The Laval News sees spooky similarities as we review 2021
As the Laval News looks back on 2021 and the things that were happening at the beginning of last year, no two words could better describe the situation in January a year ago compared to where we stand 12 months later.
In our first issue of 2021 published on Jan. 13, the headline read: ‘Quebec now under 30-day COVID curfew – Police can issue tickets from $1,000 – $6,000.’
In a news item posted on our website this past Dec. 30 as we prepared to close the year, the headline proclaimed, ‘Quebec decrees new curfew to deal with rising toll of Omicron Covid-19,’ while going on to describe an identical range of fines for transgressors.
While 2021 was a municipal election year in Laval but voting day was still 10 months in the future, speculation was swirling as to whether then-mayor Marc Demers would run again, or whether his second-in-command, Stéphane Boyer, who was vice-president of the executive-committee, would replace Demers as the Mouvement lavallois’s mayoralty candidate.
“Mr. Boyer shows signs of a pragmatism and of a sense of listening that allow him to mobilize people and to advance his dossiers so that the projects he leads can be fulfilled,” Demers had said about Stéphane Boyer in 2016 when Boyer was named Person of the Year by the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ). Stéphane Boyer would go on to win the election with a renewed majority of city council seats for the Mouvement lavallois.
Continuing the Covid theme in the same issue, a report on a recent webcast meeting between Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis and federal Minister for Small Business Mary Ng made it clear that Ottawa would be counting on the country’s women to do their part in the economic recovery set to take place following the eventual end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are all aware of the disproportional impact that the pandemic has had on women across the country,” said Koutrakis, noting that a large proportion of Canada’s population of women worked in sectors of the economy that were most affected by the pandemic.
At the same time, she pointed out that many women were forced by work obligations during the pandemic to make difficult choices, such as choosing between a career or temporarily putting aside their responsibilities to their children and families.
Around $150 billion could be added to the country’s economy just by including more women, added Minister Ng, while noting the government’s commitment to helping businesswomen access new markets through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a nearly $5-billion initiative that facilitates financing, expertise and networking.
In police and crime news in the year’s first TLN issue, investigators with the Laval Police Department were conducting an inquiry following the death under suspicious circumstances of a 7-year-old girl at a home on Le Boutillier St. in Chomedey. The LPD had received a call from the family. The girl was found in cardio-pulmonary arrest and was transported by paramedics to hospital, where she was declared dead.
At the same time, the Quebec Human and Youth Rights Commission opened an investigation into whether the rights of the deceased girl were being respected before the police intervened. According to news accounts, her situation had been the subject of a report to youth protection authorities. The girl’s mother is scheduled to make court appearances regarding the case this year.
In an exclusive interview with Newsfirst Multimedia published in our Jan. 27 issue, Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef said her ministry has been in daily contact with organizations in Quebec and the rest of the country which are providing support to women fleeing abuse and violence.
“We heard in Quebec, as has been the case across the country, that the demand for services has gone up, and that the pandemic has added greater pressures to families, to individuals,” she said, noting that Ottawa had allotted $100 million to deal with a spike of domestic violence across the country during the pandemic.
Given the economic hardships faced by many homeowners as a result of the pandemic, City of Laval executive-committee vice-president Stéphane Boyer announced that the city had decided to defer tax payments – normally due in March and June – to June and September last year. “We are aware that the pandemic is producing terrible consequences for many families,” Boyer said in a statement.
In police and crime news, the Laval Police Department said a series of raids they conducted beginning last fall during a multi-phased maneuver dubbed Projet Doute led to the seizure of $1.175 million worth of street drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and ecstasy.
As rumours abounded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would call an election for September just two years after the last one, Conservative Party supporters in Laval were getting a head-start as early as February.
So it was, and with relatively little fanfare that the Conservatives announced their candidate, Spyridonas Pettas, for the next election in the perpetually Liberal stronghold of Laval-Les Îles. “Spyros Pettas is someone I’ve known for a good number of years,” said Senator Leo Housakos who introduced him.
“As for his qualities apart from his educational background and dedication to the community, he is a man who is ready to work hard. He is ready to assume the responsibilities to bring the wants and needs of the people of Laval-Les Îles to Ottawa.”
Leading towards the tabling of the next provincial budget in March by the CAQ government, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s Quebec lobby was asking the government to go easy on taxes paid by small and medium-size businesses, and to also implement measures to deal effectively with ongoing labour shortages worsened by the Covid pandemic.
“This budget represents an opportunity for the government of Quebec to place the SMEs at the centre of their economic strategy,” said CFIB Quebec vice-president François Vincent, noting the challenges that included the COVID-19 pandemic as well as unfavourable tax regulations.
“If you develop symptoms of a respiratory tract infection and if you live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, unfortunately you almost certainly have it too,” Dr. Stéphanie Susser, medical coordinator for environmental health at the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de Laval, told an online information session for senior citizens organized by Congregation Shaar Shalom in Chomedey.
According to Dr. Susser, the risk of serious complications from COVID-19 increases with age, “but even young people are at risk,” she said.
As reported in TLN’s police news feature LPD Blue, more than two dozen people who were caught during a raid on a Curé Labelle Blvd. gambling hall by the Laval Police would be paying at least $40,000 in fines after receiving tickets for gathering illegally and breaking COVID-19 sanitary and distancing rules.
Following the sweep, the LPD said it had been tipped off that an all-day and evening blackjack and poker event was going to be held at the location in a strip mall. A spokesperson for the force said the LPD was already aware of the event, since it had been well-advertised on social media.
In spite of a pledge by Quebec Premier François Legault to compensate movie theatre owners for revenue lost after not being allowed to sell snacks when theatres were scheduled to reopen in pandemic red zones on Feb. 26, Cinémas Guzzo owner Vince Guzzo was turning down the offer, saying it wasn’t worth the trouble.
“I will not be reopening. I will be waiting for the food restrictions to be removed,” Guzzo said. “There is one restriction they’ve got to remove, which is the restriction forbidding us from selling food and drink to be consumed on the premises.”
‘Tinker, sailor, candlestick maker’ we say of someone gifted and bent on never letting moss gather around their feet. This, in many qualitative-and-quantitative ways, described the life and times of François Pilon. The former NDP MP for Laval-Les Îles was the focus of a personal profile in TLN’s ‘Mature Life’ supplement for senior citizens.
Issuing from long-standing French origins, son of Aline Arbour and Yves Pilon, some Irish Blarney from his maternal-Irish-grandmother thrown in, the Laval-born-and-raised permanent resident of Île-Jesus spoke warmly of his native city. “Born here, lived most of my life here, worked most of my adult life for the city,” he said. “Still live here, loving the small-village-atmosphere of Laval-West.”
If anybody was in a position to understand snow removal problems in Laval, former city councillor Raynald Adams said in an interview published in our Feb. 24 issue, it should be him. During the four years he served the residents of the district of Renaud, he said, he came to understand why poor snow removal was such a sore point for so many people, leading to complaints year after year.
What made his comments more cutting was the fact he used to sit on city council with the Mouvement lavallois administration. He gave the city’s public works department a failing grade for snow removal on certain streets in his district.
In Laval, several COVID-19 vaccination clinics opened during the first week of March last year. As of the beginning of the month, thousands of Laval residents had already been vaccinated. With up to three vaccination clinics in Laval operating, a total of four clinics were expected to be up and running in Laval over the coming weeks.
Stéphanie Daigneault, a spokesperson for CISSS de Laval, told the Laval News that the first week the clinics opened went smoothly. “We had 300 appointments on day one of each clinic,” she said. “Day two, three and four we had 600 appointments, and then after that it was 800 appointments a day.”
By early March last year, the Covid pandemic was taking a toll. Officials with the City of Laval invited residents to take part on March 11 in a webcast ceremony paying homage to all those who died or fell ill over the past year during the pandemic.
As founder of the new Laval Citoyens party and as a mayoralty candidate in the municipal elections in November, one could easily have been left with the impression that Michel Poissant was starting the race a few places behind pole position.
Still, Poissant was launching his mayoralty campaign in March. “I believe that in the upcoming election we’re starting from scratch,” Poissant admitted candidly in an exclusive in-person interview with the Laval News published on Mar. 10.
While acknowledging the uphill battle he faced before the November election, Poissant believed that at least 50 per cent of voters in the City of Laval were undecided. “That’s my gut feeling,” he said.
Although recent surveys suggested there was a growing sense of trust by the general population for the various vaccines coming out to prevent COVID-19, there were also signs that a significant number of employees in health care establishments were refusing to be vaccinated.
According to news reports, just 20 per cent of workers at the Louise Vachon residence on Saint-Martin Blvd. in Chomedey agreed to be vaccinated. This was in spite of the fact the entire staff had been prioritized to receive the shot since the beginning of February.
In preparation for the reopening of restaurants in Laval with the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, the City of Laval said it was preparing a variety of new measures to be implemented in time for the 2021 summer season.
The city said it had begun to reach agreements with several restauranteurs for the implementation of temporary outdoor terraces, while adding that the terraces proved to be very popular last summer and would again allow restaurants to serve clients outside safely.
“Restaurants are part of the economic vitality of our territory, and that’s why we have developed concrete measures to support their re-launch,” said Mayor Marc Demers.
The Laval Chamber of Commerce and Industry would be receiving $344,165 from the federal government as part of a $44 million pandemic recovery subsidy package to Montreal-region business development agencies announced by federal Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly.
“It is a priority of the Government of Canada to assist Quebec’s small and medium–sized businesses so they can rebound vigorously after the health crisis,” Joly, who is also Minister for Official Languages, said during a webcast press conference while making the announcement.
Senior citizens from the Montreal and Laval Greek communities were offered a better understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 10 during an hour-long webconference and briefing on the situation provided by several epidemiology and microbiology experts.
Sponsored by the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal with assistance from Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette, the presentation featured director of public health for Laval Dr. Jean-Pierre Trépanier, CISSS de Laval infection-prevention officer Dr. Olivier Haeck, and Dr. Stephanie Susser, medical coordinator for environmental health at the CISSS de Laval.
The Laval Police Department said it had arrested Michel Ianiri, 60, based on allegations of sexual assaults he is suspected of having committed from 1980 to 2021. The LPD said that during the 1980s, Ianiri, who went by the name Mike, managed a video game arcade on Laurier Blvd. in Laval-des-Rapides. Witnesses had come forth claiming that Ianiri invited underage boys to his home where they used drugs together and where he allegedly engaged in sexual activities with them.
New statistical information about the changing demographics of Laval’s English-speaking population was presented during a webcast meeting of the Agape Networking Partners Initiative (Agape-NPI) on March 31.
Among the most notable findings: Laval’s English-speaking population continued to grow (by approximately 40 per cent) since the 2001 (53,390) census until the last census in 2016 (90,975), using the First official Language Spoken definition; Laval’s latest count of English-speakers was 90,975; the greatest concentrations of English speakers are in and around the Chomedey sector as well as Auteuil and Vimont.
Mayor Marc Demers announced in a statement that he wouldn’t be seeking a third mandate in the municipal elections scheduled on November 7. “After 38 years of public service, it is with great pleasure that I will be placing myself at the service of my family next November,” the former Laval Police Department investigator said.
Demers was swept into office in 2013, along with an overwhelming majority of councillors from his Mouvement lavallois party, following the departure of longtime mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. Demers said he felt he had accomplished what he’d set out to do, namely cleaning up what his predecessor had left behind.
Garbage piled to the ceiling in a Chomedey duplex. Books, magazines, food trays, decaying food, discarded packages, and more, filling chairs, tables, beds; some rooms are so stuffed you can’t walk through them.
The home, 904-906 Emerson Street, was an ideal place for roaches and rats to breed, and the pests made their way through walls into neighbors’ homes. “Imagine having to live next to a place full of trash. That’s what we have had to deal with,” said Vicky Zannis, who lived in the adjacent duplex whose apartment was infested with rats.
Officers from the Laval Police Department executed a search warrant on March 23 related to narcotics trafficking and as part of the LPD’s ongoing Projet Doute operation and investigation. Since last September, the LPD had been looking into the activities of a criminal ring believed to be actively delivering large quantities of narcotics on behalf of several crime organizations.
In an exclusive interview with the Laval News following the announcement he won’t seek a third mandate in the November municipal elections, Mayor Marc Demers said his decision to enter politics was based largely on conclusions he reached decades earlier while working as a police detective investigating suspected corruption in former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt’s administration.
Demers said he felt he was leaving the City of Laval with a greater sense of transparency in its administration, including full public access over the internet to webcasts of city council meetings, and a freedom of information policy that granted residents access to all except the most confidential of documents.
While the pandemic dominated, there were also other issues
Thirty months after an investigation by UPAC was opened into some real estate dealings involving Laval city councillor for St-Bruno David De Cotis, the former Laval executive-committee vice-president said he had no doubt the complaint behind the inquiry was motivated by a vengeful Mouvement lavallois supporter out to get him after he left the party only months before.
“I have always trusted the system that was in place. I know that I did nothing wrong,” De Cotis said. “The real issue was that the person who had submitted the complaint was on a political vendetta.”
After more than a half century as one of Quebec’s biggest singing superstars, legendary crooner Michel Louvain passed away last year on April 14. Louvain’s meteoric career in show business was launched in the late 1950s at a hotel and night club near Curé Labelle Blvd. in Chomedey.
On stage at Laval’s Salle André-Mathieu more than a decade ago, Louvain recounted how he got one of his biggest breaks at Chomedey’s old Hôtel Central when he was in his early 20s.
The City of Laval said it was going ahead with a second phase of its Cité de la Biotech (Biotech City) industrial science park project, which was first launched with Phase I two decades ago. Since its creation, according to the city, Biotech City had seen phenomenal growth.
Located near the Metro and downtown Laval, Phase II of Biotech City, according to city, will be an ideal location to offer companies and workers an environment to complement the initial Phase I site.
By any standard, two to three weeks would be a long time for residents of any Laval neighbourhood to have to wait for their garbage, recycling or kitchen waste to be picked up by the city’s refuse collection workers.
However, according to Chomedey city councillor Aglaia Revelakis, that’s exactly how long home dwellers on Clarendon Ave. in Chomedey had to stand by patiently recently. In large part, she blamed the mess on an overly bureaucratic system created by the city to manage citizen requests and complaints.
“There’s a specific street in my district, Clarendon, where the garbage was not picked up for two consecutive weeks,” she said in an interview with the Laval News.
With a series of provincial government subsidies lined up, the Youth and Parents Agape Association revealed plans to open a satellite office, expanding services now available from its Chomedey headquarters to English-speaking people in the eastern half of Laval in three years time.
“We’ve identified that maybe Duvernay on the borderline somewhere close to Vimont and Pont-Viau would be a good area to open up a satellite office,” said Agape executive-director Kevin McLeod, adding that Agape’s base would continue to be in Chomedey.
After tabling a petition in Laval city council, at least 40 residents of Webb Ave. in Chomedey gathered in the middle of their street to say they were serious about demanding the city’s engineering department reverse a plan to narrow the width of Webb Ave.
“Everyone on the street has signed,” said Nick Batzios, a Webb Ave. resident who helped gather the petition with the help of a neighbour. “No one was aware that the city was going to modify and make major changes to Webb Ave. They want to make the roadway smaller and nobody knew anything about this. We want our street to remain as is.”
It happened so fast, it was like night and day. That’s how quickly the corner of Notre Dame and Curé Labelle – probably Chomedey’s busiest intersection – was transformed over a week-and-a-half into an impassable no man’s land, as the City of Laval began work on a long-awaited storm drain and water main replacement project.
“This is going to be problematic for us,” said Ian Williams, a social worker at Agape on Notre Dame Blvd., noting that parents who bring their children to the daycare might have trouble getting in and out of the driveway because of the numerous detours they’re forced to navigate.
Despite mounting concerns by anglophone interest groups over the possible infringement of freedoms and rights, Sainte-Rose MNA Christopher Skeete, Premier François Legault’s liaison to Quebec’s English-speaking community, was defending Bill 96, the CAQ government’s proposed new law updating the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101).
“I think if you look at what’s being proposed, you see a deliberate attempt to show extreme deference to the English community,” Skeete said on a Montreal radio station, defending the legislation. He also suggested that the CAQ government was showing “recognition that municipal autonomy needs to be used in order to protect the bilingual status of cities.”
The union representing City of Laval public works employees was contesting a decision by the city to fire three employees after they were filmed by a resident while using marijuana on the job.
According a report by the TVA network, the resident spotted the employees in early March in a Laval neighbourhood where they were working. While two of the workers were full-time and had 16 and eight years experience respectively, the third employee was part-time.
For hundreds of parents and school board staff who were regulars at the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Foundation’s annual fundraisers in January and June over the past 16 years, Elizabeth Rossi’s face was a familiar one indeed, as she was as one of the foundation’s most trusted, hardworking and reliable volunteers. Rossi passed away at age 59 on May 14 following a courageous battle with cancer.
Some residents of the residential Equinox Tower on Cartier Blvd. West in Chomedey were forced to change their plans on the evening of May 18 after a fire accidentally started on a balcony on the 25th storey of the high-rise, riverside residential building.
Around 7:30 pm, 911 was called after a sudden gust of wind threw over some lit candles sitting on balcony on a table. In all, more than 20 Laval Fire Department firefighters ended up responding, from a half-dozen units which were in place by 7:38 pm.
The City of Laval’s emerging downtown core will have a linear park, a high-tech industrial component, an urban boulevard, a cultural district, an esplanade and a commercial/retail street, but no new hospital, a city official acknowledged during a webcast public consultation on the massive centre city development plan.
“There isn’t any hospital planned in the downtown area,” Perrine Lapierre, a member of the City of Laval’s urban planning staff, replied to a question from a resident. “For now, we have no information about that. But there are several projects underway connected to retirement residences that we are looking at.”
Beginning in 2022, firefighters in Laval will be trained to provide First Responder services for medical situations involving cardio-respiratory arrests or acute allergic reactions.
According to the city, all firefighters in Laval will receive the training, and the service will become available in stages in conjunction with Urgences-Santé. The city said that around 1,600 calls were being received for this type of priority medical service as of last June.
Despite the reputation battery-electric motor vehicles had acquired for reduced efficiency in cold weather, Laval’s elected officials gave assurances that such problems had been largely resolved and Quebec’s gruelling winters won’t impact the performance of the Société de Transport de Laval’s growing fleet of electric buses.
In June last year, the STL expected to begin deploying the first of 10 new 100 per cent electric buses. They were part of a new generation of electric vehicle technology that optimize battery performance, while allowing the buses to roll 250 kilometres under normal conditions before needing to be recharged.
Nearly a dozen residents of Webb Ave. in Chomedey questioned Mayor Marc Demers during Laval city council’s June 2 meeting on the major infrastructure work being conducted outside their homes, as protesters for the cause tried as best they could to stir up attention outside Laval city hall.
Mayor Demers defended the city’s position. “When it is said that the citizens were not consulted, on the contrary we created a vision for across the City of Laval and we consulted across the city,” he maintained.
He said “the reason the work is taking place on your street is mainly due to a problem involving sewers that are at the end of their usefulness. So, if we don’t do it within a reasonable timeframe, we risk having major problems and you also risk having major problems.”
The Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC), Quebec’s anti-corruption police force known for its sometimes-dramatic tactics while carrying out its mandate, issued a formal apology to independent Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette who was arrested by UPAC four years ago.
UPAC came to believe that Ouellette was involved in a leak of information in conjunction with a mole believed to be operating inside UPAC. UPAC investigators used a tactic that involved sending a text message to Ouellette over a cell phone that belonged to a UPAC force member suspected of being the mole.
“I am offering my apologies,” UPAC head Frédérick Gaudreau said in a statement. “We must learn from these errors and act in such a way that it never happens again.”
Parents and residents living in homes on a stretch of 39th Avenue near Jean-Bart Street in the district of l’Orée-des-Bois said it was only a matter of time before a child got seriously injured by one of the many school buses that were rolling in convoys through their neighbourhood each weekday morning since the bus route was changed more than a year ago.
According to 39th Ave. resident Angie Cardone, the presence of the school buses on the street was a relatively new phenomenon. She said they often rolled in fast-moving convoys, from 8 am to at least 8:45 am weekdays, and that many of the buses were empty when they went by.
The City of Laval’s on again/off again aquatics complex project, an initiative that was mothballed three years ago after cost bids came in too steep, was dramatically revived with the announcement that Ottawa and Quebec would be contributing a combined $20 million to get the $61.1 million project back on track.
Quebec Premier François Legault and federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna were among the high-ranking elected officials on hand to announce $20 million in financial assistance to help build the future project, located on a tract of land on Terry Fox Ave. in downtown Laval next to the Cosmodôme.
After more than a half-century of rising and falling tensions between Quebecers over the use of English and French, concerns were rising among stakeholders that some rights and protections Quebec anglophones fought for since the introduction of Bill 101 more than 40 years ago were being threatened by Quebec’s proposed Bill 96 and changes to Ottawa’s Official Languages Act.
The Quebec Community Groups Network hosted a policy webconference entitled ‘Our Place in Quebec and Canada,’ bringing together English-speaking Quebecers to discuss the rights of Canada’s official language minority communities as well as overall human rights.
“Bill 96 effectively creates a Charter-free zone with respect to a wide range of interactions between individuals and the state in Quebec,” said QCGN president Marlene Jennings.