September is Suicide Awareness Month and today (September 10th) is World Suicide Prevention Day. Tomorrow, Suicide and Mental Health (SAMH) Montreal will be holding a Suicide and Mental Health Awareness Walk in Montreal.

It starts at 1pm in front of the Sir George-Etienne Cartier Monument on du Parc (where the tam tams take place). It also serves as a reminder that suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in Canada and takes more lives than war, murder and natural disasters combined.

SAMH Montreal “is a non profit organization dedicated to helping people find support through difficult times and hope after loss.” They also hope to help stop that loss from happening in the first place by raising awareness through events like this one.

With the general focus being on physical health over the past couple of years, it’s important not to forget mental health.

Featured Image via the SAMH Montreal website

The Suicide and Mental Health Awareness Walk starts Saturday, September 11 at 1pm in front of the Sir. George-Etienne Cartier Monument on du Parc. More info on the Facebook Event Page

It’s official. Quebecers who want to use certain services or take part in certain activities deemed “non-essential” need to present proof of being adequately vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so. Quebec is the first Canadian province to implement a COVID vaccine passport, but with Ontario, BC and Manitoba working on their own systems, it won’t be the last.

People will also need to present ID along with the passport.

Where Do You Need the Quebec Vaccine Passport?

There is a rather extensive list of where vaccine passports are now required on the Quebec Government’s website. Here are just some of the places and activities:

  • Restaurants (including fast food and on terrasses)
  • Bars (including on terrasses)
  • Nightclubs
  • Shopping mall food courts
  • Performance venues
  • Movie theatres
  • Indoor sports
  • Outdoor sports with close contact
  • Outdoor concerts, sporting events, shows and other events with over 50 people in attendance
  • Festivals
  • Indoor weight lifting, swimming and gymnastics (ie. going to the gym)

There are some exemptions, for example, homeless people who want to eat at shopping mall food courts.

How Do You Get the Quebec Vaccine Passport?

Android users (as of yesterday) and iPhone users can download the “VaxiCode” app from either the Google Play Store or the App Store. Make sure to include the quotation marks when searching for it as it is a rather new app.

Once installed on your phone, you can either scan the QR code you were sent after your second vaccine shot or enter information and have the app locate your vax info. You’ll need to enter your name, date of birth, Medicare card number, mother’s maiden name, father’s name, postal code and the date of your first vax shot along with its brand.

Once the info is located and successfully added, you’ll be able to open up the app, click on your name and display the new QR code generated, along with your ID, to staff at the restaurant you wish to sit down at, or wherever else you want to go. You can also forgo using a phone and print a paper copy of your QR code (business card size is recommended, as is getting it laminated).

Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Dawn McSweeney discuss some of the week’s top news stories:

Quebecers can move up their second vax shot and things are re-opening. Is Montreal getting back to normal?

Trudeau appointed Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General. Is this just a deflection? Should he tax the churches?

After Game Four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Montreal Police teargassed the crowd outside the Bell Centre without warning. What was their excuse and does it hold up?

Follow Dawn McSweeney on Twitter and Instagram @mcmoxy

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter and Instagram @jasoncmclean

Yesterday, Montreal, Laval, and the remaining Red Zones in Quebec turned Orange. Today, Quebec Premier François Legault announced that as of next Monday (June 14th), all of Quebec’s Orange Zones will become Yellow Zones.

The Premier made the announcement at an early afternoon press conference joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. He added that the one region of concern that may not turn Yellow is Chaudière-Appalaches.

So what does being in a Yellow Zone mean? Well:

  • Indoor home visits are permitted for maximum two households
  • Outdoor home visits (backyards and balconies) are permitted for a maximum of eight people
  • Bars can re-open until midnight at 50% capacity with customers remaining seated, no more than two households per table (as well as other restrictions). Bar terrasses are already scheduled to re-open province-wide this Friday
  • Indoor recreation is permitted with certain restrictions
  • Travel between regions and cities is not recommended, but permitted

A full list of what being in a Yellow Zone means, including rules for auditoriums, funerals and places of worship as well as more detailed bar and recreation rules can be found on Quebec’s COVID-19 website.

The next stage down and the best stage to be at (aside from “pandemic over”) is the Green Zone, a status currently only enjoyed by Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Nord-du-Québec. As it may be in everyone else’s future, here’s what it means:

  • Indoor and outdoor (backyards and balconies) home visits are permitted for a maximum of ten people from different addresses or the occupants of three households
  • Bars are open with a maximum of three residences or ten people sharing the same table. The other restrictions are the same as in Yellow Zones
  • Travel between regions and cities is possible

A full list of what being in a Green Zone means is available on Quebec’s COVID-19 website.

Legault also said that students graduating can have their proms, albeit outside and for a maximum of 250 people.

Quebecers now only have to wait eight weeks between their first and second COVID-19 vaccine shot. This is down from the previous 16 week interval.

Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, made the announcement at a press conference alongside National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and vaccination campaign director Daniel Paré. They also released the schedule of when people, by age group, can reschedule their second dose:

  • June 7: 80 years old and up
  • June 8: 75 years old and up
  • June 9: 70 years old and up
  • June 10: 65 years old and up
  • June 11: 60 years old and up
  • June 14: 55 years old and up
  • June 15: 50 years old and up
  • June 16: 45 years old and up
  • June 17: 40 years old and up
  • June 18: 35 years old and up
  • June 21: 30 years old and up
  • June 22: 25 years old and up
  • June 23: 18 years old and up

To schedule your second shot, visit the Clic Santé website on the appropriate day. The original second appointment date, which was given to everyone after they got their first dose, will be cancelled when the new date has been selected.

Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold discuss some of the top news stories of the day (local, national and international):

Quebec’s curfew lifting, Marjorie Taylor Greene stalking AOC, hidden systemic racism in the Federal Government, the Montreal Municipal Election & this summer’s hybrid festivals.

Follow Samantha Gold Artist on Facebook @samiamart and Instagram @samiamartistmtl

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter @jasoncmclean

Quebec’s curfew will be lifted in all regions next Friday, May 28th. Restaurant terrasses will also be allowed to re-open, home backyard visits of up to eight people will be permitted along with travel between regions and stadiums can receive up to 2500 people, all as of that date.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement in a late afternoon press conference joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. He said that this was the first in four major steps of deconfinement affecting the province as a whole, regardless of region.

The second step will be allowing bar terrasses to re-open on June 11. The third will be on June 25th when people who have received both of their vaccine doses will be permitted to visit other people’s homes indoors without masks or social distancing and festivals can occur, regardless of if they have assigned seating or not. The fourth step will be the end of August when most indoor mask mandates will be lifted.

Region-Specific Deconfinement

The premier also announced a series of expected regional coding switches:

  • Most regions will remain or become Orange Zones on May 31st. This means restaurants can re-open for indoor dining.
  • Most regions will remain or become Yellow Zones by June 14th the latest. This means bars can re-open and people can visit other people’s homes.
  • Most regions will become Green Zones by June 28th. This means up to ten people coming from three residences can gather in homes.

Legault also said that Elementary and High Schools in most regions will re-open (or stay open) for in-person classes this coming Monday, May 24th. CEGEPs and universities are expected to re-open for in-person classes as part of the late August deconfinement.

Deconfinement Follows Vaccinations

These measures are closely tied to Quebec’s vaccination rollout, which Legault says is going better than expected. The government had originally predicted that 75% of the population will have received their first vaccine shot by June 24th, now Legault expects to hit that milestone by June 15th.

75% of the population are expected to have received both vaccine doses by the end of August, which is when most confinement measures are scheduled to be lifted.

Special Guest Samantha Gold talks about getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in Quebec, Premier François Legault’s comments on Montreal rental prices and more with host Jason C. McLean

Follow Samantha Gold on Facebook @samiamart & Instagram @samiamartistmtl

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter @jasoncmclean

Book your Quebec vaccine appointment through Clic Santé according to the schedule

All adult Quebecers who want the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to sign up for their first shot in the next two weeks. Starting tomorrow, those aged 50-59 can sign up, with a new age group added to the list every two or three days.

Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé made the announcement at an afternoon press conference joined by National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and Daniel Paré, director of the COVID Vaccination Campaign.

The rollout is as follows:

  • April 30: Age 50-59
  • May 3: Age 45-49
  • May 5: Age 40-44
  • May 7: Age 35-39
  • May 10: Age 30-34
  • May 12: Age 25-29
  • May 14: Age 18-24

Most of these people will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine, though some of it could be from Moderna or Johnson & Johnson (which only requires one dose). This is separate from when Quebec made their remaining AstraZeneca vaccine shots available to people aged 45 and up last week. That campaign is still ongoing and clearly identified as separate on the government’s website.

You can make an appointment for your COVID-19 vaccine shot when it becomes available to your age group through the Clic Santé website

On April 20, 2021 the Superior Court of Quebec issued a ruling on Bill 21, Quebec’s Secularism law which many Canadians were awaiting with baited breath. It was a victory for some, and a tragedy for others.

In its decision, it upholds the Quebec Secularism law with the exception of English schools in Quebec, and the Coalition Avenir du Quebec government under Premier François Legault has already announced its plans to appeal. This article will give a rundown of the ruling itself, the response by those affected, and what it represents to the people of Quebec and Canada.

I’m not going to go into all the nuances of Quebec’s Secularism Law, hereafter Bill 21. I gave a full and detailed rundown in multiple articles when the law was forced through the National Assembly in 2019.

In a nutshell, it severely limits employment in most of Quebec’s public sector as well as access to certain government services for anyone who wears religious symbols, including crosses, hijabs, headscarves, and kipas/yarmulkes. At the time, the government claimed the law would unite Quebeckers, but it has made us more divided than ever. Hate crimes and harassment of Muslim women are on the rise, something experts tried to warn the government about prior to the law’s passing.

The government knew that the law would never survive a legal challenge based on constitutional rights so they wrote in the Notwithstanding Clause, a clause written into Canada’s constitution to allow discriminatory rules to remain in effect for five years notwithstanding certain articles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is largely the court’s measure of the effect of the Notwithstanding Clause that decided the outcome of the case.

I knew that no matter WHAT the court’s ruling, someone would appeal the decision. That someone is the Quebec government and it is unfortunate because for the most part, the Quebec government won the case.

Bill 21 is still in effect, and teachers and other people hoping for the stability that comes with public employment have had their hopes dashed, with one exception. The court decided that Bill 21 remains valid due to the province’s use of the Notwithstanding Clause, with the exception of English schools, which are constitutionally protected by a clause in the constitution that isn’t covered by the Notwithstanding Clause, as well as the National Assembly. It is this aspect that the government plans to appeal, claiming that this exception divides Quebec when the province’s society should be united.

William Korbatly, a lawyer, feels the government’s claim that the judge’s ruling split Quebec is erroneous and dishonest.

“[I]t’s the law 21 that did that by making some Quebeckers lesser citizens than those who think of themselves (as) superior or have more privileges just because they are part of the cultural majority. That being said, we cannot deny that a large part of Quebeckers have serious problems and are very allergic to any religious manifestation in public spaces. Thus, politically speaking, that law should be put to the courts’ authorities and they will decide what is constitutional and what is not.”

Unfortunately despite Quebec’s ongoing teacher shortage, English schools in the province will still be subjected to Bill 21 pending appeal.

Carolyn Gehr, an Orthodox Jewish woman and teacher with the Montreal English School Board who wears and headscarf and submitted an affidavit with the other plaintiffs had some choice words about the legal decision keeping the law in force for now.

“I feel horrible for the prospective teachers who enthusiastically applied to the English school boards who desperately need them, only to find out in a day or two that their hopes were dashed yet again, and that this ruling does nothing for them for the foreseeable future. The fact that the government is fighting this so vociferously reinforces in me the idea that I’m not really wanted here, especially in that I’m only allowed in my job as I am because ‘Oncle Francois’ magnanimously grandfathered me in so as not to offend the sensibilities of people who don’t like to see someone fired for no reason.”

M. I. a Muslim teacher working in the private sector who no longer wears her hijab for personal reasons spoke of why she chose to take it off.

“I grew up in a moderately conservative Muslim family and the choice to wear the hijab was mine to make and I chose to wear it until about a year ago. Why I chose to take it off was a completely personal choice because I was no longer wearing it for religious reasons. It just provided me with a sense of comfort and not wearing it felt like going out without my pants on since I had worn it for so many years.”

On Bill 21, she says she and most of her community were very concerned. There was this feeling that this sort of law would never happen in Canada and most members have been directly or indirectly affected.

“I know the law adversely affects all religious communities but as a Muslim woman who used to wear the hijab my feelings are very strong when it comes to the effect the bill has on the women in my community. I find this law to be discriminatory, anti-feminist and anti-human rights. As a woman, I cannot accept that someone can have any say in how I choose to cover myself. I am well-educated and have never been forced by any part of my religion and can say for a fact that his holds true for most women in my community.”

M.I. says the Muslim community is one of the fastest growing minorities in Quebec and that the law, like the hijab ban in France, is just a way of keeping minorities under control. She points out that this open hostility has just led to more anger and extremism among Muslims in France than ever before. Adding, like Carolyn Gehr, that Bill 21 made her feel she didn’t belong.

“I am many things: Iranian, Muslim, Canadian and a Montrealer but a Quebecker I am not. I no longer feel any pride in that.”

Francois Legault and the Coalition Avenir du Quebec and others with clear and open hostility towards visible and religious minorities in Quebec represent the worst elements of Canadian and Quebec society. A society that buys into the narrative of white victimhood and denial of a more honest history that includes everyone who contributed to the great society we have today.

In metropolitan areas like Montreal, more and more people find this attitude dangerous and even laughable and recognize that those who support it can either embrace the diversity that enriches our food and other aspects of our culture, or die with the dinosaurs. That said, let the government know their decision to appeal is a frivolous waste of Quebec tax dollars when there’s a pandemic and a housing shortage to address. The fight’s only over when we the people say it is, so keep fighting.

Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Derek Chauvin is now properly referred to as convicted murderer. A jury found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty nine seconds on May 20th, 2020.

Chauvin now awaits sentencing and could be sent to prison for decades. The three other former police officers who stood by and did nothing while Chauvin murdered Floyd will be tried in August.

A white police officer murdering a black civilian is nothing new. The cop facing consequences beyond being fired or suspended is rare, especially in the US.

So, while many, understandably, are celebrating the fact that there will be accountability for Derek Chauvin and hopefully some justice for George Floyd and that racist and brutal cops actually can be convicted of murder and not always get away with it, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen all the time or even frequently. If it did, Chauvin probably wouldn’t have felt perfectly comfortable murdering someone in broad daylight with plenty of witnesses and a camera filming him.

Look at what it took to get to this moment:

  • Solid (and incredibly hard to watch) video evidence that Floyd was in no way able to resist let alone threaten Chauvin
  • A spring and summer’s worth of protests in every major American city, complete with solidarity protests around the world, and the tireless work of BLM and other groups
  • Mounting calls to defund (and in some cases abolish) the police
  • Massive media coverage and pretty much the whole world watching the trial
  • The knowledge that if Chauvin wasn’t charged or walked, things would explode again in the streets
  • 10 hours of jury deliberation after they were presented with some of the most bogus arguments imaginable

Yes, this is a victory and it hopefully will change things, but it’s important not to get complacent. This is in no way proof that the system works, only that it can work in a specific and very public case if enough people force it to.

This isn’t a reason to stop calls to defund the police. Or, for those of you who don’t like the slogan, it’s not a reason to stop calls to take stuff like traffic stops crowd control and dealing with people who may have accidentally passed a counterfeit $20 bill away from people with guns and let a much smaller and better-trained group of people with guns focus on stuff like murder, assault and hostage taking, all the while removing a paramilitary force from our streets (see, the slogan works better).

Murderer murders man in broad daylight, is filmed, and then is convicted of murder shouldn’t be a banner headline, it should be the norm when such a thing happens. And it shouldn’t take hundreds or thousands or millions of people to make it happen, either, just a few of his peers.

Until police indiscriminately murdering black men is what shocks and surprises us and repercussions for those cops is what’s expected, the fight needs to continue.

Until that is the reality, the fight needs to continue.

When I walk into my local major chain grocery store, one of the first fridges I see is filled with bright, fun cans, chock full of sugar and alcohol. One in particular looks just like those red, white, and blue rocket popsicles, and hits me in the nostalgia.

They share the fridge with rows of stylized kombuchas, beckoning to shoppers in an all ages space to take their pick. You can also buy cigs there of course, tucked out of sight these days, but like an old timey speak easy, say the right words and show the right ID, and they open the secret doors. This feels normal now, though I’m old enough to remember when smokes were not only proudly displayed at pharmacy check-outs, but also sponsored just about all our noteworthy festivals.

We embrace vice in Montreal. We embrace it because we believe in joie de vivre and personal freedoms. We love the caché that sexy trinity gives us, and in normal times, we love the tourist dollars that come with it. From our drinking age, to our legal contact dances, Montreal is a haven for adult entertainment in the broadest sense of the term.

Typical Quebec grocery store fridge with fruity alcohol (Photo by Dawn McSweeney)

That’s why it seems so weird that e-cigarettes are slated to come under stricter regulations. Quebec is moving to limit nicotine content in cartridges and liquids to 20%, while also banning flavors. This means that adults will only be able to choose between flavorless, menthol, or tobacco flavored, to pair with their hard root beer.

Before the pandemic, the news was briefly filled with teenagers getting sick from what turned out to be black market THC and CBD vapes made with vitamin E, and who knows what else. While broken telephone caused panic about adults smoking regulated nicotine products, it also seems to have contributed to Quebec’s decision to ban THC and CBD vape products moving forward while other provinces allow them.

During the lockdown, vape shops were considered non-essential. They are the exclusive retailers of e-liquid, refillable vape pens, empty pods, and various bits so you can keep your vape up and running. They often have custom flavors and products that set them apart from each other, creating niche markets.

While plenty of small businesses in the same boat were able to mitigate some of their losses by moving to online platforms or curb-side pickups, vape shops weren’t allowed to do either. In fact, under Quebec law, vape shops can’t sell their wares online, leaving small shops out in the cold, and vapers to find their own alternatives, likely driving money to other provinces or countries.

One small loophole remained: deps continued to sell a limited selection of popular, self contained pod products, and the e-cigarettes associated with them. They had Juul products, and Vuse (previously Vype). Both are relatively pricier options per milliliter, but I dusted off my Juul, and used it until I got sick of it, bought a Vuse, and then paid more than I used to for cigarettes until restrictions eased.

I wondered why these were available. Big box stores had sections closed off in an attempt to even the field, and while I was grateful to be vaping, I couldn’t help but wonder why there seemed to be some favoritism in play on vapes.

A quick search, and I found that the Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris) owns a 35% share of Juul. They already make multiple tobacco flavors including Virginia, Golden, and Classic. Even more fun, our former Health Minister Rona Ambrose joined the Juul board of directors in spring of 2020.

This gave me giggles because in 2014, in her position as Health Minister, she was quite concerned about vapes, flavors, et al, and called for further research. At the time, she said:

“Currently, without scientific evidence demonstrating safety or effectiveness, we continue to urge Canadians against the use of these e-cigarettes. We have heard that e-cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to begin smoking, while also having the potential to serve as a smoking cessation tool. Today, I am asking the Standing Committee on Health to undertake a thorough study on e-cigarettes and provide a report.”

– Rona Ambrose, while Canadian Minister of Health in 2014

So, as I see it, either the research came back clean, or she’s a high paid hypocrite shilling for big tobacco. I’ll wait.

What about Vuse? Oh, they’re owned by British American Tobacco, one of the biggest cigarette players in the world, now making sure they keep their profits up by having a foot in each world.

Maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe self contained pods are just easier to stock. Well, my preferred one and done self contained e-cig is STLTH. They’re founded by a group of ex-smokers with over twenty years of cumulative experience in vape space, and no apparent ties to big tobacco. Their products are exclusively available in dedicated vape shops. Weird, right?

All this is in the name of “think of the children”. Well, I was one once, and I had no trouble getting my hands on cigarettes at 13. Locked in a decades long toxic on-off relationship with butts, I was down to a pack a week, feeling that was a negligible, “harmless” amount to smoke.

I made the switch to vape 2 years ago, and I breathe better. I no longer have that gross morning cough, and my vocal range has returned in a way I never thought it could. My house smells better. Hell, my hair smells better.

I enter an 18+ space, and make my adult decisions, aware that this is harm reduction, not perfection, and that no toxins are better than any toxins. It’s much the same way I think about alcohol.

If eliminating flavors stopped experimental and rebellious kids from doing stuff, alcoholic soda would be banned, and I wouldn’t have ever picked up a regular ol’smoke. If all we do is worry about the children, and 18+ spaces aren’t a good enough way to keep kids out and “safe”, then let’s board up every SAQ and SQDC.

Because as it stands, taking away my flavors looks like it won’t keep vape out of kids’ mouths, but it sure sounds like it will be taking money from small businesses, and giving it right back to big tobacco, one way or another.

Featured Image by Dawn McSweeney

Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccination program is in full swing, but today it hit what could end up being a setback. Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé announced today that the province is temporarily halting its administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine known as Covishield to people under 55 years old.

This decision follows a small number of cases in Europe where the vaccine was linked to blood clotting in women under 55. While no such cases have been reported in Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended the temporary suspension so more studies can be done.

Quebec and Manitoba have adopted this policy, with potentially more provinces to follow suit. PEI is stopping use of the vaccine for people aged 18-29.

Currently, Quebec is only vaccinating members of the general public over 60 years of age. The government won’t say how many of the 111 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine it has already administered went to people younger than 55 (healthcare workers, etc.).

While admitting that some appointments may have to be cancelled, Dubé said that Quebec is still on track to have everyone who wants a vaccine be able to get one by June 24th. In addition to AstraZeneca, Quebec is also administering doses of the Modern and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.