Today in Montreal – march in honour of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls

14 Feb A mural on St. Laurent Blvd.  honours missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

A mural on St. Laurent Blvd.  honours missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. PHOTO

A mural on Montreal’s St. Laurent Blvd. honours missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
© Andrew Belding

Since 1991 on Valentine’s Day women in Vancouver have marched in honour of missing and murdered women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This year Montreal organizers will hold the sixth edition of the memorial march, which focuses on honouring the memories of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The gathering will start at Cabot Square, a place organizers from Justice for Missing and Murdered Native Women (Missing Justice) and Femmes autochtones du Québec note is familiar to many of this city’s homeless, the majority of whom are aboriginal (unfortunately it’s currently being renovated and gentrified in what I consider an attempt to push the homeless out of the area).

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government dismisses calls for a national public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls even though the RCMP reports between 1980 and 2012 there were 1,017 aboriginal female victims of homicide in Canada,  and their murders represent 16 per cent of all female homicides reported in Canada even though aboriginal women represent only about four per cent of Canada’s female population. The RCMP says 164 aboriginal women have disappeared since 1980.

Organizers of marches around this issue have long said the number of murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls is much higher than these statistics with the total number is probably as high as 3,000. Many cases are not resolved.

Making matters worse, in 2010 the Conservative government began chopping funding for local initiatives that organizers point out benefited aboriginal women, including a Sisters in Spirit database on missing and murdered aboriginal women run by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Today’s event is an opportunity for Montrealers to show their solidarity on this important issue.

When: February 14, 2015, 3 p.m.

Where: Cabot Square, Ste Catherine St. W. & Atwater (Atwater metro)

Kahnawake residents: A bus will leave Kahnawake Shakotiia’takéhnhas Community Services at 2 p.m.

Hey Montreal gardeners, Seedy Weekend starts tomorrow

6 Feb

If you like growing your own vegetables and you enjoy rare heirloom and organic vegetables, organic flowers, herbs and medicinal plants then Seedy Weekend is for you.

This weekend the entrance Montreal’s Botanical Garden will become a gardening trade show of sorts, with seeds for sale or for trade and you can ask for gardening advice. The 15th edition will include farmers and seed distributors from Quebec and beyond, environmentally minded businesses along with the event’s organizer, non-profit urban agriculture organization Action Communiterre and partners les Amis du Jardin botanique de Montréal, Espace pour la vie and Seeds of Diversity Canada.

If you have organic or heirloom seeds to trade with other gardeners, you may want to check out the seed exchange. There will be  workshops (they’re usually in French), a screening of Julie Perron’s film Le Semeur in the auditorium on Sunday from noon to 1:30 p.m. There will be food and beverages for sale, with the proceeds going to Action Communiterre.

It’s a popular and fun event. I highly recommend it.

Where: Main entrance (Pavillon d’accueil) of the Montreal Botanical Garden, Pie-X or Viau metro stations

When: Saturday February 7 & Sunday February 8, 2015, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Cost: Free admission

You’ll find an exhibitor list and full schedule (in French) here

fluorescent light hangs over dome-covered gardening kit in sunny window

If anyone has tips on how to grow peppers, please share them!


Use my Tangerine Orange Key and we both get $50

28 Dec

Here’s an easy way to get $50.00.

Open a new Tangerine bank account, use my Orange Key  – 42037807S1, deposit $100 or more in your new account and we both get $50. This offer is available till March 31, 2015. After that my Orange Key will net you $25 instead of $50.

I’m no fan of big banks but what I like about Tangerine (formerly ING Direct and now owned by the Bank of Nova Scotia) is they rarely charge fees. The only fee I’ve heard of so far is a fee for transferring a Tax-Free Savings Account from Tangerine to another bank, and apparently Tangerine’s transfer fee is lower than that charged at other banks. It can take a few days to transfer your money from Tangerine to your regular bank account, there are only a few Tangerine ATMs in downtown Montreal, but you can access your Tangerine account through Scotiabank’s network . For me the lack of quick access to my money works well. It forces me to plan my spending better and I save more.

Lighting up the darkness in Ville St. Pierre

22 Dec

event postcardIt’s been a little over a week since I caught the Parcours des lucioles en tête, but I’m still shaking my head in amazement.

The Saint-Pierre neighbourhood of Lachine does not enjoy a great reputation. The area was once its own city and many people still call it Ville St. Pierre. To many Montrealers, it’s a place you pass through as quickly as possible. You drive through Saint-Pierre on your way to Highway 20. Or you bike through it on your way to the Lachine Canal. But you don’t linger. Media coverage (often exaggerated) of drug problems, violent incidents and murders in the neighbourhood doesn’t help things.

I moved to Saint-Pierre nearly a year ago. As an NDG gal transplanted to an area with no full-fledged grocery store, no cafés or places to hang out, boarded up storefronts, plenty of dépanneurs, fast food joints and stray cats, I’ve often wondered whether St. Pierre’s affordable rent made leaving NDG worth it. I’ve attended security committee meeting events and I do my best to support local initiatives but I felt something was missing.

The Parcours des lucioles on tête blew me away because it showcased Saint-Pierre’s cultural side, something that’s not always obvious when you walk around. An initiative of Revitalisation Saint-Pierre and artist Nicolas Rivard, the event not only let citizens reclaim problem areas in the neighbourhood and turn them into lighted art installations, it showed me why this neighbourhood is interesting and special.

Unfortunately the evening of December 13 was bitterly cold. We waited at Roger-Richer Park for the walk to start but the bonfires organizers set up didn’t warm us up enough and we were hungry. So we headed to a restaurant for dinner and came back to see as many installations as we could on our own.

From 5 to 8 p.m. people could walk around to see all sorts of citizen-created art, lit up in different ways. People could visit 12 art installations and performance pieces around the neighbourhood.

Rivard’s video, Bulles Citoyennes, was projected on the doors of Rockfield Church so that the doors served as a screen. I didn’t see much of his piece, but from what I understand it showed residents blowing bubbles. Rivard has a photo of the video on his website.

A newly decorated bus shelter on Rue des Érables featured images that included a sun/ladybug and candy canes.

a huge street level church bell with a knitted cover

A church bell lovingly restored and on display on St. Jacques St. was “yarn-bombed” and now sports knitting created by women from the Cercles de Fermières du Québec’s Saint-Pierre chapter. Sadly, the group’s other knitwear piece, a hat and scarf placed on a monument erected in Kirkland Park in the 1960s in memory of longtime Ville St. Pierre mayor Dr. C.A. Kirkland, was stolen before anyone could see it. I realize there’s a market for bronze but I don’t understand why people steal public monuments and I wonder how the people at the scrapyard where this monument was no doubt taken reacted when they saw knitwear on a statue? Surely they knew it was stolen?!


 Frédérique Gagné-Thibault, wearing a TV on her head, explains Saint-Pierre historyFor the Joyeux téléjournal, Frédérique Gagné-Thibault wore a TV on her head as visitors sat on chairs and a sofa listening to her talk about Saint-Pierre history.






the green classroom - chairs, evergreen sprigs and a watering can lit up in greenIn front of École Primaire Martin-Bélanger,  Mélanie Castagnier placed child-sized wooden chairs in a circle with other chairs hanging in a pile above, a watering can in the mix of the piled-up chairs. Evergreen branches lay on the wooden chairs. The work’s title? La Classe Verte – the Green Classroom



children's colourful handmade flowers and landscapes lit up on a snowy lawn

Martin-Bélanger elementary students brightened the snow in front of a community garden with handmade flowers and landscapes.





a fake egg's nest in a parking lotMélanie Poirier’s bird’s nest full of huge eggs sat in a parking spot in a parking lot bordering Kirkland Park.






A colourful four-part mural depicting Saint-Pierre history

A huge mural painting hung on the side of a building near the corner of Saint Pierre and Rue des Érables. Caroline Fiset and Lyane Lefebvre told us their mural, À Saint-Pierre, Imagine!, depicts the history of cultural and other organizations in Saint-Pierre. I found it interesting to learn Saint-Pierre is the birthplace of the first Optimist Club in the Montreal area, and the neighbourhood has sprouted a number of theatre organizations, including groups where parents and children perform theatre together.


As we headed home, we saw Revitalisation Saint-Pierre founder David Marshall rocking out with his electric guitar on the steps of the Centre Fernand-Laplaine.  Marshall, whose artistic contribution was called Guy-Tare Drastique, seemed to be enjoying himself in spite of the cold.

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 has carte blanche to behave 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 get dismissed as liars or as 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 was 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 feel anger towards women in general. 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.


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