Mayor Cinq-Mars asks “What makes a good citizen?” Blames by-laws targeting Hassidic community on lack of communication
“What makes a good citizen?” That question was repeatedly asked by Outremont Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars at the recent public council meeting on March 4th. It is a question she would like the Hassidic community to think about. She believes that, unlike the “regular” residents of Outremont, the Hassidic community must do some soul searching. Considering that the community is not responsible for such familiar urban blights as crime, graffiti, robbery, gang violence, or drugs, we can only guess at what she must be referring to.
As in all monthly public borough sessions, members of the public can sign up to ask a question. At the March 4th session, a few individuals of the Hassidic community decided to make themselves heard. This comes after they felt that the Outremont borough council meetings were repeatedly and consistently being hijacked by a handful of individuals who routinely show up each month to attack and vilify their Hassidic Jewish neighbours.
Councillor declines conciliatory invitation
Elka Pollak kicked off the evening with a question to councillor Celine Forget: “I’m willing to bet that you have not spent much time in the Hassidic community. I would like to personally invite you to our home for a meal”
Mme Forget refused the invitation, saying, “My councillor’s role is to manage the public space and the public interests.” and “it’s not the mandate I have as an elected official in Outremont.” We couldn’t help but notice, however, how comfortable she seemed going into “private” homes when it came to campaigning door to door against the expansion of the Gate David synagogue on Hutchison St. In 2011.
Asked afterwards why she made such an invitation, Mrs Pollak answered, “it’s like she’s afraid of us. She spends far too much energy trying to put us down. Maybe if she could see that we are regular people just like her it might help us all.”
Next up at the mic was Mindy Pollak, member of the official Outremont committee Comité aviseurs sur les relations inter-communautaires. She recalled that the Mayor had said in a previous meeting that the councillors are there for the well-being of their citizens. “How is it that the refusal of the borough administration to allow double-axel mini buses for Purim is in the best interests and well-being of its citizens?”
Ms Pollak reminded the Mayor that both the police and the Outremont security forces support the use of the buses for safety reasons. “This is not a debate,” Mme Cinq-Mars said.
Ms Pollak then moved on to her corollary question, this time directed at councillor Marie Potvin. “When you voted to refuse the mini buses, you stated that the community did not work with the borough nor begin their work far enough in advance. As you must know, both these statements are wrong. We worked directly with the administration and we began this work last fall.”
Madame Potvin replied by saying that she would apply her conditions to any community, not just the Hassidic community.
Councillor’s blog constantly demonizing community
Next at the microphone was Leila Marshy, founder of Friends of Hutchison Street. She began by noting that although Montreal is ethnically very rich, it is only in Outremont that you find a borough councillor who spends her time systematically targeting her own constituency. Not only that, she uses her blog to publicly denounce the Hassidim as lobbyists and criminals, even going so far as to call their efforts at community outreach “propaganda.” Ms Marshy asked Mayor Cinq-Mars if she believes that Mme Forget is “helping the collaborative efforts that both the Comité and the borough are trying to forge?” Her second question was “does Mme Forget’s blog, which purports to be ‘just the facts’ but is actually full of editorial comments and asides, does it not prejudice both the citizenry and the council against the Hassidic community?”
The mayor demurred, saying that these questions should be asked directly to Forget. For her part, Mme Forget pleaded freedom of expression and said that she was happy to see that people read her blog.
It was at this point that Mayor Cinq-Mars asked that we all reflect on the question: “What does it mean to be a good citizen?” Unfortunately, she was not looking at Celine Forget while she asked it.
Is Mayor Cinq-Mars ‘own’ community really complaining?
Next, Meyer Feig, reminded the mayor of an email invitation he had sent the borough councillors a month earlier requesting that efforts be made to find solutions to various sources of conflict. “I am still waiting for that meeting to happen,” he said. He praised the Mayor for initiating the Comité but was disappointed that “you don’t want to hear what they have to say and you don’t accept their recommendations. Our community has participated in quite a few outreach projects in the past year. We met at the Mile End Library for a public meeting, we entertained seniors at Manoir Outremont. We participated in the Journée des bon voisins three times. We sent flyers to our neighbours to explain Purim. Yet it is just all seen as ‘propaganda’”. ”My question to you, Mme Mayor is, just what is your vision of peace? Peace takes action, it takes courage. Where is the action and courage on the part of the borough of Outremont?”
The mayor said she was still waiting for the Comité’s recommendations – an odd statement considering that the Comité has been meeting for almost a year now and making recommendations directly to council on a regular basis. As for peace, we need more communication, she said. “Let’s face it; there is not a lot of communication between our two communities. But I’m happy to see you tonight. I don’t know what the solution is. On the other side, people tell me that I am working against my ‘own’ community because I sometimes speak with the Hassidim.” We can just imagine what “other side” she was referring, probably this handful of instigators, including Mme Forget.
Why all those by-laws targeting the Hassidic Jewish community?
Mr Hirsch, next took the microphone. In response to some statements that the Hassidim do not interact with their neighbours, he said that was simply not true. “On the other hand,” he said, “every time I say bonjour to a Quebecois they act like I’ve just fallen from Mars.” But jokes aside, he had some serious questions.
“You start every meeting saying you want to be fair to all citizens. How is it fair that so many by-laws have been passed in the past 10 years that specifically curtail Hassidic way of life? We have been residents of Outremont for 60 years now, and have lived in complete peace and harmony. For example, there’s the bylaws against the Sukkot huts. Yet Christmas lights are on for months. Why isn’t there a bylaw against that? You’ve passed laws against the Jewish schools creating traffic, but if we look at the public schools in this neighbourhood there is an enormous amount of traffic in the morning and again in the afternoon. Why isn’t there a bylaw against that? So I just want to know: why are things so different for our community?”
Mayor Cinq-Mars began by saying that these are delicate questions and she must choose her words carefully. “First of all, we live parallel lives, two parallel societies. We have rules and we must all follow the rules. Can there be some public forum where we can discuss this? I have good relations with my Hassidic neighbours. We are very polite together. But yes, bylaws have been passed. But I don’t want to go into details. I’m just saying there is a lack of communication. Maybe now we are ready to sit together and discuss.”
Mr Hirsch had a follow-up question. “It is not always easy for our community to ‘follow the law’ when you change it every time. One year something is legal for us, the next year it is suddenly illegal.”
Mayor Cinq-Mars: “We need more positive communication between us. I get parking tickets too. We try to be fair. We need to think about how we can be good citizens.”
Indeed, “what makes a good citizen?” That is an excellent question and we’re very sorry that Mayor Cinq-Mars, Celine Forget, Marie Potvin and Louis Moffatt have yet to answer it.Follow @OutremontHassid