Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced on social media today that the city is working on a bylaw that will require everyone to wear a mask when in enclosed indoor public spaces as of July 27th. There will be fines for businesses and individuals caught breaking the bylaw after that date.

The Quebec Government made mask wearing mandatory on public transit last week. This latest move by Montreal builds on that and was spurred, according to Plante, by outbreaks of COVID-19 off-island and the current situation in the US.

Plante explained to Le Téléjournal that while the bylaw will apply to bars and restaurants, people will, of course, be able to remove their masks when eating and drinking. The mayor said the city consulted with bar and restaurant owners as well as other merchants before making the announcement.

The bylaw will not apply to private shared spaces like the common areas of apartment buildings or office towers. The Quebec Government is working on regulations or recommendations for those spaces.

While it will take three weeks to work out all the specifics and make sure people are properly notified before the bylaw goes into effect, Plante hopes Montrealers will start acting like it’s already a reality and wear masks when indoors in public. As the mayor told CBC, the bylaw will be re-evaluated on a monthly basis.

UPDATE: The Quebec Government has reversed its decision to only release data weekly and will instead continue to release it on a daily basis.

Yesterday, the Quebec Government announced that it will no longer be publishing daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths as it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. They will still be collecting data but only releasing it to the public on a weekly basis.

Today, at a press conference in Montreal, Quebec’s National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda assured reporters that the data will still be looked at on a daily basis and if there was urgent information that needs to be communicated, it will be. Also, if the numbers start rising, they will go back to daily updates.

Arruda also announced the deconfinement of most of the remaining sectors of the economy. Bars, amusement parks, casinos, spas, water parks and hotels can now re-open while festivals and other large events, overnight camps and combat-related sporting events cannot.

Arruda stressed that these businesses must impose social distancing restrictions, in particular the two-meter rule. He also encouraged wearing masks as much as possible and didn’t rule out reconfinement if COVID numbers spike.

There will undoubtedly be some changes in how some businesses operate. For example, Arruda mentioned that bar patrons will need to remain seated as much as possible and not move around, much like restaurants, so probably no dance floor either.

A few years ago, there was a push to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after late Montreal jazz legend Oscar Peterson. Now that movement is back, currently in the form of a petition.

Of course it has returned now. With statues to racists and colonialists toppling all around the world, and in particular in the US, people are re-evaluating not only who needs to go, but who needs to be honoured instead.

Oscar Peterson was an eight-time Grammy winner praised by Duke Ellington as the “Maharaja of the keyboard” despite the keys only being his second instrument with a career that lasted over 60 years. He also grew up and honed his talents in Little Burgundy, one of the two communities directly served by the metro station.

As for the current namesake, Lionel Groulx, he was a vocal member of a far-right Quebec nationalist group from 1929-1939. Some, most notably Esther Deslile and Mordecai Richler, argue that the group, Groulx included, were borderline fascist and quite anti-Semetic.

Groulx also opposed Jewish immigration to Quebec in the time leading up to World War II and wanted people to boycott Jewish-owned Montreal businesses.

Was Groulx a slave-owner, murderous colonialist like Amherst, or avowed Nazi? No. Was he a virulent anti-Semite? Sure seems like it. Is he, at best, a problematic figure? Yes. Does he have anything to do with Little Burgundy or Montreal’s Sud-Ouest? Absolutely not.

So why name one of the most used metro stops in the city after him? There’s a small avenue bearing his name that intersects with Atwater Avenue right in front of the metro and the STM likes to name their stations after streets or places.

So, a quick fix would be for the city to rename Avenue Lionel Groulx in Little Burgundy Avenue Oscar Peterson and then the STM would have no excuse not to follow. Or, they could simply name the green area surrounding the metro Place Oscar Peterson, as with the area surrounding Place-St-Henri Metro.

Renaming a metro station won’t be erasing Lionel Groulx. There’s also a CEGEP named after him and a street in Saint-Leonard.

But isn’t Oscar Peterson already honoured? Yes, Concordia’s concert hall on the Loyola Campus bears his name, as it should, but that’s at the western end of NDG, two metro stops and a bus ride from the community he grew up in.

Shouldn’t our metro stations and other landmarks honour our local communities and, in particular, our racialzied communities? Why does some white Quebec nationalist theorist with problematic views get a Montreal Metro station in between Little Burgundy and St-Henri named after him when there is clearly a better, more locally representative and internationally renown option?

It’s not just about removing, it’s about respecting and reflecting our communities. We need Metro Oscar-Peterson. If you agree, sign the petition.

Featured image of Peterson in 1977 by Tom Marcello via WikiMedia Commons

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh came to the House of Commons Wednesday intending to get unanimous consent on a motion calling out systemic racism in the RCMP. He was forced to leave early because apparently calling out racism in other house members violates parliamentary decorum.

The motion calls on the House to recognize that systemic racism exists within the RCMP. It also calls on the government to review the federal police force’s budget as well as accountability measures and training and raise non-police spending on mental health and addiction support.

It should have been easy to pass. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has even admitted that systemic racism does exist within the force.

The Liberals supported the motion, so did the Greens. Even the Conservatives didn’t stand against the obvious reality that everyone knew and were ready to give it unanimous approval.

Enter the Bloc Québécois with a very audible objection. What happened next wasn’t picked up by the mics, but it turns out that it doesn’t really matter.

Singh told Speaker Anthony Rota, after Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille raised an objection, that there was no need to listen to a recording of the exchange as yes, he did indeed call Bloc MP Alain Therrien racist. When asked to apologize, Singh refused and Rota, at the Bloc’s urging, told Singh he would have to leave the chamber for the rest of the day for using “unparliamentary language” and not apologizing.

Apologize? No, an apology is something that is warranted when someone uses vulgar language or makes an unfounded insinuation. Or if someone uses racist language themselves.

At least that’s what it should be. I couldn’t find racist on this list of banned words in Parliament from 2011, but if it was added later, it shouldn’t have been.

What the speaker was asking Singh to do was retract an accusation while using the language of parliamentary decorum as a smokescreen. After leaving the chamber, Singh held a press conference (which you should watch) where he reiterated that opposing the motion was, in and of itself, racist.

The Bloc later claimed that it blocked the motion because it supports a request that a Commons public safety committee study the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP and that it would be “inappropriate” to jump the gun by saying systemic racism exists. Translation: Instead of doing anything about the problem we all know is there, let’s go back to debating if the problem exists.

But why? As Singh mentioned in his press conference, the RCMP is clearly under Federal jurisdiction, so there is no trampling of Quebec’s autonomy involved.

If it was a call to look into systemic racism in the SQ (which there is, btw), I’d get the Bloc being up in arms. But it’s not and now the Bloc is defending the RCMP in a way that the RCMP doesn’t even want to defend itself.

It’s, as Singh admitted, a small step but a logical one. If the Conservatives aren’t afraid of bigots in their base turning on them over this, I can’t imagine the Bloc being scared about it.

So if opposition isn’t about Quebec’s jurisdiction or even a political ploy and it’s clearly not about the public interest, what does that leave? Racism.

In his press conference, Singh referenced Therrien’s dismissive gesture after he caught the NDP Leader’s eye. That reads to me like “look at my privilege, I’m doing this because I want to. And you can’t stop me. What are you going to do? Call me a racist?”

And Singh did. And the Bloc cowered and begged the Speaker to punish the him for stepping out of line and calling out racism. And the Speaker obliged.

Or, as Niall put it:

Systemic racism is having the first racialized leader in Canadian history calling out racism in the HoC and then being asked to apologize for doing so… #Gaslighting101

Posted by Niall Meyshar on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Bloc are fucking racist for opposing this motion. If I was in Parliament, I would apologize for the curse word, but not for the assertion. And Jagmeet Singh has nothing to apologize for.

The history of colonization is dark. Indigenous peoples of Canada have been facing discrimination and racism since European setters began to occupy their land in the 1400s. Stolen land, the death of language, residential schools and centuries of abuse are still present in the Canadian justice system and in many Indigenous communities today.

Effforts to unveil the truths of systemic racism that run rampant in our society are a step in the right direction, but the media often misses the most obvious truths, the ones that lie right in front of our noses.

The death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement took over the news last week, shining the light on systemic racism within the judicial system in the United States. Thousands have been taking to the streets, protesting against racism and for police reform. We must, however, remember not to shine the light too far away from our own.

Colonization is ongoing. Though the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia has never signed over their land to European settlers, their 22 000 km of land has never officially been recognized as their own, and protected under Canadian law.

Montreal Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Protest June 5, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

That is why, last Friday, June 5th, On Friday, June 5th, a crowd of around 300 protesters gathered around the George-Etienne Cartier monument at Jean-Mance Park to protest the CGL pipeline in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation.

Last January and February, a string of nation-wide protests and VIA rail blockades halted access from Montreal to Toronto. Media presence had waned since the COVID-19 pandemic took over, but the fight is still far from over.

Though a landmark Memorandum of Understanding was signed that recognizes some rights of the Wet’suwet’en people, it does not affect the construction of the CGL pipeline, which is still opposed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. The protest was organized by student groups that focus on environmental protection.

“Climate justice doesn’t exist without indigenous sovereignty and being in solidarity with the indigenous people especially here in Canada,” said John Nathaniel Gurtler, a Dawson student in environmental studies and an organizer of the event for La CEVES, Student Coalition for Environmental and Social Change in English.

The event was supposed to take place on that Sunday, but changed when the protests against the murder of George Floyd were organized for the same date.

“We see it as all sort of under the same umbrella of justice and fighting for people who have faced systematic racism,” said Gurtler. “The Indigenous people, just like Black people here in Canada, are people who have for hundreds of years faced racism and oppression and have been put aside.”

“What we need here is a real revolution for oppressed people. In Canada, it’s indigenous people, it’s not just black people,” Gurtler continued. “It’s all under the same umbrella of justice and showing up in solidarity.”

The CGL pipeline is set to run through 190 square km of traditional Wet’suwet’en land in Northern British Columbia. Though five out of six Wet’suwet’en elected band council members signed on to the CGL pipeline, the government never asked permission from the hereditary chiefs, who have had custodianship over the 22 000 km of unceded traditional land according to ongoing, pre-colonial tradition.

Last year, the Trudeau government ordered the RCMP to invade the Unist’ten camp – built on the borders of Wet’suwet’en territory during another contested pipeline project in 2010, where many other planned pipelines have been planned to cross over.

Montreal Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Protest June 5, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded; the Nation have never signed a treaty or agreed to share the 22 000 square km of traditional land they have had since before European settlers began to occupy their territory in the 1800s. In November 2019, the BC provincial government passed legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act. The declaration includes 46 articles, covering Indigenous culture, community, identity, health, and more.

The provincial government’s decision not to engage in meaningful discussion counteracted their implementation of the UN Declaration. Hereditary chiefs asked for UN intervention after RCMP invaded their camps. In January, a UN committee fighting racism urged RCMP officials to leave the territory.

The situation sparked national and international outrage. Nationwide protests throughout January and February led to the shut down of Canadian VIA rail trains, and international support from Indigenous communities and land defenders worldwide. The Kahnawake community in Montreal stepped forward, as well, with hints of the 1990 Oka crisis thick in the air.

Though the pipeline isn’t yet in the ground, already two oil spills are being investigated by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. Though the CGP pipeline, widely contested both nationally and internationally, is still in its’ early phases, 500 liters of oil have leaked onto Wet’suwet’en territory.

“They haven’t even started putting the pipeline in and they have a big mess already,” said Marlene Hale, Wet’suwet’en representative at the protest. The spills occurred close to Morice river, where the locals fish, explained Hale.

Montreal Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Protest June 5, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Hereditary chiefs, whose traditional job it is to protect the land, and land defenders worry about the negative effects of the pipeline to the environment, and the effects it will have on future generations.

The situation is reminiscent of North Dakota’s Keystone pipeline, contested by Indigenous land defenders worldwide in fear of the repercussions of an oil spill that would affect members of the society, their drinking water and infrastructures. Over 380 000 gallons of oil spilled from the pipeline in November 2019.

Media presence of the anti-pipeline protests was strong in January and February, but quickly fizzled out as the COVID-19 pandemic began. The virus did not stop CGL pipeline workers from continuing construction.

The official website of the pipeline shows how far along each segment of the project is. Currently, 75% of the route has been cleared.

“The idea of the protest started during the pandemic when the federal government announced that they would be funding the pipeline project with up to 500 million dollars,” explained Gertler. “That happened sort of under the radar, and several of us said that this can’t happen. We were fed up with being behind our screens and we wanted to do something more direct.”

The issue is both environmental and social, tying in Indigenous land rights to misuse of the land.

The provincial government’s ability to supersede Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ wishes stems from the Indian Act. Though both the provincial and federal government have recognized Wet’suwet’en land as unceded during an MOU signing last month, land rights are still undefined.

“[The MOU] is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t mention the Coastal GasLink at all, which is central to all of this,” said Gertler. “Even during the pandemic it was happening – while we were told to stay inside and limit ourselves to essential things, the pipeline, which is definitely not essential, is being built.”

“[It puts] indigenous communities in danger which are already at a heightened risk – communities that don’t have the systems in place to deal with outbreaks and don’t have running water sometimes to wash their hands,” he continued

“What we need here is a real revolution for oppressed people,” he added.

Protesters began the trek on wheels from the George Etienne Cartier monument at Jean-Mance around 7pm, after Marlene Hale, a chef from Wet’suwet’en nation who lives in Montreal, addressed the crowd.

“The RCMP still taunt us, laugh at us,” she said. “They pretty much just want us to have the COVID and go away and die.”

Though the situation induces anger, Hale maintained that it’s important to stay positive. “Choose your words carefully, what you say to your neighbors,” she said. “Don’t get people angry for any reason. Keep it here [at the protest].”

“When I do meditation, I’ve learned all the time is – there’s a positive time and there’s a negative side. And when it gets negative, just flush it.”

The 300 or so protestors rode down Parc Avenue, all the way across the city to Parc Maisonneuve in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough, masked up with signs attached to bikes. The 45 minute trek ended as the sun began to set in the park.

The June 5th date held extra importance. It was that day that the BC government held the trial for 22 land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP in February. They were not charged.

On the same day, Bill 61 – a law that criminalizes folk who choose to protest the CGL pipeline with a $25 000 infraction or jail time – was passed in Alberta, where the pipeline starts at Dawson Creek.

“There’s no way that these people who are often disadvantaged are going to be able to pay $25 000. So it’s terrible. It’s a disgrace to democracy and it’s terrible,” said Gertler.

While not everybody has the health to protest, organizer Albert Lalonde, spokesperson from La Ceve, said that folks can show support and solidarity by becoming educated on systemic racism and microaggressions, signing petitions, and donating money to funds.

“I think we see it as a responsibility to just be allies to those who have always been the land and water protectors,” he said. “We’ve stolen their land, and we must hand it back, it’s our responsibility. We have to stop this system of oppression that they have to deal with every day. Not doing so would mean that we are complicit, and this is not a thing we want, it’s not a thing we can accept. They have their right to self-determination, we’re on their land,” he said.

La CEVES plans to continue environmental and solidarity protests throughout the summer.

Photos by Bree Rockbrand

Protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue as thousands gathered at Place Emilie Gamelin last Sunday.

Protestors spent their sunny afternoon marching peacefully in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, reignited by the death of African American man George Floyd, who died in police custody for a harmless infraction on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes as he pleaded for his life.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Floyd’s death sparked international outrage, with protests against police brutality and systemic racism uniting folks from across the world to take part in actions towards police reform.

Montreal’s second major Black Lives Matter protest since Floyd’s death, the event initially sparked local backlash after organizers, Nous sommes la ligue des noirs nouvelle génération, invited the Montreal Police (SPVM) Chief to join the protest. The decision was contested by locals, and a day later the invitation was withdrawn. In an open Facebook message, the organization wrote that “citizens are terrified of the idea that [the police chiefs] will be there.”

Still, the invitation did not stop police from teargassing the crowd around 7pm.

At 11am, after a two-hour solidarity event reserved for the Black community, the thousands of protesters, most following organizers’ directions to stay masked, began to move downtown.

Organizers offered free masks and gloves to protestors to maintain safety. For many, it was the first major outing since the COVID-19 pandemic halted large scale collective gathering at the end of March, though with a crowd so large it was difficult to follow the two meter social distance requirements.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Most protests held signs, with different messages; some more humorous, shedding light on the unity and togetherness of the situation while others alluded to the seriousness of the crimes. A simple sign, “8:46”, paid homage to Floyd’s death; it represents the amount of time Floyd suffocated under the officer’s knee.

Most protestors dispersed around 2pm, where the march ended at Dorchester Square, though many continued into the day to march around the downtown area, eventually coming face to face with a wall of police in full riot gear, shields, face masks, and rubber bullet guns.

Stanley Courages, a protestor at the event, said he joined in support of the Black Lives Matter movements. To him, it’s a symbol that things are going bad, “and going bad for a lot of people,” he said.

“The system is sick, but we all know that. Nobody has the nerve to say it out loud,” he continued. “This is nice to see, Black, White, Latin, a little bit of Asian… it’s nice to see all kinds of people. […] Somehow, some way, people can relate to it, the sadness, whatever the problem they have with this kind of system. So I’m here for that symbol.”

The spotlight is on what he calls the Black movement because Black folks have been put at the bottom since colonization, he said. But Black folks aren’t the only ones suffering, he explained.

“The black movement – the same thing as the Black Lives Matter – that’s what I see as a symbol that everyone is not okay with this system,” he said.
Pascale Lavache, another protestor at the event and who is Black, said she is marching for her nine year old son.

“I want him to not have to march when he’s my age, when he’s grown,” she said.

“I’m happy to see there’s lot of the youth is present,” she continued. “it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. Everybody feels the injustice. Everybody feels the injustice, and I feel like this is a great movement and I’m happy to see everybody is standing up for this injustice that touches everybody. So I’m really marching for myself.”

To her, the Black Lives Matter movement is about standing up for what is right, and standing up for equal rights for everybody. “I think people need to understand that this is not just for [Black folks], it’s for everyone. And it needs to stop, this needs to stop. It’s a disservice for everybody when there’s no justice.”

Though most protestors broke up around 2pm, protests continued around the downtown area until around 7pm. It was then that police opened fire on the remaining protectors without warning.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

The use of tear gas, a chemical weapon that is banned in war, has been criticized by healthcare experts. It irritates the tear ducts, causing coughing, and potential irritation of the upper respiratory tract; all symptoms that could further spread the COVID-19 virus, experts say.

Already a violent weapon, its use at peaceful protests in the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic is problematic at the very least. Local healthcare professionals have called for police to cease its’ use – to no avail.

Though the protests have shed light on the systemic racism present in the Canadian justice system, Premier Francois Legault said publicly that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec. The thousands of protestors that hit the streets last Sunday would disagree.

From racial profiling, economic insecurity, and a lack of representation in all facets, Quebec’s longstanding whitewashing of its’ history and culture and xenophobia; including the contested Bill 62 which bands all religious symbols in public, prove a different, darker reality.

One way to ease the injustice, Lavache said, is for there to be equal representation at every level – in both media, politics, and police force.

“We need to have equal representation, whether it’s for women, LGBTQ,” she said. “Everyone needs to be represented. The more there’s equal representation, the more there will be justice.”

2020 came in without much fanfare for me. This despite a friend and I planning all the things we would do to bring in the New Year.

The days and weeks leading up to it we had planned to do everything from going to fancy bars, fancy dinners, clubs, you name it. However on New Year’s Eve, we were so tired we almost did not end up going anywhere at all.

We finally went to Chinatown and bumped into some co-workers, we ate briefly and decided we would walk to the Old Port to see the fireworks but we were too tired to make it up the hill so we decided to hop the metro to get a coffee at Tim Hortons instead. However, when we arrived, we realized we had missed the countdown by three minutes and the New Year had already rung in.

Like many people, I made resolutions and goals for the upcoming year. This was my year to shine! I had planned to go everywhere from Spain to England, Paris and Italy. I was going to get my scripts published and see the world.

Then it happened. The Coronavirus at first started off small. We heard about it, but as far as we knew, it was just a very heavy strain of the flu.

Despite the grumblings about this virus, I was still ready and willing to go on my voyage. I was lucky that I was able to take a trip earlier in the year to Boston without not too much fuss so I thought this would just be another forgotten virus that we would soon forget like SARS and the Bird Flu.

Then overnight it happened. Travel bans were in place. “Damn,” I thought there goes my trips.

Not long after that social distancing was introduced and stores were closed and so started our hell with this Coronavirus. Overnight our lives were crippled, many people lost their jobs, we couldn’t enjoy the basics like going to the movies or seeing our friends and families.

Even worse, people were dying and in large numbers. People were losing family members and couldn’t even bury their dead. It seemed night after night there was more devastation and the numbers kept climbing.

Would there be an end to this madness? Then there would be one tragedy after the next a mass shooting in Nova Scotia, the Royal Canadian Air Force crash and the snowbirds falling from the sky.

At this point, we all but wrote off this horrible year. Most people I knew could not be happy enough for 2020 to end and it was not even six months in yet.

Then, on May 25th Mr. George Floyd probably got up in the morning and went about his daily routine. I do not imagine that he ever imagined that it would be his last day on earth. I do not think that he could imagine the impact of his last 8:46 seconds would have on the world.

It’s no secret that racism against black people has always plagued America and countries throughout the world. Over the years there have been countless killings of unarmed black men, women and children by the police and by white supremacist and each time, there has been upset among people and sometimes mass protest becasuse of what has happened.

This time it’s different. Never before has the world erupted in unanimous protest over racism.

All across the world from England to Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada and of course the USA, many have taken a stand on racism. Not only have world leaders and celebrities taken a stand, but people who have never spoken out now have.

No Mas! Black Lives Matter! No Justice No Peace has been the sentiment that has been echoed across the world. Could it be that finally people the world over have seen and finally understand what has gone on for hundreds of years to Black Americans?

So, 2020 started horribly and has been a year full of hardship, sorrow and pains. The death of George Floyd broke our hearts, but could this horrible year, 2020, the year that no one will forget, be the year that one man’s last 8:46 managed to change the world?

Maybe 2020 will not be only remembered for the horrible Coronavirus that crippled the world but it will be also remembered for the 8:46 that changed it too!

Rest in peace Mr. Floyd because your death was not in vain.

Last Sunday, approximately 10 000 people took to the streets of Montreal demanding justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence. This Sunday there’s another local protest against police brutality.

Before we go any further, I’d like to address what I knew every newscast would lead with the following day right after it happened: Yes, there was some looting. A bit of looting and some broken windows, nothing that should detract from the valid and necessary reason so many people were out, social distancing as much as possible during a pandemic.

Lenny Lanteigne, owner of Steve’s Music Store, the main target of the looters last Sunday, gets it. He told CTV that he thinks the protest was necessary and while he’s obviously not thrilled people stole his inventory, he knows what’s important. “They’re guitars, not human lives.”

In the US currently, there’s a strong argument that some of the rioting is actually quite necessary to be heard and affect change. In just over a week, the story changed from “the cops are fired” to “we’ve arrested one cop and charged him with third-degree murder” to (just yesterday) “we’re charging him with second-degree murder and the three cops who stood by with aiding and abetting second degree murder”.

The looting last Sunday in Montreal, though, came across more like a mini hockey riot with mostly white dudes using the opportunity to steal stuff than something tied into the message of police racism. The SPVM officers kneeling to put on their riot gear before teargassing the crowd (which preceded the looting), though, was a small reminder that the police here aren’t really all that different than those in the states.

We’ve Got A Long List Too

The protest last Sunday may have been in solidarity with demonstrations across the US and now across the world, but it was also demanding justice for victims of racist police violence in Canada and Montreal too. For every George Floyd or Eric Garner, there’s a Regis Korchinski-Paquet or Fredy Villanueva.

We also have a serious problem with Canadian police indiscriminately brutalizing Indigenous people. From the so-called “starlight tours” out west to a recent local incident next to Cabot Square where a Native woman in distress had to deal with 17 cops and the SPVM (Montreal Police) canine unit before getting an ambulance, it seems like our police don’t think that Native Lives Matter.

Or Black Lives, apparently.

In a CBC study of fatal encounters with police of all levels across Canada over 17 years, Black and Indigenous people were seriously over-represented when compared to the overall population. Meanwhile a 2019 report commissioned by the City of Montreal revealed that the SPVM was four to five times more likely to stop Black or Indigenous people than whites.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did admit that Canada has a problem with police racism, after 21 seconds of awkward, probably staged, silence, while dodging a question about US President Donald Trump. Of course, anything that came after the 21 seconds, he knew, would get lost in the shuffle.

Quebec Premier François Legault, while supporting the protest, denied that systemic racism exists in Quebec. This from the man that, pre-pandemic, was all about systemically discriminating against minorities through Bill 21.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, to her credit, admitted that systemic discrimination does exist in our city. The question now becomes what she is going to do to fight it.

After initially opposing outfitting police with body cameras, she now says it will happen as soon as possible. This is largely due to pressure from boroughs like Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce and the public.

The Spotlight and the Shadows

Body cameras on police would be a welcome improvement, because unlike their counterparts south of the border, our police are camera-shy when it comes to race-based brutality. This helps our political leaders propagate the lie that violent and murderous police racism is a shameful American problem, but there are only a few bad apples here.

In the US, violent racist cops are brazen and kill in the daylight, either not caring who is watching or filming or hoping to be the next white supremacist champion or MAGA hero. George Zimmerman has fans and he wasn’t even trained.

Here, they’re just as brutal, but know to avoid the spotlight as much as possible. For the person on the receiving end, though, the result is the same.

With the only real-world empire most of us have ever known burning before our eyes and crumbling into a failed state, the kind the US would usually think of invading, it’s easy to get distracted. When we see peaceful protesters teargassed and assaulted by gleeful cops, it’s easy to forget that we have problems here too,

Solidarity with those fighting to get out from under Trump’s boot is essential, but remember that the underlying problem of racist police violence is a Canadian one, too.

The next Montreal Anti-Police Brutality Protests starts Sunday, June 14th at 11am at Place Emilie-Gamelin

Photos by IK (see the album)

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, a lot of catching up to do,” said Chief Gisday’wa. “A hundred and fifty years of it.”

At a virtual Zoom meeting held on May 14, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs met with the federal government of Canada and the provincial government of British Columbia to sign a three way Memorandum of Understanding.

The agreement immediately recognizes that Wet’suwet’en rights and title are held by the nation’s own system of governance, and include a commitment to beginning negotiations on legal recognition of Wet’suwet’en title to their traditional land.

Chief Gisday’wa was one of the plaintiffs in the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case, which led to a Supreme Court decision that recognized Wet’suwet’en system of laws that predates colonialism.

The deal was struck in February, amidst nation-wide protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation against the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, planned to run through 190 km of Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

The slogans ShutDownCanada and All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en swept the nation in January and February, with protestors showing support from all around the Wet’suwet’en as rail blockades halted access from Montreal to Toronto in solidarity.

The 670 km long natural gas pipeline is planned to carry gas from a town in eastern BC to a liquefaction plant on the west coast of the province, where the gas will be exported to Asian customers. It is known as the largest private sector investment in Canadian history.

While five of six elected band council members agreed with the project, the hereditary chiefs, whose role within the nation is to make decisions over the land, say they never consented. The dispute made global headlines, with UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for immediate withdrawal as RCMP raided the Unist’ot’en camp with guns in tow.

The Wet’suwet’en are just one of many First Nations in the province that have been attempting to negotiate jurisdiction, recognition of ownership, and self-government since Europeans began to settle on their traditional land in the 1800s.

“This is not just an indigenous issue, this is a human rights issue, the rights for us to be who we are as Wet’suwet’en People,” Cheif Na’Moks said at the virtual signing.

The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty or relinquished their rights to the 22,000km of land they have been inhabiting since pre-colonial times.

“There’s no turning back,” said Marlene Hale, a chef from Wet’suwet’en who led protests in Montreal. She says the MOU represents a step towards reconciliation.

“It’s a signal to the government that we may have agreed to start this work by starting the talks and negotiations,” she continued. “They will walk the path of reconciliation with us. That’s very important. The rights and titles will be recognized.”

In 1984, leaders of the Gitxcan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations took the BC provincial government to court to establish jurisdiction over 58 000 km of both land and water. The fight for recognition of ownership of the land had climbed to urgency when a hydroelectric project established by the BC government in the 50s caused major damage to the area of multiple First Nations groups, including the destruction of homes and of sacred burial ground.

As clear-cut logging projects were approved by the BC government, members of the Gixdan and Wet’suwet’en nations opposed the building of a second hydro project, the First Nations appealed the decision and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. During the trial, The First Nations group provided evidence to their historical ownership of the land by using oral history; witnesses spoke in their own languages, using translators to tell the long history of the land and water in the territory.

Ceremonial songs and performances, reciting the adaawk, personal bloodline histories of the Gitxsan, and kungas, songs about trials between territories of the Wet’suwet’en.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled oral history to be evidence of pre-colonial land ownership, and ruled that the right to the Nations’ land had not been extinguished.

The Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case made headlines as the most comprehensive decision about Aboriginal title, which legally states that “the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed”. While the case affirmed that the Wet’suwet’en may still have ownership of their land, any further decisions were not made.

The MOU, Hale said, “leads to a consensus on the government to implement the 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa [case] – it was really putting it official.”

The fight was still far from over. Land rights have yet to be clearly defined and articulated in court, even though it had been acknowledged that the Wet’suwet’en never signed over their land in a treaty.

In 2010, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and land defenders built the Unisto’ten Camp as a means to block the development of numerous proposed pipeline projects that would cut through the First Nation’s territory. Hereditary chiefs held their opposition to Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, a pipeline project whose’ path was similar to the future CGL.

A permaculture garden and a traditional pithouse were built on site, bringing life to the conflict, used for shelter are included in the camp which lays at the exact point pipelines would cross into Unis’to’ten Wet’suwet’en territory.

Though the ENGP project never went through, the CGL pipeline was officially approved in 2015, with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs remaining in opposition.

In 2014, Tsilhqot’in Nation in B.C. became the first to prove title to their land in court.

In another landmark Supreme Court ruling, provinces cannot unilaterally claim a right to engage in clear-cut logging on lands protected by Indigenous Peoples; they have to engage in meaningful consultation with the Aboriginal title-holder before proceeding.

“This is the first time I think that any of the governments have taken any real steps forwards towards trying to find reconciliation towards Indigenous Peoples,” said Chief Smogelgem during the MOU signing.
“This is a significant time for our nation,” he continued. “It’s a significant time for everybody, all around the world. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the work that we’re about to do today which is working actually towards true reconciliation. It is no longer a political catch phrase – this is something that is going into action.”

The 1876 Indian Act, which charted an assimilationist policy towards the Aboriginal peoples in Canada, made it illegal for Indigenous Peoples to raise money or hire lawyers for land claims. This was not lifted until 1951.

The Wet’suwet’en uses a “mixed governance system” that uses both hereditary and elected chiefs, who all play different roles within the community. The elected band council is a position that stemmed from the Indian Act to bridge Canadian government with First Nations. It is different from the traditional position of the hereditary chief, where hereditary chiefs attain governing power by consensus.

It is their job to protect the land and assure its safety for future generations, a continuation of the work of their ancestors that will be passed down to future generations.

“We always knew that we had 22 000 square kilometers of land,” said Chief Na’Moks at the virtual signing.

For Marlene Hale, May 14 is a new day to mark on the calendar – a celebration. “Wiggus – respect – rides high with our people,” she said. “And it was not respected, that word. It is now, it is existing and it is respected. By them signing, this wiggus has come to light again.”

“We’re here to make a future, because this is who we are. We’ve always held our integrity, we’ve always held our honesty, we’ve always held our respect. From this day forward, it has to be reciprocal. When we speak, we must be listened to. When we come to an agreement, it’s an agreement from the heart, the soul and for the future, and we have to do it for everybody.”

“When our children and grandchildren and great grand children look upon this day, I want them to look back on this for a smile on their face,” he continued. “Those ladies and gentlemen did it for us, and now we’re doing it for them. And it has to be done with honesty and hard work. Today the work starts, the real hard work starts. And there will never be another piece of legislation of policy that will ever silence the Wet’suwet’en again.”

It’s important to note that while the Memorandum of Understanding is an important step forward for aboriginal rights, it does not affect the Coastal GasLink Pipeline which is currently being built.

Featured image by James Hyett via WikiMedia Commons

Small outdoor gatherings in backyards or parks will be permitted in Quebec as of this Friday, May 22nd. They can have no more than ten people who come from a maximum of three households

Quebec Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault, sitting in for Premier François Legault at the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing, made the announcement and stressed that we were not at the stage where parties and indoor gatherings could start up again. While she understands that, in some cases, guests may go indoors to use the washroom or change a baby, she urged people to not move indoors as a group when it gets late and colder, instead people should head home.

Guilbault also said that people who don’t live together need to maintain two meter distance from each other at these gatherings and urged people to wear masks when not at home as much as possible. This change may be reversed if a new outbreak happens and is Quebec-wide.

Home healthcare providers province-wide will also be able to resume operations as of June 1. Same for personal care businesses such as hair salons everywhere in Quebec outside of the Greater Montreal Area and Joliette.

Guilbault said that a re-opening date for personal care businesses in Montreal and Joliette will follow. Non-essential retail businesses not located in shopping malls or with a private street entrance will be allowed to re-open in the Greater Montreal Area this coming Monday, May 25.

Watch the full press conference with Guilbault and National Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda

Montreal will be temporarily converting 327 kilometers of city streets into what the city is calling the Safe Active Transportation Circuit. These will last throughout the summer and possibly into the fall, depending on the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment efforts.

At a press conference this morning alongside Éric Alan Caldwell, the Executive Committee member in charge of mobility, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spoke of a bike ride she took down Christophe-Colomb Avenue with her kids. Despite few cars on the street, cyclists and pedestrians were all crammed together trying to respect social distancing guidelines.

According to Plante, this plan will increase the space available to pedestrians and cyclists and allow them to travel while respecting the two meter rule. It will link parks, residential streets and commercial arteries and encourage people to shop and enjoy nature locally as much as possible.

Plante noted that businesses will benefit because there will be more place outside for people to line up two meters apart as pedestrians and cyclists pass by. She also said that this plan will allow for more terrasse space for restaurant and bar patrons to spread out if and when the provincial government allows those type of businesses to re-open.

When a reporter asked Plante if pulling back some of the regulations that limit drinking alcohol outside, the Mayor said that while alcohol regulations aren’t under municipal jurisdiction, it’s always good to think outside the box.

Caldwell stressed that the city took into account bus and truck delivery routes when planning this circuit. While admitting it will limit car travel with less space available to vehicles, both he and the mayor pointed out that there are fewer cars on the road already due to the pandemic.

Here’s the video the city released:

Quebec Premier François Legault is in Montreal today. Speaking alongside Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Quebec’s National Director for Public Health Horacio Arruda, Public Health Regional Director Mylène Drouin and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, he announced that Montreal-area schools won’t re-open until the fall.

Primary schools across Quebec, excluding the Greater Montreal Area, re-opened on Monday, with Montreal expected to follow on May 25th provided COVID-19 numbers were dropping on par with World Health Organization criteria for deconfinement. With over 20 000 people infected, they aren’t and Montreal has become Canada’s epicenter for the virus, so it will be late August and September before any schools re-open here.

Pushing re-opening back a few weeks only to close them when the school year ends mid-June would have made no sense according to Legault. Daycares that don’t run on the same school year may re-open June 1, provided Coronavirus containment conditions are met.

Non-essential retail businesses not located in malls or in malls with a separate street entrance in Montreal could possibly re-open on May 25th as planned. That date may, of course, be pushed back.

When they do re-open, though, there will inevitably be more people using public transit. Legault announced that Quebec will assist Montreal in providing masks for commuters, which Plante welcomed.

The Premier and his colleagues have been recommending people wear face coverings whenever they leave their home for a few days now, and in particular when they ride public transit. While they won’t rule out making masks mandatory on transit at some point in the future, we’re not there yet.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic due to the Corona virus aka COVID-19. Montreal is not only the epicenter of the outbreak in Quebec, but in all of Canada.

In a move that Montrealers have been begging for since Quebec Premier François Legault announced his harebrained idea of reopening the province on May 11, he has agreed to delay reopening schools and businesses in Montreal until May 25, 2020, and only if the situation here has improved. The decision was made in consultation with Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s National Director of Public Health.

Parents in Montreal can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as reopening too early would only lead to a resurgence of the disease that would overwhelm hospitals already overworked and rapidly reaching capacity. David McLeod told this reporter that if elementary schools did reopen in Montreal on May 19 as planned he and his wife would not be sending their son:

“If we did it would be a prison we would be sending him to, not a school. It is a place for people to park their kids.”

Wendy, a mother with diabetes, had also decided to keep her son at home, declaring that he is not a guinea pig for the government. She worries that her son would pass the virus on to her with fatal results.

Parents were not the only ones worried. Educators in Montreal, who agreed to speak to me on condition of anonymity, were deeply concerned about the health, sanitation, and logistical nightmare of reopening the schools and daycares.

“It takes the whole summer for administration to organize class kits and teacher schedules. It’s not as simple as putting a teacher in a room with 8-15 kids,” said an elementary school teacher. “The school buses usually have 60-80 kids and now they’ll be only 12 kids on one bus…will there be enough busses for everyone?”

She expressed concern that keeping a two meter distance from students would make it harder for teachers to help them, adding that the problem would be worse for kids with ADHD.

A Montreal high school teacher expressed concern that Legault’s plan lacked clarity. She countered the Premier’s claim of reopening the schools for students’ mental health by pointing out that kids have more freedom of movement if they stay home. She also says it’s still not clear whether teaching high school has to be face-to-face or if content can just be posted for students to look at at their own speed.

“Lucy” a daycare educator, told me her loved ones were terrified of her going back to work. The stress of staying clean and safe scares her too, comparing a return to work to “going to war with no gun”.

“Mary”, another daycare educator thinks even reopening Montreal on May 25th is ridiculous.

“You know there’s been an outbreak in a daycare, right?” she said, referring to the recent COVID-19 outbreak at a daycare in Montreal North. “We will be wearing visors at my daycare. Can you imagine a child coming in after months and meeting a monster with a blue face and visors? I don’t see how this will not be damaging to the child,” she said.

As a member of the immune-compromised in one of the hardest hit boroughs in Montreal I have my own worries about what reopening schools will mean for my personal safety. I live within walking distance of two elementary schools, one high school, and one school for students with special needs.

My chronic medical conditions put me on the “Most Likely to Die from COVID-19” list, thus making leaving my home incredibly unsafe until the virus is contained. Reopening the schools would make it more likely that I could fall victim to the pandemic, and with hospitals overcrowded, there’s no guarantee I’d get the help I need.

Even former Montreal Canadien Georges Laraque sees the absurdity of the Quebec government’s initial decision, and though he himself has COVID-19, he was live streaming about his experience in our health care system from his hospital room.

Some parents are calling the change of heart a lot more sensible. Others think Legault’s initial plan of reopening Montreal was a business-oriented decision that showed the lack common sense people have come to expect from his government.

Whatever the reason, Montreal can at least be thankful that common sense has prevailed and that active resistance works. We just have to be loud enough.

Schools and non-essential retail businesses across Quebec are re-opening today, except those in the Greater Montreal Area. While schools in the 514, 438 and 450 area codes are on track to re-open in two weeks, Montreal-area businesses will not re-open on May 11th as planned, but May 18th.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced during the government’s regular COVID-19 briefing today that he was pushing back re-opening Montreal because Montreal-area hospitals were getting crowded. He noted that there are still beds available in Quebec’s largest city and coronavirus epicenter, but not enough to re-open in a week.

This decision comes amid a rise in virus transmission in Montreal Nord. Legault said that there is not enough leeway in Montreal to deconfine as planned as there is in other regions of Quebec.

He also updated his original two world view. Now, Legault says there are three Quebecs: inside seniors’ residences, Montreal and everywhere else.

Re-opening the manufacturing and construction sectors are happening as planned, even in the Greater Montreal Area.

With pretty much every major Montreal summer festival either cancelling for 2020 or rescheduling until the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we can happily report that the Fantasia International Film Festival will take place this summer with only slightly different dates (August 20 – September 2). The only other difference is the festival will take place entirely online.

No, this doesn’t mean that the internationally famous destination genre event will be making this year’s films available for on-demand streaming. Instead, they’ll be replicating the in-person cinema experience as much as possible through Festival Scope and Shift72’s virtual screening platform.

If you buy tickets to a movie premier that starts at 8pm but log on at 8:15pm, you’ll miss any trailers or intro material offered as well as the beginning of the film. They’ll also be limiting tickets to a number comparable to the capacity of the venue that would have, under normal circumstances, played host. The event will also be geo-restricted to Canada.

The security of the platform will allow Fantasia to still offer global premiers. This approach will also mean they can avoid having to compete with other major film festivals that usually run in the fall.

They will also offer as many Q&As with special guests as possible. It won’t be completely the same experience as in years past, but it will be as close as possible to it given the current public health restrictions.

Fantasia runs August 20 – September 2, 2020 and is still accepting submissions, so we don’t have a lineup yet, but we will announce it when we do. For more: fantasiafestival.com

Quebec will be re-opening some parts of its economy during the month of May. The province, at this point, will not be relaxing social distancing rules imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic overall and will impose new regulations on businesses when the re-open.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the plan in general at the government’s daily press briefing before passing it over to Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade with the details. So far there are three sectors re-opening:

  • Retail Stores: Retail businesses that are not located inside a shopping mall or businesses inside a mall but with a separate entrance will be allowed to open on May 4th across Quebec with the exception of the Greater Montreal Area and on May 11th in Montreal and its surroundings. Stores will remain closed on Sundays until May 31st.
  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing businesses across Quebec can open May 11th. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees working per day can re-open with full staff. Those with over 50 daily employees can open with 50 employees plus half the remaining staff. On May 25th, manufacturing businesses can open with full staff regardless of the size of the staff.
  • Construction: Construction businesses across Quebec can re-open May 11th.

Legault repeated remarks he made yesterday when talking about re-opening some schools as a justification for re-opening parts of the economy with COVID deaths and hospitalizations still on the rise. While situation is still dire in seniors’ residences, the population overall, excluding that sector, has been flattening the curve.

No word yet on when sit-down restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses where social distancing could prove difficult may re-open. The government did say that they will be making other announcements at later dates.