Archive for March 2009
Montréal Mayor Gérald Tremblay believes the next municipal election will be won or lost in the city’s diverse cultural communities. Hoping to secure that vote, members of his Union Montréal Party have launched a pre-emptive strike against possible challenger Louise Harel.
Louise Harel is a former Parti Québécois Minister of Cultural Communities, Immigration and Municipal Affairs who has steadily been moving closer to City Hall’s fledgling opposition party, Vision Montréal. She is scheduled to speak at a Vision Montréal convention next week.
Last week a coalition of cultural community leaders closely associated to mayor Tremblay’s Union Montréal party accused Madame Harel of making racist remarks and encouraging xenophobia.
One week before the eruption the controversy, incumbent mayor Gérald Tremblay had identified the cultural communities’ vote as the key to his reelection.
On the 25th of February, the mayor’s party, Union Montreal, held a cocktail party for leaders of the said cultural communities at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Montreal. In the accompanying press release Mayor Tremblay is quoted as saying: « Union Montréal embodies what the New Montreal is: a mosaic of peace, that unites people of diverse talent, origins, aspirations and dreams. »
« It is clear that Montreal’s cultural communities want more and more to get involved at the level of municipal politics, and our party Union Montréal understood that need. »
On the 10th of March controversy erupted over a comment made by Louise Harel in an interview on cable news channel RDI. Speaking about the possibility of reducing the number of Montreal boroughs, Madame Harel said: “If we go from 19 to 10 boroughs, but these boroughs remain quasi-municipalities as they are now, we will end up in the worst of situations because we’ll have cities … an Italian city, a Haitian city, an anglophone city, an Arab city – Ville St. Laurent, a Jewish city, etc. We will no longer have this sense of one big city with boroughs that speaks with one voice.”
The Montreal Gazette printed a series of editorials and articles in which leaders of different cultural community groups spoke out against Madame Harel’s characterization of some Montreal boroughs as «Arab cit[ies] » and « Haitian Cit[ies] ».
Robert Libman, he former mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc, leader of the Equality Party and member of mayor Tremblay’s executive committee said Harel was “sowing the seeds of xenophobia by pointing to identifiable communities.” And that “It’s as if she sees bogeymen in everything that is not white and francophone.”
The Montreal Gazette published four articles on the issue. None included Madame Harel’s response to the accusations, taken here from free daily Metro: “This debate only serves to distract attention from the real debate, which is about whether we still have a great city in Montreal. We have to reclaim this idea that we are all Montrealers and not only citizens of boroughs that have become quasi-municipalities.”
More than half of the people quoted in the Montreal Gazette article are current or former members of Gérald Tremblay’s Union Montreal party: Marcel Trembay is a member of the city’s executive committee and the brother of Mayor Tremblay. Alan DeSousa is also a member of the executive comitee and mayor of the Ville-Saint-Laurent borough. Keder Hyppolite is a member of Union Montréal, as was Robert Libman. (A former member of Gérald Tremblay’s executive committee, Libman resigned from the party after his municipality, Côte-St-Luc, demergered from Montreal. )
On march 15th, a press conference was held by a dozen cultural community leaders to condemn Madame Harel’s comments. Speaking on behalf of the leaders was Marvin Rotrand, another member of Mayor Tremblay’s Union Montreal party and deputy leader of union Montreal at City Hall.
When contacted by the AngryFrenchInvestigativeJournalismUnit, community leaders quoted in the Montreal Gazette story all maintained that they found the quote offensive but that they did not believe Louise Harel is racist or was expressing a racist sentiment. In fact, they had only praise for Madame Harel’s record when it came to relations with minorities or immigrants.
« It was a mistake », said Tony Sciascia, president of the Québec section of the Congress of Italian Canadians. « I know Mrs Harel quite well, I think it was more of a lapsus rather than using those terms.»
Mr. Sciascia, who was the organiser of the March 15th press conference and demonstration against Madame Harel’s statement, denied his involvement in this controversy is politically motivated. « I’m not interested in politics my friend. »
Hear more of what Tony Sciascia’s had to say:
Kéder Hippolyte of the National Council of Citizens of Haitian Origin and himself a member of Union Montréal did not participate in the March 15th demonstration. «I’m not going going to take part in that demonstration. This is political demonstration. »
Mr. Hippolyte says he was surprised by Madame Harel’s comment and wishes she would clarify her thoughts. «She is one of the persons who always talks on behalf of immigrants, she was a former Minister of immigration, she created structures to help immigrants integrate society, and now she is telling me she is afraid of an Haitian city, an Italian city… it is up to her to explain. »
Hear more of Kéder Hippolyte’s thoughts:
« I reacted to the journalist’s question who said it might be possible that there would be Haitian cities, Italian cities and Arab cities in Montreal. That’s not what we aspire to in Montreal », said Ninette Piou, also of the National Council of Citizens of Haitian Origin.
Madame Ninette Piou objects to a quote she never heard:
Madame Piou said she still had not read or heard for herself the controversial quote by Madame Harel and was unsure of what was actually said. « Knowing madame Harel, because I had not heard the declaration, I was surprised she would say such a thing. If she said it I am offended. »
“If we go from 19 to 10 boroughs, but these boroughs remain quasi-municipalities as they are now, we will end up in the worst of situations because we’ll have cities … an Italian city, a Haitian city, an anglophone city, an Arab city – Ville St. Laurent, a Jewish city, etc. We will no longer have this sense of one big city with boroughs that speaks with one voice.”
I don’t care if you agree or not with the characterization of Ville-Saint-Laurent as an “Arab City” or if you feel that describing other Montreal boroughs as Haitian, Italian and Jewish is a bit of an oversimplification. There is no way you or anyone in good faith that thinks former municipal affairs minister Louise Harel meant anything offensive when she said the above on RDI last week.
Everyone very well understood that she was speaking out against ghettos and division and for a more diverse, multicultural and united city.
To imply anything else is bullshit. It is another example of the ignoble character assassination The Montreal Gazette and Québec federalists are willing to perform on anyone who has ever been associated with the Parti québécois. It is spreading lies, it is sewing the seeds of hate, it is one more desperate attempt to create ethnic division for political purposes.
To find the appropriately outraged quotes to give credibility to its malicious interpretation of Louise Harel’s quote, the Gazette turned to a Montreal imam who favours the implementation of Charia Law in Québec and one, two, three members of Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s Union Montréal party.
Oh yeah, Madame Harel is rumoured to be thinking about running for mayor in the next municipal election. Do you think this has anything to do with it?
Robert Libman, a former mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc, leader of the Equality Party and member of Mayor Tremblay’s party accused Louise Harel of ”sowing the seeds of xenophobia by pointing to identifiable communities. It’s as if she sees bogeymen in everything that is not white and francophone.”
Hey Robert? Wanna know how your own electors identify your city? And by the way, for those who don’t know, Robert Libman is the former president of the Québec chapter of B’nai Brith, an organization so open to non whites and francophones that it actively campaigned for a separate network of publicly financed Jewish Schools in Québec.
Tony Sciascia, president of the Italian Canadian Congress, Quebec region, was also offended by Harel’s characterization of some boroughs as Italian. Wanna know how the kids of St.Leonard see their own city?
How far up their asses are these people’s heads?
After reading that Harel called his borough, Ville Saint-Laurent an “Arab City”, Alan DaSousa said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for our community to be dissed in such a cavalier fashion”
Care to explain how being called an Arab is a diss, Alan? Really? I understand you are not an Arab and that Ville Saint-Laurent is more diverse that Harel implied. But what do you mean when you say being called Arab is a diss?
Montréal municipal politics have always been an upside down mirror of provincial politics: those associated with sovereignty movement usually in favour of a strong centralized metropolis and the federalist are the ones pleading for a very loose confederation of independent municipalities.
The only thing that doesn’t change is the willingness of the latter to use hate, lies and slander in their pathetic attempts to drive a wedge between francophones and other communities.
For the life of me I can’t figure out how the Anglo-Canadian media missed this one. There is everything they love in this story: Québec, antisemitism, racism, the French, Jean-Marie Le Pen and a very easy way to throw in Pauline Marois and the Separatists.
Somebody fell asleep at the switch.
Here’s what’s going on. Last week the Superior Court of Québec sentenced French stand-up comic Dieudonné to pay 75 000$ to French crooner Patrick Bruel for attacking the French signers reputation. In a 2006 interview Dieudonné had called Bruel “a pure product of this ultrasionnist political system” who had “the superiority complex of some Israelis.” He also called Bruel a liar and said the signer thought the bombing of children in Lebanon was “normal”.
This was far from Dieudonné’s first controversial declaration or even his first time his opinions had landed him in court. In fact, from a man who has called Jews “a sect, a swindle” and a people that “sold the holocaust, sold suffering to build a country and make money”, you could even say that his comments about Patrick Bruel were quite tame.
So how did Québec get involved? It started when Patrick Bruel, who was a guest on the Radio-Canada TV show Tout le Monde en Parle, objected to the complacent attitude of the Québec media toward Dieudonné compared to France, where he is a pariah. Dieudonné replied with his infamous attacks on another Québec TV show, Les Francs-Tireurs, with Richard Martineau.
In another interview, Dieudonné was asked why the controversy that surrounds him did not seem to follow him across the Atlantic: ”There is a freedom of speech and tone, here, that is quite anchored in the culture of this country. After getting rid of religion, I’m under the impression that there is a quite strong critical sense that developed. I feel comfortable in the general state of mind and culture of Québec.”
In the same interview Dieudonné praised Pauline Marois, the Parti québécois’ leader, whom he claims he has met and found to be “very serene”.
Oh the headlines they could’ve cooked up with that one…
Well Ok, then. The church ladies and hall monitors of McGill and the Globe and Mail must be busy telling some other nation how to run their country, so let’s take this opportunity to discuss as adults. For once.
The question is: Has the Québec media been complacent with Dieudonné?
The answer is yes.
It must be understood that Dieudonné is an extremely smart man, a complex artist and an equal opportunity offender. At the beginning of his 2008 show J’ai fais le Con which I saw in Montreal, he talks about the Pygmies who steel the garbage behind his father’s house in Cameroon: “Pygmies are a nuisance, kind of like your Indians”.
I don’t know how many people in the audience understood the joke was on them. Dieudonné is actually a defender of the rights of Cameroon’s Pygmies and outspoken about the deforestation that condemns them to a life of beggars on the streets of Yaoundé. When you know that, the parallel he makes between Pygmies and canadian natives on the streets of Montreal or Winnipeg takes on a whole other meaning.
Dieudonné delights in the ambiguity and loves exposing our double standards. Which is, after all, a comedian’s job. He is also very good at forcing the media to pay attention to him. Last year, he made far right Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen the godfather of his child and in December 2008 he invited holocaust denier Robert Faurisson on stage with him to give him a Free Speech award.
Which brings us to Dieudonné’s most controversial topic: is his claim that there is a « hierarchy of suffering » in society, notably expressed in the way that Jewish suffering and the Holocaust is considered a worse crime than the slave trade.
He did not come up with that himself. This is a fairly common discourse, notably in some radical parts of the African-american community.
It is a heavy question. Certainly one worthy of public discussion.
Another question that should be discussed publicly is why people like Dieudonné who are preoccupied with this « hierarchy of suffering » are obsessed with Jews? Why not the fact that the condition of African-Americans receives more attention than that of Mexican natives? Or that the world takes to the street for Tibet and Palestine and could care less about the Kurds? Or that the world knows a whole lot more about the « plight » of Anglo-Quebecers than they do about the struggle of Franco-Manitobans?
Is this focus on Jews not a « hierarchy of the scapegoats »?
The fact that the Québec media merely labelled Dieudonné a “controversial” comedian when he is in fact, and of his own admission, a radical provocateur raises questions. The fact that the Québec public is indifferent to his comments about Jews while it is offended by similar statements about black people by pop psychologists and TV comics exposes our own double standards.
That is why the Québec media and public failed. Not because they gave him a soapbox – he knows how to get those on his own – but because they just smiled and nodded to Dieudonné’s provocations, falsely pretended not to understand, just so they wouldn’t be dragged into the debate.
And it’s the debate that’s important.
Come on, now! I don’t think the good people on Canada’s National Post opinions editorial board are as bad as Nazis. They do not advocate the extermination of any identifiable human group. They only want to see those who are wrong (according to them) sternly reprimanded, denied federal funding and stripped of their passports and right of habeas corpus.
I do, however, believe that National Post writers and columnists share with fascists a very inflated sense of their own culture’s achievements and a self-righteous conviction that their own opinions and values are eternal human truths. They also have a very unhealthy fixation on a few bogeymen on which they can conveniently blame for everything they don’t like about the world.
You disagree? Well let’s see if you can tell the difference between National Post columnists and history’s great fascists!
Click here or on the pic to take the Quiz!