Marking the Montreal Massacre

6 Dec

Today I lit a candle in memory of the 14 women who died in the Polytechnique Massacre (Montreal Massacre) on December 6, 1989:

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Nathalie Croteau

Barbara Daigneault

Anne-Marie Edward

Maud Haviernick

Barbara Klueznick

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Anne-Marie Lemay

Sonia Pelletier

Michèle Richard

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Today was the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. There’s been more media attention to this terrible event this year than I’ve seen in a while.

For instance, this week Quebec journalist and filmmaker Francine Pelletier did several interviews about the massacre and its effect on the women’s movement over the past 25 years.

Pelletier’s insights are important. After all in 1989 she discovered her name was on a list of 19 prominent Quebec feminists on gunman Marc Lépine’s suicide note, which named women he apparently wished to target.

With scandals involving former CBC Radio Q host Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby hitting a nerve, Pelletier told the Toronto Star “this year is the first anniversary when there is really something to celebrate.”

Montreal novelist Sean Michaels, who won the Giller prize recently for his novel, Us Conductors, wrote on that the massacre was not only a horrific crime but “it was also the brutal, explicit assertion of an ideology that is usually hidden.” Michaels points out the oppression of women “is one of our eldest systems,”  in Canadian society it’s subtle and we have not solved it.

I agree with Michaels. What saddens me is that 25 years later, I don’t know if all that much has changed. While I felt heartened when women came forward accusing Ghomeshi of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and I was especially impressed that some of the women making the allegations revealed their identities, we have a lot of work to do in our society to make sure this kind of abuse doesn’t happen in workplaces or in dating relationships.

Like Pelletier, I am glad tolerance for bad behaviour is dropping. Any man who thinks he can get away with behaving like Don Draper in Mad Men needs to know he won’t get away with it. Women will speak out and they will find support. They will create hash tags on Twitter and they will mobilize en masse. The tide is changing.

We also have plenty of work to do to prevent women from being murdered because they are women. Canada’s federal government hasn’t heeded calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. It is difficult for survivors of date rape to succeed in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that someone they knew raped them and no consent was given. Such situations become he said/she said discussions and everything hinges on who has more power and influence so in many instances the accused never go to jail and the accusers dismissed as liars or women who had a regretful change of heart about something consensual. There are plenty of other examples of violence against women happening every day in Canada, too many to list here.

I worry about our society’s ability to prevent violence against women. Today I thought about Marc Lépine’s mother, Monique Lépine. In an interview with Jan Wong, published in the December 2009 issue of Chatelaine magazine, Monique said her son had been a “nice little boy.” She said when she learned about the massacre she couldn’t imagine her son had done such a thing. “Who was a feminist in his mind?,” Monique said about her son. “An independent woman who had a good job? I was like that myself.”

Monique Lépine never thought her son would grow up to hate women and blame women for his problems. As a mother of sons the idea that my flesh and blood would ever hurt women seems alien to me.

We need to find out how we can help young men grow up to have healthy attitudes towards women’s equality, towards their own sexuality and not see women as sexual objects, or as threats to their own career prospects. We need to offer more help for young men who have problems with their mothers or anger towards women. I don’t have a solution, I just find it’s far easier to dismiss Marc Lépine and Jian Ghomeshi as misogynists than it is to figure out how our society can prevent the next Marc Lépine or Ghomeshi from harming women.

I am incredibly touched that Vanier College students have created a video to mark the 25th anniversary of this tragedy. I don’t know their ages but I doubt any of them were even born when the massacre happened. Their decision to denounce violence against women and to team up with the CEGEP St-Laurent next door in making a human chain is inspiring.



Westhaven-Elmhurst Community Center needs your help

13 Nov


A story ran on CBC Montreal last month about how the Westhaven-Elmhurst Community Center in NDG was facing a financial crisis and volunteers were keeping it afloat.

Accounting snafus and unexpected tax bills led to the centre discovering its entire $75,000 annual operating budget was gone.

The centre serves a low-income section of NDG where parents can often only afford to pay $35 per session for a popular after-school program. The board members work full-time and have families of their own and are taking whatever time they have to keep the centre going.

The response to the centre’s crisis is amazing. There are all sorts of volunteers (including staff willing to work for no pay) and city of Montreal CDN-NDG borough staff and board members are there to supervise the volunteers. Donations are coming in and the center will once again receive funding from the City of Montreal this coming January.

After I read the CBC story, I offered my services as a volunteer. Roxanne Brown, chair of the centre’s board, told me the centre desperately needs school and art supplies for its after-school activities. When I visited they had run out of pencil sharpeners.

I put a notice in this week’s The Suburban.

I’m posting it here in case any of you in the Montreal area can help with this wish list. Any donation is appreciated. The centre is also open from 7-9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, if you can’t get there between 2:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Westhaven-Elmhurst Community Center: Seeks donations for its after-school program, including: duo-tangs, binders, pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, staplers, hole punches, printer paper, day planners, calendars, construction paper, arts & crafts paint, paint brushes and Bureau en Gros gift cards. Bring donations to 7405 Harley Ave. (Mon-Fri between 2:30-6:30 p.m.) Info (514) 872-6134.

Quebec needs to open its adoption records

22 Sep

I’ve watched the fight to open Quebec’s adoption records for at least 15 years. As time goes by, I’m seeing other places across North America open their records with no problems at all. But even though in Quebec we’ve seen different political parties draft legislation to change adoption rules, the legislation has never been passed and we still have closed adoption records.

What does this mean?

It means the estimated 300,000 people whose adoptions took place in Quebec are not always able to find out their origins. The way the system works,  adoption records are sealed by a court and there are fines for anyone who accesses the information illegally. People adopted in Quebec or their natural parents can register with a “Centre Jeunesse,” to receive non-identifying information and if they want to know the identity of the other party they can request a reunion. Natural parents (usually mothers) are allowed one request but adopted folks may try more than once. Reunions happen slowly, with a social worker acting as the intermediary and there’s usually a letter writing exchange at the beginning.

There used to be a fee for searches, which was waived for people with lower incomes. At Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, the agency keeping the records for Quebec’s anglophone community, it was $450 but I understand this fee no longer applies.

Batshaw says it provides any medical information it has in its files but in my experience this was not always the case (I will write my story another time).

This sounds all very reasonable except in cases where the natural parent or the adoptee has died the file closes forever and no identifying information is ever revealed.

In cases of private, black market adoptions, it’s usually impossible for adopted people to find out much since these adoptions were illegally arranged by lawyers and doctors and any information about the mothers of the adoptees died with the adoption brokers. Parent Finders tries to help people in this situation find their roots.

Before rules changed in the 1980s, adopted people could go to court and if they convinced a judge they needed the information, they could find out their original identity, if it was known. Now finding out origins depends on whether the natural parent consents to divulging the information, and  if they’re able to agree at all. If a natural mother dies the file closes and the adoptee cannot know their original identity.

Secrets and lies

Some people defend this practice of keeping the identity of the natural mother or natural parents hidden forever. That viewpoint surfaced this week after CBC Radio One’s Daybreak program aired a story about Patricia Carter, an adopted woman from British Columbia who is unable to find out her family history in Quebec. She’s fighting breast cancer but cannot find out who her natural parents are and what diseases exist in her family tree. Batshaw says it doesn’t have any medical information for her.

Some believe the women who surrendered their children to adoption were promised privacy or confidentiality and it would be wrong for the government to break this promise. I would argue privacy was imposed on the women and they never asked for it.

I could go on about the adoption process and how unfair it is and was to young women and girls. A majority of the women who lost their children to adoption in Quebec were French-speaking and Catholic. I could talk about how the Catholic Church shamed unwed girls and women. Losing their children was part of the punishment for the “sin” of having sex outside of marriage. I could talk about how hard it was and still is for unsupported girls and women to raise children alone as single mothers and how there was a time in history when in many communities in Quebec it was nearly impossible for an “unwed mother” to raise children. There were no government allowances and society frowned upon it. But to say all these women do not want to see their lost children again is stretching it, as is saying all these women chose to have their identities sealed away. To say they never loved their children and abandoned them is unfair and wrong. Why not ask them what they want? And if they’re dead, what harm does it cause for their own flesh and blood to know who they were?

Even if some natural parents don’t want a relationship with the children they lost to adoption it doesn’t mean their identities should stay hidden forever or if they’re still alive they wouldn’t consent to providing medical information. Opening adoption records would fix all this. In some instances identities could be revealed after death and this could be done retroactively so that adopted people at least know their origins. Having adopted people learn who brought them into the world it doesn’t guarantee a relationship but it does recognize the human and civil rights of adult adoptees.

The history of adoption in Quebec is full of shame, secrets and lies. It’s about the children of unwed mothers being seen as “bastards” and the only way of legitimizing their births was to hide their origins. There was a period of Quebec history when the birth certificates (in many instances, church records)  of “illegitimate” children were stamped with a label indicating the child was “illegitimate.” The only way for the child would be considered “legitimate” was if a married couple adopted the child. The new birth certificate would erase the child’s origins since the certificate or baptismal certificate would now list the adoptive mother and father as the child’s parents.

As well, since the nuns who arranged the baptism and adoption of many children gave the children a “nom fictif,” a name that had nothing to do with the child’s origins, in such cases there’s no easy way for an adoptee to easily discover their natural mother’s identity.

As in other places most adopted people in Quebec actually have two birth certificates – the one sealed with the court records and the new one with the name their adoptive parents gave them. Adoptees are not allowed to get a copy of their original birth certificates or see their files. The situation is ridiculous.

In Canada Quebec, along with Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, continues to have closed records. These provinces and territories (see chart below) passed legislation and opened or are about to open adoption records. It’s time we joined them.

Meet Bronwyn, a former Montrealer battling Lyme disease

31 Jul

UPDATE: raffle deadline extended to August 3!

I tried to help Bronwyn’s mother Donna find media coverage for a raffle of gorgeous original art works she and her daughter Bronwyn were holding to raise money to help cover costs for Bronwyn’s expensive medical bills as Bronwyn fights Lyme disease.

But even though I approached some top-notch journalists and bloggers, as far as I know the raffle story received no media coverage.

To be fair, Quebec’s construction holiday happens during the last two weeks of July and many folks, including media types, take vacations in July. And even though Bronwyn, who grew up in Montreal,  most likely contracted Lyme disease at a Girl Guide camp as a child, she’s 28 now and lives in Kansas. Media here may not consider her a local, even though she’s from here and only moved away a few years ago. Her mom Donna is an artist who lives in Ste. Anne de Bellevue so that’s another local angle to this story.

So yesterday I posted on an article about the raffle, Donna, and Bronwyn on The deadline to buy raffle tickets was yesterday. I linked to Twitter and Google+

When I checked this morning the article had 40 views. I don’t know if anyone bought raffle tickets after reading the article. But you can still give via the main page of the Drawing for Bronwyn Fundraising Raffle site.

Fighting chronic Lyme disease is difficult and fundraising for it is even harder. It’s not like that Potato Salad Kickstarter campaign where a guy states he’s making potato salad and asks people to donate $10 towards the cost of ingredients and so far has raised over $53,000. It’s hard to find something funny about Lyme disease, an infectious disease caused by bacteria transmitted by ticks.

What’s inspiring is Bronwyn’s determination to get the word out and change things for the better. She’s put together a slew of videos on YouTube

But she needs our help.

The cats of Devil’s Hill

18 Jul

Brown tabby cat looks into kitchen windowI’ve written about Lachine’s unsung heroine – a woman who quietly helps lower the number of unwanted cats by finding abandoned cats and arranging to have them spayed and neutered. She’s the woman who helped when we found a young abandoned cat sleeping in the hallway inside our apartment building, just outside our apartment door. She arranged to have this cat spayed, vaccinated, and given preventive care for worms and fleas and we eventually adopted the small, grey kitten (she’s now a long and fluffy grown-up cat). In the “Devil’s Hill” section of Ville St. Pierre or St. Pierre or Quartier St. Pierre, which is part of Lachine and part of Montreal (some locals don’t appreciate any mention of Lachine/Montreal; it depends who you talk to), we have a weird problem: there are many cats that aren’t exactly abandoned because they have homes. But they’re not always fed or well cared for. So let’s say they’re semi-abandoned.

I tried to get an idea of just how many of these neighbourhood cats could be described as semi-owned yet semi-abandoned but it’s hard to tell. I regularly see 20 or 30 cats walking around Devil’s Hill. They’re hanging out in ravine-like areas behind buildings, playing in the grass, following people down the street. To be fair, some of those cats have owners who care for them, people who would put up posters and search for their beloved pets if anything happened to them. Many of these cats have collars and you see them hanging around outside houses or heading inside.

Every day at least three cats appear in my kitchen window, begging for food. As you can see in the photos I’ve posted, they’re cute. They don’t look like wild animals, just hungry kitties.

YesterCalico cat sits outside, crying in kitchen windowday a fourth cat joined other cats at my kitchen door and they were so hungry they tried to get into my apartment. Later on I saw a small kitten peering out of my neighbour’s window.

I don’t know whether I should feed them or not. A woman who runs a pet food store nearby in NDG says I’m enabling the cats since they’re outdoors a lot of the time and cats are able to hunt and catch a mouse or a bird when hungry, especially during the summer.

The cats’ semi-owner is my next-door neighbour, a young single mom on welfare who recently told people she’s giving away 11 kittens. She can’t afford to feed all these cats. So the neighbourhood takes over, acting as some sort of food security backup for famished cats.

Is this okay? I don’t know. 

We just discovered that one of the begging kitties, a young calico cat, is pregnant. 

I could grab the cats that show up in my kitchen window, find help to get them spayed and neutered and then return them. I don’t know if the cat’s “owner” would appreciate this. I could quietly disappear them to a friendly animal rescue group so that instead of climbing in and out of her kitchen window and seeking food around the neighbourhood, these cats would be with people who can afford to keep them. Before I take any action I should probably talk to my neighbour. I don’t doubt she cares for these cats on some level but there’s no question she’s neglecting them.

There are catch-and-release programs but they appear to be for animals that are feral and/or truly abandoned. It’s unclear whether Lachine has an annual licence for cats and it’s doubtful that licencing would help this situation, since my neighbour can’t afford licences and vet care. A few months ago the borough sent out information mentioning a $20 annual fee but its website does not confirm this licence applies to cats at all – the site only mentions dog licences. The borough has a limit of three cats per dwelling but no one checks. I don’t think calling the city is a solution.

How do you deal with stray or hungry cats in your neighbourhood?

Small kitten climbs out of kitchen window

Wanted: great customer service

28 Jun
A police officer an a man peer at night into the brightly lit menswear display window at the Simpsons department store in downtown Montreal

Montreal Simpsons department store window in 1936

I don’t want to gripe but I just went through two experiences that made me wonder about businesses and customer service.

My son invited me to a movie this week. We hadn’t allowed ourselves enough time to eat anything before the screening (of Chef, of all things!) so we ended up with one of the movie theatre’s expensive popcorn/drink/candy packages. We paid $21.05 for a large popcorn, two soft drinks and a bag of M&M’s.

The straws and napkins were on this counter/island thing a small distance away from the concession counter, in the movie theatre’s lobby. We put our stuff down on the counter as we placed straws in drinks and got ready to carry our drinks, candy and huge bag of popcorn  to our theatre. Just as we were doing this, an employee said, “Excuse me,” and then proceeded to open up the base of the island thingy where we’d placed our stuff. It seems that’s where the movie theatre keeps its napkins and there was some sort of napkin crisis happening because he was very insistent on getting those napkins even though we were maybe half a minute away from leaving and there weren’t many or possibly any other customers in the theatre at the time. We had to move all our stuff to the other side of the island thingy to make room for him. I said , “Hey, we’re customers, can’t you wait two minutes for us to finish before you go in?” or something like that. This got him angry. “I said ‘excuse me,'” he replied before heading over to complain/gossip about me to another employee.

After spending more than $40 on tickets and overpriced popcorn, drinks and candy I thought maybe we would be treated like our customer needs counted. Silly me! My question to anyone serving drinks and food is why would you store supplies in the bottom of the counter/island where customers pick up their napkins, straws etc. It’s akin to Starbucks storing supplies below the area where people get sugar packets and stir their coffee. It’s not convenient for customers or for staff. It doesn’t make sense.

The other surprise came at a co-op I’ve been a part of since 2001. Though I bought a lifetime membership, in recent years the co-op introduced an annual fee members must pay if they want to enjoy members-only discounts. I’ll confess I don’t like this policy and I did boycott the fees for a while. My position is a co-op should either have annual fees (examples of this are Le Frigo Vert or Coop Le Milieu) or a lifetime membership (Mountain Equipment Co-op), but not both, as is my situation since I bought a $10 share in 2001 and now must pay an annual fee as well to receive discounts. I missed the vote and since a majority of co-op members okayed annual fees, in March I finally paid the fee.

But yesterday when I got to the cash to buy gardening supplies, the staff gave me a hard time. First the new employee, who was in training, could not find me in the system. She searched for me both by last name and then by member number. Then she asked another employee for help. That employee found my file but then told me flat-out that I’d never paid the annual fee and in fact it said on my file I’d refused to pay it.

I didn’t have a receipt because since it’s an environmental co-op you help the co-op when you refuse a receipt, but I knew I’d paid the annual fee. I told her to look up the first transaction I’d made this year. She found the proof and then told the young trainee I had been listed as a non-member. This irked me since my annual dues are not related to membership – some members of the co-op don’t pay the annual fee but still are considered members so it shocked me to hear I’d been considered a non-member. It appears the guy I paid the $10 to for the annual fee forgot to correct my file and it’s unclear whether I received the members-only discount during my last visit. But one thing that really needs correcting is this one employee’s attitude towards longtime members.  After years of good experiences at the co-op, yesterday this woman I’ve never seen before treated me like crap. I don’t buy much at this co-op and will probably visit even less often now even though I’m one of the first 100 people who supported the co-op.

I suppose I expect a lot. I expect businesses to hire friendly staff who answer customer needs. No second guessing. Basic respect.

One business that knows how to treat customers is the Simons department store in downtown Montreal (La Maison Simons). You could buy something small and inexpensive and the staff will still treat you well. Maybe they’re good actors. But it’s a lot of fun visiting places where the staff make you feel like you matter.

Espace pour la vie’s Great Gardening Weekend & more

24 May

Yes, I realize I am posting a lot of garden-related info. I have another garden news that I’ll relate in a post next week. But I write about other stuff too,

I used to have a community garden plot and I love gardening. Or at least I find the beginning of the season exciting. The maintenance and weeding part of gardening, not so much.

Espace pour la vie’s Great Gardening Weekend

This event started yesterday and happens all weekend. It’s pretty amazing since it includes the sale of 12,000 plants grown by horticulturalists from the Montreal Botanical Garden. But it’s also a garden show of sorts with 100 exhibitors, how-to talks in French on gardening, horticultural awards and PlantCatching is hosting a plant exchange. The only drawback is admission is not free. You have to pay the entrance fee for the Botanical Garden and Insectarium.

Where: Montreal Botanical Garden,

When: Continues today  through Sunday May 25, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission fee to the Botanical Garden, $18.75 for an adult who is a Quebec resident (there’s a discount for Access Montreal cardholders)

On the cheaper side of the things…

Perennial Plant Sale in NDG (Happening Now)

The posters don’t say who is putting on this sale but 25 per cent of proceeds go to urban agriculture group Action Communiterre while another 25 per cent go to the Montreal West Horticultural Society.

Where: 6951 Terrebonne (at Mayfair)

When: Today, May 24,  9 a.m. to noon

In case of rain: sale happens tomorrow instead

Santropol Roulant Seedling Sale

I’ve mentioned it before but Santropol Roulant’s seedling sale happens today

Where: 111 Roy (at Coloniale)

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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