We are the voice of the people

A Montreal homeless shelter coordinator shares his experience working during the peak of the Omicron wave.

When John Tessier first visited The Open Door seven years ago, he was a drug addict searching for a sense of direction. What he didn’t realize was how much the homeless shelter would change his life, or that he would end up serving the community he once was part of.

Tessier began volunteering for The Open Door seven years ago. “We have a reputation of doing things a little differently,” said Tessier, the centre’s coordinator. “We build a relationship with the people that we serve.”

The Open Door is a homeless shelter and drop-in centre located in downtown Montreal, Quebec for low-income individuals. The shelter also offers various other services like counselling, referrals to mental health professionals, and drug addiction counselors.

Walking up Park Ave, where The Open Door is located, you would never think there is a homeless shelter right in front of you. The shelter is in the basement of a church — not easily spotted by the naked eye.

When someone first arrives at The Open Door, they must go down two flights of stairs until they are eventually greeted by volunteers at the front desk. 

Afterwards, the volunteers accompany the clients to either a bed, the kitchen area to get something to eat, or a shower. There are many showering stations around the shelter providing access to shampoo, soap, and other personal hygiene products. 

Before becoming the centre’s coordinator, Tessier was an Open Door client. “I was a drug addict and I needed services as well,” he said.

“After I allowed myself to get straightened out, I wanted to give back. I started to volunteer, and a job opened up.”

Tessier’s day-to-day activities at the shelter are always different. “There is no standard day, I coordinate the entire centre. With the intervention team, we might be accompanying people to court,” Tessier explained. “Right now, one of our long-time users is in the hospital at the rehab centre. One of our team leaders is there with her, helping her get set-up and figure out what her next steps are.”

The pandemic shifted the usual routine at the shelter, as The Open Door couldn’t accommodate as many people as usual. With the tighter living quarters at the shelter, sanitary measures became of utmost importance. The volunteers and staff were equipped with gear such as N95 masks, goggles, gloves, and more. 

The Omicron wave has made Tessier more aware of the issues in this community. In particular, the challenges of how Montreal’s shelters are at over-capacity.  He recalled the shelter experiencing waves of Omicron infections during the first few weeks of January 2022. This was a very difficult time, even with the isolation period only being five days for essential workers who caught the virus.

Despite the challenges, Tessier said that The Open Door staff remain resilient. When the Omicron wave hit the shelter, everyone still came to work, even when the virus seemed to be getting worse by the minute. “I commend the volunteers who were still coming in here,” said Tessier.

“This Omicron wave hit us, and a lot of places had to reduce their capacity,” said Tessier. 

On Jan. 10, 2022, CTV news published an article about a 74-year old homeless man who died in the freezing cold. The news of this tragic death sparked up a lot of debate among Montrealers. “It’s so sad and heartbreaking,” said Tessier in response to the news.

“This is ridiculous and tragic that this happened,” said James Hughes, the president and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission.  “In many ways it shouldn’t be surprising, but it is still shocking.”

Hughes explained that the Old Brewery Mission – one of the largest resources for homeless people in Quebec – experienced a tough January this year. Almost reaching full capacity, the shelter has been unable to accommodate as many as they would have liked. In order to do so, Hughes and his team had to turn to large soccer stadiums. During the period of Jan. 13 to Feb. 6, 2022, the Old Brewery Mission was set up at the State de soccer de Montréal. Since then they have been able to stabilize.

A lot of people that come to the Old Brewery Mission only seek their services and do not want to stay overnight, explained Hughes. “A lot of people just say no, I don’t want to stay here for a long time, I am just hungry and I want to warm up.”  

“We expect [the unhoused people] to work with a counsellor and work on a housing plan,” said Hughes. “We’re trying to reduce homelessness above everything else.”

Creating long-term housing plans is one of the main goals that The Open Door shelter works towards with their clients. 

“We have an Inuit specific housing program. However, we only have 16 spots in that program,” said Tessier. As a result, there is a long waiting list. 

Projet Logement Montréal (PLM), a housing program that seeks to help house homeless people get apartments, recently made an offer to The Open Door in January 2022 to help support their clients with a more long-term housing plan. According to Tessier, the housing program offered The Open Door 25 spots for clients to join their program, so they could live in available apartments.

However, PLM is not a long-term housing solution. It helps unhoused people for up to three months, with their rent and utilities taken care of during that time. Afterwards, they are on their own. 

“There is not enough funding to put people into long-term housing, and that is the main issue,” said Tessier.  “If we had around 50 spots with the Inuit housing program that would be great, but since we don’t the waiting list gets long.” 

According to Tessier, implementing a transitional house could be a potential solution. In the transitional housing, the unhoused people would have continuous support from the intervention workers until they have a stable living situation. 

“A lot of the centres in the city feel institutionalized and that’s why people won’t go to them,” said Tessier. Most people that come through the shelter do not want to feel forced to adhere to a certain set of regulations. “They do not want to feel like they are in a jail or a hospital.” 

Due to the various services that The Open Door offers, such as food and clothing, laundry services, shelter during the day, counselling, and referrals to professional mental health and drug addiction, more people tend to want more of those services. 

For Shawn MacIsaac, a client and volunteer at The Open Door, the shelter offers him options that he has not seen at others. “I was referred to The Open Door by a friend of mine, who was a full-time volunteer, and he told me that they offered only vegetarian meals, which was great for me because I am a vegetarian,” said MacIsaac. 

The Open Door is staying afloat thanks to the volunteers who work there and the people in the Montreal community who make generous donations.

When Victoria Kalisky, a political science student at McGill University, first read the headline about the death of a homeless man outside in the cold, she was motivated to start a GoFundMe campaign. Kalisky wanted to raise money to help homeless people in Montreal gain better access  to winter coats. Since the beginning of January 2022, Kalisky has managed to donate over 150 winter jackets to The Open Door. 

The shelter receives winter jackets that are lightly worn and second-hand, according to Tessier. However, receiving new, much-needed winter gear hits differently.  

“It is just a whole different feeling when we give someone something brand new with the tags still on it,” said Tessier. “The smiles that we see when we are able to give people that are amazing.”

“The secret to this type of work is building up trust and treating people as if they are family. We haven’t lost many workers here because when you walk away from this place, it’s like you are walking away from people you truly care about,” said Tessier.

Daphnée Dunleavy has worked as an intervention worker at the Open Door since August 2021. Central to their role, intervention workers provide guidance and support to the people inside the shelter. “I find it’s a really important experience because you are dealing with people who basically have nothing.”

At The Open Door, Dunleavy can be seen helping people around from her spot at the front desk. Clients come to her with their questions. 

As Dunleavy works the front desk, MacIsaac volunteers at the breakfast service shift in the kitchen. 

“I start at six in the morning, with the breakfast service, like today I made the oatmeal that we are serving,” MacIsaac explained.  

Part of Dunleavy’s motivations for working at the shelter are to combat dehumanizing stereotypes of homeless people. When someone starts working at The Open Door, they begin to understand what kind of a community exists at the shelter, she explained. “Everyone knows each other, it’s really amazing.” 

Hughes said that the best way to help one another during challenging times is by getting together in big groups, donating clothes, and starting food drives.

“When you do see a homeless person, just go out and say, ‘Hey how are you doing today?’” said Hughes. “Acknowledge them, they are humans above everything else.”

With spring around the corner, homelessness is still an ongoing issue. 

“Homelessness doesn’t start in December and end in March,” said Hughes. “We need innovative solutions all the time.”

Photo by James Fay


Homeless Deaths In the Past Month Highlight a Flawed System that Needs Reform, According to Some Experts

Organizations supporting the homeless in Montreal say they lack funding and resources

Hugo, a homeless person for over seven years, roams the streets of Montreal. As the frost-covered snow treads under his boots on Ontario St. in Hochelaga, each step leads him to an undetermined destination. Though he’s currently refuged on a hidden street corner in a “non-declared shelter” to avoid the frigid temperature, he tends to avoid legitimate centres, fearing not only the loss of his autonomy but also not having access to the varying services he so desperately needs. “There are things that we need that are not allowed in shelters. When we need to take care of our morale, sometimes we hastily move to illegal aid even if we don’t have a choice.”

 Limited capacities and service closures at shelters stemming from Omicron have steered some homeless people back to the streets.

On top of this, January has not been forgiving towards people who have either chosen or who have been refused access to shelters, as two homeless people have died within the past month. Those nights frigid temperatures dropped to -25 degrees Celsius.

 Centres everywhere are feeling the constraints caused by Omicron. Welcome Hall Mission’s CEO Sam Watts can attest that organizations less fortunate than his own are feeling the effects, such as a lack of funding and resources. “There are a lot of organizations that have had to reel in their activities, in some cases shut down permanently or temporarily and who’ve struggled to supply adequate services for people in need.”  

  According to Mobilizing for Milton-Parc founder Sophie Hart, some shelters closed due to a lack of preparation for Omicron. “Shelters are congregated settings. Everyone eats together and sleeps in close proximity of each other.” 

This setting creates a higher risk of transmissibility, prompting shelters to limit admissions. “[The] services they use when they need support are having to limit what they can offer,” Hart said. She’s personally dealt with people who are scared to catch Omicron.

 Jocelyn is another person that has dealt with homelessness for roughly six months. Having many health problems, he hesitates to admit himself into a shelter solely due to his fear of catching COVID. “People in shelters don’t take care of their hygiene and end up with bacteria, microbes, and viruses,” he said. “I’d rather be out in the cold with a candle than die of COVID.”

 According to Watts, there are two main reasons why some prefer autonomous living. One reason is based on some people exhibiting independence as a character trait, and another relates to the notion of social connectedness. 

“One of the reasons people fall into homelessness is due to a loss of social connectivity, if you don’t have that network anymore you have lost that ability to connect into the system,” said Watts.

 The rules put in place in shelters across Montreal have people like Hugo think twice about administering themselves into centres for help. “You have to be in accordance with the social workers whose job it is to fill in their own responsibilities for your safety.”

 Though there are challenges regarding a “loss of freedom” that some people in shelters complain of, Watts considers these less like rules, and rather, expectations on how to behave within a shelter. “When you’re living in any kind of community setting, there are expectations people have,” Watts said. “A lot of people don’t like to live under certain norms and expectations and choose to live on the outside.”

 Though two deaths outside of shelters are already too many, Watts believes that these outcomes are a product of an already flawed system that must welcome reform. Both Hart and Watts believe that a more tailored system is needed in order to accommodate the many varying needs and problems homeless people face. “What we should move towards are services for a variety of people,” Hart said. “There has to be services created for everybody in mind,” 

 According to Watts, the way in which people are currently cared for are based on principles of charity that must modernize within the 21st century. “It’s a handout, it’s ‘here take this,’ and then come back tomorrow and we’ll give you the same thing again.”

 What Watts proposes is a system of “urban healthcare” that mirrors the steps one would experience when going to the hospital. “You’re registered, you’re triaged, you’re evaluated, a bunch of questions are asked of you, the healthcare professionals understand what the issue is, and chances are you get moved onto some other place in the hospital network where you can get the care that you need,” Watts said.

 Watts is optimistic that a well connected, properly funded network will improve not only transparency between shelters and the homeless population, but also help them improve upon their situation. “Not that homelessness will disappear, but somebody who is experiencing homelessness will not have to wander around for months or years in a network of disconnected, charitably-oriented organizations to get care. They’ll be part of a continuum of care that actually seeks to help a person to get from A to B to C.”


Photo by Kaitlynn Rodney

Put your money where your heart is

The case against The Salvation Army — and who should replace it

I think I speak for everyone when I say this year has been rough. On top of the COVID-19 crisis, the political vicissitudes we’ve witnessed have raised awareness about supporting nonprofits and charities who share our principles.

Notwithstanding the many holidays in the upcoming weeks, the end of the year as a whole has been associated with giving back. So if you are able to contribute to a charity, I have one request to make: don’t donate to The Salvation Army, and don’t shop at their stores.

Over the years, The Salvation Army has been at the centre of every possible kind of accusation. Their conservative mission has caused many to call them out on their abusive and discriminatory practices.

Most notoriously, they have vocally been against gay and trans issues. They have refused or forfeited housing to homeless LGBTQ people and maintained their religious stance against same-sex relationships and have a history of refusing to comply with anti-discrimination policies. They even held campaigns encouraging gay people to seek out conversion therapy.

The list of this organization’s wrongdoings goes on and on. Their workfare programs in the United Kingdom, a form of welfare in which people have to work in order to continue receiving benefits, have been heavily criticized for forcing people with disabilities — or anyone, really — to work in order not to lose their means of survival.

A homeless woman who stayed at a Salvation Army shelter has described the insalubrious conditions she lived in and the horrific behaviour of employees, calling out an environment that fosters abuse of power from the part of the organization’s workers.

All this under the pretext of the benevolence of Christianity.

This being said, if you would like to contribute to important causes, here are some other charities, both local and international, that you should consider helping out:

Resilience Montreal and Native Women’s Shelter

This charity is a good alternative to The Salvation Army if you want to fund a homeless shelter. They provide mental support, food, and medical resources to the community, and if you’re unable to give money, they sometimes collect donations of clothing and food. Native Women’s shelter is a branch of Resilience that specifically gives support to vulnerable Indigenous women.

Chez Doris

This is another women’s shelter with a similar mission to Resilience. They also offer legal services and advice to those who may not have access to a lawyer.

Afrique au féminin

This centre provides support and encourages the emancipation of immigrant and racialized women in Montreal. They hold classes, workshops, communal activities, and even daycare services to help women integrate into their community and regain their independence.

Mona Relief Yemen

The Yemeni crisis has left millions in urgent need of shelter, food, and even clean water. Mona Relief works directly with communities to respond to their needs, and ensures the least amount of resources are wasted on administration and intermediaries. They’ll also periodically send email updates and pictures from their projects, so you can really follow who your money helps.

3 Angels Nepal 

Through preventive measures, 3 Angels works to fight human trafficking in Nepal, where mostly women and children are smuggled across the border to India. Their projects ensure the safety of victims, and provide resources like microcredit and education to help victims reintegrate into society independently.

These are my personal picks, but I hope they help you look for organizations that speak more to your personal values, and encourage you to support important causes.


 Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Adapting to serve the community: a look into the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal

How front-line staff at the shelter have dealt with the outbreak and overcome challenges

The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) has had to overcome several hurdles to adapt to the pandemic, and to continue to provide a safe home for Indigenous women in need.

While Executive Director Nakuset has normally been the one to represent the shelter to the public, The Concordian was given access to the shelter in order to report on the front-line workers who support the community.

“[The clients] trust us,” said Anita Metallic, residential support worker at the NWSM, a job that entails admitting new clients and managing services for them. The Native shelter is the only Indigenous women’s shelter in the city. Metallic explains that it’s a safe haven for the community.

“[At] a non-Native shelter, they don’t feel as comfortable, or even sometimes as welcomed.”

According to a survey by Statistics Canada, Indigenous women and children make up 70 per cent of clients in Indigenous shelters, and 20 per cent in non-Indigenous shelters.

In contrast, Indigenous women only represent four per cent of the population of women in Canada, and Indigenous children are eight per cent of the population of children.

Almost three quarters of Indigenous women who sought shelter did so because of abuse, and to protect their children from violence.

Residential support worker at the NWSM Anita Metallic helps to admit new clients and manage different services for them at the shelter.

“I look at them as my sisters and as warriors … [the women are] incredibly strong and resilient to last that long. It’s one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve done,” said Metallic.

The NWSM building has four different levels. Bedrooms fill the top two floors, the main floor includes the kitchen, administration office, and socializing spaces, and the basement has some bedrooms and storage. In total, there are 13 private bedrooms.

“But right now we’re very limited because of COVID,” said Metallic.

Pre-pandemic, all the bedrooms could be safely occupied, and the shelter could hold up to 23 clients, with mothers able to bring their children. Now, the top floor, called the “hot floor,” is where new clients quarantine for two weeks before moving to their designated bedrooms. If all the quarantine rooms are occupied, the shelter cannot admit new clients.

Clients are housed for up to three months at the NWSM. During their stay, the women must look for permanent housing.

If no housing is found, staff can refer clients to another shelter. The NWSM has a three-months-in-six-months-out rule, meaning clients can return after six months outside of the shelter — but clients aren’t abandoned once they leave.

“We don’t just say, ‘okay, bye’ — we will make sure that they’re okay,” says Metallic. Staff keep in touch with the women to know if they need additional services, or if they should plan on welcoming them back.

Marina LeRoy, relief worker at the NWSM, says the shelter has experienced an increase in clients since the pandemic began.

“COVID has been a little bit harder for some families, and we’ve had a few more kids than maybe we would normally,” said LeRoy.

Even as other shelters closed during the beginning of the pandemic in March, the NWSM stayed open. Staff knew the high risk of contracting the virus at the time, but did not want to abandon the task of serving women who found themselves in difficult situations.

“We knew there was a really high probability we were going to get sick and we were comfortable with that,” said LeRoy, adding, “we feel this responsibility to stay open for the women and make sure that we can keep them safe.”

The risk of contamination was high not only because workers came in contact with several people in a closed environment, but because the shelter had no government support for equipment and cleaning services to appropriately accommodate their clients.

Marina LeRoy, relief worker at the NWSM, showing one of the bedrooms.

For two months, the shelter faced great challenges as they adapted to constantly changing health safety guidelines with little to no supplies. Four younger workers–who are at less risk of developing complications from the virus–worked at the shelter overtime. LeRoy was one of those staff members.

As with other industries, she describes how, in the beginning, they had no clear guidelines on how to deal with the virus. From navigating difficult traumas some of the women faced, some with suicidal thoughts confined in their room, and trying to help mothers with their children, Leroy said it was extremely difficult.

“It was a very isolating time,” she said.

Clients had to remain in their rooms at all times while staff members delivered meals to their doors three times a day. All of the services usually provided, like mental health support and help with personal needs like medical appointments, couldn’t be given from March to June.

“We were limited in the services we could actually provide for them, and I think a lot of us took that to heart because it felt like our mandate was not completely fulfilled,” said LeRoy, adding that, “it was heartbreaking.”

“It became a job where often we had to cater to basic needs and it was very difficult to kind of promote the womens’ well being and make sure that their mental health was okay,” said LeRoy.

It was only when an outbreak occurred in mid-May, two months after the start of the pandemic, that the requested supplies and services were provided. For two weeks, staff quarantined at home while clients were housed in a hotel.

Now, the shelter is running smoothly compared to the experience during the initial lockdown. Staff practice social distancing while moving around the shelter and there’s a limit to the number of people who can be in a room. There are curfews, specific mealtimes, and a “clean house” policy is enforced, with drug and alcohol use prohibited.

In the basement, the walk-in storage closet is lined with miscellaneous supplies, boxes and bags for the women. Among the most donated items are period products and bath supplies, and  LeRoy says the shelter is always in need of good running shoes (in any size) and winter coats.

In fact, everything provided in the shelter is entirely funded by community donations. This year, all their fundraising efforts will be online.

One of the cooks at the shelter, Rhonda Beaulieu, relaxing outside on her work break.

One of the cooks at the shelter, Rhonda Beaulieu, says she has wanted to work at an Indigenous organization since moving to Montreal from Manitoba three years ago.

With over 15 months cooking experience at the shelter, Thompson’s motives are quite clear: “I want to serve my people … I know what they’re going through.”

Thompson said she’s been through an abusive marriage, but has since left that relationship. She says her experience has helped her to connect and relate with women who face the same hardships.

The shelter provides help for a variety of different needs, from medical appointments, filing for ID, help with youth protection services, mental health support, and more.

Having an advocate is fundamental to Indigenous women’s safety in several of these institutions, according to many of the workers at the shelter.

When asked about Joyce Echaquan’s death at Joliette hospital, LeRoy said no one was surprised, as there are “certain hospitals in Montreal we know to not bring clients to.”

“If I get in an ambulance and they tell me about the availability, I have to fight for them to go to different hospitals because I will not have a woman admitted in the hospital where we know that there’s discrimination and racism, because it’s really counterproductive to them actually getting the help that they need,” said LeRoy.

LeRoy has witnessed Indigenous women who are diagnosed with cancer adamantly refuse to go to the hospital. She has also witnessed this behaviour among women who have been sexually assaulted and need medical attention.

Family care worker Camille Panneton says she advocates for Indigenous women who are involved with youth protection services.

“Nothing can make them go to the hospital because of the discrimination that they faced and the violence that they face there,” said LeRoy.

Staff who accompany Indigenous women to medical appointments help to advocate for their needs and monitor their treatment. Even so, LeRoy has witnessed medical staff demean clients and refuse to give treatment.

“You hit so many barriers no matter how hard you work to promote their well being,” said LeRoy.

Women are also helped with any youth protection-related services they require. Family care worker Camille Panneton accompanies women to their appointments, and says Indigenous women also face obstacles in the youth protection system.

“I advocate for them. There’s a lot of problems and flaws in the system,” she said.

She makes sure mothers are treated equally. She’s witnessed the clients being mistreated and talked down to in a condescending and confrontational manner. Ultimately, she describes an environment where Indigenous women don’t receive a fair treatment.

“They [youth protection services] don’t respect their rights,” Panneton said.

Despite the challenges, staff work to provide for all the women’s needs.

On the day The Concordian visited the shelter, the residents had begun beading in the afternoon. Multicoloured beads were spread over the table, and while they worked on different projects, they spoke and shared with each other. There was a calm atmosphere as staff left the room.

“This is their time,” said Metallic, “we give them their space.”


Photographs by Christine Beaudoin. Feature image is an artwork found in the entrance of the shelter.


New homeless shelter in downtown Montreal: a temporary solution to a deeper problem

The shelter’s opening became controversial following complaints from business owners

On Nov. 3, a temporary winter emergency shelter opened its doors at Hotel Place Dupuis in downtown Montreal. While the new overnight shelter raised concerns among local merchants, its operator believes the new location is not responsible for unlawful activity in the neighbourhood.

Located near the Berri-UQAM metro station, the overnight shelter will provide 380 beds for those who need a place to stay during the cold winter months. It is operated by Welcome Hall Mission, a charity organization that has been supporting Montrealers dealing with homelessness and poverty since 1892.

According to Samuel Watts, the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, the shelter’s opening was part of a broader plan for dealing with the reality of COVID-19, as well as the usual winter measures that are necessary in Montreal.

“We don’t want to have people out on the streets, especially in the cold weather,” said Watts in an interview with The Concordian.

However, despite providing a safe and warm place to spend the night, the shelter sparked tensions with the neighbourhood’s business owners. Sébastien Caron, co-owner of a Copper Branch restaurant located just three blocks away, believes that the project’s lack of supervision creates an unsafe environment in the area.

“Employees are afraid to come to work. The walk from the metro station to the restaurant is quite intimidating: they’re screaming and threatening us. Our customers tell me the same thing,” said Caron.

However, Watts said that the shelter cannot control what happens on the nearby streets, especially since drug trafficking and violence are not new to the area. In fact, the shelter is located across from Place Émilie-Gamelin, “a square that’s been nefarious for a variety of illegal activities for the past 25 years,” according to Watts.

Watts added, “It’s disingenuous for the merchants to suggest that the shelter is increasing and adding these problems that have long existed in the area.”

On Nov. 26, the temporary winter shelter welcomed 237 people to stay the night. Hotel Place Dupuis had over 100 available beds that day for anybody else who wished to stay at the shelter. For Watts, however, having a large capacity is not something he would consider an achievement.

Reducing the demand for such shelters and providing permanent affordable housing should be Montreal’s solution to homelessness, according to Watts. He added, “The notion that we need to continue building up the emergency shelter capacity is equal to insanity.”

Indeed, even with over 35 homeless shelters around the city, Montreal still faces a worrying homelessness problem. According to Mayor Valérie Plante, anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 Montrealers this year do not have a place they can call home.

Moreover, Plante announced that homelessness has recently become a more alarming issue.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve noticed that there’s more and more people that are actually in the streets,” said Plante while giving a tour of the shelter on its opening day.

Therefore, Watts believes that all parties — homeless organizations, business owners, and the government — should come together and collectively aim for solving this problem, especially since it became even more serious during the pandemic.

“What COVID-19 has taught us,” Watts explained, “is that there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There’s only us, and we have to find ways of working together.”

The Hotel Place Dupuis shelter will operate throughout the winter season until March 31, 2021.


Photograph by Kit Mergaert


Highlighting unseen animal cruelty in our city

How the election could help Quebec move towards a better system for animal welfare

Citizens of Montreal, we have a problem. It’s time we talked about how our city handles animal welfare because the current way is completely unacceptable.

Over the summer, news outlets went wild over the calèche horse that collapsed in the Old Port. I am the first to admit utilizing animal labour for our own monetary gain is horrible. But what about the animals we interact with on a daily basis? What about stray dogs and cats we see on the streets?

It starts with shelters. It’s great that we have them here in Montreal, however, the public is ignorant about how the city deals with shelters and animal services. Montreal is split into boroughs which are all responsible for their own dealings in animal services. To clarify, animal services can include things like how the boroughs deal with surrendered pets, strays and cleaning up roadkill. According to the Montreal SPCA website, their services include investigations and inspections, foster programs, lost and found animals and the TNRM program (trap-neuter-release-and-maintain) for stray cats.

In our city, animal services are taken care of either by the non-profit Montreal SPCA or the for-profit privately contracted and operated “shelter” Le Berger Blanc Inc. To differentiate, non-profits are mission-based and ultimately service the animals, whereas Le Berger Blanc wants to make money from adopting out animals.

Each borough in the city chooses either the Montreal SPCA or Le Berger Blanc in a sort of “bidding-war” to see who takes care of animal services. The provider who gives a better bid (less costly, offers certain services, etc.) is contracted and has full reign over animal services in that borough.

This system is incredibly out-dated and, according to former Minister of Agriculture Pierre Paradis in a Montreal Gazette article, “Quebec is about 20 years behind the rest of the civilized world” in terms of how the province deals with animal welfare. Not to mention our province is considered “the animal abuse capital of Canada,” according to the same article.

A large part of the problem is Le Berger Blanc Inc. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they were caught in a big scandal in 2011. A documentary was released showcasing an undercover Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA) worker’s time “employed” at Le Berger Blanc facilities, where he recorded the abuse and murder of animals at this so-called “shelter.”

The documentary, Le Mauvais Berger Blanc, was broadcasted by the Radio-Canada program Enquête, and honestly, the video is brutal. Throughout 26 minutes, you see footage of the mistreatment in these “shelters.” Workers blatantly lied to patrons searching for their lost pets, illegally performed euthanasia that caused animals pain and threw half-living animals into garbage bins. The director of the shelter, Pierre Couture, and his wife, Murielle De Lasalle—who is also Le Berger Blanc’s operations director—were confronted with the footage. They were in disbelief and supposedly unaware of their employees’ actions.

While the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association stipulates that euthanasia be conducted by a trained veterinarian in a manner “that is quick […] and causes the least possible pain and distress,” the documentary shows the exact opposite. In one case, footage captures a general employee at Le Berger Blanc euthanizing a dog by repeatedly stabbing it with a needle. In another case, a cat, whose lower torso is totally paralyzed, drags its legs across the floor in an effort to escape. Another cat runs hysterically back and forth in a cramped cage, and an employee laughs when the animal’s paralyzed leg gets caught in the cage’s bars. The expression of a dog standing among a sea of dead canine bodies as it waits for its turn still haunts me to this day.

Le Berger Blanc has changed for the better since the scandal in 2011. According to a Montreal Gazette editorial in February, strict new conditions specified that “healthy animals are not to be euthanized […], operations will be subject to spot checks and camera recordings must be made available upon request.”

But do we still want a corporation with such a history of animal cruelty to be responsible for our city’s animal services?

As a society, we need to re-evaluate how our city deals with animal services. Le Berger Blanc is not looking for long-term or big-picture solutions to rectify animal welfare issues in Montreal. This corporation does not care about problems like the overpopulation of cats, breed-specific bans, lack of education on animal behaviours and needs or respecting animal rights—they are simply looking to make money. For this reason, the upcoming municipal election is an important one for animal welfare.

We have a mayoral candidate whose platform actually mentions animal welfare measures, including protecting animals in our city rather than treating them as objects to gain profit from. Projet Montréal’s platform on animal welfare plans to “prohibit the transfer of lost or abandoned animals to laboratories for research or commercial purposes. Make it mandatory that they be transferred to rescue organizations instead […] provide support for animal sterilization […] support education programs in schools to educate young people about the responsibilities of animal owners.”

These kinds of actions would really lead Montreal in the right direction towards adequate animal service policies and, hopefully, to a complete overhaul of the city’s current system. We should be looking to other cities and the success they’ve had.

Calgary’s model is a perfect example. Bill Bruce, the former director of Calgary animal and bylaw services, developed a model that requires owners to properly train, sterilize and exercise their pet, provide it with adequate medical care and ensure the animal is not a threat or nuisance to the city, according to an article in the Calgary Herald. In an interview, Bruce explained that his model is about shifting “away from the animal control model to the responsible pet owner model. [It is about] empowering people to be great pet owners.”

There’s a lot of work to be done in our city, but this is more than just a pet owner’s problem. This is an everyone problem. This is about looking at the bigger picture and seeing animals as more than just property, but as sentient beings. We need to eliminate the use of Le Berger Blanc, which is only concerned with profit—not the welfare of the animals it is responsible for.

We need to care. We need to act. We need change.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Student Life

Re-”paw”-ing animal rights activists

A night of awards and recognition of groups and organizations active in the fight for animal rights

Close to 100 people gathered for the Quebec Animal Rescue of the Year Award ceremony on Nov. 13.

The ceremony took place at NDG’s Monkland Community Centre, and highlighted the accomplishments and efforts of various animal activist groups and organizations. Representatives from over two dozen rescue organizations were present.

The ceremony was moderated by twin comedians Tom and Peter Hartman, who provided entertainment throughout the evening. The two men performed stand-up routines and interacted with the crowd, while also announcing and handing out awards.

Photo by Ana Hernandez

Some attendees brought their dogs, and many of the rescue operations brought animals in need of adoption for attendees to interact with and shower with well-needed attention.

Young, old and everyone in between came together to appreciate and celebrate the work that has been put into the important cause of animal rights.

The Animal Rescue of the Year Award was given to the Nali Animal Orphanage, run by Lindsay Burkart and Nathalie Santerre. The award came with a $2,000 grant to go towards animal rescue efforts. Nali is an organization that helps animals that are mistreated, neglected or abandoned.

“Most of the animals that we bring in are strays or are abandoned,” said Burkart. “So the animals start off with nothing when we get them, and we make sure that they’re all completely vetted, healthy and educated, as much as they can while they’re with us, until they find their home.”

Upon accepting the award, Burkart said experience providing help for animals has been “amazing.”

“Nathalie and I, who started Nali, we haven’t been doing this rescue as long as some of you in this room, but every day we learn things, we have new experiences,” she said to the room of attendees. “If there’s something I’ve learned, it’s that, despite the amount of sad stories there are, there’s just as many good ones.”

Photo by Ana Hernandez

Burkat emphasized the importance of focusing on the success stories and being driven by them.  “We have to remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all in this for the same reasons, and we all get there different ways, but the goal, the end game, is the same,” she said. “The most important thing is that we make a difference.”

Other awards, such as multiple “Unsung Hero” awards, were handed out to volunteers and workers from various animal rescue groups to recognize their tremendous accomplishments in the fight for animal rights.

One such recipient was eight-year-old Ben Bishop-Gay. Bishop-Gay has been helping Nali Animal Orphanage since he was five years old. “I usually help out at the lemonade stand at the garage sales [for fundraising] every year, for about three years now,” said Bishop-Gay.

This passionate volunteer said he is motivated by his love for animals. “I have a lot of animals at my house. I have 10 horses, and I have 16 beehives, and I have five cats and three dogs,” Bishop-Gay said. He said he cares about animals so much that, when he’s older, he wants to have an animal orphanage.

Several raffle prizes and other awards were also handed out. A $500 grant was given to the Pussy Patrol Cat Rescue group for their grassroot work in organizing cat adoptions and rescues. A $1,000 grant was given to Liliana Danel, a regional ambassador for Lush Cosmetics who is an avid animal rights activist.

Photo by Ana Hernandez

Danel chose to donate her grant money in three ways between different rescue organizations: Westies in Need, Tiny Paws Dog Rescue and the Ottawa Pet Rat Rescue. She also commended the Concordia Animal Rights Association, who were among the volunteers working concession and various other tasks throughout the night.

Danel credited her receipt of the grant to “people knowing that I’m not in it for myself, but I’m in it for the others. I’ve been an animal activist in Montreal for many years.”

“Just the fact that I know so many people wanting to help animals, I think it’s an outpouring love from everyone who wanted to recognize my participation. That’s why I had to give it away right away,” said Danel.


Montreal food banks in need of support

This holiday season, Montreal food banks and shelters including Moisson Montréal, Salvation Army and Share the Warmth have noticed a considerable decrease in the amount of donations they’ve received and fear they will not be reaching their objectives in time for Christmas.

This time of the year is particularly difficult for the less fortunate. As the weather gets colder, the amount of help needed rises. Many of Montreal’s nonprofit organizations are noticing their partnerships have lessened since last year.

“We’re a little late this year compared to last year,” said Sandra O’Connor, who works as the director of marketing and communications at Moisson Montréal. “Last year at comparable dates, we had about 140-150 businesses participating, and right now only about 90 businesses have confirmed that they will be holding food drives.”

However, this is not the first time Moisson Montréal has experienced such problems. “Every year, we face the same difficulty of reaching our objectives before Christmas. We get answers very late in the season. It creates a stress for us,” said O’Connor.

Nevertheless, Montreal food banks need canned goods and donations now. Most of the time however, donations and food rush in during the days leading up to Christmas day.

“We need to make the baskets before we give to the people in need. We need all the stuff three or four weeks before,” said Dany Michaud of Moisson Montréal. “We need time to prepare the baskets of food to then hand out, they need to be ready for Christmas.”

Organizers at Moisson Montreal are speculating that the weather and the fact that people have not gotten into the Christmas spirit might be to blame for the decrease in participation of food drives within businesses.

Debra Gunn, program co-ordinator at Share the Warmth for over 15 years, works with businesses that help raise money and organize food drives. Gunn has also noticed the decrease in donations they’ve received this year.

“A lot of companies have downsized [the] number of employees and other companies have closed,” said Gunn. “I’ve lost eight companies, four of which have closed down.”

The Salvation Army is facing a different kind of situation. Brian Venables, ordained minister and officer at the Salvation Army in Montreal, claims that although they have been receiving fewer donations, the amounts of each donation have been larger than in previous years.

The organization which also relies on help coming from various businesses, plans on handing out 1,200 hampers in Montreal alone. Each hamper contains enough food to last a week.

“It is important that we keep building better partnerships and working with the corporate sector, because the economy is what it is, people have lost their jobs, or theres the threat of losing their jobs,” said Venables.

The Sun Youth organization intends on helping 18,000 people this year. They believe they will attain their objectives in terms of number of baskets they will be handing out, but they will not be as full as they normally are.

Sid Stevens, the executive vice-president of Sun Youth, believes the NHL Lockout was in part the cause of the decrease in donations collected this year. In previous years, Sun Youth received a major part of their charitable donations from sports bars and nightclubs during NHL games.

All these nonprofit organizations urge Montrealers to reach out and help. After all, no one should go hungry on Christmas.

Exit mobile version