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.

Four years after the Parti Québecois’ colossal defeat over their quietly racist but aggressively secular Charter of Values, and less than a year after a man entered a mosque in Ste Foy, Quebec and opened fire, the government we elected to spite them is bringing up a debate no one wanted to hear. Last week, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Philippe Couillard passed Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations or religious grounds in certain bodies.

It should be said right off the bat that this law is clearly a political ploy. The Couillard government is up for re-election in 2018. With scandal after scandal rocking his administration, he’s clearly given up on his base and is trying to attract the most secularist racist members of Quebec society who would otherwise vote for the Parti Quebecois.

It is also clear that it is meant to discriminate against non-Christians in Quebec. The law acknowledges Quebec’s history, but the decision to leave the cross up in the National Assembly means that their version of history leaves out the Jews, Muslims, and other groups that have made the province what it is today.

With all the talk about how this law will hurt people, we need to look at what it actually says.

The law applies to all employees of government departments, members of the Quebec public service, city employees with the exception of those governed by the Cree and Naskapi, public transit authorities, school boards, universities, and vocational colleges, peace officers, doctors, midwives, dentists, and anyone else appointed by the government. The employees of childcare centers and government-subsidized daycare centers are also subject to the new rules. Anyone seeking services from these bodies is also subject to the new law.

That means that contrary to the belief that the law will only affect public transport employees and people who work in government offices, teachers at all levels as well as doctors, dentists, and midwives will be subject to this law, as well as anyone who benefits from their help i.e. students, people who ride the bus or metro, and even people in need of medical care.

The law’s mantra is one of State religious neutrality, as the words “religious neutrality” are repeated constantly throughout its text. It requires that all employees subject to this law keep their faces uncovered in the execution of their duties. It also requires that anyone seeking services from employees bound by this law have their faces uncovered in order to receive them.

As only some Muslim women are required by their faith to keep their faces covered in public, the law is clearly written to prejudice them. However, as the law is pretty unclear. People with colds or flus who generously choose to cover their faces in public in order to avoid spreading illness could also find themselves denied services. The government is scheduled to put out a regulation clarifying certain aspects of the law in the near future.

Bill 62 does have some exceptions written into it. People who provide spiritual care and guidance in universities, vocational schools, and correctional facilities are exempt. Health professionals will not be barred from refusing to provide certain medical services that conflict with their spiritual beliefs. For everyone else, there is a process by which you can apply for accommodation on religious grounds, but it is a limited and complicated one.

Applications for accommodations must be based on the right to freedom from discrimination provision in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Requests for accommodation will be handled primarily by the justice minister, who has to decide the request on the following grounds:

  • “The request is serious”
  • The accommodation requested is consistent with notions of gender equality, specifically that between women and men
  • The request is “consistent with the principle of State religious neutrality”
  • The accommodation is “reasonable and does not place undue hardship” on the state and the person seeking it has already tried to find another solution

Where the law would force someone to be absent from work, additional criteria must be taken into account:

  • The frequency and duration of the absences on religious grounds
  • The size of the body the person works for and the “interchangeability” of its workforce – in other words, if the person can easily be replaced, they will likely not be accommodated
  • The consequences of the person’s absences
  • The possibility of a modified work schedule or use of bankable hours and vacation days
  • Fairness regarding other personnel in said government body

More rules apply where the law affects school attendance. The criteria in this case include how a refusal to accommodate will affect compulsory school attendance, the schools’ basic mission to impart knowledge “in keeping with the principle of equal opportunity” and the ability of the school to provide the educational services required by law.

The arguments in favor of Bill 62 are twofold.

Couillard has publicly said that he should be able to see a person’s face when dealing with them, a remark that is not only culturally insensitive, but also rules out any exchanges done by phone or email.

The other argument is one of benevolent sexism masquerading as feminism, specifically that the law will somehow save women from oppressive religious practices. This presumes that women who wear a niqab are doing so because someone coerced them to, or they simply don’t know better. It’s an argument that infantilizes the women by making the presumption that they are not mature enough to make their own decisions about how to publicly express their faith.

This law does not save anyone. It robs them of their sense of agency. If a woman can only leave her house with her face covered and she is welcome at government funded institutions as such, she may feel comfortable going to a public library and grabbing a book on feminism. She may also be comfortable going to a sports center to take a self-defense class.

The law clearly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms rules against religious discrimination and the freedom of religion and equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The moment this law comes into effect there is sure to be a constitutional challenge to it.

Let’s take comfort in that.

* Featured illustration by Samantha Gold

On Friday morning, transit users stood at stops along the 80 du Parc South route wearing surgical masks and other face coverings to protest recently passed amendments to C-62. One Montreal bus driver honked his horn and covered his face in solidarity and now faces disciplinary actions from the STM (Société de transport de Montréal, the Montreal transit commission) as a result.

On Wednesday, the National Assembly voted for changes to the so-called “religious neutrality of the state” law which now require all those receiving provincial or municipal government services such as riding on public transit to do so with their faces uncovered. Basically, no niqabs on the bus.

The union representing Montreal transit workers say they don’t want their members to be stuck enforcing this law. They will be defending the driver at his hearing.

Meanwhile the STM says it is still “evaluating” the new rules but didn’t take that long to evaluate whether or not to try and punish the driver. He may get a reprimand or be suspended depending on factors like his work history.

The STM feels he made them look bad. If optics is what they’re concerned with, then they really aren’t looking at the full picture.

Going after a driver for showing solidarity with both a targeted minority and those transit users protesting the law targeting them looks real bad, especially when you consider that this driver will be among those tasked with enforcing that law. Bus drivers didn’t sign up to enforce the xenophobic will of the state.

Not taking a stand against C-62, something those you serve, Montrealers, don’t want, also looks real bad. The STM should have taken a cue from its union and made a statement against this unfair and bigoted legislation, at the very least from the angle that it puts them in a position that goes well beyond their mandate.

Of course, this is the same organization that censured Jacques the Singing Bus Driver of 165 fame and the guy who used to announce the stops on the 80 with a bit of location info (“St-Viateur, la rue des bagels”). While passengers seemed to enjoy a driver having a good time at work, STM killjoys shut them down.

I still don’t agree with those decisions, but at least I understand the mentality behind them. This time, though, the STM’s stance is indefensible.

If the police can wear camo pants for years because of a salary negotiation, then one bus driver has every right to honk his horn and cover his mouth for a moment to take a symbolic stand against state bigotry that may soon directly affect his job.

If more bus drivers (maybe the union as a whole) staged protests like this, which, by the way, don’t disrupt transit service one bit, it would send a powerful message. If the STM backed them, the organization would be on the right side of history.

The women who wear niqabs or burqas are the real potential victims of C-62, but it looks like the first casualty may be a Montreal bus driver showing solidarity.

This is not the time for nuance. This is the time to feel embarrassed as Quebecers and angry at our government for removing any illusion that we are one of the most progressive places in North America with just one letter and two numbers: C-62.

The National Assembly just codified bigotry and intolerance by passing amendments to Bill C-62 denying government services to people with their faces covered, in particular by a niqab or burqua. Once this goes into effect, women wearing the niqab will have to uncover when riding the bus, visiting the public library, the doctor or even their kids’ teacher.

As I said before it was passed, it’s like the Charter on steroids, even though it was passed by a government elected primarily as a protest vote against the Charter.

Quebec is the only place in North America with such regulations. That’s right, we not only beat other Canadian provinces to the punch but even the reddest of red states like Alabama and Arizona.

We did it all under the guise of supposed “religious neutrality of the state” in a room where a crucifix hangs front and center for all to see. The most ironic part being that a state imposing a dress code that targets one religion is being anything but neutral.

This denies essential services to women on the basis of what they wear. The government is telling women what to wear.

Claims that this has something to do with identification are about the dumbest defense I can think of. The only ID I need to ride public transit is my Opus Card proving I have paid. It should be the same for everyone.

Montreal Knows Best

The Quebec Government made this law, but it’s Montreal which will have to enforce it. Yes, Quebec City, Laval and other cities will be stuck with this task as well, but I’ll focus on Quebec’s official metropolis where opposition is the most fervent.

Our bus drivers, our teachers, our doctors and nurses and even our librarians will be tasked with implementing this hate-filled law. The only time a librarian should ever have to get restrictive is when someone is being too damn loud.

I can take a bit of solace in the fact that both major parties vying for control of the city are opposed to this monstrosity. Yes, Projet leader Valérie Plante had a bit of a political hiccup earlier today but swiftly clarified her position.

Here we ride on the bus and metro next to women wearing the niqab and it doesn’t phase us, it’s just a part of life. Here, women who wear the burqa send their kids to school like everyone else and have the right to meet with their kids’ teachers like anyone else.

Are there issues with public transit in this city? Absolutely. With education? Sure. With public libraries? Well, it’s called the internet and it’s causing them problems everywhere.

None of these places need a new problem tacked on, and that’s exactly what C-62 is. It’s turning an issue that really only people who have never seen someone wearing a niqab in real life or have an obsessive belief in assimilation in theory or are members of La Meute (our very own neo-Nazi group) care about into something everyone has to deal with in real life.

C-62 is a disaster that turns Quebec, known as a battleground for progress, into a backwater embarrassment that turns bigotry into law. Is it any wonder the Couillard Government also chose today to rename its council looking into systemic racism? Maybe they realized they had just taken part in that systemic racism themselves in a profound way.

Something needs to change and it starts with all of us. Post, contact anyone who voted for this, do anything you can. This may be embarassing for many (and it sure is for me) but it is also disastrous for some.

This past Monday, after nearly three weeks of jury selection, the trial for Lac Mégantic began in Sherbrooke. Train engineer Thomas Harding, 56, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and manager of train operations Jean Demaître, 53, all face forty seven counts of criminal negligence causing death. If found guilty, they will each face life in prison.

For those of you who don’t remember, here’s a recap of what happened on that fateful day in 2013.

On July 5, 2013 a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train carrying 7.7 million liters of petroleum crude oil arrived at Nantes, Quebec bound for Saint John, New Brunswick and the locomotive engineer parked the train. Another engineer was scheduled to take his place the next day.

The engineer contacted the rail traffic controller in Farnham, Quebec, and then the rail traffic controller in Bangor, Maine. To the latter, the engineer said the locomotive had been having mechanical difficulties throughout the trip, causing excessive amounts of black and white smoke. As they both believed the smoke would settle, they agreed to leave the train as is until the next morning.

Some time after the first engineer left, firefighters were called in to deal with a fire on the train. They shut off the locomotive’s fuel supply and the electrical breakers inside, as per railway instructions. Firefighters also met with a railway employee and track foreman who’d been sent to the scene, but neither had locomotive knowledge. They contacted the rail traffic controller in Farnham, and the train departed shortly afterward.

What happened next is rather technical unless you’re a mechanical engineer, so I’ll try to simplify it as much as possible.

Mechanical difficulties on the train got worse, affecting the brakes of the locomotive which are used to help regulate speed. At 1 am on July 6, 2013, the train headed downhill towards the town of Lac Mégantic. Without the locomotive effectively controlling its velocity, the train picked up speed. At 1:15 am the train derailed, spilling 6 million liters of crude oil and causing a large fire and multiple explosions.

Forty seven people died that night. Most were confirmed dead by the local coroner but some have not been found but are presumed dead, incinerated by the blasts. Two thousand people were evacuated from the site, forty buildings and fifty three vehicles were destroyed.

Aerial photographs of the site show over six blocks of scorched ground. The spill contaminated thirty-one hectares of land, and a hundred thousand litres of crude oil ended up in Mégantic lake and the Chaudière river via the town’s sewer systems, surface flow, and underground infiltration.

As with any disaster of this magnitude, heads must roll for it, figuratively, not literally. In this case, it is three former Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway employees who are on the chopping block, though not everyone agrees they are the ones who should be.

Some Lac Mégantic residents like Jean Paradis resent that the executives of the now bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway are safely in the United States instead of answering to survivors in Quebec. Paradis was inside a bar when it happened and watched his friends die in the fire. He told Global News the rail company put making money above safety measures.

A train belonging to the now bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway

“Security should be first, not third,” he said.

The Transportation and Safety Board of Canada (TSBC) seems to confirm the notion that the management of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway are somewhat responsible for the disaster. Their report released in August 2014 following a lengthy investigation revealed many factors contributing to what happened which included:

  • Improper repairs
  • Mechanical issues i.e. things being bent out of shape, brakes not working, engine problems
  • “Weak safety structure”

Chemical engineer Jean-Paul Lacoursière of the University of Sherbrooke read the report and agrees that railway management should at the very least be called to testify at the trial. His impression is that the company did not make sure employees were properly trained, nor did they make sure they understood the training they received. He feels this lack of leadership, risk management, and ineffective training were all contributing factors to the disaster.

It is not the leadership of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway or even the company itself that’s on trial. Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas’ instructions to the jury included a reminder that the railway company is not on trial, and that they must treat the defendants as if they were facing three separate trials for forty seven counts of negligence causing death.

The prosecution, led by Crown Prosecutor Valerie Beauchamp, plans to present thirty six witnesses. The trial is expected to go on until just before Christmas. The residents of Lac Mégantic, for the most part, just want to move on from what happened, equating the trial of Harding, Demaitre, and Labrie to holding generals responsible for losing a war.

As the town recovers, we must not forget who we lost in the disaster. Instead of speculating on the outcome of the ongoing trial, I’m going to conclude with a list of the victims below.

Let’s not focus on how they died, but remember them for who they were and how they lived.

Andrée-Anne Sévigny – Age 26
David Martin – Age 36
Michel Junior Guertin – Age 33
Éliane Parenteau-Boulanger- Age 93
Élodie Turcotte – Age 18
Geneviève Breton – Age 28
Guy Bolduc – Age 43
Henriette Latulippe – Age 61
Talitha Coumi Bégnoche – Age 30
Bianka Begnoche – Age 9
Alyssa Begnoche – Age 4
Jean Pierre Roy – Age 56
Jimmy Sirois – Age 30
Marie-Semie Alliance – Age 22
Joanie Turmel – Age 29
Gaetan Lafontaine – Age 33
Kevin Roy – Age 29
Marianne Poulin – Age 23
Marie-France Boulet – Age 62
Richard Veilleux – Age 63
Martin Rodrigue – Age 48
Maxime Dubois – Age 27
Melissa Roy – Age 29
Natachat Gaudeau – Age 41
Réal Custeau – Age 57
Stephane Bolduc – Age 37
Karine Champagne – Age 36
Sylvie Charron – Age 50
Yves Boulet – Age 51
Marie Noelle Faucher – Age 36
Kathy Clusiault – Age 24
Karine Lafontaine – Age 35
Diane Bizier – Age 46
Éric Pépin Lajeunesse – Age 28
Fréderic Boutin – Age 19
Yannick Bouchard – Age 36
Stéphane Lapièrre – Age 45
Roger Paquet – Age 61
David Lacroix-Beaudoin – Age 27
Mathieu Pelletier – Age 29
Jean Guy Vielleux – Age 32
Jo Annie Lapointe – Age 20
Lucie Vadnais – Age 49
Jacques Giroux – Age 65
Louisette Poirier-Picard – Age 76
Denise Dubois – Age 57
Wilfrid Ratsch – Age 78

In Quebec there is no law more hotly discussed, debated, or resented than Bill 101.

These days Bill 101 is seen one of two ways. People who love the Bill see it as necessary way to preserve Quebec’s Francophone identity in the face of cultural and linguistic assimilation attempts. Others see it as a means for Quebec’s French-speaking majority to treat the province’s other linguistic minorities like garbage.

The issue is a lot more complex than that and in order to properly explain, we need to go back in time.

The year was 1760 when Great Britain took over New France. British leaders replaced the French ones and did their best to impose their will on the French-speaking majority. This oppression went on for the next two hundred years during which there were Francophone rebellions to assert their rights but they were all quashed by the British. One of the few but significant concessions the British made to North American Francophones was allowing them to keep their Catholic faith despite the Crown’s dislike of the Papacy.

Everything began to change in the 1960s due in part to the Quiet Revolution in which every aspect of Quebec society from political patronage to the economy to social, cultural, and religious life came under scrutiny with the widespread recognition that change was needed. The increasing demand of Quebec Francophones for protections of their language and culture eventually led to the establishment of the the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, a federal commission that took place from 1963 to 1971.

The Royal Commission revealed that the number of French-speaking people in Quebec was not reflected in their actual political and economic representation. In 1965 Francophones made an average of thirty-five percent less than Anglophones and there were concerns about the lack of Francophone representation in federal institutions.

The actual inequalities had a few effects.

First was the belief that the status of the French language in Canada was fragile, the second was the rise of Quebec nationalism which argues that the only way Quebec can preserve its language and culture is to separate from an English-speaking majority Canada.

Bill 101 was brought in to preserve the French language in Quebec, but it was not the first law to try and do so. In 1969 Bill 63, the Act to Promote the French Language in Quebec was enacted, which required that kids receiving an English education get a working knowledge of French and that the government facilitate immigrants learning French when they arrive in Quebec. The law was disliked by Quebec Francophones because it didn’t go far enough; it was eventually replaced by Bill 22 in 1974.

Bill 22 was enacted by the provincial Liberal government under Robert Bourassa. It established French as Quebec’s official language and required that all immigrants arriving in Quebec learn French.

In 1976 the Parti Québecois under René Levesque took power and a year later, Bill 101 was enacted.

Bill 101 aka the Charte de la langue française made French Quebec’s official language and enacted a lot of the rules still in force today. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the three sets of rules people seem to resent the most: the language of education, the language of commerce, and that of government services.

The law requires that kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school instruction be in French. There are exceptions to this and they work as follows:

  • If the father, mother (or both) is a Canadian citizen and received a major part of their elementary school instruction in English in Canada, one parent can request their child receive English instruction
  • If the father, mother (or both) as well as the child’s siblings are Canadian citizen and received or are receiving a major part of their elementary or secondary education in Canada in English, the child can go to English school

The law robs parents of the freedom of choice where their children’s education is concerned. It also allows the child to become a more employable adult, as French is the dominant language in Quebec and knowing more than one language improves job prospects overall.

Bill 101 also established French as the language of business. All product labels in Quebec are required to be drafted in French, as are all catalogues, brochures, and commercial directories. The law also requires that standardized contracts be in French, though both parties can agree to draft the contract in another language as well.

Perhaps the most hotly disputed aspect of Bill 101’s commerce rules is regarding signage laws. The law demands that all commercial signage, posters, and advertising be in French. Another language is permitted on commercial signage but only if “French is markedly predominant”.

Over the years these rules have often been used to persecute ethnic and religious businesses such as in 2001 when the Office québécois de la langue française – the office charged with making sure French is the language of commerce, work, and communication in Quebec – went after L. Berson & Fils, a now defunct Jewish funeral monument company in Montreal. Fortunately public outrage forced the government to back down.

In cases where the government proceeds with enforcing Bill 101, penalties range from fines of six hundred dollars and up to being disqualified from holding certain government jobs for a period of five years.

The most dangerous aspect of the law is regarding that of civil administration, specifically with regards to health and social services. Since they are government owned and operated under Canada’s public health care system, hospitals, CLSCs and clinics fall under the same French language requirements.

Though most people working in public health know to provide health and social services in the language to best serve the patient to the best of their abilities, some service providers have been accused of using language laws to refuse people necessary help. Hopital de Verdun, for example, has been accused on many occasions of denying English speakers health services because they cannot speak French.

Though it should go without saying, where a person’s health and safety are concerned, there should be no language barrier.

It should be noted that Bill 101 has been successfully challenged several times in the courts for violating the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights. To prevent further legal challenges, Quebec used the Notwithstanding Clause, a clause in our constitution that allows provinces to keep legislation in place notwithstanding the Charter. Since the court challenges, the law has been tweaked to make it more constitutionally compatible.

Bill 101 is like toothpaste. When applied correctly and in the right place it is a necessary evil to make sure that Quebec society functions despite what comes out of people’s mouths. When used incorrectly and in the wrong place it can be a pain in the ass. It’s up to us to keep challenging the government when they apply the Bill where it doesn’t belong.

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

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

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

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

The Charter on Steroids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regis Labeaume’s False Equivalence

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

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

La Meute marching in Quebec City (image: CBC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La plus ca change…

Panelists Samantha Gold and Jerry Gabriel discuss Just for Laughs 2017 with host Jason C. McLean. Plus News Roundup, Community Calendar and Predictions!

News Roundup Topics: Racial insensitivity at the St-Jean Baptiste Parade, Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury and Ron Howard taking over the Han Solo movie

Panelists:

Samantha Gold: FTB’s Legal Columnist covering Just for Laughs

Jerry Gabriel: FTB Contributor covering Just for Laughs

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Production Assistant: Xavier Richer Vis

JFL Report: Hannah Besseau

Weather: Cem Ertekin

Recorded Sunday June 25 2017 in Montreal, Quebec

LISTEN:

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

On June 1st, 2017, Premier Philippe Couillard announced that the time has come to reopen the constitutional debate in Quebec. The response across much of Quebec and Canada was: WHY?

As it turns out, the announcement is merely a confirmation of a promise Couillard made in 2013 when running for leadership of the province. Back then he boldly said he planned to get Quebec to sign the constitution by Canada’s 150th anniversary. As it stands, Quebec has never signed the Canadian constitution. In order to understand why, we need to go back in time.

(The story is a long one, so apologies to any history buffs who feel that vital information is missing.)

Before 1982, Canada’s constitution remained in London and only the British government could amend it. However, the act of getting permission from Great Britain became a purely symbolic act as Canada and other former British colonies asserted their independence. All Canada had to do was ask the British to amend their constitution and the crown would rubber stamp their request. Nonetheless, in the late 1970s and early 80s, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of our current prime minister, came up with a plan to bring Canada’s constitution home.

Trudeau’s plan consisted of repatriating the constitution, modifying it by entrenching his charter of rights, what we now know as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and establishing an amendment formula. In order to do so, he got provincial leaders together, one of whom was the father of the Quebec Sovereigntist movement, René Lévesque.

The goal was to get the provinces to agree to Trudeau’s plan. At the same time, the Prime Minister put the question of what was allowed to the Supreme Court in a case we now know as the Patriation Reference.

The Supreme Court had to answer many questions, but the main one was whether Ottawa was bound by law to get the consent of the provinces to amend the constitution. The Court said no.

Quebec wanted recognition of itself as a distinct society, a veto over constitutional amendments, as well as an opt out clause that would allow provinces an out of certain aspects of the constitution with some kind of compensation so they would not have to pay for any federal actions that were not in their interests. Lévesque and Quebec were denied, and the constitution was repatriated and entrenched without Quebec’s consent.

Two more attempts were made to get Quebec to sign the constitution, but both failed. As it has never consented to the current constitution, Quebec remains bound by it only because it remains part of Canada.

With Couillard’s announcement came the release of a two hundred page document outlining his government’s vision for Quebec and its place in Canada. The document cannot be called a plan because it sets no timeline for Quebec to sign and no step by step procedure his government would want to use.

The document has a lot of words, but says nothing of value.

It asserts the Quebecois identity as “our way of being Canadian” but when it comes to identifying the people of Quebec, the text limits them to four groups: French speakers, English speakers and the First Nations and Inuit. Allophones such as the Jews, the Greeks, the Italians, Eastern Europeans and the Asian communities who helped to build Quebec are almost completely left out.

The only time Allophones are mentioned in the text is in the context of “interculturalism” and “integration” which, when put together, sound dangerously like assimilation. Since Quebec policy treats Allophones as potential Francophones by making their children go to French school, this is hardly surprising. The text also fails to address the growing problem of Xenophobia in Quebec, which begs the question as to whether the document’s definition of the English Speaking Quebecois refers exclusively to white English-speakers in the province.

What Couillard’s document does do is reiterate what Quebec wants from a relationship with Canada as party to the constitution:

  • Recognition of the Quebec Nation
  • Respect for Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction
  • Autonomy
  • Flexibility and asymmetry
  • Cooperation and administrative agreements
  • Shared institutions

This is all sealed together with the assertion that Quebec’s “full and complete participation in Canada” must come from a “concrete and meaningful recognition” of the province as “the only predominantly French-speaking state in North America and as such, heir to a rich and unique culture that must be protected, supported, and developed.”

Couillard’s plan to reopen the constitutional debate has been met with mixed feelings.

Bloc Québecois leader Martine Ouellet acknowledges that it’s a political move but welcomes it as an opportunity to reopen discussions about Quebec sovereignty. Though the Parti Québecois has decided to put aside the issue of sovereignty for the time being, leader Jean-François Lisée commended Couillard for acknowledging the need to address Quebec’s place within Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has more or less said it’s not a topic to be reopened, while Amir Khadir, an MNA for Québec Solidaire, claims it’s a ploy by the Couillard government to deflect attention from the scandals surrounding the Premier and his party.

It is Khadir’s interpretation of Couillard’s move that seems the most plausible. A simple Google search of Couillard’s name with the word “scandal” will reveal much about the shortcomings of his government. There is everything from the arrest of deputy-premier Nathalie Normandeau for corruption, to Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette’s mismanagement of our health care system and Barrette’s defensive victim-blaming, to the police surveillance scandal, to the Bombardier executive bonus scandal available to learn about online. With his government up for reelection next year, there is much Couillard needs to deflect attention from.

Let’s not take the bait, and keep our eyes where they belong: not on a can of worms that should not be opened, but on the government holding the can opener.

On May 24, 2017 Quebec construction workers walked off the job after failing to sign a collective agreement with their employers. Though the provincial government threatened pass Bill 142 which would force them back to work the following Monday if they failed to do so, the Couillard government chose to table said bill and construction workers remain on strike.

Labour disputes are as Québecois as poutine and tire sur glace. No matter the time of year, some group from public prosecutors to hotel workers to teachers to nurses is always on strike because in Quebec we have an expression:

“Au Québec, on syndique!”

In Quebec, we unionize.

Though for many people labour disputes are nothing more than a public nuisance characterised by service delays and screaming picketers, unions play a vital role in protecting thirty to forty percent of workers in Quebec.

Historically, it was the unions that fought for living wages, reasonable working hours, and safer working conditions. Unions were at the forefront of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution that fought government corruption and the oppressive hold of the Catholic Church on the province.

Today unions and the laws that protect them keep big business from trampling all over their employees and no case says that better than the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in 2014 in United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 503 v. Wal Mart Canada Corp..

We’ve all heard stories like this before.

Wal-Mart opens a store, treats its workers like garbage, and when they exercise their legal right to form an association to protect themselves the company fires the lot of them by closing the store. Wal-Mart always claims that it’s because the store in question wasn’t profitable and had nothing to do with the unionization of its employees. Normally companies like Wal-Mart get away with this sort of thing, but not in Quebec.

In Quebec we have the Labour Code, which establishes strict rules of what employers and employees can and cannot do when it comes to unions and collective bargaining. Though the Code provides rules on unions of employees and associations of employers, this article will focus on the unions.

The Labour Code defines a union or association of employees as a:

“a group of employees constituted as a professional syndicate, union, brotherhood or otherwise, having as its objects the study, safeguarding and development of the economic, social and educational interests of its members and particularly the negotiation and application of collective agreements”

Associations of employees can engage in bargaining with their employer(s) to establish a collective agreement, which is a written contract between them establishing the conditions of employment. These agreements are generally drafted, negotiated and signed when the union is formed, and when they’re up for renewal. That said, the Code has a series of obligations and rights for employers and employees.

Employees in Quebec have the right to belong to an association of their choice and can participate in said association’s formation, activities, and management. Employers and their representatives are not allowed to threaten or intimidate someone with the intent to scare them out of joining or participating in such an association. At the same time, associations of employees are not allowed to use those tactics to get a worker to join them.

Unions are not allowed to solicit membership during working hours, and they’re not allowed to hold meetings at the place of work unless they are certified by the Labour Tribunal and have their employer’s consent.

Employers are not allowed to “dominate, hinder or finance the formation or the activities” of the unions, a provision undoubtedly put in place due to Quebec’s long tradition of corruption. They are not allowed to refuse to hire someone for exercising their rights as per the Labour Code, and they’re not allowed to engage in threats, intimidation, discrimination, reprisals or dismissals for exercising those rights.

If an employer engages in these illegal behaviors, employees can file a complaint with Quebec’s Administrative Labour Tribunal within thirty days of the sanction or action. If the Administrative Labour Tribunal agrees that an employee tried to exercise their right under the Labour Code, any action taken against said employee by their employer is presumed to have been the result of attempting to exercise said right.

It’s then up to the employer to prove those actions were for a “good and sufficient” reason. If the Tribunal doesn’t buy the employer’s explanation, it can in turn order the reinstatement of the employee within eight days of the tribunal’s decision, and even order that the employer pay the employee an indemnity equivalent to the salary and benefits lost due to reprisals against them.

The Code establishes rules of how unions can decide to go on strike, voting procedures within the union, and the certification process in which the union applies for recognition by the Administrative Labour Tribunal to act as representative for the workers of a given employer. It describes who counts as a union member and procedures for negotiating a collective agreement.

What Wal-Mart was caught for is a violation of article 59 of the Labour Code that bars employers from changing the conditions of employment during the unionization process. The union successfully argued before the Supreme Court that closing the store was a prohibited change in employment conditions. The Court ordered Wal-Mart to compensate its former employees.

If all negotiations for a collective agreement fail, either the union or the employer or both can apply to government to force arbitration. Arbitration is somewhere on the legal spectrum between mediation and a trial. Like in mediation, both parties submit their dispute to a third with the goal of finding a decent solution for both parties, but like a trial the decision is binding. This typically happens in cases of serious impasse.

Though strikes in Quebec can be a public nuisance, labour laws and unions not only protect Quebec workers but also allowed us to spank Wal-Mart.

* Featured image: lifeinquebec.com

Four months after Françoise David resigned from all of her political functions, it is time for the people of Gouin to choose her successor. The by-election in this riding which contains parts of Rosemont and La Petite-Patrie has been followed with extraordinary attention by Quebeckers of all political stripes, as it served up one wild card after another.

There are now no less than 13 names on the ballot and none of them are from the Parti Québécois.  Although all candidates seek to make their mark, the stakes are incomparably high for Québec Solidaire, who risks losing one of their three seats at the National Assembly.

Forget the Box spoke with the main contenders.  Can you guess which candidate said what? Here are some quotes. Make your guess and then click to find out if you were correct and read more about that candidate:

“When Thomas Mulcair won, that’s when I switched to provincial politics, because the NDP had clearly taken a turn towards the center of Canadian politics and I’m not someone who is interested in being in a centrist party.”

 

“I identify a lot with Mme David, and also Mr Gerard – a veteran from the student movement- and Mr Boisclair, who never hesitated to bring new ideas to his party, a bit like me.”

 

“It’s harder and harder to get affordable housing in the neighbourhood and, of course, it’s people with lower incomes who are suffering for it.”

 

“The Energy East pipeline: we have no jurisdiction on that. It’s gonna go through 800 of our rivers and the question is not is it going to leak, but when is it going to leak.”

 

“Most people want to overthrow the liberal government. People are sick of the current corruption, so I think their priority is to have an alternative.”

 

The Gouin by-election is Monday, May 29, 2017 and advance voting is already underway. Voting info is available at monvote.qc.ca

If you are experiencing difficulty viewing the answers through our App, please try with our Mobile Site version 

According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, young people should get used to temporary employment. That means that Generations X, Y, and Millennials should get used to badly paid uncertain employment with lousy or no benefits to speak of.

This article is not about how our Prime Minister rode the younger vote into office on a promise to fix unsteady employment. It’s not about the fact that Trudeau turned his back on young Canadians the same way protesters turn their backs on him.

This is about getting fired.

Dismissals are increasingly common as work gets more unstable. Fortunately, there are laws that protect people from the worst behaviors of employers.

In Quebec we have two main laws to protect employees: the Civil Code and the Act Respecting Labour Standards.

The Civil Code’s provision on dismissal says that if your period of employment is for an unfixed term, you are legally entitled to a notice of termination.

The notice of termination is a written document announcing that you’ve been dismissed from the job. If you’ve been working constantly at the job for three months or more, you are legally entitled to that notice.

The time between that notice and the day you are actually supposed to stop working depends on how long you’ve been there. If you’ve been working continuously at a job for between three months to a year, you’re legally entitled to one week’s notice. If you’ve been working one to five years, you’re supposed to get two weeks notice. For five to ten years of service, you’re entitled to four weeks notice, and for over ten years of service, you’re legally entitled to eight weeks of notice.

Most employers do not want you at the job after they’ve decided to fire you, and they are allowed to ask you to leave, but there is a catch. If they don’t want you working during the mandatory time between serving you the notice and the time you are legally entitled to, they have to pay you an indemnity equivalent to the wages you would have gotten for that period. That means that if you’re entitled to two weeks notice and they ask to leave right away, they owe you two weeks’ pay. It should be noted however that if your employer fails to give you that notice or indemnity, you are legally entitled to ask for it and should.

When it comes to the act of actually firing someone, there are only a few legitimate reasons an employer can use. They can fire you for misconduct, for having a bad attitude, for your lack of skills, insufficient performance, or your incompetence, all of which are considered “good and sufficient cause for dismissal”.

What employers cannot do is fire you as punishment for something they’ve already reprimanded you for. It’s the double jeopardy rule of employment law that means that if, for example, you screwed up at work and your boss suspended you for a week for your actions, they’re not allowed to fire you for the exact same mistake.

Employers are also not allowed to engage in “constructive dismissal”, known in French as “congediement deguisee” or disguised dismissal. This is the practice where instead of firing you outright, in which case they’d have to give you the proper notice, indemnity, and paperwork, your employer makes a unilateral and fundamental change to your employment without reasonable notice, thus making your working conditions so unpleasant that you quit on your own.

This includes, for example, cutting your hours by crazy amounts when you’ve worked a certain number of hours at this job for years, or unilaterally cutting your pay without explanation. If the changes to your working conditions are so dramatic you’ll have to quit your job to find conditions equivalent to the ones you had before, you can argue that you’ve been the victim of constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal can also take the form of psychological harassment making your job so unbearable that you quit.

The almighty layoff is another way you can lose your job, but it does not carry the same stigma as dismissal. Permanent layoffs are related to the internal or economic life of the employer and supposedly have nothing to do with the employee(s) they let go – the sort of “it’s not you, it’s ME” version of dismissal. Reasons for layoff can include a decline in the company’s business, reorganization of the business, the implementation of new technology, or the sale of the business.

Regardless of whether you were terminated or laid off, the rules regarding notices of dismissal still apply. If you suspect your employer has mishandled letting you go, feel free to call the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail at 1 844 838-0808 to see if you have any legal recourse.

If you decide to go after your employer for how they treated you, you have a few options. If you had two or more years of uninterrupted employment before being dismissed and feel that you were let go without a good and sufficient cause, you can file a complaint with the Commission des normes within forty-five days of your termination. The complaint must be in written form and failure to do so within that time makes you lose your right to pursue it.

The Commission des normes de travail can then act on your behalf to come up with some kind of agreement between you and your employer to ensure the law is obeyed. You also have the option of suing your employer in civil court. If you cannot afford a lawyer, remember that legal aid may be an option for you.

In this era of unstable employment, employees need to protect themselves more than ever. The next time you get let go, contact Normes de travail. You may have more rights than you think.

On April 13, 2017 the Orange Racist Misogynist US President’s Mar-a-Lago resort was found to have at least thirteen health violations.

This article is not about the current US President, who seems to waste too much time at a resort that improperly disposes of fish parasites and stores food on rusty shelves, thus causing health risks to his fellow wealthy white male gasbags.

This article is about food safety.

Anyone who has endured severe nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea after what seemed to be a safe and pleasant restaurant meal knows that food poisoning and food safety are no laughing matter. Food poisoning can cause hours or even days of discomfort and in some cases, even death. It is for this reason that food safety is so important.

In Canada, food safety is a major priority and every food-related industry is affected. Since the process of food inspection spans farming to fisheries to restaurants to the production of processed foods, this article is going to focus specifically on restaurant and food service safety and inspection.

Food safety and inspections relating to restaurants and food services in Canada are generally handled by the provincial authorities, though when there’s a big city involved, the provinces often delegate to municipal authorities, as in the case in Quebec.

In Quebec, restaurant and food safety is handled by primarily by the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pecheries et de l’Alimentation (MAPAQ). MAPAQ delegates responsibility for food safety inspections in Montreal to the City of Montreal’s department of food inspection. Both organizations must enforce the Quebec Food Products Act.

The Quebec Food Products Act is a law that covers basic food safety in the province of Quebec. It defines food as anything that can be used to feed man or animals, including beverages but excluding anything alcoholic, which falls under the Act respecting the Société des alcools du Québec. Ice and bottled water are also considered food as per the act if they are intended for sale by volume or for preserving or preparing food. This information is not only useful for those charged with enforcing the law, but also handy for anyone arguing with a loved one about whether or not their favorite snack food is actually “real food”.

The term “restaurateur” as per the act refers to anyone who serves or sells meals or refreshments for consumption. This includes operators of schools and establishments governed by the Act respecting health services and social services, the Act respecting health services and social services for Cree Native persons, the Act respecting the Québec correctional system, and the Government and their departments or agencies.

The rules for food safety as per the Act are clear.

No one can prepare, keep for sale, purchase, sell, and resale or give as promotional items food that is unfit for human consumption, so deteriorated as to be unfit for human consumption, or if the safety of the food is “uncertain”.

Facilities used for food preparation and the vehicles used to transport it must be clean and sanitized. Machinery used in food preparation must be in good working order, designed for their intended use, and permit the cleaning and disinfecting of the machine when necessary. People involved in food preparation must comply with hygiene and sanitation rules prescribed by government regulations.

The City of Montreal’s Food Inspection Department has been around since 1927 and is now charged with enforcing the Act in the city. Their team of forty inspectors works to protect food consumers by ensuring the quality and safety of food prepared in restaurants, retail establishments, and in the transformation, preparation, storage, and distribution of food sectors. The City’s food inspection team is also responsible for temporary establishments, such as food stands set up for special events like the Montreal Jazz Festival, Grand Prix, and Just for Laughs.

The job of the inspectors is to inspect food and food related businesses and activities in terms of health risks and safety. They can also advise food business operators on good food safety practices, and conduct food quality and safety analyses.

As they have been charged by MAPAQ with enforcing the Act, the City’s food inspectors can charge and impose penalties on those in violation of the Food Products Act, which consist of fines ranging from two hundred and fifty dollars to two thousand dollars for a first offense, with fines increasing for every subsequent offense.

The City often imposes fines in response to complaints, which can be made by anyone witnessing unsanitary conditions at a restaurant or retail food seller, or following the consumption of food at an establishment that made the person sick. You can either phone in a complaint at 514-280-4300, or fill in an online form available at the City of Montreal’s website. In order to successfully submit a complaint online, all you need to provide are your name and contact info, the name and address of establishment, and the date and a brief description of the incident. The information provided is considered confidential and once a complaint is received, the City inspectors should respond within twenty-four hours.

Want to try a new restaurant or café but doubtful of its cleanliness? The City of Montreal has a page allowing you to see if a place has previously been cited for food safety violations. You can search for it according to the name of the place, the address, the street, city, or type of business. Just remember that a previous citation for health violations doesn’t necessarily mean the place is not up to code now.

The City of Montreal gets about 1900 complaints a year for everything from unclean conditions, to spoiled food, to vermin, to illness following food consumption. In a city that thrives on vibrant restaurant culture, food safety is a major priority, so don’t be afraid to give them a call the next time your food makes you sick.

* Featured image by Michela Simoncini, Creative Commons

2016 is ending and we can collectively agree it’s been a shitty year. Cops are spying on journalists, our Prime Minister has turned his back on the young people who elected him, comedians are being punished for their jokes, and icons from Prince to Bowie to Muhammad Ali to Carrie Fisher have left us. In the legal world it’s been an ongoing ugly parade and with the year FINALLY coming to an end, it’s time for a recap of some of the major legal issues affecting us this past year.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

The ongoing crisis in Aleppo has led to tons of refugees fleeing Syria. Unlike the US where debates regarding the refugee crisis were fraught with concerns about terrorism and an emphasis on keeping victims of Aleppo out, the Trudeau government took the moral high ground and pledged to welcome twenty-five thousand Syrian refugees. The Canadian government ended up going above and beyond this pledge and have thus far taken in thirty-eight thousand seven hundred and thirteen Syrian refugees.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

On February 3, 2016, Federal Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on Canada’s behalf. Canada’s participation in the treaty was negotiated by the Harper government before its colossal defeat by the Liberals in 2015. Whether Parliament ratifies the agreement thus legally binding Canada remains to be seen.

Uber Crisis

Montreal taxi protest (photo Chris Zacchia)

Quebec cities were rife with cab drivers protesting Uber, a car service that is not bound by the ridiculous and expensive rules that must be obeyed by taxi drivers and company owners that specify everything from pricing and car specs to what the driver wears. In September 2016 Uber made a deal with the Quebec government which included Uber acquiring 300 taxi permits and obliging drivers to get a class 4C license and insurance. With the cab industry in Montreal already flooded, it remains to be seen whether this tentative deal will create peace between taxi companies and Uber.

Panama Papers

In April 2016 the decryption of the Panama Papers revealed the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to have helped many of the world’s wealthiest people hide their assets from governments. Those named included terrorists, CEOs, politicians, and athletes. Canadian tycoon and political wannabe Kevin O’Leary is dismissive of the papers, possibly because he too is hiding wealth from Canadian taxpayers for his own benefit.

Anti-Vaxxers and Naturopathic Remedies

David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life for failing to get their son medical attention for bacterial meningitis. As the Stephans are anti-vaxxers distrustful of modern medicine, their 19-month old boy Ezekiel was instead treated with echinacea, garlic, onions, hot peppers and horseradish. By the time he was brought to a hospital it was too late and the boy died. David Stephan has since been sentenced to 4 months in prison while Collet to 3 months of house arrest. They have been ordered to bring their kids to a medical doctor once a year and a nurse every 3 months.

OQLF

Quebec Culture Minister Hélène David announced modifications to Quebec language laws that would force businesses with trademarked non-French names to add French to their signs. Though the proposal is clearly in retaliation for the government’s legal defeat against Best Buy in 2014, it remains to be seen whether the changes will go through in a province exhausted and fed up with language and cultural debates.

Ghomeshi Verdict

In May 2016 former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi signed a peace bond to settle a sexual assault trial. Though for many this is a slap on the wrist, his former victim Kathryn Borel celebrated the bond as a public acknowledgment of Ghomeshi’s guilt. The 12 month long bond guarantees Ghomeshi will go to prison should he violate its terms and does not limit the prosecution from going after him for other sexual assaults.

Mike Ward

Mike Ward (photo Cem Ertekin)

In July 2016 Montreal Comedian Mike Ward was ordered to pay $42 000 to a disabled kid and his mother for making fun of him in one of his jokes. The verdict, which Ward has sworn to appeal, has turned the Quebec Human Rights Commission from a means of social justice to one of censorship. No one has questioned why the kid went after Ward and not the bullies who used his joke to hurt him, but it’s likely due to Ward’s celebrity status and wealth.

Pitbull Ban

Following the death of a Pointe-Aux-Trembles woman after she was mauled by a dog, the City of Montreal has adopted a ban on dangerous breeds. The ban is hugely unpopular and has resulted in protests, the latest being the SPCA’s refusal to take in dogs following the Quebec Court of Appeal’s reinstatement of the ban after the Superior Court overturned it.

STM Fines

On September 7, 2016 the Municipal Court of Montreal ruled that fines given by STM rent-a-cops to people unable to produce their transfer is unconstitutional. The STM has vowed to appeal the decision.

Judge Robin Camp

In November 2016, Judge Robin Camp was recommended for removal from the bench by the Canadian Judicial Council following an inquiry into his conduct during a rape trial. Though the judge promised to reform, his behavior demonstrated such contempt for victims of sexual assault the Council ruled no amount of sensitivity training would repair his damage to the judiciary’s reputation.

Seafood and Civil Liability

In May 2016 Simon-Pierre Canuel ingested salmon at a bistro in Sherbrooke sending him into anaphylactic shock. He is now suing the restaurant and waiters for $415,000 though his negligence regarding his food allergy and rumours that he has tried to scam restaurants in the past make it unlikely he will get the full amount.

This past year has been full of legal debates that are as fascinating as they are numerous and outrageous. For every dispute brought before courts and councils we come closer to what we all strive for: a just society.

In 2017, let’s aim for just that.