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(en) Barricada #18: Quebec City: A squat short story

From Mick <mickblack47@yahoo.com>
Date Fri, 4 Oct 2002 05:20:07 -0400 (EDT)


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Quebec City: A Squat Short Story 

On Friday, September 20th, the 920 de la Chevrotiere squat in Quebec City
was evicted following more then 4 months of occupation. The eviction was
carried out by a small army of cops and city officials. 

At around 6 pm several plainclothes officers entered the building, read a
legal eviction notice with a megaphone and asked the people inside to
leave. The squatters did not resist the eviction and were given permission
to go inside two by two to pick up their belongings. 

Once this was done, city workers boarded up the building. As soon as the
news of the eviction was known, some 40 supporters and friends gathered in
front of the building for an impromptus support demo. The official reason
given for the eviction was that the place was no longer safe because there
was no running water (water was cut a few days before the raid). Despite
the eviction, the former squatters will continue the struggle and move
ahead with an already planned demonstration scheduled for September 26th
(some 100 people came to the demo). 


The Story of 920 de la Chevrotiere 

On Friday May 17th, after months of organizing, some 300 angry tenants,
housing activists, anarchists and other radicals gathered in Quebec City
for the largest local demonstration around housing issues since the
1970's. 

The call, issued by the Comite Populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste, was crystal
clear: "come support a direct action" and announced an "unlimited
occupation against the housing crisis". As this was part of a wider
campaign coordinated by the FRAPRU (Quebec largest reformist tenant union
federation), locals where joined by a busload of tenants from Montreal and
Sherbrooke who occupied various abandoned industrial buildings during the
week. 12 occupations were organized all over the province by various
housing groups involving more then 1200 different people. At this time, no
one knew that the Quebec City action would be the longest occupation of
the week. 

The occupied house was highly significant for the neighborhood and the
Comite populaire. In the 1970's, during the great demolitions, 6 houses
known as l'Ilot Berthelot miraculously stood tall and were not demolished.
The place was bought and sold so many times in the last 30 years that it's
impossible to keep track of the various owners. All of them, however,
wanted to demolish the 6 houses and build in their place huge towers
instead of luxury condominiums. There was so much speculation on the value
of the buildings and the land that by 1991, it had became the most
expensive plot of land in the city. 

That's also when the Comite Populaire, a citizens committee active in the
neighborhood since 1976, and the social ecologist group Les AmiEs de la
Terre de Quebec chose to move their offices into one of the houses (910 De
la Chevrotiere). Their demands were clear: they wanted the take over of
the buildings by a self managed housing cooperative. In the face of
growing public awareness, the city finally bought the 6 houses in 1994 at
the cost of 1 000 000$ (that's almost 10 times their 1970 value!). Four of
them where initially transformed into a self managed housing cooperative,
but the 2 southern houses were not. They stood empty for 3 years before
the squatters moved in. The city hoped to sell them to some promoters who
would demolish them and build luxury condominiums sold at 150 000$ each. 

The occupied house was a small two story building typical of the
neighborhood. While the action was organized by the Comite populaire, a
collective of squatters and supporters have taken over from day one (you
believe in autonomy and self-management or you dont!) and the Comite was
relegated to a "support" role. The struggle was led by a general assembly
of squatters and supporters and the house was managed via regular
squatters meetings. The demands of the squatters being three fold. 

- First they want the place to be given away to a non-profit group so that
it be used for collective needs (such as a social center) and they want
the empty land surrounding it developed into a self managed housing
cooperative for low-income families. 

- Second, they want a stop to the transformation of apartments in the city
into luxury condominiums and a total ban of them on site. 

- Third, they want the government to finance at least 8 000 new social
housing units a year in the province (which would mean 700 in Quebec
City). 

Support for these demands is high in the city. More then 2 000 people from
all over the place --including Basque refugees and French squatters!^×came
to visit and signed a petition. The majority of the cooperatives in the
neighborhood originally sent letters of support, including the Coop de
l'Ilot Berthelot who gave cheap electricity and water to the squatters for
three and a half months. You can see posters of support in many houses
and, to the squatters surprise, in more then a dozen local stores. Social
groups of all kinds sent support letters and some of them, especially
student unions, made small and big donations. In this context, the
so-called left-wing municipality didn^Òt want to send in the cops and
hoped the squatters would either burn out or that the support would erode.


A delicate and unforseen situation developed in the last two months of the
occupation. Indeed, since the beginning, the occupation attracted it's
fair share of victims of the housing crisis who needed a temporary housing
solution, the time necessary to catch up and find a more stable place to
stay. In the vast majority of cases, it was going fairly well. 

This said, however, we must recognize that, thanks to capitalism, the vast
majority of the people of our class who end up in the street are also
those that are the most vulnerable and it is rare that housing is their
only problem... 

A conflict developed in the squat which resulted in homeless people moving
in the empty building on the other side of the street, the 921 de la
Chevrotiere (which was deemed unsafe by the general assembly). Soon, there
was no discussion possible between the two groups, the occupants of the
920 de la Chevrotiere had become the ennemy, false squatters, false
anarchists, etc. In the beggining there was three of them... but they
where fast joined by other homeless who where kicked out of the various
"community resources". In the end, there was 15 of them. 


Sometimes it was calm, but other times they would take to screaming after
any and all passersby. One of them tried to assault a women of the
neighborhood cooperative. Concrete threats were made against individuals
and the squat. Serious violence erupted from time to time inside the
building. Soon, the attitude and anti-social acts of these people started
to affect everyone. The occupants of the 920 tried to deal with the
situation but failed to act on it fast enough. The cops and the
municipality succeeded in using the situation to split the support of the
squatters. 


Political Maneuvers in the Last Two Weeks 

Two weeks before the final eviction of the squat, the neighborhood coop
had a general assembly where it was voted unanimously to find a "final
solution" to the problems coming from the 921 de la Chevrotiere. While the
squatters of the 920 tried to explain the differences between the two
squats, the executive committee of the coop came to the conclusion that
since the unwanted squatters came from a split in the first squat, the
only way to get rid of the problem was to close both (which was not
exactly what was voted on in the general assembly). 

In the end they announced that they would cut electricity and water to the
920 de la Chevrotiere building and would publicly withdrew support if
nothing changed. It took a few days to convince all the people in the 921
de la Chevrotiere to move elsewhere, but when it was finally done, the
coop had already called the cops and the municipality. The day after the
last person moved out, the cops came in and boarded the place (that was on
Friday, Sept. 13th). 

In the meantime, the municipality had mobilized all of it's allies to
launch a full fledged political attack on the squat. On Monday, September
16th, the chairman of the neighborhood coop and the coordinator of the
regional housing coop federation called a press conference to officially
denounce the squatters as people who don^Òt help the struggle for social
housing and to ask them to put an end to the occupation. The same day, the
mayor also came out saying that the occupation must end now and that
social housing was to be built on site as soon as the squatters were
evicted. 


Indeed, the coop federation had made a deal with a private promoters to
build both social housing and luxury condominiums on the site. The public
message was that the squatters were in the way... The intent of the city
was clear, they wanted to isolate the squatters and make it look like they
where loosing support. This strategy didn^Òt work however, and, in less
than 24 hours, the squatters succeeded in mobilizing most of the allies
they had in the housing rights movement and other social movements to
restate their support for the occupation after some 3 months of silence. 

But the city chose to ignore this and on Friday, September 20th they sent
in the cops to evict the squatters. Only time will tell if the city will
pay for this or get away with it as usual, but it is clear however that
the regional coop federation did isolate itself from the social movement
and that they will pay for it (a new local housing rights coalition was
just formed and they where not invited). 


Partial victory and the Struggle Continues 

While there still is no total victory, the occupation already did get some
positive results. First, there will be new cooperative housing on the site
(around 30 units). This was not granted at all since the city only wanted
to have condominiums. The issue now is whether it will be possible to
totally ban condominiums on site (that's the theme of the next demo). 

Second, the city finally gave in in August and voted a moratorium on new
conversion of apartments into condominiums. This moratorium is shitty, as
it has many holes and exceptions, but it is clearly a response to the
occupation and other actions. The whole anarchist criticism of legislation
applies here, of course, but it is still a small step. So the squatters
did win a few things from the powers because of their action, but the main
victory is not there. 

The occupation legitimized direct action in the mind of people and showed
the support it can have. It helped to educate a large number of people
about the housing crisis and the remedy to it. Furthermore, the squatters
where not just sitting on the place, it was an experience in itself. An
experience of direct action, direct democracy and another kind of social
relations. And an experience that allows for other actions. 

A radial Infoshop was opened in the basement stocking literature ranging
from union newsletters and ecologist literature to Maoist newspapers,
anarchists books and Trotskyist magazines. The kids in the neighborhood
had a safe place to come and play (and do their home-work!). There have
been a number of community activities ranging from free meals to video
nights and parties. And groups from all over the city use the space
(including the local NEFAC group who had a number of meetings and public
activity there). People are already talking about forming an autonomous
collective to continue the whole experience elsewhere. 

The squat as direct action is one of the ways we can get out of the
dead-end of protest as usual. Short of a massive rent strike, it's the
most dramatic action a movement around housing can take. While most of the
time public opinion can just ignore the effect of the housing crisis, high
profile political squats polarize it. On one hand there are homeless and
badly housed tenants, and on the other there are empty buildings. Squats
bring all of this in your face, and force people to take a stand. As a
direct attack on private property, squats can also bring to the fore the
fundamental contradiction of the housing question (housing right vs
property rights or human needs vs market). Squats are also everything but
symbolic and contrary to most protests, they can't be ignored by the
authorities, tilting the balance of force further to our side. 

Nicolas Phebus 
La Nuit Collective (NEFAC-QC) 


The 920 de la Chevrotiere occupation was the longest single direct action
ever on the housing front in Quebec and probably Canada. 

[Ok, this was a subjective report written from *my* perspective. Other
participants in the squat may (indeed DO) have another interpretation of
the events (this is why the article is signed!). This article will be
published in the october issue of Barricada. Objectivité existe pas!] 


=======================================
This article was printed in Barricada's new special double issue which is
available now. Barricada is the monthly magazine of the Northeastern
Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC).

Singles copies are 3$ (us), 4$ (can), 1.50$ (Boston) for this special
double issue.

Subscriptions are $15 USD for six issues (US and Canada) $30 for twelve
issues. $20 USD for a six issue subsciption to Western Europe. Write for
bulk rates.

Money orders are best, checks with the "pay to order of" left blank next,
or well concelled cash at your own risk.

Barricada
PO Box 73
Boston, MA 02133

Barricada on the web - http://www.barricada.org

For more information about NEFAC, visit us on the web at: 
http://flag.blackened.net/nefac (English)
http://www3.sympatico.ca/emile.henry/nefac.htm (French) 

=====
I need land, a place where no money is spent, then kick back and live life immaculate. - The Coup.


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