Tuesday 20 November 2012

Quebec corruption: let's not forget Rene Levesque vs. Edgar Trottier

An excerpt from "IS HIS LIFE OVER OR HAS IT JUST BEGUN?; It's early, but Michael Bryant may get a second act" by Lynda Hurst. Originally published in the Toronto Star, Sept. 5, 2009.

[...In February, 1977, following a dinner party that had rolled on until 3:45 in the morning, Parti Quebecois Premier Rene Levesque ran over and killed a 62-year-old homeless war vet, Edgar Trottier, who was sprawled in the middle of the road. Levesque said he didn't see him until 10 feet before he hit him. The car dragged Trottier 100 feet. Though it was widely suspected Levesque had been drinking, Montreal police didn't give him a breathalyzer test - though they did to Trottier. ("Quebec is the only place in the world where it is the victim who is given the blood test," a former provincial Liberal minister dryly commented.) The incident drew most of its nudge-nudge media coverage from the revelation that the woman in the car with the hugely popular premier was not his wife, but his secretary and mistress, Corinne Cote. Three days later, Levesque gave a rambling speech, explaining that he'd "just lived through a difficult moment. I'm still turning it around in my head. I can't get rid of it completely. I can't get rid of it at all. We always think these things happen to others, but suddenly fate is there, and it happens to you too. It's a shock to the system." But no charges were ever brought and the coroner's office ruled out an inquest. Calls for a public inquiry faded into the blue. Five months later, Levesque was given his penalty a $25 fine for driving without his glasses. He remained premier until 1985. In his autobiography, Memoirs, published a year later, Levesque didn't mention the incident. In an interview, however, he said that he'd wanted to quit politics at the time "I felt like disappearing forever." Why exclude reference to it then? "I didn't think it was part of the story. It was sad, but everybody has accidents. Why make a big to-do over it? I keep the memory, though. It's no fun to think you've hit somebody."...]

Wrote John Allemang in The Globe and Mail (January 18, 2003) in "The partying premier," an article about then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's drunk driving charges:

[...To many commentators looking back from the morally upright perspective of 2003, it seems amazing that the combination of alcohol, a car, a partying premier and a dead body didn't lead to Mr. Lévesque's resignation at the very least, if not a coroner's inquest and serious criminal charges...

Witnesses described the roads as slick that evening. The temperature was -11 C, a cold night to be out, which may be why a homeless 62-year-old war vet named Edgar Trottier was causing a disturbance inside the Queen Mary Veterans Hospital around the same time. His ploy to get a bed for the night didn't work. The hospital called the police, who, instead of taking the inebriated Mr.Trottier into custody, dropped him off where they thought he wouldn't cause any more trouble...

In another oversight that indicates the degree of the police officers' distraction -- though not the reason for it -- no one seemed to notice that Mr. Lévesque's licence required him to wear glasses. Coroner Maurice Laniel discovered this through an anonymous tip from a Lévesque enemy, and only after he had already exonerated the premier of criminal responsibility in a report based on the drawn-out police investigation. But then no one expected Mr. Lévesque to be wearing glasses, since he was never seen in them, and for a good reason. Though he suffered from myopia, he didn't own a pair, and out of a misplaced sense of comfort, vanity or supreme self-confidence, he saw no need to adjust behind the wheel. It was a highstakes game that the police suddenly found themselves involved in...

...when Estanislao Oziewicz and William Johnson reported in The Globe and Mail that Mr. Lévesque had been driving without glasses, the francophone media turned on them. "The press gallery in Quebec was pro-péquiste," Mr. Oziewicz recalls. "The information about the premier's driver's licence was right there in information released by the Quebec justice minister to the media, but either they couldn't be bothered to pick up on it or they just didn't want to write that Lévesque required corrective lenses...]

Friday 16 November 2012

Mordecai Richler School in the Plateau?

Following last night's CBC broadcast of my Facebook quest to name a proposed new school in Cote St. Luc for Mordecai Richler, I heard from Julien Feldman, an English Montreal School Board Commissioner. He's been working on a plan to rename a building on St. Urbain Street, right near the original Baron Byng High School that Mr. Richler made famous by its fictional alter ego, Fletcher's Field High.

Here's the exchange, which is ongoing...

From Julien Feldman: "This is a good initiative, but I've actually spoken to Richler's family about re-naming the Bancroft building on St.Urbain, just up the street from Baron Byng. The school governing boards who operate the building will be asked to consider the proposal very soon."

  • Beverly Akerman Julien, how many kids in the school? I understand it recently had a near-death experience. How likely is another such experience to occur in the not-too-distant future? How much support does the proposal have from parents? Are they not concerned about the possible reaction from the French communities?
  • Julien Feldman The Bancroft building is actually two schools - Bancroft Elementary and MIND high School, for a total of about 300 students. The elementary school is the fastest growing in the EMSB, thank to its incredibly successful bilingual program and the growing influx of anglos into the the Plateau. It's bucking the trend to declining enrollment.
    Last year there was an EMSB administration proposal to move kids to a different building, but that was unanimously rejected by the EMSB council of commissioners because of its rapid growth, so it was no real "near-death" experience.
    It's quite uncertain whether the Cote St. Luc high school will ever happen. Two years ago it flopped because of lack of demand. Only a couple of dozens kids said they'd enroll. Part of the problem is that its proponents have pre-defined as a religious school.
    The Cote St. Luc building is not Wagar, but in fact the "Palatucci Centre". The proposed high school would start off as a few classrooms inside the Palatucci Centre, if there's sufficient demand. The last effort only attracted a few dozen students and was cancelled.
    As for reaction form the local community, there is considerable support from the local borough and its Councillors and Mile End is the most mufti-cultural in the city.
  • Beverly Akerman so the proposal is to name the building, is that right? 300 students in both schools? how fast is the "fastest growing in the EMSB"? and i don't think the CSL proposal has anything to do with religion, btw.
  • Julien Feldman That's correct. Michael Applebaum and Marvin Rotrand baptized the Fletcher's Field gazebo, but a building on a major artery is obviously more appropriate and more substantial than a few classrooms in the West End.
    The CSL high school proposal is for a "heritage" program, which is in fact a euphemism for a religious component. The basic idea is to attract Jewish day school students back into the public system.
    If you'll recall, this new proposal emerged from the the failed effort to move Royal Vale from NDG into the Palatucci Centre, affecting hundreds of kids currently attending Royal Vale building in elementary and high school.
  • Beverly Akerman Julien, I led the Royal Vale fight to keep the school in NDG a few years back. And you unkindly misrepresent the heritage program. Cote St. Luc has one of the oldest populations of a Quebec municipality. Now they're trying to attract new younger families with new developments, and a public high school--and wonderful new aquatic facilities--is part of that strategy. I can respect that, and also the absence of coercion this time.
  • Beverly Akerman And their persistence. Please don't condescend to me.
  • Max Layton Again, a Richler high school in the St. Urbain area is absolutely appropriate because that's what he wrote about and where he lived. But a high school in Cote St Luc should be named for my father, Irving Layton, because that's where we lived and he wrote many poems about it. Surely, Montreal is a big enough city to have room for two great writers -- and two schools!
So there you have it: Plateau? Cote St. Luc? Richler? Layton? How about Leonard Cohen? You can vote at www.nametheschool.com until November 30th.

 And you can schmooze here or on Facebook.

Please also see my OpenFile.ca article about the EMSB's 2011 attempt to move the high school component of Royal Vale School into the old Wagar building, now officially known as the Giovanni Pallatucci facility.

Who was Giovanni Pallatucci

"Giovanni Palatucci saved the lives of 5,000 Jews destined to die in death camps during World War II. From 1938 to 1944, Palatucci was first in charge of the Office of Foreigners and later Chief of Police of Fiume, a city in northern Italy..."

Thursday 15 November 2012

Mordecai Richler High School in Cote St. Luc? Help "make it so!"

Here's the CBC Local Montreal News segment from Nov.15th. Also on their website

From what I understand, the Cote St. Luc civic administration has teamed up with the English Montreal School Board to try to promote the creation of a new EMSB high school in Cote St. Luc (at the site of the old Wagar High).
Now, at www.nametheschool.com, the EMSB is soliciting names for this new, projected, high school. So I’ve started a campaign to have it named in honour of the man I think was the greatest English Montreal writer of the twentieth century, Mr. Mordecai Richler.

I started a Facebook campaign which you can find here--please join us! http://www.facebook.com/events/384004745016654/


The response includes suggestions from Glen Rotchin and Max Layton that the high school, instead, be named for Irving Layton who apparently actually lived in, as well as wrote about, Cote St. Luc. Others have suggested a different sort of compromise: The Layton-Richler Academy. Or noted that if it was named Mordecai Richler Institute, it could be called, for short, MRI. 

In other words, we’re having fun with this!

I’d just like Montrealers (and those who have Montreal in their hearts) to know about the “name the school” campaign and hopefully vote to have the school, if it actually comes to be, named after Mr. Richler. My interest in his work is of longstanding—here are links to a couple of pieces I’ve written, one at Rover Magazine, the other for Maisonneuve Magazine's blog

I think I've got more MR elsewhere on this blog (but I actually don't have time to look it up because I've got to get ready to see David Bezmozgis at Blue Emet!)

I guess the clincher here is the article I saw a few days back that shows one in five EMSB elementary school grads are going to private schools for high school. We clearly need to change things if we want to keep these students in the public sector. Royal West Academy can only take so many of them (a whole 'nother story). Maybe this new school is the start of bringing students back to the public sector.

Last year, among the English Montreal School Board’s 1,727 Grade 6 graduates, more than one in five left the board altogether. Rather than sign on with EMSB high schools, the majority of the 382 pupils who left went to the private sector for their secondary schooling.” (from Janet Bagnall’s Montreal Gazette column, Oct. 31st)

Please pass the word along!

Notable supporters so far:

CBC's Nancy Wood
Terry Mosher (aka Aislin)
Michael Posner
Paul Vermeersch 
Linda Leith
Mikhail Iossel
Arjun Basu
Andrew Phillips (Toronto Star)
Ray Brassard (Montreal Gazette) 
Howard Richler
Karl E. Jirgens
Lally Cadeau
Ken McGoogan...and LOTS of other wonderful people! (Thank you all)

Will update as things progress...

PS EMSB, a new building would be nice! 

PPS I would have preferred a library, perhaps. But you know Montreal: "one island, one city, one snow plow, one library..." 


Tuesday 13 November 2012

“Everybody knows”

[Please note: things are moving so quickly on the Charbonneau Commission inquiry and fallout that this column is already out of date...but I put it here because...I guess I just had to!]

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay at a press conference at City Hall where he announced his resignation.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala , THE GAZETTE  Read more: http://bit.ly/X4b5Bo

The recent resignations of the mayors of Montreal and Laval, Gerald Tremblay and Gilles Vaillancourt, have left me wondering whether, sometime when I wasn’t quite paying attention, Quebec’s regularly scheduled legal system was substituted with “Survivor: Quebec Politics,” a system of public bullying of those “everybody knows” are guilty. 

It’s as though we’ve decided to skip over all that legal mumbo jumbo we used to call a trial in favour of public shaming, metaphorical tarring and feathering, and the throwing of the bums out.

The Charbonneau Commission into the granting and management of construction contracts, and its associated sideshows, is as close to a legal lynching as anything I’ve ever seen. 

Quebecers are desperate to end these recurring episodes of corruption, and sooner, rather than later. But how does anyone prove to the court of public opinion that he or she DIDN’T do something, when “everybody knows” something nefarious has been going on? 

Messrs. Tremblay and Vaillancourt’s situations became increasingly untenable as time—and innuendo—mounted. But once Martin Dumont alleged Mr. Tremblay knew about dirty versions of municipal campaign expenses, it appeared a line was crossed.

And yet…

Within days of Dumont’s allegation, the Commission’s earlier songbird, Lino Zambito, was disputing Dumont’s version of some facts. Dumont said he met Zambito twice in 2004 in the offices of Union Montreal chief party fundraiser Bernard Trepanier. Zambito denies ever having been in the party offices. He denies even knowing where they are.

Somebody has some ‘splaining to do.

This is why we’re supposed to have a measured, dispassionate, and independent justice system. Instead, it seems we’re bent on satisfying a pack of jackals baying for blood.

If Mr. Duchesneau, former anti-collusion investigation head and current Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA, amassed these allegations, why didn’t he act on them? If he had evidence, why weren’t there charges? 

Jean Charest was vilified for arguing against the public inquiry. He warned that revealing names in public would tar those named as guilty, all without due process. Just mention a monicker and that person immediately loses the presumption of innocence, no matter who, exactly, is shooting off his mouth. But the presumption of innocence is the foundation of our system of laws and we tamper with it at our peril.

If someone accused you of malfeasance--diddling your boss’s accounts years back, say--how easily could you prove your innocence? Even if you were innocent? Especially if you were innocent.
Take, as an object lesson, another case in the news, that of former RCMP deputy commissioner Barbara George. After a distinguished 30-year career with the Mounties, she tackled a high-profile 2007 inquiry into an RCMP pension fund scandal. 

Barbara George
RCMP Staff Sergeant Mike Frizzell accused her of stifling his investigation into the pension fund imbroglio. MPs of the Public Accounts Committee bought Frizzell’s account and held George in contempt of Parliament

By the time it was over, according to Global news, members of the House of Commons committee said she lied during testimony before them, Liberal then-MP Borys Wrzesnewsky alleged outside the House that she committed perjury and, finally, her reputation destroyed, George was forced to resign from the RCMP.

There was only one small problem: Barbara George was innocent. She was actually exonerated by the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police, in separate investigations. But the truth didn’t matter and her career was destroyed.

Is it wise to put all this faith in the words of men like Zambito and Dumont? Why are they coming forward now? I understand the media and political opposition are going to town on this dog and pony show, but seriously: were these men suddenly having trouble sleeping nights? 
Who’s to say they aren’t settling a few scores with their accusations? Drive-by shooting of reputations, as it were.

The Charbonneau Commission hasn’t even hit its stride and already has the heads of two of our mayors. I sure hope all the accused are guilty. And, failing that, I hope they, like Barbara George, can take action against those who slander them. Recently, former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewsky publicly apologized to Ms. George as part of the $4 million libel action settlement.

I have no sympathy for liars, fraudsters, mobsters, or corruption. But naming people in the absence of corroborating evidence and without their being able to mount a defence is more like McCarthyism than a sober, dispassionate investigation. Which is what is meant by that blindfold on those statues of Lady Justice. 

Not that Mr. Tremblay’s or Mr. Vallaincourt’s refutations would have made much difference in this climate. Because, as Leonard Cohen might have said, “everybody knows” the jig is up.