“It’s about time”: Historic municipal debate takes place in Montreal’s Chinatown

On Saturday, municipal candidates go head-to-head in Montreal’s famous and neglected neighbourhood

This past Saturday, Montreal’s Chinese community had their voices heard in the first-ever municipal debate in Chinatown. With the municipal election coming up on Nov. 7, participants and candidates discussed solutions to protect the last Chinatown in Quebec.

On Oct. 16, the Progressive Chinese of Quebec (CPQ), Chinese Family Service of the Greater Montreal Area (CFS) and the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) hosted the debate in the Chinese Community & Cultural Centre of Montreal on Clark St. at 11:30 a.m. Almost 100 community members of all ages poured into the conference room, with media organizations interviewing them at every corner.

The goal of the debate was to hold the municipal government accountable for the responsibility of Chinatown. CWG member and event organizer May Chiu expressed her excitement for this historical debate. “We’re hoping that community members will come out and ask questions to the candidates and get them to commit to their promises,” she said.

Community members were overwhelmed with emotion as they felt recognized by the municipal government. “It’s about time,”* activist Janet Lumb told The Concordian. “We’ve been fighting for many years to have the recognition and acknowledgement [from the municipal government] of the fact there are some serious issues that need to be confronted and dealt with,” she explained.

Candidates who were present include Mouvement Montréal’s mayoral candidate Balarama Holness, Ensemble Montréal’s candidate councillor Aref Salem, Projet Montréal’s Robert Beaudry, and Action Montréal’s candidate councillor Robert Sévigny along with Jean-Christophe Trottier, who left the debate before it started, due to his refusal to comply with health safety guidelines.

Throughout the pandemic, Montreal’s Chinese and other Asian communities experienced a rise in hate crimes, ranging from vandalism, robbery and physical assaults. In addition, most of Chinatown’s properties are at risk of gentrification and businesses are struggling to make ends meet. Around 108,000 Montrealers claim Chinese ancestry, with many more a part of the general Asian community.

Last year, Mayor Valérie Plante proposed an action plan to help preserve and improve the cultural integrity of Chinatown by adding more green spaces in the area, increasing pedestrian access to the neighbourhood and building social and affordable housing units.

The debate began at 12 p.m. with words of appreciation by May Chiu and the Tiohtià:ke land acknowledgement in French and English, followed by the Mandarin and Cantonese translations.

The two-hour debate covered five topics:

  • Protecting Chinatown’s heritage
  • Social and racial justice
  • Arts and culture
  • Climate justice
  • Economic development

In Holness’ introduction speech, he discussed his familiarity with the neighbourhood and his appreciation of Chinese culture by retelling his memories of visiting Chinatown as a child and living in China. He also threw in a couple of words of Mandarin, which took the audience by surprise.

Holness said Movement Montréal would establish a registry in the neighbourhood where businesses receive wage subsidies and tax breaks for their rent to protect Chinatown’s roughly 150 businesses, emulating similar initiatives used in San Francisco for its Chinatown and other heritage sites, he argued. 

Ultimately, Holness concluded that the debate helps people “collectively improve the lives and livelihoods of Chinatown.”

Projet Montréal’s Beaudry said Valérie Plante’s party has close relations with arts and cultural organizations to help boost financing BIPOC art programs in the neighbourhood, as communities continue to face funding disparity from the provincial government. This initiative supports the cultural integrity of the neighbourhood.

He said the decisions made in Chinatown should go through the Chinese community first. “We want you to show us what you want to happen in Chinatown. It’s not a top-down situation, it’s a bottom-up situation.”

Salem said Ensemble Montréal will implement social housing for the homeless shelter near Chinatown, as well as provide social resource centres throughout the neighbourhood. “We need social housing [to] bring more people to this part of the city and we need to have some cultural events in the city so people can visit, and live, here in peace and harmony,” he added.

Action Montreal’s Sévigny mentioned protecting the environment, regarding the neighbourhood’s demand for green spaces in public and private areas. Before being required to leave the debate, Trottier said they will demand the provincial government to grant Chinatown as a heritage site, improve the infrastructure of Chinatown and impose stricter bylaws to prevent further construction, as well as creating a better dynamic with the Chinese community.


Photograph by Mohammed Khan


Reflecting on Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, 15 years later

Amy Winehouse’s second studio album displayed the English singer at her most vulnerable.

Amy Winehouse’s second and final studio album, Back to Black, highlighted a shift in her image. She traded in her argyle sweatshirt aesthetic and pop sensibilities for an edgy, Motown twist, sporting her towering beehive hairdo and signature winged liner as an ode to The Ronettes. Fifteen years after its release, the album is still a harrowing look at what could’ve been.

During Back To Black’s creation process, Winehouse was dealing with personal issues. Her dark experiences translated into songs dealing with heartbreak (“Back To Black,” “Love Is A Losing Game”), addiction (“Rehab”), depression (“He Can Only Hold Her”), romance (“Some Unholy War,” “Just Friends”), and moving on from a messy relationship (“Tears Dry On Their Own”). Despite the album’s melancholic songs, she nevertheless included songs that showcased her comedic side on songs such as “Addicted” and “Me & Mr. Jones” (“What kind of f***kery is this?”), providing a range of emotions to immerse listeners into her world.

In hindsight, the album transforms her demise into a piece of art that continues to be celebrated and listened to 15 years later. The songs present sorrowful thoughts of what could’ve been if Winehouse had sought help and surrounded herself with people who would get her on the right path. Even after all this time, the album still evokes feelings of both emptiness and hope. Despite the pain surrounding Winehouse’s passing, her music has aged like fine wine.

In “Rehab,” the sound of powerful brass instruments drowns out her cry for help as she recounts a conversation she had between her record label and her family concerning her drug and alcohol addiction (“And if my daddy thinks I’m fine … I don’t ever wanna drink again / I just, oh, I just need a friend”). Despite the upbeat melody and her comedic songwriting, this line is almost as if she was dismissing her addiction.

“Back To Black” captures Winehouse’s grief over her breakup with her partner, Blake Fielder-Civil. She reminisces about memories of Blake until he started dating another girl, making Winehouse fall back into depression (“You go back to her and I go back to black”). Her poetic lyricism showcases the artist’s sorrow and longing for her lover, spiralling Winehouse into her self-destructive cycle of drinking and drug usage.

I was 11 when news broke out regarding Winehouse’s death. All I saw on TV was her lifeless body carried out of her home while hearing her fans wail in the background. I didn’t know who she was at the time, but her passing got me curious about why she was celebrated. When I gave Back To Black a listen, I never thought that I would fall in love with jazz music and create an emotional bond with her. To lose a rare artist like her was devastating because she was an innovative artist who had impeccable lyricism and pushed the boundaries of music.

Not only did I fall in love with her music, but her overall persona. Amy challenged the monolithic perspective of how female artists ought to behave. She had an authentic personality, a snappy sense of humour, and a bold attitude — pretty rare for a female artist in the late 2000s.

When the music industry was forcing the innocent girl-next-door image on female pop artists, such as Britney Spears, Brandy and Christina Aguilera, Winehouse dismantled that image and allowed her uniqueness to shine through. She created her own identity; she showed the world who she was and reflected that through her songs.

Winehouse’s authenticity paved the path for other artists to create their own identity and sound, such as Adele, Jorja Smith, and Lana Del Rey, who all drew inspiration from Back To Black. In 2016, Adele performed a tribute during a concert in Boston, commemorating Winehouse’s 33rd birthday. She shared a story with her audience about how Winehouse inspired her to compose her own songs and stay authentic. “I feel like I owe 90 per cent of my career to her,” she recounted.

Winehouse accomplished so much throughout her short career: winning six Grammys, releasing her record label, Lioness Records, and singing a duet with her idol, Tony Bennett. Winehouse’s cultural prominence solidified after she was inaugurated in the “27 Club,” along with prominent artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.

Since her death, Winehouse became a cautionary tale in conversations about mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse in public discourse. Back To Black revealed the darkness that lurked within Winehouse and gave us a glimpse inside her world. Although she was suffering in silence, her music continues to capture her talent and her soul’s essence.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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