Fake Bombs, Gentrification And Condos In Montreal

FAKE BOMBS, GENTRIFICATION AND CONDOS IN MONTREAL

MONTREAL, January 9, 2004 -- Condominiums, gentrification and social housing regained the media headlines in Montreal this week after suspicious packages were found at various condominium development sites in east end Montreal on Monday. A previously unknown group called the
"Anti-Gentrification Committee" claimed responsibility in a communique sent to members of the mainstream media by e-mail.

"This action aims to denounce the construction of [condos] in the third poorest neighborhood in Canada," the communique said.

"We need low-cost housing. We've had enough of being kicked out of our neighborhoods by the well-to-do, their luxury condominiums and their trendy little cafes."

The communique continues: "You want to wage war on the poor ... well the poor will reply and won't take that lying down."

[The full communique, translated from the French, is included below.]

The packages were placed at 4 luxury condo construction sites and 2 condo sales offices in the Centre-Sud and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve areas. Construction workers first discovered the packages, which had been traced with red paint and indicated with a spray-painted arrow, on Monday morning. Near each package was an identical typewritten notice that warns "workers" to call the relevant authorities while at the same time asserting the action "is not against you, but against the slimy building developers and their clientele."

The "Anti-Gentrification Action Committee" -- a slight variation on the name of the signers of the media communique -- end their notice by advising: "Don't forget to ask for compensation for lost hours."

[The full notice, translated from the French, is also included below.]

The suspicious packages resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of persons from apartments, businesses and homes, as well as from two medical clinics. The Montreal Police bomb squad cordoned off entire city blocks to determine whether the packages were dangerous or not. In the end, a
Montreal police spokesperson confirmed that no explosives were found in the packages, and that they were homemade devices meant to resemble detonators. No one was injured.

One construction worker, Jean Boisjoly, described finding a paper bag inside of which was what resembled an alarm clock with attached sticks. Speaking to the tabloid daily, Le Journal, Boisjoly expressed his support for the action that disrupted his work site: "Speaking for myself, I understand them, and I respect this."

Not all persons, obviously, felt as respectful of the disruption. Sam Nusto, a developer whose condo construction site -- Les Lofts des Erables -- was targeted by a package, stated to Le Journal: "We haven't demolished any old rental units. These were warehouses before."

Not oblivious to the desperate housing situation in Montreal, which has been described for several years as a "crisis", Nusto added: "It's not us that made the housing situation get to this point. It's the State that should invest in social housing."

Francois Saillant, a spokesperson for the Quebec-wide housing rights umbrella group FRAPRU, replied: "Maybe, but vacant lots are rare, and a [condo] project means one less lot for social housing."

Meanwhile, a Madame Charland told Le Devoir, "I cried, and I was scared. I don't want to die because I bought a condo."

Madame Charland moved into a brand new condo in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve this past October, in the hopes that it would become "the next Plateau". The Plateau refers to a formerly working class, low-income district near downtown. A section of the old Plateau was immortalized thru characters
like Duddy Kravitz in Mordecai Richler's novels. The Plateau is now a high-rent area, whose previous low-income tenants have become "Plateau refugees" to outlying neighborhoods.

Madame Charland, whether she knows it or not, expressed the real fear of many residents in low-income areas of Montreal of being squeezed out by condo development and the process of gentrification.

Despite the controversial tactics of whichever person or persons was behind the "Anti-Gentrification Committee," established housing rights groups and advocates refused to condemn the Monday morning action.

According to Francois Saillant of FRAPRU: "It's not the kind of action we utilize ourselves, but we agree with the concerns expressed." Saillant expressed his preference for collective action by people who are not properly sheltered, while in the same breath adamantly refusing to condemn
the Anti-Gentrification Committee.

Richard Miron, a spokesperson for a more left-wing housing rights group known as the Association for the Defence of Social Rights in Metropolitan Montreal (ADDS), received a constant stream of calls this week. His group is based in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, and squatted empty apartment blocks
in the neighbourhood in the summer of 2002.

Referring to the potential police intrusion into the activities of his group, Miron expressed: "We will live with the repercussion of the actions of others, but we are still sympathetic to the concerns expressed [on Monday]."

Another housing group that has targeted the gentrification of Montreal is CLAC-Logement (the Housing Committee of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence). Between the fall of 2002 and March 2003, CLAC Logement spearheaded a public awareness and protest campaign against a condominium development project on the Lachine Canal, in St-Henri, another gentrifying working class neighbourhood in southwest Montreal.

"Gentrification and the development of condominiums in working-class and low-income neighbourhoods represent, in their own way, a time bomb against poor tenants," said Claude-Catherine Lemoine, a member of CLAC-Logement.

She continued: "The processes of gentrification means, in the long run, the destruction of viable, liveable communities."

Louis Gaudreau, a member of POPIR -- another housing committee based in St-Henri -- drew attention this week to the day-to-day reality of the housing crisis. Speaking on CKUT's "Off the Hour" news program, Gaudreau described in detail the situation of several families who are facing
homelessness come February 1, when they must leave their current apartments without any option for new housing. The situation will increase hundred-fold come July 1, when most leases expire in Montreal, and many families are unable to find affordable living housing in a low-vacancy,
landlord-driven housing market.

According the FRAPRU, there have been more than 6000 condominium units slated for construction in Montreal in 2003, a record number. In contrast, there have been only approximately 1500 social housing units slated to be built in the same period, with only 500 actually constructed.

The action of the Anti-Gentrification Committee on Monday represents a controversial new tactic against developers. Already, on Wednesday, there were at least two apparently copy-cat packages left at development sites in Rosemont, another low-income neighbourhood north of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. No one claimed responsibility for the latter packages, but again, no explosives were used, nor was anyone injured.

Nonetheless, the actions this week come after many years of concerted organizing by a multitude of groups against the various manifestations of the Montreal housing crisis: homelessness, sub-standard housing, rising rents, low vacancies, the lack of affordable housing and gentrification.

There have been many high-profile housing actions in recent years, such as the Overdale/Prefontaine squats initiated by the Comite des sans-emploi in the summer of 2001. That squat project inspired a series of symbolic, temporary squat actions all over Quebec in the spring and summer of 2002,
including in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. This past summer, the Comite des sans-emploi and CLAC Logement jointly organized a Tent City, again in opposition to the so-called housing crisis that is seemingly permanent.

Complementing the direct action based actions of recent years is the day-to-day grind of the various housing committees based in neighbourhoods, who deal with the daily concerns of local residents, such as fighting rent increases and drawing attention to slumlords and substandard housing.

One committee that deals with the day-to-day grind in
Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is the group known by its French acronym BAILS (which means "leases"). Like other spokespersons, Jean-Claude Laporte of BAILS adamantly refused to condemn the Monday action: "We can understand
the action."

Referring to the difficult situation of tenants that visit his office daily, Laporte concluded: "When there is a major social crisis, these kinds of things will happen."

-- Written by Jaggi Singh (jaggi@tao.ca)
For CMAQ, the CKUT Community News Collective, and rabble.ca

-----

--> TEXT OF COMMUNIQUE SENT TO MAINSTREAM MEDIA:

"Montreal, January 5, 2004

Communique to Everyone

Whoever sows misery harvests anger.

[Translation of the rhyming French language slogan: Qui seme la misere recolte la colere.]

On this Monday, January 5, 2004, 4 luxury condo site and 2 sales offices of these condos in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Centre-Sud neighbourhoods saw their activities paralysed by the presence of suspect packages that necessitated the intervention of a special squad of the SPVM [Montreal
Police].

This action aims to denounce the construction of such dwellings in the third poorest neighborhood in Canada, which is a shame. We need low-cost housing. We've had enough of being kicked out of our neighbourhoods by the well-to-do, their luxury condominiums and their trendy little cafes.

You want to wage war on the poor ... well the poor will reply and won't take that lying down.

Stop immediately these useless buildings that will only harm people of the neighborhood, and start building dwellings for those who are really in need.

This is just the beginning. Consider this just as a warning.

We will go as far as necessary so that the yuppies know that they are not welcome in our neighbourhood.

Free housing for all. Housing is not a commodity nor a privilege, but a right.

Anti-Gentrification Committee"

--> TEXT OF NOTICE ACCOMPANYING SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES AT SIX CONDO SITES IN MONTREAL:

"January 5, 2004

Workers:

WE STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO NOT MOVE THE PACKAGE AND TO CALL THE RELEVANT AUTHORITIES

We want to tell you that this is not against you, but against the slimy building developers and their clientele. We would like best to see you work on low-cost housing rather than luxury condos.

Don't forget to ask for compensation for lost hours. Solidarity!

The Anti-Gentrification Action Committee"