City in Quebec will consider renaming street that honours anti-Semitic farmer

The City of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, about 40 km southeast of Montreal, says it will consider changing the name of a street that was designated in honour of an anti-Semitic farmer.

"We are aware of the sensitivity of this file, which affects the whole Jewish community. We will take the time to check the facts and consult the population on this," said city councillor Maryline Charbonneau in a statement Tuesday afternoon.


Jews banned from purchase

The statement comes after a Quebec Superior Court judge overturned a condition of sale that bans Jewish people from being able to rent or buy homes on a specific plot of land that was owned by landowner Alphonse Waegener in the 1950s and 1960s.

According to La Presse, about 350 houses were affected by the provision. The apple grower, who died in 1986, had divided his land into lots and had notarized documents drawn up banning people “of Jewish race” from taking over the land.

“This was at a time when anti-Semitic covenants against Jewish and black people was prevalent in North America,” explained David Ouellette, director of research and public affairs at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). “What’s important here is when they are found and noticed, we take appropriate actions.”

He explains that, because the laws are often outdated and put in place by a private owner, a city's administration -- in this case, the City of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu -- is not involved at all. Rather, these types of racist stipulations tend to pop up randomly as people sell private property and they are dealt with individually.

“Periodically, these things surface; they’re relics of the past but they’re not enforceable today," Ouellette told CTV News.

Though several locals told La Presse they were aware of the clause, it was not addressed until notary Carl Goulet put out a public notice in the local newspaper last summer advising people of its existence.

“A motion to institute proceedings has been lodged for a judgment striking out a non-construction easement and restriction of use…for renters and owners of Jewish faith,” it stated.

The racist requirement was officially overturned last November by Quebec Justice Claude Dallaire.

"These easements are still active and are still reverberating legally," he ruled, adding they "have been tolerated until now."


'They take over everything'

Ouellette notes what he finds shocking is that Waegener’s son justified the anti-Semitic provision by making comparable comments.

"My father was friendly with everyone, but you see, the Jews, they take over everything. That's what he did not like,” 99-year-old Louis Waegener told La Presse. “But he had Jewish friends."

In its statement, the City of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu said it encourages land owners to have it removed from any sale contract.

"It is illogical that such a clause has endured over time. It goes against the inclusive values that we share and defend. City council deplores this situation and wishes to add its voice to those who denounce it," said Mayor Alain Laplante.

Ouellette points out, according to Statistics Canada, the Jewish community remains the most frequently targeted in terms of hate incidents and crimes.

“In light of the son’s anti-Semitic justification of the anti-Semitic covenant, Saint-Jean should rename the street that is named after him,” Ouellette argued. “These are his views. I’m not going to speculate where they came from, but they’re not representative of Quebec society.”

He notes there is growing concern about the heightened attacks on Jewish people worldwide, and particularly in the U.S.

“Our community must be resilient and we must be prepared. Our community is setting up security around its institutions. We can’t be complacent about it,” he insisted. “Despite recent aggressions in the U.S., we haven’t seen an increase in Canada.”

-- with files from CTV News Montreal's Amy Luft.