Montréal (Canada): Let them eat paint! De-gentrification action against “3734”

Just over a year ago, a masked crowd looted the yuppie grocery store attached to the “3734” restaurant on Notre-Dame street and redistributed the food to people in the neighborhood, one of dozens of actions against gentrification in recent years. The grocery store shut down several months ago, but we noticed that the 3734 restaurant was still serving business lunches and expensive dinners to local yuppies. So last Wednesday night we paid them a visit, breaking a window and covering the inside of the restaurant with paint, using a fire extinguisher. [Read More]

Quebec City: A squat short story (from Barricada #18)

  Quebec City: A squat short story (from Barricada #18)


On Friday, September 20th, the 920 de la Chevrotiere squat in Quebec City was evicted following more then 4 months of occupation. The eviction was carried out by a small army of cops and city officials.

At around 6 pm several plainclothes officers entered the building, read a legal eviction notice with a megaphone and asked the people inside to leave. The squatters did not resist the eviction and were given permission to go inside two by two to pick up their belongings.

Once this was done, city workers boarded up the building. As soon as the news of the eviction was known, some 40 supporters and friends gathered in front of the building for an impromptus support demo. The official reason given for the eviction was that the place was no longer safe because there was no running water (water was cut a few days before the raid). Despite the eviction, the former squatters will continue the struggle and move ahead with an already planned demonstration scheduled for September 26th (some 100 people came to the demo).

The Story of 920 de la Chevrotiere

On Friday May 17th, after months of organizing, some 300 angry tenants, housing activists, anarchists and other radicals gathered in Quebec City for the largest local demonstration around housing issues since the 1970’s.

The call, issued by the Comite Populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste, was crystal clear: “come support a direct action” and announced an “unlimited occupation against the housing crisis”. As this was part of a wider campaign coordinated by the FRAPRU (Quebec largest reformist tenant union federation), locals where joined by a busload of tenants from Montreal and Sherbrooke who occupied various abandoned industrial buildings during the week. 12 occupations were organized all over the province by various housing groups involving more then 1200 different people. At this time, no one knew that the Quebec City action would be the longest occupation of the week.

The occupied house was highly significant for the neighborhood and the Comite populaire. In the 1970’s, during the great demolitions, 6 houses known as l’Ilot Berthelot miraculously stood tall and were not demolished. The place was bought and sold so many times in the last 30 years that it’s impossible to keep track of the various owners. All of them, however, wanted to demolish the 6 houses and build in their place huge towers instead of luxury condominiums. There was so much speculation on the value of the buildings and the land that by 1991, it had became the most expensive plot of land in the city.

That’s also when the Comite Populaire, a citizens committee active in the neighborhood since 1976, and the social ecologist group Les AmiEs de la Terre de Quebec chose to move their offices into one of the houses (910 De la Chevrotiere). Their demands were clear: they wanted the take over of the buildings by a self managed housing cooperative. In the face of growing public awareness, the city finally bought the 6 houses in 1994 at the cost of 1 000 000$ (that’s almost 10 times their 1970 value!). Four of them where initially transformed into a self managed housing cooperative, but the 2 southern houses were not. They stood empty for 3 years before the squatters moved in. The city hoped to sell them to some promoters who would demolish them and build luxury condominiums sold at 150 000$ each.

The occupied house was a small two story building typical of the neighborhood. While the action was organized by the Comite populaire, a collective of squatters and supporters have taken over from day one (you believe in autonomy and self-management or you dont!) and the Comite was relegated to a “support” role. The struggle was led by a general assembly of squatters and supporters and the house was managed via regular squatters meetings. The demands of the squatters being three fold.

– First they want the place to be given away to a non-profit group so that it be used for collective needs (such as a social center) and they want the empty land surrounding it developed into a self managed housing cooperative for low-income families.

– Second, they want a stop to the transformation of apartments in the city into luxury condominiums and a total ban of them on site.

– Third, they want the government to finance at least 8 000 new social housing units a year in the province (which would mean 700 in Quebec City).

Support for these demands is high in the city. More then 2 000 people from all over the place –including Basque refugees and French squatters!^?came to visit and signed a petition. The majority of the cooperatives in the neighborhood originally sent letters of support, including the Coop de l’Ilot Berthelot who gave cheap electricity and water to the squatters for three and a half months. You can see posters of support in many houses and, to the squatters surprise, in more then a dozen local stores. Social groups of all kinds sent support letters and some of them, especially student unions, made small and big donations. In this context, the so-called left-wing municipality didn^?t want to send in the cops and hoped the squatters would either burn out or that the support would erode.

A delicate and unforseen situation developed in the last two months of the occupation. Indeed, since the beginning, the occupation attracted it’s fair share of victims of the housing crisis who needed a temporary housing solution, the time necessary to catch up and find a more stable place to stay. In the vast majority of cases, it was going fairly well.

This said, however, we must recognize that, thanks to capitalism, the vast majority of the people of our class who end up in the street are also those that are the most vulnerable and it is rare that housing is their only problem…

A conflict developed in the squat which resulted in homeless people moving in the empty building on the other side of the street, the 921 de la Chevrotiere (which was deemed unsafe by the general assembly). Soon, there was no discussion possible between the two groups, the occupants of the 920 de la Chevrotiere had become the ennemy, false squatters, false anarchists, etc. In the beggining there was three of them… but they where fast joined by other homeless who where kicked out of the various “community resources”. In the end, there was 15 of them.

Sometimes it was calm, but other times they would take to screaming after any and all passersby. One of them tried to assault a women of the neighborhood cooperative. Concrete threats were made against individuals and the squat. Serious violence erupted from time to time inside the building. Soon, the attitude and anti-social acts of these people started to affect everyone. The occupants of the 920 tried to deal with the situation but failed to act on it fast enough. The cops and the municipality succeeded in using the situation to split the support of the squatters.

Political Maneuvers in the Last Two Weeks

Two weeks before the final eviction of the squat, the neighborhood coop had a general assembly where it was voted unanimously to find a “final solution” to the problems coming from the 921 de la Chevrotiere. While the squatters of the 920 tried to explain the differences between the two squats, the executive committee of the coop came to the conclusion that since the unwanted squatters came from a split in the first squat, the only way to get rid of the problem was to close both (which was not exactly what was voted on in the general assembly).

In the end they announced that they would cut electricity and water to the 920 de la Chevrotiere building and would publicly withdrew support if nothing changed. It took a few days to convince all the people in the 921 de la Chevrotiere to move elsewhere, but when it was finally done, the coop had already called the cops and the municipality. The day after the last person moved out, the cops came in and boarded the place (that was on Friday, Sept. 13th).

In the meantime, the municipality had mobilized all of it’s allies to launch a full fledged political attack on the squat. On Monday, September 16th, the chairman of the neighborhood coop and the coordinator of the regional housing coop federation called a press conference to officially denounce the squatters as people who don^?t help the struggle for social housing and to ask them to put an end to the occupation. The same day, the mayor also came out saying that the occupation must end now and that social housing was to be built on site as soon as the squatters were evicted.

Indeed, the coop federation had made a deal with a private promoters to build both social housing and luxury condominiums on the site. The public message was that the squatters were in the way… The intent of the city was clear, they wanted to isolate the squatters and make it look like they where loosing support. This strategy didn^?t work however, and, in less than 24 hours, the squatters succeeded in mobilizing most of the allies they had in the housing rights movement and other social movements to restate their support for the occupation after some 3 months of silence.

But the city chose to ignore this and on Friday, September 20th they sent in the cops to evict the squatters. Only time will tell if the city will pay for this or get away with it as usual, but it is clear however that the regional coop federation did isolate itself from the social movement and that they will pay for it (a new local housing rights coalition was just formed and they where not invited).

Partial victory and the Struggle Continues

While there still is no total victory, the occupation already did get some positive results. First, there will be new cooperative housing on the site (around 30 units). This was not granted at all since the city only wanted to have condominiums. The issue now is whether it will be possible to totally ban condominiums on site (that’s the theme of the next demo).

Second, the city finally gave in in August and voted a moratorium on new conversion of apartments into condominiums. This moratorium is shitty, as it has many holes and exceptions, but it is clearly a response to the occupation and other actions. The whole anarchist criticism of legislation applies here, of course, but it is still a small step. So the squatters did win a few things from the powers because of their action, but the main victory is not there.

The occupation legitimized direct action in the mind of people and showed the support it can have. It helped to educate a large number of people about the housing crisis and the remedy to it. Furthermore, the squatters where not just sitting on the place, it was an experience in itself. An experience of direct action, direct democracy and another kind of social relations. And an experience that allows for other actions.

A radial Infoshop was opened in the basement stocking literature ranging from union newsletters and ecologist literature to Maoist newspapers, anarchists books and Trotskyist magazines. The kids in the neighborhood had a safe place to come and play (and do their home-work!). There have been a number of community activities ranging from free meals to video nights and parties. And groups from all over the city use the space (including the local NEFAC group who had a number of meetings and public activity there). People are already talking about forming an autonomous collective to continue the whole experience elsewhere.

The squat as direct action is one of the ways we can get out of the dead-end of protest as usual. Short of a massive rent strike, it’s the most dramatic action a movement around housing can take. While most of the time public opinion can just ignore the effect of the housing crisis, high profile political squats polarize it. On one hand there are homeless and badly housed tenants, and on the other there are empty buildings. Squats bring all of this in your face, and force people to take a stand. As a direct attack on private property, squats can also bring to the fore the fundamental contradiction of the housing question (housing right vs property rights or human needs vs market). Squats are also everything but symbolic and contrary to most protests, they can’t be ignored by the authorities, tilting the balance of force further to our side.

Nicolas Phebus
La Nuit Collective (NEFAC-QC)

The 920 de la Chevrotiere occupation was the longest single direct action ever on the housing front in Quebec and probably Canada.

[Ok, this was a subjective report written from *my* perspective. Other participants in the squat may (indeed DO) have another interpretation of the events (this is why the article is signed!). This article will be published in the october issue of Barricada. Objectivité existe pas!]

This article was printed in Barricada’s new special double issue which is available now. Barricada is the monthly magazine of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC).

Singles copies are 3$ (us), 4$ (can), 1.50$ (Boston) for this special double issue.

Subscriptions are $15 USD for six issues (US and Canada) $30 for twelve issues. $20 USD for a six issue subsciption to Western Europe. Write for bulk rates.

Money orders are best, checks with the “pay to order of” left blank next, or well concelled cash at your own risk.

Barricada
PO Box 73
Boston, MA 02133

Barricada on the web – http://www.barricada.org

For more information about NEFAC, visit us on the web at:
http://flag.blackened.net/nefac(English)
http://www3.sympatico.ca/emile.henry/nefac.htm(French)

=====
I need land, a place where no money is spent, then kick back and live life immaculate. – The Coup.

Nicolas Phébus


Canada, Quebec City! A new infoshop comes to life

 

  Canada, Quebec City! A new infoshop comes to life

 


Since june 20th, « La Page Noire » proposes dozens of books, magazines, brochures, music etc that offer alternatives to the current political and economical system. Situated in the squat on La Chevrotière Street, La Page Noire is in the middle of varions social struggles that goes on in Québec City regarding housing rights. Selfmanaged collective operating on an anti-autoritarian and anti-hierarchy basis, our collective tries to put on a leftist library. We?ll shortly be able to publish our own brochures. We invite all the groups, collectives and libertarian editors to contact us for more infos on possible distribution (and donations!).

La Page Noire is currently open on Tuesday from 10 AM to 4 PM, Thursday 4 PM to 9PM and Saturday from 12 PM to 5 PM

Snail mail : La Page Noire, 916 de la Chevrotière, Québec (PQ), Canada, G1R 3J2

E-mail: lapagenoire [at] altern [dot] org

Dany <dany [at] dojo [dot] tao [dot] ca>

 


 

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Building occupation in Quebec City: The resistance continue

 

  Building occupation in Quebec City: The resistance continue

 


Yesterday was the fifth night of the Quebec City occupation of an empty house, wich everyone now call a «squat». The last couple of days where eventfull and people start to envision staying there much longer then planned, maybe even the whole spring and, who know’s, summer.

 

The power’s reaction [or rather lack of…]

The city made it’s position known on thuesday by way of a communique not specificaly aimed at the squatters but titled «Quebec City is favoring social housing». In fact, the social democrat administration is once again stating what everyone already knows: that it’s a pro-social housing administration and that they are among the «best city governements» in this province regarding this issue. In the past couple of years they where the only local governement in the region to invest in social housing, to the point where 90 % of all new social housing units build in the last 5 years in the area where within city limits. We already know that without more money from the provincial or federal governements, the city cannot do much more on the front of social housing. That’s why the Comite populaire and FRAPRU –organizers of last week wave of direct actions– never claimed the issue to be a strictly local one but rather a provincial and canadian one. The main demand to fight the crisis is the building of 8 000 new social housing units a year in the province (wich would mean 700 in the city). To get this done, both the provincial and federal governement need to put some money on the table. The only concession the city administration is making to fight today’s housing crisis is to speed up the construction of already planned social housing units. They already commit to build 1000 new units within 4 years, now they are saying they will have 700 of them done by july 2003. While that’s a start, the problem is that this is a «one shot deal». It is not even half of what’s needed to get the vacancy rate to a reasonnable level. What’s more, that’s about what we need build every years, not just right now.

We all know that the city cannot do more on this level, the problem is that they didint say a word about what they *can* do. The squatters have three main demands, and they are answering the only one they cannot answer! The Comite populaire is asking that today’s squatted building be tomorow new selfmanaged housing cooperative. This is not comming out of the sky, this is already the demand put foward by the surrounding housing cooperatives who year after year present a new project without ever getting the funding. Instead of acting on this reasonable demand, the city is stating that the place already have 21 social housing units (like if we didint know it, we are the one’s who fight like hell to get this done in the 1990’s!). Furthermore, they want to demolish the house and sell it to a promotor to build luxury condominiums. In short, they didint moved at all on this point. They are trying to hide behind the «there’s already social housing there» line to continue their policy of gentrification. The squatters third demand is precisely regarding gentrification: the Comite populaire want’s a moratorium on any new condominium project in neighborhoods with a vacancy rate below 3 %. While the city now have the legal power to enforce this demand, they choose to remain silent on that one. Considering Montreal already have a similar policy, with a much more right wing administration, we dont think this is utopian at all.

While I frankly dont know if this have anything to do with the occupation, probably not in fact, the provincial minister in charge of housing made a visit to Quebec City on wednesday and met with city officials to know the «need’s of the city» to confront the housing crisis. He too just play the old disc of «we are building social housing» and blablabla. However, since there’s a squat going on, we were able to trash it’s discourse on the news for a change. He said that his governement will make it’s «urgent measures» known on june 5th. That’s good since at the same date, there’s the FRAPRU conference in Quebec City. People are already talking about organizing a mass demonstration to confront him and the governement on their lack of action.

Building support

The occupation, wich is already supported by a wide array of groups ranging from the Ligue des droits et libertes to the CLAC, is slowly building support. First off, there’s a petition visitors can sign inside the building. In five days, more then 200 people sign it. The Comite populaire is also trying to build support among the local population. The support from the immediately surrounding tenants is almost 100%. After all, these people know us and they too want the place to be transformed in a cooperative. Kids from the hood come to play and really love to draw with the chalk on the building and street (one of them made a huge graffitti on the street saying «I may be small but I too am protesting»). Support also translate into all kind of concrete action. To generate more support from the population, the squatters also organize events inside the place. There was a well attend «soupe populaire» (communal meal) on sunday and a good debate on urban struggle and the place history on wednesday night (the place was crammed with some 50 people of all ages). People are now talking about enlarging this support base in the whole neighborhood (maybe with a petition?). As far as groups goes, housing cooperatives and tenants unions are starting to send letters of support, wich is good. Other are visiting from far away. For exemple, a group of 15 montreal activists, in town for the Germinal case trial, came to the squat (in return, the squatters made a banner saying «the squat is offering political asilum to Germinal» to go to the court when the comrades where all found guilty on all counts).

For the moment, there’s alway about 15 people sleeping there every night with a rotation. The occupation is open to everyone who share the demands and analysis of the Comite populaire. While some are more regular, there’s also activists who come to spend only a night in solidarity and there generaly is a rotation. While the majority of the squatters are anarchists – –most of them members of NEFAC or former CASA activists– and young, wich explain why the red and black flag is flying on the top of the building, the support base is diverse with people of all left persuasions and all age (but not of all class!). The place is open to everyone till 11pm, and then it’s closed to outsiders. There’s a meeting of the squatters every morning to share the tasks of the day and a general assembly of all squatters and supporters every other day.

Many are probably wondering why the city administration didint already send the cops. Well, they’ve said in the media that unless security or public health issue arise, the occupation can continue as long as it stay’s peacefull. They probably hope that the squatters will leave the place sooner or latter, exhausted. The city executive council already stated that it is they who will decide what to do and not the cops or the fire departement. This is so because on one hand the administration is a minority governement and, on the other, one of their electoral power base is in Saint-Jean-Baptiste. The local social democrat city councilor, who is a member of the city executive, was elected with 80 % of the vote in the hood. Most of the occupation local supporters that are not members of the Comite populaire voted for her and still support her. But at the same time, this part of the neigborhood is also the Comite populaire historical stronghold. A police intervention without good reasons would clearly alienate the electoral support base of the city councilor without having any tangible result on the right wing electorate elsewhere in the city. Because of contradictions in local politics, the occupation will probably last until someone, wheter the city of the squatters, give in.

Pictures of Friday march and direct action are available at http://www.cmaq.net/upload/8453.jpg Squatters can be reach at 418-522-0454 and compop [at] qc [dot] aira [dot] com

Nicolas Phebus. May 23th

 


Canada, Successful building take over in Quebec City

 

  Canada, Successful building take over in Quebec City

 


Friday afternoon, Quebec City. Some 300 angry tenants, housing activists, anarchists and other radicals are gathering in the “Parc à 10 millions” in downtown neighborhood of Saint-Roch. They are joined by a busload of tenants from Montreal and Sherbrooke who occupied various abandoned industrial buildings during the week to denounce the growing housing crisis now touching more then 17 cities across the province.

It?s not the average demo, people know that at the end of the march, a direct action will take place marking the beginning of an unlimited occupation of an empty building. It?s the end of a long week of actions called by the FRAPRU (Quebec largest reformist housing advocate groups federation), and the beginning of a long weekend. 12 occupations were organized during the week by various housing groups involving more then 1200 different people.

At 5:30 the march begin. No one, except for an hand-full of activists from the Comite populaire (the organizing group), really knows where they are going. Obviously it?s gonna be in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the last “working-class” neighborhood of the upper town, but where exactly, no one knows. The organizers choose the tactic of the “snake-march”, zigzagging into the small streets of the neighborhood, to reach as many people as possible and hopefully fool the police.

And it worked, we loosed the cops on motorcycles and in cruisers a few times by taking stairways and going into parks. At the end of one such instance of loosing the cops, we end up at the îlot Berthelot on the southern part of the neighborhood. The cops probably think we are going to the parliament or one of the big hotels because they are waiting for us two blocs away. But this is exactly the moment masked men choose to open the doors of an empty building on 920 De la Chevrotière street and smash the padlocks with an hammer. The crowd completely fills the small street, people cheer from their windows. Many locals have joined us in the course of the march (while other left because it was too hard to follow in the ups and downs of Quebec City).

Activists from the Comite populaire get into the house, which is a small two-story building so typical of the city. 2 banners are fixed on the building, one reads “Let?s take back our hoods” and the other read “The logic of profit is encouraging slums”. In the mean time, a food not bombs type collective was preparing a meal in a nearby park. Other peoples where distributing leaflets doors to doors explaining the action and the demands of the group. The demands of the activists occupying the place are three folds. First they want the place and the other empty building in front of it to be transformed into a selfmanaged housing cooperative for low-income families. Second, they want a stop to the transformation of apartments into luxury condominium (the city have the legal power to totally band them). Third, they want the government to finance at least 8 000 new social housing units a year in the province (which would mean 700 in Quebec City).

The occupied place is highly significant for the hood and the Comite populaire. In the 1970?s, during the great demolitions, 6 houses known as l?îlot Berthelot miraculously stand tall and where not demolished. Since 1970, the place is an outpost of resistance to both the destruction of the hood and its gentrification. The place was bought and sold so many times in the last 30 years that it?s impossible to keep track of the various owners. All of them, however, wanted to demolish the 6 houses and build eigther huge tower instead of luxury apartments (known as ?condo?). In the face of public resistance, they all sold the place to someone else who think he would be able to break the resistance of the tenants who successfully contested all rent increase during a period of 20 years. There was so much speculation on the value of the buildings and the land that by 1991, it had became the most expensive plot of land in the city. That?s also when the Comite populaire, a citizen committee active in the hood since 1976, and the social ecologist group Les AmiEs de la Terre de Quebec choose to move their offices in one of the house (910 De la Chevrotière). Their demand was clear: the wanted the take over of the buildings by a selfmanaged housing cooperative. Up until 1992, nothing moved, but then, the city announced a grant of 150 000 000 $ to help build Quebec City own Conference Center a few blocs away from l?îlot Berthelot. In response the Comite populaire asked that the same amount of money be spent on social housing. In the face of public opposition, the city tried to save face by buying the 6 houses in 1994 at the cost of 1 000 000 $ (that?s almost 10 time their 1970 value!). 4 of them where finally transformed into a selfmanaged housing cooperative, but the 2 southern houses where not. Up until this day, they are empty and the city hope to sell them to some promoters who would demolish them and build luxury apartment sold at 150 000$ each. Now, 8 years latter, in front of an housing crisis –only 0.8% of the city apartments are empty– the Comite populaire is back and so is the resistance.

Right now, the squatters, there are about 30 of them that are doing a rotation, are organized into a directly democratic collective with daily general assembly. The occupation is open to anyone who share the demands and analysis of the Comite populaire. Apparently the cops get the order from the city not to intervene as long as the occupation stay peaceful. So, after 3 days and nights, the squatters are still inside. It?s gonna be a long and hot spring…

Pictures of Friday march and direct action are available at http://www.cmaq.net/upload/8453.jpg Squatters can be reach at 418-522-0454 and compop [at] qc [dot] aira [dot] com

Nicolas Phebus. May 20th