Outremont, Where Stating The Obvious Gets You In Trouble
Lire cet article en français "Outremont, où énoncer une évidence vous attire des ennuis"
By Leila Marshy
Apparently you’re not allowed to call a spade a spade in Outremont. When Christian Aubry was forcibly ejected by the Mayor from a recent consultation publique he must have crossed a line in the sand. Did he physically or verbally threaten someone? Make spurious accusations? Slander? Scream?
Or did he simply gesture to a familiar group of people sitting together in the room to politely “convey a message of hope, even to my fellow citizens who do not like the Hasidim.”
This being Outremont, if you guessed the latter transgression, you are sadly correct.
On the evening of October 29, over 200 residents packed a hall at the CCI to give their opinion on a proposed bylaw change regarding the length of time sukkahs would be allowed to stand. The borough itself had studied the situation and recommended that the cabanes juif be allowed for 7 days before and 7 days after the holiday of Sukkot – an improvement from the vague and unenforceable “15 days total.”
Most restrictive sukkah by-law on the globe
Sukkah bylaws are rare around the world. Those that do exist (Baltimore, Seattle), allow for a 30-day period of grace. The only other bylaw on the books in Montreal is in NDG-CDN, where it is 7 days before 7 days after.
To no one’s surprise, this was blocked by councilor Céline Forget. She countered with a proposal of 3 days before and 3 days after, potentially the most punitive restriction in the world. This counterproposal was so gratuitously petty that one would almost think it was designed to engender discord.
Predictably, as happens like clockwork in Outremont, the Hasidim were again framed as a “lobby” asking for too much and trying everyone’s patience with their “illegal” activities.
Dozens of people lined up at the mic to voice their support for one measure or the other. Two councilors from other boroughs (Magda Popeanu from NDG-CDN and Christine Gosselin from the Plateau) pleaded for common sense and tolerance, that anything less than 7 days was unduly provocative. They were satisfied with the sukkah laws in their boroughs (7 days in NDG-CDN and none in the Plateau) and received no complaints.
When Christian Aubry spoke he pleaded for optimism and positive intentions, and attempted to include even those “who do not like the Hasidim, ” the room erupted and a group of people loudly booed and shouted. How dare he! Yes, how dare he call a spade a spade. The mayor motioned to security and had him forcibly ejected from the room. It was enough to make your head spin.
“Deux poids, deux mesures”?
In contrast to the treatment of Christian Aubry, you have the phenomenon of Pierre Lacerte. Wielding his blog like a weapon for the past decade, he has led a coordinated charge against the Hasidic community of Outremont – and beyond, often setting his sites on Hasidic communities throughout Quebec and the world. Every now and then he casts a jaundiced eye at Muslims just to be fair. He even mounted a referendum against a Mile End synagogue, successfully blocking its renovation project. His comrade in arms at the time and to this day is Céline Forget, an Outremont councilor who was seen going door to door in Mile End to lobby against the Hasidim. She has even taken them to court numerous times (and lost: Eruv and Munkac).
Lacerte comes to borough council month after month to accuse the Mayor of collusion when she meets with a Hasidic representative. When she goes too long without meeting with the Hasidim, he accuses her of ignoring “problems.” To support his monthly claims or accusations, he invariably brandishes “evidence” taken with a cheap spy camera he wears on his belt. He is rarely above naming names or calling out addresses, smearing an entire community for infractions as minor as double parking or as major as wholesale corruption. It’s all the same because they are all Hassidic.
It’s hard to imagine how other boroughs would treat such a fanatic – would they ban him from public sessions? Insist on clear and rigid parameters on his behaviour? Refuse to take him seriously? Laugh? Somehow, in Outremont, he is given an open platform for his diatribes. Not only that, he has managed to frame and define the discourse to such an extent that the borough council is often afraid of making otherwise common sense decisions when it comes to a group that represents 25% of the Outremont population.
How does he do it?
It must be the photoshopping. Straight out of 1995, Lacerte’s photoshopping skills rival any 12-year old’s. Where most people refrain from using metaphoric 2x4s to make their point, he has no such compunction. One can only assume that the Outremont borough councilors are suffering from a kind of PTSD and are afraid of being cut up by his safety scissors.
After all, look what happened to these elected officials.
Nor is the mayor immune. Relentlessly targeted by Lacerte’s schoolboy tactics, at the end of the day Madame Cinq-Mars must just find it easier to just go along for the ride. Waking up to trash like this week after week must get to you.
And then there are les pièces de résistences. His caricatures of the Hasidic community know no bounds. As an exercise, just try to imagine how somebody in their right mind would spend hours let alone years cutting and pasting images so degrading and offensive. The phrase “right mind” starts to lose its meaning.
Who belongs in Outremont?
This unanswered question underlines every Outremont bylaw, every wrench Céline Forget throws into the works, and every moment that Pierre Lacerte points his finger at an entire community to denigrate, humiliate and accuse.
Who is accommodating who? Who gets to say what is reasonable?
As one observer noted, “Outremont must be the only place where, person after person, as they go to the mic, systematically state how long they have lived there.” The Hasidim must “prove” their residency, while their detractors use their residency as badges of honour.
The Hasidim have been living in Outremont, Mile End, Plateau, NDG and Côte des Neiges for over three generations. They are born here, marry here, have children here. They go to school, are increasingly bilingual, run for office. They are entrepreneurs, writers, workers, handymen, bakers, coders, rabbis, scholars. They are interesting, boring, tall, short, pale, dark, funny, serious, energetic, lethargic, young, old, fat, thin, more orthodox, less orthodox, patient, impatient. They are everything, they are us.
Yet Outremont deals with the Hasidim by legislating bylaws and zoning regulations that exist no where else in the world, targeting every possible Hasidic custom or practice possible: the burning of the bread, school buses, eruvs, Torah processions, public music, balcony trellises, Purim celebrations, and of course sukkahs.
Outremont, it is time to put another line in the sand. A line that says you are finally willing to move forward into the 21st century, an era that young people – including your new 25-year-old councilor – are telling us is ready for genuine community, sincere tolerance, and real speaking truth to power. Many of us have made significant contributions to relations in Outremont. We’ve constructed solid bridges and walked across them to meet in a spirit of optimism and honesty.
Are you going to join us? Or will you stay behind with the bullies in the sandbox? You might think you’re just playing, but you’re causing real and lasting damage, and not just to your reputation.
Leila Marshy is the founder of Friends of HutchisonFollow @OutremontHassid