MONTREAL — The Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs (CIJA) denounced Quebec cabinet minister Bernard Drainville’s comments opposing the relaxation of parking restrictions in Montreal on Jewish holidays, and asked for an apology.
In a May 17 statement, CIJA said it was “outraged” by Drainville’s “demagogic” remarks during Shavuot, in particular his characterization of the leniency extended to the community as “privileged treatment.”
The organization accuses Drainville of deliberately trying to divide Quebecers, and suggests that he is using the issue to rally support for the “charter of secularism” that the Parti Québécois said would be a priority of its government during the election campaign last summer.
Drainville is the minister for democratic institutions and active citizenship.
“Politicians and the media have a duty to ensure that the political and societal debate on secularism does not denigrate, nor stigmatize the Jewish community of Quebec, which has lived in Quebec while respecting its laws and social norms for 2-1/2 centuries,” said CIJA Quebec president Eric Maldoff.
“CIJA is saddened and outraged by the demagogic remarks made by Minister Drainville. While it is legitimate to debate the place of religion in our society, this discussion must include all minority groups in Quebec, and should not be used to score political points at their expense,” the CIJA statement reads.
CIJA says dozens of other municipalities make similar arrangements for public and civic holidays.
For three decades, Montreal has waived restrictions on street parking for a few blocks around synagogues, which allows observant Jews who don’t drive on holidays to avoid being ticketed if they are unable to move their cars when a holiday coincides with a day designated for street cleaning.
“Minister Drainville has blown out of proportion this benign act of neighbourliness which traditionally benefits all groups, Jewish or not, in order to promote his bill for the ‘secular charter’ at the expense of the Jewish community,” CIJA states.
CIJA is also disappointed that Drainville, a former Radio-Canada journalist, in his May 15 interview with host Benoît Dutrizac on the radio station 98.5FM, did not refute “scandalous” remarks made by Dutrizac about the Jewish community.
The host cautioned the MNA on speaking about Jews. “They will send e-mails to intimidate you. I’ve experienced it, and I imagine you have also,” he said.
Drainville responded: “From the moment that you are in the public space, and public regulations apply, you cannot come and say, ‘I impose my personal beliefs on the rest of society, and I ask that the regulations governing the whole society be adjusted to my particular situation.”
CIJA said that “Drainville, whose role it is to represent the entire population of Quebec, should have categorically rejected the scandalous remarks made by Dutrizac, yet instead, he suggested that the Jewish community is a source of conflict and, by their actions, are a source of resentment. Minister Drainville even went so far as to congratulate Dutrizac at the end of the interview, and praised him for his work.”
Federation president David Cape also sent an open letter to the community calling Drainville’s remarks “unacceptable.”
Cape reassured the community that CIJA, the federation’s advocacy partner, is on top of what is happening in Quebec and speaks for the community, when necessary.
“While it may at times appear as though Federation CJA is silent in the face of incidents such as this one, it is important to understand that CIJA is constantly monitoring the entire landscape and taking action behind the scenes, often before members of our community are even aware of an instance of antisemitism,” Cape said.
CIJA spokesperson David Ouellette later clarified that it does not consider Drainville’s comments antisemitic.