Outremont Councillor Stokes Fires against Hassidic Jewish Community
Lire cet article en français "Un conseiller d’Outremont attise les flammes contre la communauté juive hassidique"
Every year, in preparation for the holiday of Passover, religious Jews rid their homes of leavened products. The last bits of bread are ritualistically burned in a symbolic gesture of cleansing. In order to avoid unsafe fires in everyone’s backyard, the Hassidim of Outremont have arranged to burn their bread collectively. Generally, this ceremony takes place from 8 am to noon the day before Passover. This year, it was on the morning of March 25th. A few thousand people passed by during this time with paper bags of bread, traditionally 10 small morsels.
From 2003 to 2009, the ceremony had been held peacefully in Outremont’s empty Public Works lot at Ducharme and Bloomfield.
However, in 2010, borough councilor Celine Forget took it upon herself to “supervise” the ceremony. She raised a ruckus and provoked the Fire Department to extinguish the fire before the end of the ceremony, and then chaos ensued as documented here. Her main claim was that it was illegal to use public property for religious purposes. For this reason, in 2011, the Hassidic community, along with the fire and police department, and with the cooperation of the borough of Outremont, sought out the property on Champagneur corner Ducharme. The ceremony was also peacefully held there in 2012 with no complaints from the neighbors.
This year, however, Mme Forget has decided to yet again stoke the flames of animosity against the Hassidic Jewish community — as she has done over the past decade. In the lead up to March 25th, Mme Forget insisted that the community move to a site on Atlantic Ave. (near Beaubien) in spite of the fact that it is public property, and according to her its “illegal”. Could it be that she was gearing up for another “confrontation”?
By working behind the scenes to revoke the permit at the last minute, she was able to orchestrate a very familiar theater the Hassidic community is once again flouting the laws and bothering the citizens of Outremont.
After Forget’s “Plan A” fails she goes to “Plan B”
After the bread burning ceremony took place peacefully this year in the private lot on Champagneur, Mme Forget launched a misinformation and demonization campaign against Mayor Cinq-Mars for “allowing” the Jewish community to “flout” the law.
By manipulating facts and spreading misinformation, she successfully incited a handful of citizens to publicly attack the borough for “giving in” to the Jewish community and standing idly by while an “illegal” Jewish ceremony takes place.
Sincere complaints or libelous exaggerations?
“Such a fire should be banned in the name of public health. It makes no sense to smoke out 140 people in the name of reasonable accommodation,” quotes the L’Express d’Outremont a complaining citizen. Another citizen is cited as saying, “Pregnant women, children have been inconvenienced.” The Journal d’Outremont also didn’t mince any words ”besides the lack of civility of the organizers, what is even worse is those who authorized the event” they quoted one of the complaining citizens.
By publishing these complaints, the local media have done a huge disservice to it readership and the Outremont populace. None of the “facts” in the article were verified and no other points of view were solicited. It is easy to see how a few bitter individuals, led by a single-minded councillor, can hijack an entire borough to advance their prejudices.
But a closer look at Mme Forget’s “facts” – all publicly disseminated on her official website, repeated by the media, and quoted by her cadre of lobbyists – reveals a smokescreen of lies and misinformation. (And in case she decides to edit some of it we have taken a snapshot, see here.)
Lie #1: Forget writes that last year’s site was disqualified “because of the new building built in 2012 next to the site, and because of complaints received in previous years by residents of neighbouring areas.”
The Truth: There were no complaints from neighbours in 2011 or 2012. Nor are there records of any complaints in 2011 or 2012.
Lie #2: Forget writes, “This unanimous decision was officially presented by a letter to the organizers on March 22 to confirm. The decision was communicated verbally a week earlier to which nobody seemed to comply. ”
The Truth: There was no decision communicated a week earlier. The letter clearly mentions “as per this morning’s decision”. It was only discussed a week earlier at a meeting between the Hassidic organizers and the director, M Chapuis, the SIM and the SPVM.
Lie #3 Forget writes, “We learned that the Fire department had issued a permit on Champagneur without authorization of elected officials.” And, “they never explained who authorized the issuance of this license without the consent of the district.”
The Truth: Although the borough has the discretion to cancel permits, only the SIM can issue the permits for fires, as it is an security related issue not a political one. Also, the permit from SIM clearly stated that it was conditional to the approval of the city.
Is the ceremony a “rogue” event?
The bread burning ceremony is not a “rogue” event, but one with clear parameters and strictly supervised. Let’s take a look:
SIM (Service d’incendie de Montréal) conducts air tests and finds it clear: During the 3 1/2 hours that the Hassidic community burned their bread in a container on a private lot on Champagneur, the SIM conducted several tests on site and in surrounding buildings. All results returned clear with no discernable CO2 levels. The Mayor mentioned this fact, but it was conveniently ignored by Mme Forget and the media.
Supervision: During the entire event, two inspectors of the Direction de l’environnement et du développement durable de Montréal stood next to the fire and monitored that no plastic be thrown in to the flames. This very same supervision was also provided in 2011 and in 2012.
Minimal smoke or no smoke at all: Other than the Photoshoped images posted by Piere Lacerte on his blog (more on this later), no other photographs taken at the event show significant smoke around the fire or next to the buildings. See photographs below.
No complaints in 2011 and 2012: One of the most important elements that should be examined is the fact that the ceremony has peacefully taken place on the exact same location since 2011 with no complaints filed about the smoke. While the argument this year was that the residents of the new 950 Champagneur building could be negatively affected by the fire, this building is farther from the burning than the residential building at 1250 Ducharme. Not to mention, an entire row of condos that faced the fire site at the old location. Yet nobody complained.
Borough officials publicly confirm there’s no legal problem: At the March 4th council meeting, the issue of the bread burning ceremony was raised by a resident of 950 Champagneur. She complained that there was a lot of smoke last year and that the city should reconsider the site for this year. Mayor Cinq-Mars replied that because it is on private land, it is fully legal and has been approved by the fire department.
It was at that point Mme Forget chimed in, saying that because of the complaints in 2012 (which are non-existent, see above), she suggested the Atlantic location. Borough director M. Chapuis said he will look into her suggestion, but that a container fire fully complies with all by-laws.
But we have to ask: Why did the resident at 950 Champagneur wait an entire year to complain about the smoke? How did the citizen know that the ceremony would be taking place 3 weeks later (especially considering the Jewish calendar is not connected to the regular calendar)? At the time of the council meeting, there hadn’t been any advertisement or public announcement even within the Hassidic community regarding the event. Where – or from whom – did this citizen get her information? Could it be Mme Forget set her up?
Permit revoked one day before the event: The initial permit for the bread burning was granted by the SIM and the Police for the Champagneur Champagneur corner Ducharme location four months before the event. And even though Pierre Lacerte and Celine Forget have been since brandishing a letter sent to organizers that “prove” the permit was revoked, their little secret is that Forget was responsible for the change in the first place.
Even though plans for the Champagneur site had been in place for months, the borough of Outremont, on the heels of Forget’s campaign of pressure and intimidation, cancelled the permit one business day (Friday, March 22) prior to the event. Strangely enough, the borough – as of Sunday, March 24 – did not clear the Atlantic site of snow, leaving it completely inaccessible. Was the Champagneur site plowed? You bet.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire
But let’s get to the root of the so-called complaint: smoke. Forget herself writes, “I was in a condo on Ducharme facing the fire. I had my eyes burning and sore throat. The resident had a persistent cough. I was told that a pregnant woman chose to leave his home rather than to the health of her baby at risk.”
It is obvious that this smoke issue is a fabrication for many reasons:
- Whoever was there (besides Forget and her lobbyists) can tell you that there was an insignificant amount of smoke. Over 3,000 adults and children attended the burning ceremony (as seen in the photos). I asked around later and nobody experienced “burning eyes or sore throat.”
- No plastic was burned. The Hassidic community has accommodated the borough’s request to ensure that no plastic enters the fire. To be doubly sure, there was a plastic-to-paper conversion station placed at the entrance and volunteers made sure no one brought in plastic.
- The smoke seen in all photos (beside Lacerte’s photoshopped images) is very light, not worse than any roofing truck that releases real noxious carbon smoke – which is tolerated by all citizens all summer long.
- Representatives of the borough’s police and security, and the city’s environmental department were on hand. No flags were raised, no warnings issued.
- The SIM constantly took air samples from both inside the buildings and outside on the site. All of them came back clear. The Mayor mentioned this at the April 2nd borough meeting yet all media conveniently ignored this fact.
Photoshop: popular tool for propagandists
On his blog after the event on March 27, Pierre Lacerte posted photographs that he illegally copied from Bill613.com. These pictures were taken in Boisbriand and show heavy smoke rising from the burning ceremony. More than a week later he posted images from Outremont. But if these images were so good in their original state why didn’t he insert them in his first post? Perhaps it took him a little bit of time to “touch up” the images. Even Mme Forget was unable to get such good shots of the smoke. The images she posted on her blog show hardly any trace of smoke. I also took a picture, but it shows absolutely no smoke.
In conclusion: This campaign of disinformation and petty harassment by Celine Forget, a salaried public servant paid for by our taxes, and her cadre of enablers, such as Pierre Lacerte, has gone on long enough. Although countering these onslaughts takes an enormous amount of time and effort, we are determined to do so. We are not an illegal community, we do not flout laws, we are not lobbyists.
We are your neighbours!