François Legault has shoehorned his foot into his mouth, yet again. Last week it was his claim – in response to the growing affordable housing crisis – that the average rent in metropolitan areas in Quebec was $500-$600 a month. This week, it’s his inflexibility on pay raises for public sector workers.
In Quebec, we have an expression “Au Quebec, on syndique!” in other words, “In Quebec we unionize”. We are also in a pandemic where the gap between rich and poor is clearer than ever, and the definition of who counts as an essential worker is all the more obvious as a result.
It therefore came as a slap in the face to those same workers that Legault told government worker unions there is no money left to pay for pay raises. The Quebec government’s current offer to healthcare workers – called “guardian angels” by Legault – is a five percent pay raise over five years with an option for a further three percent if inflation exceeds the amount they’re offering. Higher pay raises are being offered to patient attendants in long-term care homes and first year teachers in an attempt to lure more people to these professions that are facing severe staffing shortages in Quebec.
The unions have said government offers are too little to accept, and Legault’s response is to cite pandemic-related public spending as grounds for the claim that his government cannot offer them more. In an age where unions are more important than ever in the face of mounting corporate greed, his remarks come as particularly insulting when he himself owns a multimillion dollar home in Outremont.
Since Legault’s callous remarks around residential renting costs, his government and the Coaltion Avenir du Quebec has been engaging in damage control. This can be seen in the Premier’s conspicuous absence from the press conference announcing the expansion of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Every time Legault goes public on financial matters, his wealth and privilege shine through. This is a man who claims that he will do what the majority of Quebeckers want, yet his responses to issues surrounding poverty and people’s value stinks of the arrogance that comes with extreme wealth.
While I have zero interest in saving the Quebec premier’s reputation, I do have a suggestion of how Francois Legault and his party can save his ass from political blunders that have finally alienated their base:
Francois Legault should take a pay cut.
He should accept a reduction in his salary as premier and that amount should go straight into an offer of increased salaries for essential workers. A simple Google search reveals that Legault’s approximate net worth is about ten million dollars, so he clearly doesn’t need the money.
He wants to be a man of the people? He needs to prove it, and he needs to do it now!
Now I could bring up that since Quebec is already facing teaching shortages, suspending Bill 21 would be a fantastic way to attract more staff, but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about the population of Quebec facing mounting financial strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s about nurses, nurses’ aides, and other front line workers fed up with a rich man telling them what they can and cannot afford when they put themselves at risk of contracting the virus while he remains in safety. It’s about the fact that while homelessness is on the rise and buying a home is so far out of reach for most people, he owns a multimillion dollar home.
That said, I believe I speak on behalf of everyone in Quebec when I make this challenge to our illustrious premier:
Are you truly a man of the people? Prove it, Monsieur Legault, take a pay cut.
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
Host Jason C. McLean is joined by Stephanie Laughlin and Jerry Gabriel of the Professors of Pop Podcast to talk about this year’s Academy Awards: predictions for the major categories, what the event might be like and controversies or lack thereof.
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.
Activist Sam Hersh joins Jason C. McLean to talk about the NDP’s Palestine Resolution, which he and a group of Palestinian and Jewish activists helped pass with 80% support at last weekend’s convention and the ensuing reaction from NDP leadership and others.
Could it really be that simple? Is Quebec Premier François Legault just out of touch?
For months, it’s seemed like Legault was just prioritizing the interests of his political base when deciding on what and who to restrict to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. But what if it isn’t just a craven political calculation? What if the Premier really just doesn’t understand what many in Quebec are going through?
While Legault sees closing schools as an absolute last resort, something to do only if the COVID numbers get so bad, he has no such reservations about imposing a curfew or deciding to start it earlier. That is just something that can be done as a precautionary measure, as an experiment.
Putting ethical rights issues and the actual efficacity of a curfew in fighting COVID (Spoiler Alert: It Doesn’t) aside for a moment, it kinda makes sense that Legault doesn’t see a curfew as such a big deal. It’s not like he’s trapped indoors after 8pm.
When Legault tries to empathize with Quebec youth who have been shut in for months, does he think that they all have access to a backyard, too? Does he think they all have balconies, at least?
Does Legault understand that many youth (and quite a few post-youth) live in crammed apartments with two or three other people? That “Why don’t they just go to the backyard?” is the 2021 Quebec version of “Let them eat cake”?
We already know that he doesn’t understand the reality of the homeless. Fortunately the courts fixed that particular oversight.
Now, we have to ask if Legault is truly aware of what the rest of us are going through. What Montreal is going through.
The answer, sadly, is no. We’re all in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Legault is in a yacht, many of us are in powerboats or rowboats and far too many are drowning.
We all need to make sacrifices to fight COVID, but Legault thinks that some need to sacrifice more than others. Simply because he doesn’t fully understand what sacrifice means for people he doesn’t truly understand.
Two nights, two very different protests. Since Quebec Premier François Legault’s 8pm curfew took effect in Montreal (also in Laval) on Sunday, our city has seen two nights of protest with only two things in common: opposition to the Provincial Government’s “preventative measure” of moving the curfew start time from 9:30pm back to 8pm and fireworks.
I wasn’t at either protest, so I’ve cobbled together what happened from various social media posts, livestreams and mainstream media accounts.
The Sunday Night Old Montreal Shitshow
Sunday night’s protest started off on a promising note, with hundreds of people, roughly around 1000 in total, arriving at the Old Port just as the curfew began, itself an act of defiance. For over 30 minutes, the atmosphere was largely celebratory though defiant., people danced, some set off fireworks and the Montreal Police (SPVM) stayed a few blocks away.
Then, some people lit a bench in Place Jacques Cartier and some trash cans on fire. The SPVM moved in, fired teargas (good thing people have masks at the ready, or are already wearing them, these days) and most of the crowd dispersed.
Of course, not everyone did and that’s the part of the story that many are now familiar with. Things turned into a riot as some smashed the windows of local businesses who were already reeling from the loss of the tourism industry and probably weren’t fans of the curfew either.
There were right-wing agitators in the crowd, specifically Ezra Levant, Keean Bexte and their Rebel Media crew. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re pro-pipeline to the point of trying to ambush interview Greta Thunberg and while this was an anti-curfew protest, these guys are against any type of COVID health measures, even masks.
Now whether, as the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff thinks, it was these guys who caused all the rioting, or if it was agent provocateurs, or if it was just Montreal once again being Montreal at its most unattractive (or a combination of the three), things really went off message fast Sunday night.
Monday Night’s Downtown Cat and Mouse
Monday night was a completely different story. There were no smashed windows, no fires. And, of course, this was the protest the SPVM moved to shut down almost immediately.
Originally also planned for the Old Port, the protest quickly diverted to Downtown Montreal. As they made their way up from Place du Canada, the police ordered them to disperse, and disperse they did.
What followed was a game of cat and mouse with the cops up and down city streets. Some even set off small fireworks.
This group, by all accounts, was comprised largely of teenagers and young adults. They wore masks. Simply being out after 8pm was their protest.
Messaging Moving Forward
If there’s one thing I think these protests need moving forward, and by all accounts, they will be moving forward, like every night is what I heard, is solid messaging. And that messaging needs to be specific.
This is against the curfew. It’s against the very idea that a curfew can actually protect against the spread of COVID.
More specifically, it’s against the seemingly arbitrary manner in which the Legault Government chose to move the curfew back to 8 pm in Montreal and Laval while admitting that it wasn’t necessary. Restricting people’s ability to leave their homes should always be a last resort and only done when absolutely necessary, not an afterthought or something implemented as a precaution.
If protesting a 90 minute shift in a curfew seems a little too specific for protest, remember that the 2012 Student Strike was sparked by a marginal tuition increase and it brought down a government. If you focus on the details, the underlying message comes to the surface. In 2012, it was the heartless arrogance of the state, in 2021, it can be the same thing.
Protests always see different groups trying to attach themselves to something that has coverage. Sometimes that works, this time it won’t.
Yes, Climate Change is real, but that’s not the point here and neither is saving the whales. If you keep things focused and specific, you can also keep out all the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and assorted anti-science types who would only co-opt and damage such an important message, just as those breaking the store windows did on Sunday.
“Liberté” is a solid and downright sexy thing to chant, but please remember that COVID-19 is still a very real threat. Freedom from arbitrary and ineffective government restrictions is one thing, but Karen still needs to wear a mask at the grocery store.
It’s also important that while, from the looks of it, this is youth-led (or at least it was on Monday night), it doesn’t come across as just “the kids are fed up.” I’m 43 and I’m fed up, too, even if I’m not out there with you.
We’ve abided by these restrictions and adapted to them. But this last one is just government arrogance.
If we stay focused on that and the messaging solidifies, we may win this one.
Host Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold discuss Quebec moving back the curfew to 8pm for Montreal and Laval as a “preventative measure” as well as political favouritism in the vaccine rollout.
Follow Samantha Gold’s art page on Facebook: @samiamart
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.
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.
On Tuesday March 17, 2021 a white gunman walked into three massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia and killed eight people, most of them Asian women. On March 18, 2021, a thirty-nine year old man was attacking people of Asian descent in San Francisco, starting with an 83 year old Chinese man. The attacker’s second victim was 76 year old Xiao Zhen Xie, who grabbed the first stick she found and fought back, resulting in her attacker having to be brought to the hospital on a stretcher.
Outrage exploded online in response, and hashtags like #StopAsianHate and #stopwhiteterrorism began trending. As an Asian Canadian, an artist, and an activist, I simply rolled my eyes and sighed.
Though the Chinese have been in North America since before Confederation, Asian Canadians are no strangers to racism. I’ve been fetishized when online dating due to misguided notions of Asian women as exotic and submissive. I have white relatives who refer to Filipinos – my and my mother’s people- as “the help”. Stereotypes about the alleged dangers of MSG, the exotic foods we eat, and myths about Asian bodies continue to exist among whites, even while they appropriate our fashions, our cooking methods and our fighting styles.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. It’s not just violent assaults like what happened in Atlanta and San Francisco. It’s the vandalism of Montreal’s Chinatown. It’s white vegans like Bryan Adams blaming Asian meat eating for the spread of the virus. It’s politicians calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu”. It’s harassment in the streets. It’s the refusal to support Asian businesses. For those of us who are mixed, like myself, it’s the refusal to accept “Canadian” as an answer when asked what we are. Whatever form it takes, it’s a pathetic attempt by whites to terrorize people and remind us of a truth we are well-aware of:
That no matter what we do, no matter how long we’ve been in Canada, no matter how well we speak English and French, no matter how much money we put into the economy, we will never be acknowledged as Canadians because we’re not white or white-passing.
It must be said that those attacking Asians are weak, pathetic, and stupid. They are weak and pathetic because those committing anti-Asian hate crimes are largely targeting women and the elderly, probably thinking they’d be an easy mark.
They are stupid because they cannot tell the difference between the Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese etc., and are particularly dumb because they think that myself and the rest of the community will be polite in the face of all the abuse. The fact that an elderly Chinese woman with no grasp of English was able to put her attacker in the hospital is proof we won’t go quietly. When I saw that article I smiled because I know my mother and late grandmother would have responded in the exact same way: by fighting back.
It is reassuring that most responses to the hate crimes have been outraged and supportive, but it’s not enough. If you don’t speak out against hate crimes, you are complicit in perpetuating them, and you leave us, Canadians and Americans, to fight alone.
Speak out if you hear someone using anti-Asian slurs or speaking of Filipino immigrants as a commodity that can be bought and sold. Call out cultural appropriation and whitewashing when you see or hear it, and support organizations like the Center for Research Action on Race Relations that promote racial equality and combat racism in Canada.
That said: if you are fine with all of the harassment and assault and you truly believe Asians are to blame for this pandemic, do us a favour. Put down the soy sauce, the Sriraracha, sesame oil, and the Sushi. Quit the martial arts class you’re taking, give away your Bruce Lee movies and posters, and avoid our markets. You do not get to profit off the contributions of Asians in North America if you won’t treat us with the same dignity you expect from others.
We’re better off without you, and we’re not going anywhere.
This Saturday, Niki Ashton will be taking part in a Zoom Conference with former British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn called Building Solidarity. The progressive NDP MP and Niall Ricardo of Independent Jewish Voices discuss the conference and the controversy surrounding it with host Jason C. McLean.
Building Solidarity: A Conversation with Jeremy Corbyn and Niki Ashton streams Saturday, March 20 from 1-3pm (ET). Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can and available through Eventbrite
Lately, people have been sharing COVID-related one year anniversaries. Some are sad or downright tragic, others are thought-provoking and some are kinda silly in retrospect.
Mine is probably closest to the third one, with a bit of the second mixed in.
One year ago this past Saturday, March 13th (it was Friday the 13th back in 2020), I started writing an article for this site called Coronavirus for the Jaded. Don’t bother looking for it, it was never published, or finished for that matter.
I had ten paragraphs written but then had to put it on hold because I had plans that night (remember plans?). The next night I had plans, too.
I went to a bar. I didn’t know at the time, but that would be the last time I would set foot in a bar for a year and counting. Yes, bars were open for a brief time during the summer and I did go to a resto bar and sit on a terrace once, but not inside an actual bar.
The day after my last bar visit, Quebec shut down all bars and in the following week would close a bunch more “non-essential” businesses. My day job shut down as well (no, writing for this site isn’t what pays my bills) and the community theatre play I was in was indefinitely postponed all in the following week.
By the time I came back to my article, it was clear that my hot take was now irrelevant. Life had made my point moot.
Incidentally, today, March 15th, is the one year anniversary of the first time we did published an article on the site about COVID. It was a much more informed jump into the subject than my never-published piece would have been.
It’s important to note, as I did in that unpublished piece, that I am in no way a scientist or disease expert. I was coming at the subject as a casual observer.
So what was my angle? Basically that people like me, jaded by hearing about SARS, Swine Flu and other viruses in the media, should maybe take COVID-19 seriously, that it might actually affect things here in a way its predecessors didn’t.
What did it take for me to come to this conclusion? The final straw was finding out, on the 13th, that three stores in my neighborhood were out of toilet paper.
Warning Signs Noted But Not Absorbed
It’s not like there weren’t other warning signs. A month earlier, a friend, I’ll call her Vicky, had told me she was concerned and thought we all should get ready for a lockdown. While I trusted her opinion a great deal at the time and still do, I thought she was overreacting in this particular case.
I remembered SARS. Everyone thought that would be the big one, including the media at the time.
Yes, it was terrible for some in Asia and a part of Toronto, but it was over in a few months. Nothing changed here in Montreal and they didn’t even shut down all of Toronto.
Then, we got a concert with the Rolling Stones and AC/DC to prove it was all in the past. I was at that show, SARS-Stock they (unofficially) called it.
Why would this be any different? That’s what I told Vicky at the time and have since been proven very wrong.
Of course, there were stories of cases here in Quebec and US President Donald Trump was saying that it wouldn’t be a thing (which instinctively makes me think it will be), but I was still unfazed. I even cracked a joke to someone who was taking it more seriously than I was that I wasn’t feeling that well after drinking Corona Beer over the weekend.
Remember when the similarity to a beer name was common humour? Remember when we still called it Coronavirus and not COVID-19? For that matter, remember weekends?
There were clearer signs in the week leading up to my personal realization:
The World Health Organization had declared COVID a pandemic on the 11th.
The Quebec banned all gatherings of 250 people or more and Trump barred travel from Europe (except the UK) to the US, and those were both on the 12th.
All of this registered with me, but I still saw these as precautionary measures that would soon be lifted. I was also keenly aware that this site would soon need to start writing about the virus.
We had an op-ed focus early last year and while we did share breaking news stories, like the COVID developments I mentioned above, it was only through social media, from other sources, and without comment. If we had been more hands-on with hard news at the time, as we are now, I probably would have been more intellectually concerned, though I’m still not sure the realization would have hit me personally any sooner (there is sometimes a bit of a disconnect between Jason C. McLean who writes and edits on this site and Jason, the guy who goes out and lives a life).
Now to be clear, I had spent the few weeks leading up to my realization feeling self-conscious every time I coughed or had a runny nose in public. This wasn’t out of actual fear that I may have caught COVID-19, but rather out of fear that people might think, erroneously, that I had.
I had adopted the John Oliver recommendation (at the time) that we didn’t have to run for the hills, but we also shouldn’t start licking the poles in the metro either. I washed my hands after entering people’s homes, but only out of respect for my friends and family’s concerns, not out of any feeling that it was actually needed.
Empathy for Over There
I never doubted for a moment that COVID was real and truly horrible for many people. Of course I also never doubted that tornados and tsunamis were real and truly horrible for many people, just for people somewhere else.
Should we be empathetic towards those people? Of course. Should we do our best to help them, financially or otherwise? Definitely. Should we worry that a tornado will touch down on Sherbrooke Street or a tsunami will wash out all but the Mountain and plan accordingly? Um, no. Why would you suggest that?
It’s not that Montreal doesn’t get its fair share of disasters and tragedies. In my lifetime, we’ve had an ice storm and two school shootings, not to mention the West Island floods every once in a while.
It’s also not like there aren’t deadly viruses that travel. It’s just that there hadn’t been an outbreak here of one in over a century.
A truly global pandemic seemed to me the stuff of movies. Like a zombie apocalypse and about as likely.
Turns out it’s the stuff of wearing a mask everywhere, not hanging out with friends in person and getting what stores you can shop at and when you have to be home from Quebec Premier François Legault via YouTube. Honestly, the end of COVID will be the end of me watching that guy live, hopefully.
So why am I marking the anniversary of starting a post I dodged a credibility bullet by not finishing or publishing a year ago? It’s because it took no toilet paper in the stores in my neighbourhood to realize that COVID-19 was something that could affect my life.
It took something directly tangible for me to personally and emotionally understand something that was already apparent to me intellectually. I don’t think I was the only one.
For some, the realization may have come with a loved one, or themselves, infected with the virus. For others, it might have been losing a job. Fortunately, for me, it was only toilet paper, or the lack thereof.
While it’s unlikely anyone will meh the prospect of another pandemic in the near future, what about other existential threats like Climate Change? While we might intellectually believe that it’s an imminent threat and even try to fight it as best we can, do we really personally fear what might happen to us, or will it take all the polar ice caps actually melting for that to happen?
If you take away anything from this article, take this: Don’t just listen to scientists when shit has already hit the fan, listen to them when they warn of what they think could be on the horizon. The nightmare scenario may not always happen, but now we all know that it just might.
Featured Image by Downpatrick via WikiMedia Commons
Jason C. McLean speaks with comedian Preach, the host of this year’s Gala Dynastie, a celebration of Black excellence from across Quebec. They talk about comedy during COVID, this Saturday’s online edition and this year’s theme: The Rise of the Engaged.
The 5th Edition of Gala Dynastie streams live this Satruday, March 6th, at 6pm. For tickets and for more info: GalaDynastie.com