Chinatown community members disapprove of the planned REM de L’est project

From cloaking the majority of Chinatown to possible rent hikes, community members voice their concerns over the rail project

The planned REM de l’Est station is of concern to many community organizations in Montreal’s Chinatown. The station is to be constructed on a vacant plot of land on the corner of René-Lévesque Blvd. and St-Laurent Blvd.  Advocates fear that the project will dwarf the already dwindling cultural hub.

CDPQ Infra released the plan for the $10-billion light-rail project to connect downtown Montreal to the city’s east end. Advocates say that the plan proposed by CDPQ Infra does not provide fluid integration of the station with the current infrastructure in Chinatown, cloaking the neighbourhood from the rest of Montreal.

Chinatown Working Group (CWG) member Donny Seto fears that this project will hinder Chinatown’s evolution. “We don’t want a mothball Chinatown, we want to make sure to grow it as a cultural site and a heritage site.”

CDPQ Infra released their first iteration of the REM de L’est project last year, which was met with criticism from community organizations. CWG sent a letter to CDPQ Infra voicing their concerns regarding items that were listed on the project. The newly released design plan did not only disregard the concerns of the CWG, but CDPQ Infra never replied to the aforementioned letter.

“Many of the same concerns we had then are still true now.  Many of the changes that the CDPQ made to the REM line have been basically beautification and some reinforcement in terms of greenspace. Not much of the design has changed,” Seto said.

CWG would like to have a voice at the table when discussing potential changes to the project. One of the changes to the track the CWG wants to propose is for the line to continue underground and resurface past Chinatown to preserve the community’s historical significance, all while avoiding being shaded by the proposed train infrastructure. “If it’s built the way it’s designed right now, the northern part of Chinatown from Jeanne-Mance all the way to St-Laurent will be completely walled off,” Seto explained.

The two vacant plots of land reserved for the project are currently privately owned. Despite the community’s granted heritage protection status from the Quebec government, construction has been granted to the site. Community members like Winston Chan, a member of the Inclusive Revitalization: Present and Future of Chinatown committee, noted that the community has proposed different usages for the land at an action plan consultation hosted by the city of Montreal.

“The community asked for the remaining lot to have either affordable housing, a cultural centre, or a place to help independent small merchants,” Chan said. Participants of the meeting hosted last June listed both vacant lots and buildings, as well as a portion of the neighbourhood hemmed by large urban barriers, as concerns at the consultation.

In a statement sent to The Concordian, the city of Montreal established that the vacant land does have heritage protection status by the Quebec government; however, the government has granted construction on the land. “[Both plots of land] are part of the National Monument protection area and certain works are subject to authorization under the Cultural Heritage Act (LPC).”

The primary concern for business owners and tenants alike, who spoke on the condition of anonymity with The Concordian, was that they are at the mercy of drastic rent price hikes and increasing land costs if the station is constructed according to the current plans.

Chan believes this will impact many vulnerable members of the community.

“Most of Chinatown’s residents are senior citizens, most of them are of Chinese origin and would not be able to afford an increase in real estate value. It would also affect the merchants, the ‘mom and pop’ shops as well,” Chan said.

Chan and organizations like the CWG don’t want history to repeat itself and cause displacement, including diminishing community size, something they’ve already encountered in the latter portion of the 20th century. “There was already a lot of land that had been affected in the area. Plans like [the] Ville Marie highway, Palais des congrès, they had also built the Guy Favreau Complex and the Desjardins Complex. It affected one third of the land and removed 80 per cent of the people there. There’s not much left,” said Chan.

On March 17 the CDPQ Infra delayed the project due to environmental complaints from multiple organizations including the city of Montreal. More details are yet to come.

Photo Courtesy of Gabriel Guindi


“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

O Canada… Whose home and native land?

Canada is finally breaking the silence around anti-Asian racism

Ever since I’ve been old enough to recognize patterns of race and gender-based discrimination in society, my mother has denied being a victim of either of those things.

My Taiwanese mother immigrated here over 20 years ago. Single-handedly, after only a few years of living here, she had bought a house and started taking French classes offered by the Quebec government’s immigrant integration services — the fourth language she would be learning after Hokkien, Mandarin, and English.

I’ve witnessed her being talked down to by bureaucrats at government offices and had countless store employees turn to face me to answer a question she had asked, sometimes with a look on their face that was asking me to relate to their deliberate misunderstanding of her Chinese accent. As a teenager, I remember looking at my sister as we drove past someone who had just yelled out a racial slur and commented on our mom’s driving. I’ve never rolled up my window so fast. To this day, I’m still glad she didn’t hear it.

And yet, despite all this, my mom is probably the person I know who is the most optimistic about the social climate of Canada; she’s never let her optimism and gratitude towards the country be clouded by microaggressions and negativity.

I was on exchange in Singapore when COVID first hit, when the western world was busy making coronavirus memes instead of planning ahead for an inevitable pandemic. And one day, on a WhatsApp call with my mom, as I was telling her I was okay and was monitoring my temperature every day, she told me she didn’t want to go out too much because there were increasing reports of anti-Chinese violence in Chinatown. She told me there was a lot of racism around Montreal those days.

To say the least, that made me terrified.

East Asians are often dubbed the “model minority”: they have the benefit of a skin tone fairer than other ethnicities’. Some have even said they don’t fall into the “people of colour” category.

And the stereotypes associated with being East Asian, including academic excellence, obedience, bring really good at martial arts, and eating dogs are frankly not as harmful as being associated with inherent violence, terrorism, and drug addiction.

They also experience discrimination to a lesser degree than other visible minorities; Chinese people in Canada only earn 91 cents for every dollar a white person makes, which is far higher than for, say, Black people, for whom this number is 73 cents.

Yet, the model minority attribution becomes especially toxic when it comes as an excuse to dismiss anti-Asian racism on the belief that Asian people don’t stand up for themselves or fight back. It takes advantage of Asian stereotypes being associated with silence and endurance to double down on bullying, microaggressions, theft, and violence.

In my view, this is why we never heard about anti-Asian hate crimes until the numbers shot up by over 700 per cent in the past year, like the Vancouver Police Department has reported. In Canada alone, community-based groups have reported over 600 cases of racial aggression against Asian people since the start of the spread of COVID-19. In the first four months of 2020, 95 per cent of reported incidents happened in March and April, as the country entered lockdown.

Our generation is pretty good at recognizing and calling out discrimination when we see it, and especially taking a stand against it. But the state of anti-Asian racism in Canada has gotten so bad that even my mother, who has always had so much faith in this country, has noticed and become apprehensive because of it. For a second-generation immigrant, it’s almost worse than seeing your mom cry.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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