Local family uses swastikas to accuse Quebec city of racism

Local family uses swastikas to accuse Quebec city of racism
Local family uses swastikas to accuse Quebec city of racism

A small community in Quebec has been locked in a two-year battle with a local family who accuses the community of being “the most racist city in the world.”

Last month, a Quebec court judge ordered Yahia Meddah to remove signs with swastikas that he had hung on his property in the borough of St-Barnabe-Sud, a community of about 1,000 people northeast of Montreal.

The signs accused the council of racism and directed people to a website describing how his family had been intimidated by the local government.

Linda Normandeau, the council’s director general, said the community was shocked by the appearance of the Nazi symbol and had no choice but to seek a court order to have the signs removed.

“I feel like the community has literally been held hostage,” she said. “Something totally unacceptable, shocking and disturbing has been imposed on us by a private citizen.”

The Canadian Press was unable to reach Meddah for this story.

Saint-Barnabe-Sud is a welcoming community, but the ongoing conflict with Meddah and his family is costly and time-consuming, she said. Normandeau hopes to seek redress under a new Quebec law that allows fines for people who harass elected officials.

The Meddah family has lived in Saint-Barnabe-Sud for years, but Normandeau says relations between Meddah and the municipality deteriorated in the fall of 2022 after the local government heard complaints that the family was running a generator indoors.

The city ordered an emergency inspection, which found a generator, a barbecue grill and propane tanks in the building, which was not equipped with smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, according to court documents. Normandeau said she believes about 12 people live on the property, including four children.

But when inspectors returned in February 2023, Meddah wouldn’t let them in, according to court documents. Instead, he told them to speak to his attorney and return with a search warrant.

Thus began a protracted legal battle, with the city seeking the right to conduct a follow-up inspection, while Meddah accused Normandeau of harassment and discrimination.

In a June 7 ruling, Judge J. Sebastien Vaillancourt ruled that Saint-Barnabe-Sud “clearly” had the right to inspect the site and that the allegations of discrimination “are in no way supported by the evidence.”

“This case has reached a scale that should never have been allowed to take,” Vaillancourt wrote.

Shortly after the June verdict, Normandeau said, swastikas began appearing on Meddah’s property. A photo of one of the signs shows a black swastika with red lettering on it, reading “the most racist city in the world.”

Meddah also launched a website with his grievances against Normandeau and the local government. Normandeau said the website’s host had taken it down, but Meddah quickly launched another, which was also shut down.

Normandeau said she asked police to intervene regarding the swastikas, but was told they could not because Canada has no explicit ban on displaying the Nazi symbol.

“People were very, very shocked when the swastikas appeared,” Normandeau said. “I think they should be banned.”

So the city went back to court to ask for a temporary injunction, which was granted on June 25. Normandeau said the swastikas have since been removed, though other signs have been put up in their place. The city is awaiting another court date to extend the injunction against the swastikas, but she hopes to resolve the matter out of court, she said.

The whole affair has already cost the city tens of thousands of dollars, Normandeau said. “For a small community, this has taken a lot of resources.”

She said she hopes Saint-Barnabe-Sud can take advantage of a new Quebec law passed last month that includes fines of up to $1,500 for anyone who harasses an elected official. Provincial police also have an action plan to combat harassment of elected officials and municipal managers.

As director general, Normandeau was not elected. But she said people in her position also need protection. “I am the person responsible for civil security,” she said. “We are on the front lines.”

– This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024.