be boxed into a corner. It’s a bold strategy and one that may pay off.

Whether it does or not, prepare for a fight. Maybe a slow-moving, incredibly polite and bureaucratic one, but a fight nonetheless. A political fight on three, maybe more, fronts. Montreal versus Quebec has just begun.

Recreational cannabis is now officially legal across Canada. We are the second North American country to do this, with Mexico having decriminalized marijuana for personal use in small amounts in an attempt cut back on drug violence. It must be said that legalization should not be taken as an invitation to smoke weed more often, and that while recreational use is legal, it is not without restrictions.

I’m here to help.

This article is a brief crash course on the legalization of cannabis and how it will be implemented in Quebec. Other provinces have set their own rules so if you’re reading this from outside of Quebec, you’d best contact the local government about it or give it a google.

The new laws divide cannabis into two categories: cannabis and illicit cannabis.

Illicit cannabis is cannabis is that is sold, produced, imported, or distributed by anyone not allowed to do so under the federal Cannabis Act and corresponding provincial acts. In Quebec, it is the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), a subsidiary of the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ), that can legally sell marijuana and marijuana products in Quebec.

They open their first 12 stores at 10am today (in Montreal people have been lining up since 4am) and have already started selling online. They have three strains for sale: indica, sativa and hybrid. They won’t be advertising their products in the window as advertising cannabis products remains illegal.

The SDAQ website has a list of all locations across Quebec and the three Montreal locations are:

  • 970 Ste-Catherine Ouest (near Peel downtown)
  • 9250 Boulevard de l’Acadie (near Marché Centrale)
  • 6872 St-Hubert (in Rosemont-La Petite Patrie)

Private dealers’ activities will continue to be illegal under the new law. While the legal stores will offer dry bud, oils, pre-rolled joints, oral sprays, as well as pills, they will not be offering edibles. Prices will start at five dollars and fifty cents in order to be competitive with the black market.

Though the federal law says that it is legal to possess and cultivate up to four cannabis plants for personal use, in Quebec it is illegal and carries a fine between two hundred and fifty and seven hundred and fifty dollars. This is undoubtedly a measure to ensure the Province’s monopoly on sale and distribution.

As of midnight, it is legal to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis or cannabis products in public. The government measures these amounts according the weight of dried cannabis.

The federal government has published a list indicating what a gram of dried cannabis would be equivalent to in other products:

  • 5 grams of fresh cannabis
  • 15 grams of edible product
  • 70 grams of liquid product
  • 0.25 grams of concentrates (solid or liquid)
  • 1 cannabis plant seed

In private residences it is legal to possess up to 150 grams of cannabis – once again using a measure of dried cannabis as a reference to determine amounts. This maximum applies regardless of how many people are living in the residence at any given time. That means that if you are, for example, living with three other roommates, you are legally only allowed total of 150 grams in the household, amounting to 37.5 grams each if you were divide the cannabis evenly between you.

If you were living alone, that 150 could legally be all yours. However, the law also says that you cannot have that amount in multiple residences, meaning that the maximum you would be allowed to possess stays at 150 grams regardless of whether or not you have multiple homes.

Anyone who exceeds the 150 gram limit is looking at fines ranging from $250-$750. Similar fines are in place for possession of cannabis on the premises of educational institutions and childcare and daycare centers, though there is an exception for student residences at college-level institutions.

Minors cannot legally possess or distribute cannabis and there will be strict penalties for people caught selling or giving it to them. In Quebec, the age of majority is 18 years old (in many other provinces it’s 19). Cannabis has to be stored in a place that is not easily accessible to minors. Minors caught in possession or giving cannabis are liable to a fine of $100.

With regards to where you can smoke it, the rules are similar to those for cigarettes. There is no smoking on the grounds of health and social services buildings, on the grounds of post-secondary schools, and places where activities for minors are provided, with an exception in the latter if activities are in a private residence.

It is also illegal to smoke it in most enclosed public spaces, the common areas of residential buildings containing two or more dwellings, private seniors’ homes, palliative care facilities, and tourist accommodation establishments. Smoking marijuana is also illegal in restaurants and other places offering meals for money, casinos, public transportation, and in the workplace unless said workplace is in a private residence.

Anyone who breaks these rules is looking at fines ranging from $500 to $2250.

There are, however, exceptions, as health and social services centers, seniors’ homes, and palliative care facilities can set up enclosed rooms for the purposes of smoking cannabis. Same goes for the common areas of private residences containing two or more dwellings.

Cannabis is officially legal now Amidst all the celebrations, remember the rules.

Quebec provincial elections are less than two weeks away and there is a lot to learn before we go to the polls. There are four major political parties to choose from: the incumbent Liberal Party (PLQ), the Parti Québécois (PQ), Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and Québec Solidaire (QS).

There are smaller parties running too and I’ll be writing about them next week, but today I’m focusing on the four parties that participate in the debates and the ones most likely to get seats in the National Assembly and therefore a say in how our province is governed at the top. That said, deciding on the party that will best suit your needs can be difficult.

I’m here to help.

This article will give you a rundown of where the four major political parties stand on some key issues. I’m going to limit this article to key aspects of their stances on healthcare, employment and education, the environment, and Quebec culture and how it fits into broader discourse about immigration, language, and secularism.

Let’s get started.

Healthcare

All four parties agree that something is amiss – a view that is shared by patients and workers within the provincial healthcare system. A social worker told me that resources are scarce. The news is filled with reports of insane wait times and nurses burning out due to mandatory overtime and ludicrous patient-to-nurse ratios.

The Liberals have sustained the brunt of the critiques and here’s how they plan to fix it:

  • Improve access to pharmacist services, particularly vaccines and consultation services
  • Open 25 more super clinics to offer primary health services that will be open twelve hours a day, seven days a week
  • Offer more health services via telecommunication such as teleconsultation and tele-support
  • “Take necessary measures” to help GPs and specialists meet patients needs and expectations

The Parti Québécois approach is a little different – their plan focuses on giving more autonomy to health professionals:

  • Giving more discretionary power to local health care professionals
  • Guaranteed access to nurse-practitioners in CLSCs seven days a week until 9 pm
  • Allow for autonomous clinics consisting solely of nurse-practitioners
  • More funding and support for community organizations dealing with health and social services

The Coalition Avenir Québec‘s plan is simpler but succinct in what they feel the province needs:

  • Allowing patients to make appointments online
  • Better access to first line care without appointment in CLSCs and clinics in the evenings and weekends to alleviate ER wait times
  • More full-time positions for nurses with no mandatory overtime and a revision of nurse to patient ratios
  • Deal with unnecessary medications and diagnoses – a possible attempt to address the opioid crisis

Québec Solidaire is  focused on prevention and fighting discrimination, including:

  • A mandatory study of the effects of mines and hydrocarbons on public health, the results of which will be publicly accessible
  • Fighting discrimination against those with HIV and Hepatitis C
  • Reinforce and increase financing to existing CLSCs to offer a complete network of multidisciplinary clinical services such as disability support, help with addiction, homelessness, and psychiatric care
  • Universal pharmaceutical coverage
  • Support research into women’s health care

Employment, Education, and the Economy

I lumped the three Es together because they are all linked. Quebec has a labour shortage that is only getting worse as the population ages and birth rates remain low.

In addition to a lack of natural growth, the province is failing to attract people due to fewer opportunities for professional and personal development, low growth prospects, a lack of flexibility in existing jobs, and a disparity between the available labour force and the kinds of jobs up for grabs.

Here is how the parties plan to deal with it:

CAQ:

  • Encourage older workers to stay active as long as possible and offer fiscal initiatives to support this
  • Reduce red tape for entrepreneurs and self-employed workers to get their activities off the ground
  • Promote cooperation between businesses and universities to create programs that better reflect the current job market
  • Introduce a policy that would promote private and foreign investment, innovation, and job creation

PLQ:

  • Abolish tuition fees for students registered in part-time professional training programs leading to a DEC
  • Create forty more workplace-based training programs over four years – whether or not students will be paid for their work is suspiciously absent given the growing concern about unpaid internships, something working-aged adults have rightfully identified as a form of slave labour abused by would-be employers
  • Adapt professional training programs to the modern workforce and regional needs
  • Provide the municipalités régionales de comté (MRCs) with funds and support to help them attract and retain foreign workers
  • Ten million annually to support francization services

PQ:

  • Gradually introduce free-post secondary education
  • Encourage “teletravail” which would allow more people to work from home
  • Updating the Labour Code to forbid employers from hiring external services or goods during strikes
  • Create a detailed national registry of the workforce needs of businesses according to their declaration of revenue

QS:

  • Free public education up to and including the first five years of university
  • Improving student financial aid and paid internships – of all the parties, QS is the only one to address this issue
  • Establishing a guaranteed basic income pilot project in several municipalities
  • Fight tax evasion and establish taxation that is more reflective of people’s income
  • Revise business taxation rules to make sure they are paying their fair share

The Environment

All the political parties agree that climate change is a problem and our reliance on fossil fuels is expensive and unsustainable. Sadly while all the parties address this issue, only Québec Solidaire does it in any detail.

QS:

  • Strive for a 95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
  • Improve public transport and the adoption of electric vehicles in public transit
  • Improve transportation between municipalities and in less populated areas – presumably to reduce the need for cars
  • Have Hydro Quebec spearhead programs for energy efficiency, the production and distribution of clean energy, and research
  • Institute a National Water policy to find and protect sources of freshwater
  • Investigate the risks of activities that affect water quality
  • Encourage the repairing of goods and equipment rather than throwing them away
  • Improve existing recycling practices in the province
  • Make the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) independent from the National Assembly
  • Give citizens are more participatory role in environmental policy

PLQ:

  • Provide financial incentives for people buying electric or hybrid vehicles and setting up home charging stations for them
  • Invest a hundred fifty-five million over three years to establish a fast public charging service for electric cars

CAQ:

  • Increase energy exports of clean hydroelectric power to the rest of Canada and the US to reduce their dependence on coal, gas, and nuclear power
  • Updating sorting and recycling plants to reduce waste with Recyc-Québec having a say
  • Revise the Provincial Building Code to ensure the use of energy saving products and methods
  • Promote the environmental sciences, green technologies, and the development of cleaner alternative energy sources

PQ:

  • Encourage the switch to electric forms of transportation
  • Encourage researchers and entrepreneurs via the « Baie James de la transition énergetique » project for green energy with the hope of not only improving the environment, but creating jobs
  • Cooperation with different industries to promote greener business practices

Quebec Culture, Immigration, Sovereignty and Language

I saved this topic for last because it is the one that distinguishes the parties the most. It is on these issues that words like racism, xenophobia, and Islamaphobia get thrown around so they need to be addressed. The parties’ attitudes about language can be seen in part in their websites.

Of the four major parties, only PLQ and CAQ have English translations of their platforms available online. Since all parties are courting the English vote to the point of sending their leaders to debate in English and clearly have the resources to pay for a translation, not doing so only hurts them.

Here is where all the parties stand.

Couillard’s Liberals have come out in support of encouraging people in Quebec to know French. With regards to immigration, they support the status quo of a fifty to fifty-three thousand limit on new arrivals. They have been mostly silent on the issue of identity, a fact that makes them attractive to voters that do not want a PQ or CAQ government. However, this is also the party that introduced Bill 62, a religious neutrality law that would forbid the wearing of religious symbols when receiving government services – a clear attempt to pander to PQ voters. The law is currently being challenged in the courts.

The Parti Québécois are sovereigntists and hardcore secularists. Though they are pushing for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, they are also pushing aggressive state secularism, a measure that cost them the last election. Their platform champions the arts, but they have also come out in support of Robert Lepage, whose latest works have outraged Quebec’s Indigenous and black communities with their whitewashing and cultural appropriation. With regards to immigration, they claim to want to depoliticize the issue and go with the recommendations of the Auditor General.

Coalition Avenir Québec is easily classified as the anti-immigration party. They want to see immigration to Quebec reduced by twenty percent and new arrivals evaluated on whether or not they adhere to “common values”. Though they want Quebec recognition as a nation, they want that recognition within Canada. Like the PQ, they are pushing for aggressive state secularism with the banning of religious symbols worn by people in positions of authority – a measure that will limit the job prospects as well as the societal integration of people whose faiths require wearing religious symbols.

Québec Solidaire is sovereigntist, and like the other three parties, they want people in the province to learn French. They are also the only party to call for the establishment of a commission to investigate systemic racism and want police statistics on hate crimes publicly accessible. They also want to improve conditions for migrant workers, domestic helpers, and other new arrivals in Quebec. Unfortunately, they also want to push French as the official language of signage in Quebec, a measure that usually comes at the expense of religious and cultural minority business owners.

The election is on October 1, 2018. Vote wisely.

* Featured image from Elections Quebec via YouTube screengrab

It’s one of those headlines that sounds great: “Anglos, it’s time to get over the 1995 Quebec referendum.” Yes, it is. Glad The Montreal Gazette finally realized it.

However, the paper’s Facebook plug of the op-ed revealed what guest opinion writer Lise Ravary only got to at the end of her piece. That fear of another Quebec referendum was “a bad reason to spurn Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)” this election.

Fine, sure, it’s not. By the same token, fear of a referendum is not a good reason to spurn Québec Solidaire either. But there are several good reasons not to vote CAQ this year or any year.

They’re not an alternative to Quebec’s two natural governing parties, the Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ). They’re the same, only meaner.

The PQ gave us the Charter of Quebec Values and lost, in large part, because of it. The PLQ, who had campaigned against the Charter, brought in the absurd Bill C-62, turning bus drivers and librarians into the Niqab police.

Not to be outdone, the CAQ is proposing that all prospective immigrants to Quebec have to pass a values test. Women who wear the Niqab would have to remove it while taking the test.

While a “values test” is, in and of itself, a huge red flag to anyone who believes in cultural diversity, tacking on the bit about the Niqab is a pander to the basest instincts of the far right. Sure, only 50-100 women in Quebec wear the Niqab out of a population of over eight million, but François Legault is on the case and will make sure another 10 or 20 don’t sneak in!

The non-cultural aspects of the CAQ policy doesn’t differ much from the status quo pro-corporate stance of their main rivals, which is probably why The Gazette has no problem easing the fears of Anglos considering them as an alternative. They’ve been leading in the overall polls, too, since last November.

For years, I have been waiting for the so-called “national question” not to be a factor in a Quebec election, especially for the Montreal Anglo community, my community. I’ve also been waiting for a break in the PLQ/PQ cycle of dominance that has lasted over 50 years.

But not like this.

The CAQ isn’t change. They’re more of the same with a different branding, one tweaked for the far right. They’re the bigots Anglos, most Anglos, don’t have to be afraid of.

Yes, we should get over the 1995 Referendum, but no, electoral xenophobes should not benefit.

In honour of the release of Denys Arcand’s most recent film, The Fall of the American Empire, I thought I would take a look at his roots, the head-turning Quebecois classic, The Decline of the American Empire (Le déclin de l’émpire américain). A film that, in 1986, seemed very topical and relevant.

The Cold War was still happening, the threat of nuclear war hung casually over everyone’s heads, the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, the AIDS epidemic was rampant. For some, society seemed to be in decline or at least on the brink of it.

According to one of the main characters, Dominique, in the film’s second scene, society’s decline is evident because of its focus on self-indulgence (in this film’s case, that focus is mostly on sex). This, she says, is indicative of our collective demise.

This is the thesis of her new book, Changing Concepts of Happiness, and the film itself. In an interview with her friend and journalist, Diane, Dominique recounts how this is evident in examples throughout history: in third century Rome, the idea of conjugal love first comes from Diocletian just before the Empire’s collapse and Rosseau’s idea of happiness came in during the French Revolution. Now, she argues, we are witnessing the decline of the American empire.

Diane interviewing Dominique in one of the opening scenes of the film

The film follows eight characters, mostly academics, a group of four women –  Dominique, Louise, Diane and Danielle and four men – Remy, Claude, Alain and Pierre. They are all colleagues at their university’s history department with the exception of Danielle who is a student.

The four men cook an elaborate meal at a lake-side house, while the women, in the meantime, workout at the gym. The camera constantly cuts and pans from one group to another while they indulge in recounting their sexual exploits.

Of the men, Rémy seems to be the most active hedonist of the group, as they all retell their sexual adventures seemingly trying to one-up each other. In one anecdote, he recounts that on the way to his mistress, he was craving sex so much that he had to stop at a brothel.

Alain, the youngest of the group, believes he is unlike all the others because he “doesn’t want to have sex with a new girl every night.”

Pierre lives with Danielle, who he met a massage parlor, after learning she was a student at the university.

Claude, the only gay man in the group, recounts how he likes to “cruise” gay hotspots in Montreal. He once had a lover, but he died in an accident and since then Claude has an uncontrollable lust.

He also has a mysterious disease. Claude is portrayed quite well as an openly gay man on the big screen, years before Philadelphia.

The women similarly discuss their sex lives. Diane describes her sado-masochistic relationship with her new boyfriend Mario once Louise discovers scratches on her back and notes how powerful she feels while in it experiencing the “power of the victim.”

Dominique, single and never married, is equally as promiscuous as Diane.

Danielle, the youngest among the women, is similar to Alain in that she has not had the same experiences and still believes that all she needs is to “be happy.”

Louise, the most conservative of the group and Remy’s wife, blushes at the idea of even flirting with her tennis instructor. She suspects Remy is unfaithful on his trips away but takes comfort in knowing (or rather believing) that while he is at home, he is 100% faithful. The women of course, know this is not true as both Diane and Dominique have in the past slept with Remy.

While at first, mostly all in good fun, the conversations and witty wordplay take a dark turn once they all meet for dinner. Secrets about them are spilled and grievances are voiced, exposing a group that at first seemed very modern in their sexual openness now seeming utterly unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

The degeneration of the group dynamic at this point in a way is a reflection of how Arcand saw society. That personal indulgence for indulgence’s sake is a sign of decline.

Decline is very much influenced by the 1981 film My Dinner With Andre, in its very dialogue-heavy script rife with wit. Although the focus throughout is very much on sex, we do not really see much of it. That sentiment is encapsulated well from one line from Mario:

“They talked about sex all afternoon as if they were getting ready for an orgy. Instead, the big deal is a fish pie!”

Original trailer for the film

The film itself today with its fashion as well as some racial stereotypes, comes off as dated. The ideas however, still come off as somewhat relevant.

In the era of Facebook and social media, it seems that attempts at quick personal gratification are all around us and might speak to a dissolving social structure With the election of Trump and all the other malfeasance in the world it might seem that society could be in decline once again (or even failing as Arcand would argue in his most recent film).

Some might posit, however, that to argue our “society” itself is in decline is questionable. The fall of empires have generally been a good thing for societies as it can mean change for the better, though it does, in many instances, cause periods of disarray. In this sense, the moral relativism of the film can seem kind of preachy.

Regardless of this, the film is quite fun and edgy because of its wit and subject matter and still has strains of relevance to viewers today. So before you go out and watch Arcand’s new film, I’d recommend a quick viewing of this classic first.

Feature Image Courtesy of Cineplex Odeon Films

Endangered species are a pet cause for many and a nuisance for many others. Social media is regularly flooded with a barrage of memes, online petitions, and articles about species on the brink of extinction due to natural or man-made causes. On March 9th, Quebec’s caribou population came into the spotlight when the Couillard government announced that they would not spend money to save them in Val D’Or.

According to the provincial Minister of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks Luc Blanchette, it would cost seventy six million dollars over the next fifty years to protect the habitat of caribou in the region. The caribou in the area have been on steady decline since the 1950s due to the logging industry.

The government had originally planned to move the remaining animals to a zoo in 2016 but that idea was withdrawn when environmental groups pointed out that the animals would not survive in captivity. The government has deemed saving them too expensive, so instead the government plans to focus on saving other caribou herds in the province.

As it stands, Canada’s caribou are considered endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). While it is tragic that the animal that adorns our coinage is at risk, this article is not about them. It is about endangered species in Canada and what rules are in place at the federal and provincial levels to ensure their survival.

Sadly, protecting endangered species is not a simple matter in Canada, and we partly have the federalist system to blame. According to the articles of our constitution specifying federal and provincial jurisdictions, all waterways and marine life matters as well as land not claimed by the provinces are federal, whereas the management and sale of public lands in provincial territory, the exploration of non-renewable natural resources, and “the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province” are provincial. In cases where there is a jurisdictional conflict, the federal government takes precedence.

The current federal law to protect endangered species is the aforementioned Species at Risk Act which was enacted in 2002, though some of its provisions only came into effect in subsequent years. The main goal of the act is to prevent species from becoming extirpated or extinct. Extirpated as per the act means that the species is no longer found in Canada and “extinct” means the species no longer exists at all.

It has jurisdiction only over federal land, aquatic species, and migratory birds. Federal land only makes up about four percent of provincial land in Canada and even then, only areas classified as Critical Habitat are protected under the law. The federal act allows species to be classified as “at risk” or “not at risk” with assessments done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Committee consists of experts, academia, politicians and aboriginal representatives and has the task of assessing the status of Canadian wildlife species; their recommendations for the classification of a given species are then passed on to the federal government. Their science-based findings are publicly available.

Once the Committee has classified a species, it must do a reassessment every ten years to see if the ones at risk are still at risk. The criteria they use are those established by the United Nations’ Red List for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species.

According to Environment Canada’s website, as of 2017 there are currently five hundred and twenty-one species of plants and animals classified under the Species At Risk Act as being at risk of extinction or extirpation in Canada. Once the Committee has established those at risk, it’s up to the government to decide whether or not to adapt their action plan to save a species by introducing measures such as incentives to support people helping to protect species at risk, awards and recognition programs, public awareness programs, and protecting habitats.

In Quebec, endangered species fall under the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species. It mandates the Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change to carry out research regarding species that need protection or whose habitats need protection, establish programs to promote their survival, and delegate and enter into agreements with the people they delegate to in order to implement these measures. The Minister can also, with the government’s assent, lease or acquire land by expropriation for the protection and management of threatened or vulnerable plant species.

For those of you unfamiliar with expropriation, it is the process by which the government decides to take land for itself by offering the owner(s) compensation based on what the property is valued at. The value of the land is determined by government appraisers. In cases where the owner feels the indemnity they are offered is insufficient, they will often turn to private appraisers and attorneys to seek fairer compensation.

Several private appraisers in Montreal told me that this is quite common, and in some cases cities will even halt development on a given parcel of privately owned land for ecological reasons, resulting in them being sued for “disguised expropriation”. It is in this respect, among others, that endangered species protections can be a nuisance for some.

The Quebec government can also be gifted or left land in a will for the sake of protecting vulnerable species.

It is up to the aforementioned Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks to come up with a list of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec, how they should be identified, and where they are located.

The law does have exceptions and allows for parties to act in spite of it if an exemption is written into government regulations, if activities are carried out in accordance with government standards, the activity is required for educational or scientific purposes, or if activities are being carried out to repair damage caused by a catastrophe or to prevent it.

The government, like those who adopt it as a pet cause, recognizes the importance of protecting Canada’s vulnerable species as part of the fight against climate change. Let’s keep electing governments that continue to do so.

* Featured image by By Mickael Brangeon(Peupleloup) via WikiMedia Commons

One of the cornerstones of any liberal democracy is a judiciary that is independent, fair, and free from bias. Unfortunately, judges are human beings and therefore vulnerable to having the same prejudices many of us have.

An ideal government will name judges that can separate their own preconceptions from what is fundamentally right and legal in rendering their decisions. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in the case of former Alberta judge Robin Camp, and it is clearly not what happened in the case of Judge Eliana Marengo.

Her story is one that shows the dangers of aggressive Quebec Islamaphobia and racism masquerading as legal secularism.

In February 2015, Rania El-Alloul went to court to get her car back after it had been seized by the SAAQ. The issue was a simple one, but Judge Marengo turned a molehill into a mountain by refusing to hear El-Alloul’s case unless she took off her headscarf, inappropriately comparing the hijab to hats and sunglasses which are not permitted in court.

El-Alloul was not wearing a headscarf. She was wearing a hijab mandated by her faith, which she politely told the judge. Judge Marengo in a recording of the proceedings said that the court is a secular space, mentioning that there is no cross on the wall of the courtroom. She then reprimanded El-Alloul, refusing to hear her case because she was “not suitably dressed” as per the regulations of the Court of Quebec.

As there is no record of Judge Marengo denying others their day in court due to them wearing visible crosses, clergy collars, or a kipa, it is most likely she refused El-Alloul because she is Muslim.

Judge Marengo gave El-Alloul two options, she could take off her “headscarf” or request a postponement and consult a lawyer. El-Alloul refused to remove it and thus far, her case has yet to be heard.

When the story broke, numerous complaints were made to the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature (“the Council”), the organization responsible for disciplining provincially appointed judges in Quebec. The complaints came not just from El-Alloul herself, but from many others unrelated to the case who felt the judge’s conduct was inappropriate of her high office.

Prime Justin Trudeau expressed his disapproval of Marengo on Twitter, saying:

In February 2016, the Council decided to form a committee to investigate Judge Marengo’s conduct. Marengo, for her part, tried to block the investigation into her conduct by challenging the legitimacy of the Council itself. She claimed that the refusal to hear El-Alloul amounted to a judicial decision that must be addressed in an appeal and that to investigate her via the Council would be a violation of judicial independence.

Fortunately, the Superior Court of Quebec sided with Council the following year. Marengo appealed the decision but the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with the Superior Court.

An investigation into Judge Marengo’s conduct is now underway or will be soon.

How exactly does the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature work?

It’s a lot like the Canadian Judicial Council responsible for investigating federal judges.

In addition to administrative duties and a general responsibility to improve the justice system in the province, the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature is responsible for investigating the conduct of judges sitting on the Court of Quebec, the Professions Tribunal, and the Human Rights Tribunal. It has 16 members consisting of eleven judges, one justice of the peace, two lawyers, and two members of the general public.

They generally conduct investigations in response to complaints filed with them. Complaints to the Quebec Council can be filed online via their website.

Like their federal counterpart, the Conseil cannot overturn judicial decisions or verdicts as those have to go through the appeals process. All the Quebec Council can do is reprimand a judge or in the worst cases, recommend to the government that the judge be removed from the bench. In their investigations, the Council must consider the Judicial Code of Ethics, a set of rules governing the behavior of judges in Quebec.

Judge Marengo will likely be investigated with regards to whether her conduct violated articles two and eight of the Judicial Code of Ethics which have been used to reprimand the racist behavior of judges in the past. They read as follows:

  • 2. The judge should perform the duties of his office with integrity, dignity and honour.
  • 8. In public, the judge should act in a reserved, serene and courteous manner.”

Judge Eliana Marengo’s behavior towards Rania El-Alloul was unacceptable. Not only did it deny an innocent woman her day in court, but it is also against the values of diversity and freedom from discrimination Quebec supposedly embraces.

Here’s hoping the Council agrees.

* Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

In a decision by the Quebec Court’s Youth Division last week, Judge Annie Savard awarded a mother full custody of her children. The kids, age 11 and 13, had been in foster care for ten years due to their birth mother’s inability keep a steady home and job, and her drug problems.

Now sober and reformed, the mother sought out her kids, only to find that they were being neglected and the foster home they were living in was filthy and vermin infested. Judge Savard agreed, and roasted Batshaw Youth and Family Centers, an organization established under Quebec’s Act Respecting Health Services and Social Services to oversee adoptions, child placements etc. for failing to fulfill their mandate where these two children were concerned.

This article is not about this decision. After years of living in squalor, the children and their mother have been through enough.

This is about youth protection in Quebec.

Youth protection is an issue where criminal laws and provincial civil and youth protection laws cross. Crimes that are committed against people under the age of 18 are punished more harshly than those affecting adults. Sentencing guidelines for young offenders as per the Youth Criminal Justice Act have, among others, the goal of instilling a sense of responsibility in youth.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on cases where young people come to harm at the hands of their caregivers, the rights kids have, and the circumstances in which authorities intervene.

The main law in Quebec governing this matter is the Youth Protection Act (“the Act”). Its goal is to protect children – meaning anyone under the age of 18 – whose safety and development are at risk, and to supplement the Quebec Civil Code’s rules on adoption.

The authorities charged with enforcing it are the Director of Youth Protection or DPJ, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse established by the Charter of human rights and freedoms, and the Youth Division of Quebec Court.

Children’s rights as per the act include:

  • The right to receive an education from an educational body
  • Where the DPJ must intervene, the right to be treated with courtesy, fairness, and understanding in a way that respects their dignity and autonomy
  • During an intervention, the right to be provided with information and explanations in language appropriate to their age and level of understanding
  • In the DPJ’s interventions, the right to present their point of view and have their concerns heard
  • Where the child is placed with a foster family or rehabilitation center, the right to consult confidentially with his or her case worker
  • Unless the court decides otherwise, they also have the right to communicate confidentially with their parents and siblings
  • The right to have their identity kept confidential

Unless otherwise decided by a court of law, “the care, maintenance, and education” as well as ensuring the children are supervised lies with their parents.

Any interventions by the Director of Youth Protection have to be conducted in a way as to end and prevent the recurrence of any threats to a child’s safety and development. Said measures must also allow the child and parents to take an active role, where appropriate, in the decisions best for them. Any decisions made by the DPJ have to be made in the interests of the children and in respect for their rights, though they must also have the goal of ideally keeping the child within the family environment.

In cases where a child cannot be kept with their family and must be placed in an institution or foster care, measures must be taken so that the people important to the child, such as grandparents and extended family, can remain in contact. Even in cases where parents no longer care for their children, their involvement in their kids’ lives must be encouraged.

That said, let’s talk about how and when the DPJ can intervene.

The DPJ can inquire into any issue under their jurisdiction. They can and must intervene where the safety and development of the child is in danger. It is considered as such if the child “is abandoned, neglected, subjected to psychological ill-treatment or sexual or physical abuse, or if the child has serious behavioural disturbances”. A child is considered neglected if their basic needs are not met and the act explicitly states that ideological considerations such as notions of honour do not excuse abuse.

Anyone, especially professionals involved in child care, can refer a case to the DPJ. Pollyanna (name has been changed for privacy reasons), a retired social worker, described to me how the DPJ can intervene in cases referred to them from the public health care system.

Social workers at the CLSCs and hospitals will receive a file referred to them by a doctor or nurse detailing their reasons for suspecting a child is at risk. This can include signs of severe malnourishment, poor hygiene, physical abuse, unusual behavior from parents and children, and where files are referred to social workers from obstetrics, the age or behavior of the mom-to-be (i.e. she’s unusually young). It is then up to the social worker to decide whether or not to contact the Director of Youth Protection, but Pollyanna says she preferred to err on the side of caution and contact them anyway.

It is up to the Director of Youth Protection to investigate and decide whether or not to intervene. Pollyanna points out that like most public organizations in Quebec, the DPJ are understaffed and underfunded and therefore only intervene if there is sufficient evidence to support their involvement. In most cases, she said, they do nothing, though they do their due diligence and in emergencies will send someone immediately to deal with it.

Despite their best efforts, the system of youth protection in Quebec has room for improvement. Failure to acknowledge this and work to fix it will only lead to more cases of neglect and abuse.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected because of a lot of promises he made. He promised electoral reform and greater political transparency, but then backtracked and chickened out. He won the young vote by promising to improve employment opportunities, only to tell Canada’s youth less than a year into his term that they should get used to temporary employment with lousy pay and no benefits. There is, however, one promise our leader made that he actually seems to be following through on, and that is the legalization of marijuana in Canada.

As it stands, marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) which works with the Canadian Criminal Code to control drug offenses. Drug offenses are usually lumped into two categories, possession related – which can result in up to six months in prison for a first offense, and supply related – which can result in at least of five years in jail less a day.

Trudeau’s plan is to legalize pot by July 2018 and he’s told the provinces to get ready. Though Quebec is pleading for more time to set up the necessary administrative bodies and laws to control the sale and distribution of legal marijuana, they recently tabled a bill to get the ball rolling.

The law in question is Bill 157, An Act to constitute the Société québécoise du cannabis to enact the Cannabis Regulation Act and to amend various highway safety-related provisions.

As indicated by the law’s title, the organization that will control the sale and distribution of legal cannabis in Quebec will be the Société québécoise du cannabis, which will be a subsidiary of the Societé des Alcools. Its mission is carefully worded as “to ensure the sale of cannabis from a health protection perspective” and keep consumers buying it legally “without encouraging cannabis consumption”, language undoubtedly chosen to alleviate the worst fears of those opposing legalization.

In order to carry out its functions, the Société québécoise du cannabis will be able to buy cannabis for commercial purposes from a producer that meets certain government standards. It will also be able to operate cannabis retail outlets, sell it online, and authorize people to transport, deliver, and store the cannabis on the Societé’s behalf. It will also be able to set the price of what they sell. Employment by the Societé will be conditional on their personal integrity and the obtainment of security clearance.

In addition to rules governing the Société québécoise du cannabis, the law contains the new Cannabis Regulations Act, which sets out specific rules regarding cannabis possession and consumption under legalization in order to “prevent and reduce cannabis harm”. To this end, minors will be prohibited from possessing pot or pot products, and those caught with five grams or less will be committing an offense subject to hundred dollar fine with larger fines for subsequent offenses.

Adults will be prohibited from having more than a hundred and fifty grams of pot, and anyone who breaks this rule will be looking at a fine ranging from two hundred and fifty dollars to seven hundred and fifty dollars. The new law also forbids cannabis products in schools at every level from preschool to adult ed with similar fines for violations.

Cannabis has to be stored in a safe place that cannot be accessed by minors. People will be allowed to have and cultivate up to three plants for personal use, but having more than said plants will result in a fine for a first offense, with the amount doubling for subsequent offenses.

The rules regarding the actual smoking of pot are similar to the restrictions imposed on tobacco smokers. You will not be able to smoke in any enclosed health or social services institutions, nor will you be able to smoke pot on the grounds of post secondary schools. Pot smoking is also prohibited in any enclosed spaces where childcare or activities for minors is provided, though there is an exception if activities are held in a private residence.

You cannot smoke pot in any enclosed spaces where “sports, recreational, judicial, cultural or artistic activities or conferences, conventions or other similar activities are held”. Marijuana smoking is also prohibited at parties that are by invitation only, the enclosed spaces of non-profit organizations, as well as the common areas of residential buildings containing more than two dwellings and workplaces.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the list of spaces where pot smoking is prohibited is quite long. The fines for breaking these rules will range from five hundred dollars to fifteen hundred for a first offense.

Despite the restrictions on pot smoking in enclosed spaces, the law does allow certain places to set up smoking rooms exclusively for the purpose of consuming cannabis on their grounds. These include facilities maintained by health and social services, common areas of seniors’ residences, and palliative care facilities.

It should be noted that Bill 157 is worthless until the federal government passes the promised cannabis legalization bill. Until it does and the provincial governments know for sure what’s in it, no law regarding the distribution and consumption of marijuana can be enacted.

That is why Quebec’s law has been tabled, meaning that it’s simply been taken into consideration, not passed. It is probable that when the federal government’s legalization bill is presented in Parliament, Bill 157 will have to be changed to accommodate any federal rules as the central government maintains control over criminal law.

Despite the whining of critics paranoid about children getting their hands on weed, Canada for the most part seems united on the subject of legalizing mostly harmless and widely used herb. Here’s hoping our governments do it right.

On November 9, 2017, the Quebec government passed Bill 144, An Act to Amend the Education Act and other legislative provisions concerning mainly free educational services and compulsory school attendance. The law, which comes into effect next summer, was enacted to tackle the ongoing problem of illegal schools and better regulate homeschooling in the province.

The trigger for this law is a lawsuit brought by Yohanen Lowen and his wife Shira. The two are former members of Tash, a Chasidic religious Jewish community in Boisbriand, Quebec. Lowen left his community over ten years ago and discovered that his education left him completely unprepared for life on the outside.

Though Lowen can speak Yiddish and read Aramaic, he did not know basic arithmetic, nor could he read and write English and French. He and his wife are suing the provincial government for failing in their legal obligation to ensure that they, like all other children in Quebec, receive a proper education.

The case is due to be heard next fall, with the Education Ministry and leading members of the Tash community named in the suit. It should be noted that while Lowen is unemployed and making up for lost time by working for his high school diploma, neither he nor his wife are seeking financial compensation. What they want is a declaratory judgment forcing the government to make people in religious communities teach their children the provincial curriculum.

The issues at play are threefold. First, there is parental discretion and the right of parents to choose the education that will best prepare their children to be functioning members of society.

There is also the issue of government supervision which prevents child abuse and deprivation by setting legal limits on said parental discretion. This why, for example, parents can be punished for starving their kids or beating them into comas.

The third issue is one of discrimination and religious freedom. Quebec is currently a hotbed of intolerance with laws like Bill 62 exacerbating existing prejudices and emboldening the most vile members of society into expressing their hatred openly. There are concerns that because Bill 144 was enacted primarily to tackle illegal Chasidic schools, religious Jewish communities will be the primary targets of the new law.

I had the privilege of speaking to a Modern Orthodox Jewish couple who both work as educators within Jewish schools approved by the province. Like many religious Jews, they keep Kosher, and the Sabbath, and codes of modesty, but unlike members of ultra religious communities like Tash, they do not avoid pop culture and modern technology.

The male half of the couple, a Rabbi, pointed out the difficulty with legislation like this as in Quebec most schools receive public funds, and that to receive it they have to conform to certain standards set by the province. He explained that religious communities like Tash believe they are providing their children with a proper education, but it is an education that will only serve them if they choose to remain within the community. The kids are taught with the assumption that they will never leave, and therefore are given no lessons that would allow them to thrive outside of it.

Yohanen Lowen would have been just fine had he chosen to remain in Tash. His decision to leave is what created problems regarding the education he got.

Both the couple and another Orthodox Jewish teacher I spoke to agree that certain subjects should be taught in all schools, particularly basic science, math, English, and French. They do, however, point out that some curriculum topics interfere with the most literal interpretations of religious texts.

Science, for example, conflicts with creationism. Moral education lessons that teach about other religions which would be perceived as fostering cultural sensitivity for the less religious would be perceived as making kids question their faith by these communities.

Sadly, Bill 144 does not contain anything requiring that a basic curriculum be taught to homeschooled kids, not directly anyway. What the law says is that parents who choose to homeschool must send written notice to the competent school board in their area and submit a “learning project” for approval.

It also requires that parents inform their kids of their rights under the Quebec Education Act, specifically those covered in articles 14 to 17 which cover the rights of children in receiving an education. This includes the right of all children to attend school from the age of 6 to the age of 16.

The new law requires that the government set standards for home schooled children and specify how the local school boards can monitor them. It allows inspectors designated by Education Minister to enter premises suspected of schooling kids illegally and collect information on the children and their parents. The law permits the Education Ministry official to access the health records of children to confirm their identities.

It is the last part of the law that homeschooling advocates like Noemi Berlus, president of Quebec’s homeschooling association, take issue with, feeling that it is a violation of privacy. Education Minister Sébastien Proulx claims that the law is in accordance with Quebec’s privacy rules.

It is the imposition of a standard curriculum that has religious Jews most concerned, as some have pointed out that such a law could force these illegal schools deeper underground by either not registering their children, or sending them to the United States where education is not as closely monitored.

As it stands, Bill 144 is vague, and it is perhaps that vagueness that gives reason to hope, as assessments by inspectors and school board officials could use their discretion to be more culturally sensitive. What must be remembered, however, is that vagueness can also pave the way for more intolerant interpretations.

If Quebec is truly committed to a message of tolerance, the law must be applied to everyone regardless of faith and care must be taken to make sure groups are not targeted unfairly.

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Muslim groups and civil liberty advocates launched the constitutional challenge we all knew was coming. Last week, I and many others predicted that Bill 62 would be headed straight for the courts on grounds that it violates the freedoms guaranteed in Canada’s constitution and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights.

I’m not going to go over the details of Bill 62 as I did that last week. Instead, let’s talk about the legal challenge.

The plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge say in their court filing that:

“Such blatant and unjustified violations of freedom of religion, as well as of the quality guarantees of the Quebec and Canadian charters, have no place in Quebec or Canada,” and that this cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

The plaintiffs include the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Warda Naili (formerly Marie-Michelle Lacoste), a convert to Islam who has chosen to wear the niqab as an expression of her faith.

The CBC spoke to some women who wear the niqab, something the Couillard government failed to do before passing Bill 62. For the most part they claim they have no issue showing their faces for identification and medical purposes, but that the law’s insistence that they show their faces regularly is not only humiliating them and forcing them to act in violation of their faith, but has also exacerbated the harassment they’ve experienced due to their beliefs.

The law, it seems, has sent the message to the most bigoted repulsive members of Quebec society that harassing a woman for how she dresses is perfectly ok. All you have to do is claim religious neutrality and secularism.

The motion filed in Superior Court on behalf of the aforementioned groups comes despite claims by Premier Philippe Couillard that Bill 62 was written to ensure its compliance with the Canadian and Quebec Charters. Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée is also on the defensive, claiming the law only applies where uncovering one’s face is needed for communication, identification, or security. She’s said she believes the law will survive a constitutional challenge, though her confidence about this seems forced.

Other leaders in Quebec, including former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, newly elected mayor Valérie Plante, and the Quebec Association of municipalities have all come out against the law with one exception.

In a rare show of solidarity, Parti Québecois leader Jean-François Lisée has come out in support of the law, though he wanted even stricter secularist legislation. In spite of this, he too foresaw the constitutional challenge and has stated that a PQ government would use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep it in place should the courts strike it down.

The Notwithstanding Clause Lisée is so fond of is not the perfect fail safe the PQ leader makes it out to be. It is not a way for the Quebec government to flip the judiciary the legal bird should the constitutional challenge not go their way.

Section 33 aka The Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says:

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

Sections 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deal specifically with legal rights such as the rights of people charged with criminal conduct, as well as equality rights such as that of equal protection before the law and freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. The clause allows governments to keep legislation that violates these rights in place provided they expressly declare that the law will remain in effect notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…

…But there is a catch.

The Notwithstanding Clause also contains a rule stating that this declaration and the law it allows can only remain in effect for five years.

The delay was created so legislators could rework the law in question to make it conform to the Charter. The five-year delay is renewable, but even laws the most stubborn politicians take pride in are reworked after being struck down by the courts.

Bill 101 is a perfect example. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional, so the Quebec Government invoked the Notwithstanding Clause. During that time, the law was tweaked so it conformed to the Canadian Charter of Rights, thus eliminating the need to renew the Notwithstanding Clause and preventing future legal challenges to it.

Lisée’s mention of the Notwithstanding Clause is an indirect admission that Bill 62 is unconstitutional and would not survive a legal challenge. Once the courts strike it down and all government appeals are exhausted, it is certainly within Couillard and any other elected provincial government’s power to use and renew Section 33, but the Canadian people’s embrace of their Charter rights would make it a highly unpopular move.

With the striking down of Bill 62 a certainty, the only question left is how much more hate Quebec governments want to push on us.