A small group of residents who wore yellow patches to protest the proliferation of Hasidic school buses on the streets of the Montreal borough of Outremont is not backing down, despite the offence caused by the patches, which are reminiscent of those that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
Ginette Chartre, who led the approximately eight people who showed up at a March 5 borough council meeting with the rectangular patches pinned to their clothing, told the media that the yellow represents the colour of the buses, not the yellow stars. She also insinuated that those who object are disingenuous.
The Jews “always bring up their painful past,” she told The Canadian Press. “They do it to muzzle us.”
At the meeting, several attendees tried to point out why the badges were offensive. One of them was Diane Shea, a non-Jewish resident of Outremont.
“People who spoke, including myself, stated that perhaps those wearing the yellow badges did not understand the historical significance of what they were wearing. We explained the significance of this symbol of Nazi oppression and genocide, and why it is so deeply hurtful for Jews and all caring people to be confronted with this,” she told The CJN.
“We asked them to remove the yellow badges, but they continued to wear them. There has to be some modicum of civility and we would have liked to have seen some empathy for the historical wounds of our Jewish neighbours who comprise almost 25 per cent of the population in Outremont.”
The exchange became heated and two people were expelled from the council chamber.
For at least a decade, the school buses – which pick up and drop off Hasidic children at their homes, rather than at designated stops – have been a matter of contention between the Hasidic community and some residents, who object to the congestion, noise and pollution that they cause.
Chartre and others complained about the situation during the City of Montreal’s public consultation on improving services to seniors in Outremont last month.
She spoke of buses going door to door on residential streets “from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week, 12 months a year. The noise and CO2 prevent us from sitting on our balconies and opening our windows.” She said that up to 14 buses were on her street on one day in July three years ago, when she called the police.
We asked them to remove the yellow badges, but they continued to wear them.
– Diane Shea
Speaking of the yellow patches, B’nai Brith Canada legal counsel Steven Slimovitch said the protesters “either have no knowledge of history, or they surely realize what a horrendous way it is to express an opinion.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said the patches, “intentionally or not, are reminiscent of the historic oppression of the Jews.”
However, the organization is appealing for calm and civil discourse.
“Some residents of the borough seem to be determined to persistently sow discord in Outremont, even though, in recent months, significant progress has been made in terms of good neighbourly relations and social harmony,” stated CIJA Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko.
“We encourage elected officials in Outremont to remain steadfast in their rejection of all uncivil behaviour and to ensure that the city council never serves as a forum to stigmatize citizens of the borough.”
Mayer Feig, a longtime activist on behalf of the Hasidic community, thinks this is another attempt to gain attention by a relatively small faction that has long been vocal in claiming numerous violations of municipal regulations by the Hasidim.
It’s the same group that comes every month and complains and blames all of Outremont’s problems on the Jews.
– Mayer Feig
This faction has become more militant since longtime councillor Céline Forget, who represented their views, lost her seat in the election last November, he said.
“It’s the same group that comes every month and complains and blames all of Outremont’s problems on the Jews. Since Forget lost, they are very bitter and are trying whatever they can,” he said. “This is nothing more than another veiled attempt to stir hate against the community.”
Feig acknowledges that there may be too many buses making too many stops, but said that the community is working with the borough to find a solution.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante suggested the protesters’ tactics were inappropriate for another reason: “Living together as a community is sometimes challenging. However, I find it unacceptable to launch a political action against children. They should never be a target.”