Since December 2014, an organization associated with Quebec’s nationalist movement has been profiting from a Loto-Québec kiosk in Côte-St-Luc’s Quartier Cavendish, and now some residents are looking to kick that group out of the proud Canadian city.
“Separatists are not welcome in Côte-St-Luc,” writes Brenda Monk on a petition that was launched late last month through change.org.
The petition calls for the kiosk, operated by the Société St-Jean-Baptiste Richelieu-Yamaska (SSJBRY), to be removed or, at the very least, put under new management. That management, states the petition, should better reflect “the demographics and the philosophy of our community.”
More than 70 signatures have been collected after some circulation on social media during the last few weeks, but the plan is to begin promoting the petition even more as people return from summer vacation.
Eric Banon, who is running for municipal office this year, started the petition. In it, he states the SSJBRY is “not only a separatist movement, but (it) is also known for its xenophobe and anti-Semitic positions. It is unacceptable for Côte-St-Luc residents and the Cavendish Mall to contribute to its financial well-being.”
SSJBRY coordinator Jean-Yves Langlois denies claims that the organization is xenophobic and anti-Semitic. He told the Montreal Gazette that the SSJBRY is focused on the promotion of Quebec’s history and the French language by, for example, providing French classes to new immigrants and rewarding high school students for doing well in history classes.
“Our values and our actions are totally opposite to the positions described in this petition,” Langlois said. “In fact, we don’t really understand where this person has drawn such inconceivable information about us.”
The St-Jean-Baptiste Society is known to promote a sovereign Quebec and Langlois concurs that it is a nationalist organization. However, he added, that it is not the organization’s mission.
“Nowhere is Quebec sovereignty included in our charter,” he said. “I have been with the organization for 11 years and, to my knowledge, we have never organized events dedicated to the promotion of Quebec sovereignty.”
Eyal Gamliel, a Côte-St-Luc resident, was “shocked” to learn the kiosk has been benefiting such an organization. He is one of many petition signers who want to see the proceeds going to a local cause instead.
Loto-Québec spokesperson Brian LeCompte said he was unable to comment specifically on the present situation, though he confirmed the organization’s contract ends in the winter of 2018. By that time, there will be a new selection process in place.
Those wishing to manage a kiosk have always needed to meet certain requirements, such as being a bona fide non-profit organization. A call for tenders has been part of the selection process. Now applications will be scored based on preset criteria. Those qualified to run a kiosk will be asked to select their preferred regions of operation and choices will be given to each applicant depending on their overall rank.
This new criteria will create a reshuffle of kiosk operators and, if SSJBRY is qualified, it is highly possible that it will be moved out of its Quartier Cavendish location regardless of the petition.
Kiosk managers earn money at about the same rate as any corner store. Percentages earned are based on sales. One per cent of winnings over $1,000 goes to the retailer.
“The number of kiosks in the network has been constantly declining over the past few years,” LeCompte said. “Currently, 110 kiosks are operated by 54 non-profit organizations and three private individuals. More than a dozen of these organizations also benefit from bingo revenues.”
Discussions in a local Facebook group about the situation prompted Banon to investigate. Learning that the kiosk would soon be up for public bid, he saw it as an opportune time to launch a petition.
“I thought there was something we could do to make change happen,” said Banon, noting the SSJBRY used to have a kiosk at the Côte-St-Luc Shopping Centre as well.
Banon will be running against Councillor Steven Erdelyi in the fall election and, while their opinions on municipal affairs may differ, they can both agree on this matter.
“I find it regrettable that an organization with a separatist agenda has such a presence in a fiercely federalist area,” Erdelyi said. “As Loto-Québec falls under the provincial government’s domain, I urge residents to contact their MNA’s office with their concern.
MNA David Birnbaum, representing the D’Arcy-McGee riding, has long been aware of the situation.
“When I was first elected and started coming to my office right here in Quartier Cavendish, I was struck to see the local lotto site was operated by the Société St-Jean-Baptiste,” Birnbaum said, noting he, like many, noticed the group’s sign on the kiosk. “I did something of a double take and, back then, made some inquiries into how these kiosks are allotted.”
Birnbaum said it has always been an arm’s length and objective selection process. The provincial government is not involved in choosing who operates Loto-Québec kiosks, he explained. Beyond that, he declined to comment on the petition.
That petition, Langlois said, comes after nearly three years of troubling incidents at the Quartier Cavendish location. Since the SJBRY took over management of the kiosk, it has been the target of maliciousness, false accusations and even vandalism, he said.
“We would like to express our dismay at a situation that has lasted for too long,” he said. “At no time did our Société engage in xenophobic or anti-Semitic speeches or activities. Our activities have always focused on the promotion of Quebec’s history and French.”