Police in Saguenay are investigating an aggressive campaign against halal and kosher certification as a possible hate crime.
The tone of the campaign may constitute hate propaganda and incitement to hatred, say police, who have received complaints from the small Muslim population there.
Over the past couple of weeks, the ultra-nationalist group La Fédération des Québécois de souche (FQS) has been stepping up its activities, plastering stickers on buildings and other surfaces in this city in the Lac St. Jean region.
They read “0% Halal, 0% Casher, 100% Québécois” against a background of an archival photo of a traditional sugaring-off party.
The campaign was launched in March, when the maple syrup runs and Quebecers traditionally gather at sugar shacks for meals.
The campaign, explained in detail on the FQS website, takes particular aim at the “control” by “the collectivity of religious Jews” in the commercialization of this iconic Quebec product.
It urges consumers to buy directly from producers who make maple syrup the “traditional” way and serve it the way Quebecers are used to eating it. Historically, lard was added to the pot in which the sap is reduced to syrup to prevent it from boiling over.
The FQS, whose slogan is “For the preservation of our people,” is spreading the message that kashrut certifiers are profiting from the production of maple syrup in this province.
It also says it’s appalled that sugar shacks, or cabanes à sucre, have been acquiescing to Muslim patrons’ requests for pork-free meals, an affront to a “Québécois rite” of spring.
The FQS was founded in 2007 when Quebec’s religious accommodation debate was at its most intense. Its members identify as being of “de souche” (old stock) French Catholic descent. It is opposed to immigration and multiculturalism, and has had some links with the American journalist Jared Taylor, who has been called a white supremacist by the Anti-Defamation League.
The FQS states on its website that kosher certification “penalizes” small producers and Quebec consumers, who must absorb the cost of kashrut supervision.
Only about a dozen major maple syrup producers among the 7,000 in the province are certified by Montreal Kosher (MK), the hechsher of the Vaad Ha’ir, the site claims, and they have an unfair advantage in getting their products on store shelves here and exported.
Besides its objection on business grounds, the FQS deplores the influence of a “foreign religion” in the making of such a cherished local food as maple syrup.
“Why should a rabbi have the last word on a method of fabrication in which we have centuries of accumulated experience and the quality of which is already verified and re-verified by corporate and governmental institutions?” it asks.
Rabbi Saul Emanuel, the Vaad Ha’ir’s executive director, said he had no direct knowledge of the FQS campaign, as he has been travelling and could make only a general comment.
“We only certify those companies that wish to be certified,” he said. “Kashrut is not forced upon anyone.”
Any suggestion rabbis are intruding on production is groundless, he feels. Typically, a mashgiach visits a maple producer twice a year to ensure that all the ingredients meet MK standards, he said.
As for the cost being passed on to consumers, Rabbi Emanuel said it would at best be a “negligible” amount per unit. Generally, supervision costs about $2,000 to $3,000 per year, depending on the type of company.
“Every couple of years this age-old question rears its ugly head. It’s nothing new,” he said.
In an email exchange with The CJN, a respondent at the FQS said the accusation of xenophobia against the group is “pure sensationalism” and that the sticker campaign could not be construed as hate propaganda.
“We are a nationalist organization, we wish to reaffirm the Quebec identity, and are critical of mass immigration. On the other hand, this is not a question for us of being against immigrants as such.”
As of Aug. 7, the respondent said the FQS had not been contacted by the police.
Although The CJN asked for the names of the leaders of the FQS (none appear on the website), the respondent would only say that the sole spokesperson is named Rémi Tremblay.
Efforts to reach Saguenay police for comment were unsuccessful.