On Monday, March 5, several residents of Montreal’s Outremont neighborhood attended a borough council meeting to protest the year-round use of school buses by the neighborhood’s Hasidic community. Residents claim that the year-round bus service is a nuisance in the neighborhood, with complaints centered on exhaust emissions, increased traffic, and overall road congestion. The buses are used by the Hasidic Jewish community of Outremont to provide transportation for their children across Montreal.
However, the protesting residents sparked outrage and condemnation for their use of yellow, square badges as an emblem of their cause. As Montreal is home to the world’s third highest population of Holocaust survivors, the yellow badges evoked, for many, reminders of a horrific past. In Nazi Germany, Jews were forcibly required to don a yellow badge so that they could be publicly identified as Jewish. In a neighborhood where Jewish residents account for nearly a quarter of the population, with many descending from those who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust, the use of yellow badges recreates the image of a time when Jews were legally and violently discriminated against. For community members at the council meeting, the badges caused an emotional stir, and some started to cry in the audience.
A leader of the protest, resident Ginette Chartre, said in an interview this week that “[The Jews] always bring up their painful past,” adding, “They do it to muzzle us. We’re wearing the yellow square because the school buses are yellow.” She continued with determination, “We’ll march down the street wearing them, banging pots and pans if we have to.” Chartre remained even further resolved in the usage of a yellow badge, going so far as to say, “Should we change the colour of school buses now because it reminds [Jews] of their past? What about the yellow street markers on the roads? If we wore a yellow hat, would that be better?”
Various local officials weighed in on the matter. Recently elected Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante voiced her thoughts, saying, “living together as a community is sometimes challenging.” Continuing further to point out the main targets of the campaign, she noted, “However, I find it unacceptable to launch a political action against children; they should never be a target.”
Outremont Councillor Fanny Magini echoed the same sentiments of the mayor, saying, “It’s a campaign that targets children – in particular, Jewish children.” Further chastising the usage of the yellow badges, she said, “It’s totally unacceptable. We think it’s a symbol that was very poorly chosen.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) Québec division also issued a statement, noting that they “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.”
Jewish groups at McGill have responded negatively to the Outremont neighborhood’s use of yellow badges during the protest. The Executive Board of Hillel McGill stated that they “find the usage of yellow badges by community members in Outremont to protest buses utilized by the Hasidic Jewish community to be shameful. The utilization of imagery that evokes memories of the Holocaust is not only deeply offensive, but also creates a feeling of unwelcomeness to Montreal’s Jewish population.”