Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Québec francophones are not racist, they are racially ignorant

PQ Enemy Identification Chart
With the PQ's cynical, manipulative move and the ensuing media kerfluffle, what is going to get lost, as usual, is the middle ground of compromise and understanding.  So I'd like to make two points based on my own personal experiences as an anglo immigrant living in Montreal and doing some (though not enough) travelling around Quebec.

The first is that the PQ does not represent "Quebec".  The english media is loving this right now.  They can whip up all the Canadian anglos who know practically nothing about Quebec (except what they are told by the media) into a big, emotional righteous frenzy.  If any of you are reading this, please remember that Quebec has a wide political spectrum and that the PQ is currently only a minority government.  They are making a politically strategic move to appeal to two groups: their old guard hardline (who are a bunch of fucking racist assholes for the most part, dripping in bitterness at their own perceived failure and thus taking it out on an even weaker victim) and the mass of ignorant, uneducated proud Quebecois who love their own culture and language.  The old guard have been driving Marois quietly from the beginning and I'm sure she wishes she could get rid of them.  This Charter of Quebec Values bullshit is the perfect move for her.  She and her inner circle must have been so psyched when they saw the numbers from their study.  It appeases the old guard who believe that the only way to protect their language and culture is to attack other languages and culture, but it also is safe and appealling enough for a significant majority of white, francophone Quebeckers to accept.  The polls could be wrong, but it appears that this will help solidify the PQ's base and expand their votes in the next election.  Basically, she took a page out of Harper's book when he prorogued parliament and created the fake spectre of a minority coalition led by a party "that wants to destroy Canada".

The second is that francophone Quebec is no more of a racist society than anywhere else in Canada.  In many ways, they may actually be less racist.  What they are, though, is racially ignorant.  Remember, this is a society that was only opened up to the rest of the world a generation ago (maybe two now, I'm not sure how to count generations).  To this day, my wife, whose family is Chinese but was raised in Vancouver since she was a tiny baby (so basically a Canadian) gets greeted by people saying "Konichiwa" or "Nee hao ma".  The people doing this think they are being friendly and polite.  At best, they are being mildly annoying, at worst, offensive.  And this is in Montreal!  Imagine what it's like out in the suburbs around Quebec City or Lac St-Jean.  They just don't get to see any other visible minorities, let alone learn, work and play with them.  (This is an exaggeration, as Quebec's excellent immigration programs have actually brought a lot of different people into Quebec and I suspect that schools in places outside of Montreal are becoming more and more diverse.  And this is what is so sad about this Quebec Charter of Values, it is going to undo all that good work.)

Most Quebeckers, thus, are getting their info about other cultures via the media.  And since the media spews out fear, the natural suspicion of the outsider that comes with ignorance gets exacerbated.  How are you supposed to think about the hijab or kippah you've never met anyone who wears one?  I had my western, secular, pro-feminist doubts about the hijab myself.  Then I met two different women, one in my francisation class (another example of an excellent program for immigrants) and another in my computer science class years later.  Both explained why they chose to wear the hijab.  In the first case, she had not worn it for many years and then decided to put it back on.  In both cases, my sense was that it was really their choice and that it was important for them both culturally and personally.  I'm not a big fan of the current implementation of Islam, especially in the treatment of women (but I'm also no fan of the Catholic church and their continued condoning of child rapists).  But I am cool with those women choosing to adopt the customs of their culture and religion.

My sense is that most people in Quebec who are in favour of this charter have never had the good fortune to meet and talk with a woman wearing a hijab.  To them it is not a big deal to just take off a scarf and go to work.  I ask them to remember back what it was like when you had to speak english at work, how hateful and oppressive that must have felt.  It's the same feeling.  Why would you impose that on other people?

And that is exactly what is so outrageous about this Charter of Quebec Values.  It is a solution in search of a problem.  Nobody really gives a shit if some daycare worker or hospital administrator is wearing a hijab.  It doesn't affect how well your child is taken care of or how well the hospital is run.  Ironically, it is often the people from North Africa who speak the best french, so their headscarves certainly don't hurt french language or culture.  So what is the point?  The point is to increase votes by manipulating ignorance and fear.  Guess who did that really well?

George Bush.

Adolf Hitler.

Yeah, that's right, I just Godwined my own post.  Now take this fucking Charter of Quebec Conformity of the table and let's get on with the serious business of saving the planet from our addiction to oil.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

And then there was Réal Giguère

Yesterday's rage against the bank (which woke me briefly from my blogging hibernation) was quite happily tempered by the complete opposite service experience of getting my television repaired by Réal Giguère.  Well actually, it was by his two sons.  The business has been fixing televisions in the Plateau since 1955, but Réal himself passed away twenty years ago and now his sons run it.  They are a perfect example of what makes Montreal such a great city to live in. There still exists small service stores where knowledgeable, friendly, local people provide quality work and quality customer service.  They are not locked into some strict set of national policies.  They can make decisions on their own.  They know their field and can give you a wide range of advice.  And it can actually be a pleasant experience.

The whole thing started with me being an idiot. We moved into a new place with cable outlets everywhere.  I tested one out, found it worked and then went to another one that was in a different location.  It didn't work, so I moved the TV back.  Except I forgot to unplug the cable.  Like Big Moose, my stupidity is offset by incredible physical strength and I ended up ripping the cable port right out of the television.  Though we usually watch stuff via the computer (which is connected via HDMI), the loss of cable was big.  We use over the air HD and you need to connect the antenna through the co-axial cable port.

I got the TV to Réal Giguère on Wednesday.  The place is a flat building with curtained windows butting right up onto Marie-Anne.  It is so full of televisions and television parts, that there only is a narrow trail from the front door to a slightly more open space where the phone and cash register are.  They have decades of televisions and TV parts.  They also rent old TV sets for use in movie shoots, which must be a nice niche business to have.  They also sell new TVs and said they have very competitive prices, but I have no idea where they could possibly keep them, as there is nothing on display, let alone a showroom.

I dropped the TV off.  One of the brothers told me that they would call the next day to let me know how long the repair would take and how much it would cost.  What I found also funny was that before they had done the diagnosis, they said that if the repair would take a while then they could offer me a loaner.  The question was "is this your only television?".  I guess for some people a TV is like a car or stove, essential to their existence.

It turns out they see a lot of cable ports ripped out.  I guess I am not the only one. Usually it's just the metal housing that gets broken and they can sauter that back on.  Unfortunately, in my case, I had actually broken a chunk of the circuit board right off and they would have to replace the entire module.   Fortunately, they had that very module in the store, housed in a TV in the same line as mine, but with a broken screen.  Entire cost to me was $150+tax.  I have no idea if this was a good price, but with my experience in getting other A/V stuff fixed, I suspect it is.  They said that ordering the module new would have cost $500.  Can anybody out there confirm that?

So I went over and paid up.  When one of the brothers was going to get the TV, I told him not to rush because I had to call a cab.  They asked where I live and then said, no problem, my brother can just take you over there.  We had a decent conversation about television repair and Syria on the way to my house.

The entire experience was efficient and pleasant, with excellent customer service by a couple of brothers who know their stuff and do good work.  As someone who is concerned about waste, I was also very satisfied that I could use an existing part from a defunct TV rather than ordering a new one.

Réal Giguère
828 Marie Anne E, Montréal, QC H2J 2A8 ‎
(514) 523-2348 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fuck the banks and fuck Laurentian Bank in particular

The Chihuahua of Justice shits upon you Laurentian Bank!
I remember twenty years ago opening a chequing account at a local credit union in Portland and what great service I got. Not just from the individuals who worked there, who were excellent, but also from the generally reasonable policies of the institution.

Today it is just all about scraping the poor and middle class for everything they can while treating their customers like total shit the entire time.  Record-making profits year in and year out for the Canadian banks, but if you bounce a cheque you have to pay them $47.  FORTY-SEVEN DOLLARS!!! That's like someone's food for a week.  When you ask them about it, they go on and on about all the work they have to go through and how much it costs them to "process" the bounced cheque.  We all know it's horseshit.  The same "processing" time it takes them to put the actual money in your account when you deposit a cheque.  Meanwhile, they are scouring free interest off that deposit, while you don't see any of it.

I had to open a new account recently and it has been nothing but pain and bureaucracy every step of the way.  The stupidest policy after the stupidest policy and sheep-like employees who have no power to make any decisions.  Their excuse now is new federal security laws.  Just one more way that this bullshit war on terrorism screws the people over.  We didn't even want to open a new account, just simply take one person's name off and add mine instead.  But oh no supposedly that is no longer allowed.  It has to do with people hiding money or something.  Um, is the bank not capable of maintaining a record of all the names on an account?

Even more maddening is how Laurentian Bank has clearly recently hired some PR company to do a big rebranding.  So you get these fake friendly sentences in handwriting font scrawled all over their ATM machines.  With the account, I got this huge book with chapers (in the same font) entitled "Take hold", "Seize the day" and the best "operate freely".  Yeah, those are the things I am trying to do except for I have to spend a fucking day and a half of my life just to open an account with you.

All I wanted to do today (after the weeks it took us to even get this account opened), was to get internet access to my account.  For some reason, they are not capable of just giving it to you when you open your account.  You have to phone them (a teeny hell in and of itself since there is no option for internet access in their phone tree).  And guess what?  I got negged on my security question.  I found this out after waiting on hold for 10 minutes.  Somebody wrote my birthday down wrong and now I have to go back to the bank (with two pieces of ID) to fix that, then phone them again.

And guess what, their website is going to suck.  I've already had the pain of dealing with 2 different Canadian banks websites and they are embarassingly bad.  National Bank is clunky, looking like it was made in 1997, but it is more or less straightforward at least.  Desjardins, that acts like it is the pride and joy of Quebec, is just a joke, a total mess where it is impossible to do anything.

All the banks suck, that is for sure.  But so far Banque Laurentide has been the worst.  Don't go there.

So fucking outraged right now.  You fuckers in the boardroom owe the people of Canada some answers.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Possum sighted, do I flee or investigate?

"Take us to Olman Feelyus, pion"
Those of you who know me well know that I have a long and complex history with the Possum empire.  I won't go into details now but let's just say that may or may not be the reason I moved north so many years ago.  All has been going well here and I've come to quite love my new life.

Then this news showed up today in my twitter feed.

Global warming?  Escaped illegal pet?  

I think not. 

Emissary or enemy agent, I am not sure which.  This is either a message being sent or a terrible blunder.  Highly unlikely that the Possum empire would send an agent that would allow himself to get caught.  Especially downtown like that.

So do I just pack up and flee (probably the smarter move) or do I head over to the Berger Blanc and see if I can effectuate a meeting with this critter?

Going to go see if the squirrels know anything.

"I WILL fuck your shit up!"

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Redneck Solution

I see the video below as a metaphor for the language issues in Canada.  The trailer is the "two solitudes" the gulf of communication and culture between two people who speak a different language.  The car represents the base culture that we all actually share (thriftiness, appreciation of semi-rural suburban living, desire to smash things in creative ways) but aren't aware of because of our different languages.  The drivers are the people like you and me who want to live in a culturally diverse Canada that respects all of its traditions.  Now watch what happens to the two solitudes when we finally get in the driver's seat:

Don't every change, people of the Regions.  I love the dude at the end going "CIBWAAAAAA!"

Saturday, April 06, 2013


This looks kind of fun.  CBC, under the auspices of Canada Writes, is doing a month-long project this April on neighbourhood change called Hyperlocal.  They are putting together, via their regular writers, guest-star bloggers  and a contest open to the public, a collection of map-connected blog posts on change in various neighbourhoods across Canada.  I'll be throwing a piece in, but still need to decide which of the many instances of change going on here, I should write about.  Our own Kate McDonnell, producer of the Montreal City Weblog (far and away the best source of Montreal news and discussion on said news in english) is one of the guest bloggers.  You can read her piece about an establishment in her Villeray neighbourhood here.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The Face of Fascism

The offending instagram post in question
The relationship between the police and society in Canada is an interesting one.  In many ways, we are seen as a progressive country in terms of liberty and the law.  In reality, there is a constant threat of minor fascism here in Canada.  I say "minor" because fascism gets thrown around a lot and often ends up either undermining an argument (by the overzealous progressive) or being used to undermine an argument (by the tactical conservative).  We inherit some of our laws around national security from Britain, most infamously the Official Secrets Act and in theory that makes us in some ways a less free country than the U.S.

There is also a long history of police services behaving far beyond the bounds or their legal role.  At the federal level, the RCMP is often up to privacy-invading shenanigans.  At the local level, there are many incidents of police abuse and murder (the victims often being First Nations people).  I won't go into them all here, but these incidents demonstrate how easily it is for authority in a society to abuse its power.

The recent change in strategy by the SPVM, the Montreal police force, against the student protests here in Montreal is a good example of this.  It's complicated, because there is also an annual anti-police brutality march here that always turns violent and the two groups, while distinct, are also intermingled.  During the height of the protests last year, Jean Charest's liberals (never a friend to freedom) passed Bill 78, which was a major attack on the right of freedom of expression and gave the cops all kinds of license to shut down any protest.  The PQ repealed it (think about that freaked out anglophone liberals), but within that bill was a municipal by-law (P-6) that gives the executive committee of Montreal (basically a gang of fucking criminals who should be pilloried for a month and then exiled to Labrador, and I'm really not exaggerating here) the power to refuse any protest or demonstration.  There is a bunch of other sneaky shit in there as well, that basically lets the police say yes or no to a protest. 

So P-6 is still in effect. Meanwhile, the PQ reversed the tuition hikes and then brought them back, though at a much more reasonable level.  This deflated a lot of the energy of the protests and the cops have clearly taken this as an excuse to amp up their repression.  They have been using "kettling", which was declared unconstitutional to round up protestors and then to take pictures of them and get all their info for future intelligence work.

All that is already pretty disturbing, but where their intel work "paid off" is even more disturbing.  Earlier this week, they arrested a 20-year old protest hipster chick for harrassment.  What had she done?  She had taken a picture of a piece of graffitti art (seen here) that showed the SPVM spokesperson with a bullet through his head and then disemminated it to the internet via instagram.  The law they used to arrest her with is the one that was designed to prevent stalking and to catch potentially violent criminals when they make threats.

The tactic of making the oppressor the victim has been around for decades.

There are three things here that push this move into the realm of fascism.  The first is, as mentioned above, the perversion of the law that was designed to protect an individual to use it to go after an individual who was critiquing a political body.  The second is that it's pretty obvious that they have got someone going through their database and then tracking down individuals online and looking for reasons to go after them.  Finally, the real nasty technique here is the co-opting of the victim status.  This is a classic neo-con and corporate bullying technique.  It serves many purposes. One of the bigger ones is to elicit sympathy from centrist citizens.  In this case, I suspect, it will blow up in their faces.  As we've seen time and time again, if there is one thing that the people are generally united on it is their right to use the internet freely.  There is already a backlash online against this move and I suspect we will see the SPVM back off.  Though you never know.  Organizations like these do tend to "double-down on stupid" so they may amp up this strategy.  We will be watching.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Awaken from winter slumber, blog!

Arise gentle mountain.

I've been neglecting Briques du Neige the last year or so.  I have many excuses and explanations.  The big concrete one is that my wife gave birth in October and the child's fierce intelligence and cutting wit suggest that I am indeed the father.  So that's been keeping me busy.  The vaguer explanation for the lack of prooduction here is perhaps more interesting.  It's taken me a while to wrestle with it.  It's not really laziness or lack of motivation. It's just that nothing seems special enough any more to merit a blog post (meta aside: is anything ever?  Probably not, so point taken and let's just move on).  I think what is happening is that after nine years, I have integrated into my life here in Montreal to the point where I have lost that outsider, observer perspective.  I am living my life and everything just seems normal.  When people from outside Montreal ask me about the corruption scandal going on, I am a bit surprised that they don't already know everything about it.  I mean isn't everybody following Monique Muise's awesome twitter feed?  The snow is melting and Clark street was not a total garbage fest for once, but that's just spring time and I might as well be talking about the weather. I still don't feel like I am truly from here, but I have never felt like I am truly from anywhere in my life.  I think for me this is about as "home" as it gets, when I don't feel like blogging about my city anymore.

That being said, there still is a lot going on here.  The gradual evolution of Mile End towards true, awful gentrification marches on relentlessly.  The cops in Montreal are demonstrating a culture of fascism and oppression that is rivalling the RCMP.  The Charbonneau commission is on fucking fire.  And finally, finally, wonderful springtime is here (or was for a couple days, then got skittish and backed off, but now appears to be well and truly here).

So with the buds and the dogshit and the birds living in the power line housing outside our apartment, this blog will also finally poke its head out from the cold and the snow.

Briques du Neige has been pretty focused on Montreal life, culture and politics, with a few diversions here and there.  I am going to widen the scope going forward, for the reasons stated above, and hope to share a broader range of my spazzy ramblings and inane observations.  There is a much greater potential for angry rants, so be warned.

Re-organize your bookmarks, put me back in your blogroll, release the paparazzi.  Briques du Neige is back motherfuckers!