Screenshot via TVA.
Whenever I think about Saguenay—a bucolic region five hours north of Montreal—I remember swimming, almost drowning in Lake St-Jean, and trying to wash purple stains off my fingers after stuffing myself with the best blueberries in Quebec. But now Saguenay’s status as one of the most stunning and friendly regions in the province is slowly giving way to a nasty racist reputation.
Last week, controversial stickers started popping up around Chicoutimi—one of Saguenay’s biggest boroughs—that said (in French): “0% halal, 0% kosher, 100% Québécois." The stickers were distributed by a well-known xenophobic organization called Fédération des Québécois de Souche (FQS), which roughly translates to “old-stock Quebecois” (read: pureblood Quebs). The FQS has not responded to VICE’s request for an interview, but their website claims that the driving force behind their campaign of hatred stems from one very serious problem: these religious groups are disrupting and negatively influencing one of the most sacred of all Quebec institutions: the maple syrup sugar shack. Wait, what?
The site goes on to talk about the restrictive halal and kosher certifications of food, as well as one instance in 2007 where one sugar shack had to prepare halal chicken to accommodate paying customers who (gasp!) happened to be Muslim. This obviously validates distributing racist stickers around a neighborhood populated mostly by foreign students and immigrants, right?
To make matters worse, a few days after the sticker incident, spray painted signs which read “Ville Saguenay, Ville Blanche” (Saguenay, a white town) were posted at the entrance of the city by anonymous individuals. The FQS denies being behind this, but Christian Bélanger from Coexister Saguenay, an organization aimed at creating a dialogue between people from differents faiths, finds it hard to believe both incidents aren’t related. “It’s like saying there’s a noted pyromaniac standing next to a fire holding a gas tank in his hand," Bélanger said. “But swearing he’s not responsible.”
While it’s unclear if the signs and stickers came from the same, racist and bigoted minds, they do follow a series of unfortunate events that have occurred in La Belle province recently. A halal butcher in Sherbrooke was vandalized in February, a mosque in Gatineau was also targeted, and of course there’s that time a Moroccan-born Quebec businessman was arrested for being a terrorist after excitedly telling his co-workers that he was going to “blow away the competition” at a telecoms tradeshow. Specifically in the Saguenay, in February 2013, the FQS was caught distributing leaflets denouncing mass immigration and multiculturalism, claiming that immigration posed a threat to our national identity.
A few months later, a local mosque was splattered with pig’s blood. The vandals left a note which read in part: "You just moved here to our country to flee dictators, war, violence, hatred, and death to live happily and in good health away from all you left. Why do you come to this country if it's not to change the way you were living?" To show that not all Saguenay residents were pig blood-spraying racists, some locals gathered the following Friday to hold a vigil in support of the Muslim community.
While the FQS is openly recruiting new militants to help out the pureblood Quebecois cause on their Facebook page, locals are getting worried that their town is getting an unfair reputation for being super racist. However, Christian Bélanger doesn’t believe the situation is becoming worse in Saguenay. “People here are just like the rest of Quebec and the rest of the world,” he said. “We are not perfect, but racism and intolerance are not part of our culture.”