Outremont residents wear yellow badges to protest Jewish school buses at council meeting

A protest by a group of Outremont residents at last night's borough council meeting is drawing outrage in the Jewish community.

They say the rectangular yellow pins the protestors wore too closely resembled the yellow stars Jews had to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The protesters wanted the borough to do something about the constant presence of school buses belonging to the Hasidic Jewish community, which are in operation year-round to bring kids to and from school.

But the yellow pins each of them wore, which were supposed to represent the color and shape of a school bus were too close to the stars European Jews had to wear under the Nazis.

'Unacceptable'

Outremont resident Jennifer Dorner told council she was "disturbed" and called the pins "unacceptable," calling on those wearing them to remove them. 

Steven Slimovitch, with B'Nai Brith Canada, says there are many other ways the protesters could have made their point without being so insensitive.

"The person who devised such a protest either has no knowledge of history whatsoever, or if they understood, they would surely have realized it was a horrendous way to express one's opinion," he said.

But one of the protesters, Ginette Chartre, defended the symbol, saying it was no different than the red squares the students wore during their 2012 protests.

"But us, what we’re living is the yellow bus, so we can’t put that square as pink, white or beige, because it symbolizes the buses,” she says.

Heated debate over buses

Chartre says the buses run six days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., blocking traffic, spewing exhaust and making noise on the streets. She also suggested allowing for their constant presence represents an "accommodation" to the Hasidic community.

“That’s not for every citizen in Outremont, only some citizens have that privilege. It’s an accommodation," she said. "Why are there two kinds of citizens in Outremont, one with privilege and the other one? And we can't say anything."

Alex Werzberger, head of the Coalition of Outremont Hasidic Organizations, said the buses are necessary. 

"If I have a child and I want to do send them to school on the school bus, if I have two, I'll send two and if I have 10, I'll send 10 and I do have 10," he said. "To them, one (bus) are too many."

This wasn't the first time Outremont residents and members of its Hasidic community have clashed. In 2016, a bylaw was passed prohibiting new houses of worship to go up on Bernard Ave. — a move the city said was aimed at preserving commercial space. Four years earlier, a city councillor called called attention to some illegally parked buses during the Jewish holiday of Purim.