Canada, Successful building take over in Quebec City

Friday afternoon, Quebec City. Some 300 angry tenants, housing activists, anarchists and other radicals are gathering in the "Parc à 10 millions" in downtown neighborhood of Saint-Roch. They are joined by a busload of tenants from Montreal and Sherbrooke who occupied various abandoned industrial buildings during the week to denounce the growing housing crisis now touching more then 17 cities across the province.

It?s not the average demo, people know that at the end of the march, a direct action will take place marking the beginning of an unlimited occupation of an empty building. It?s the end of a long week of actions called by the FRAPRU (Quebec largest reformist housing advocate groups federation), and the beginning of a long weekend. 12 occupations were organized during the week by various housing groups involving more then 1200 different people.

At 5:30 the march begin. No one, except for an hand-full of activists from the Comite populaire (the organizing group), really knows where they are going. Obviously it?s gonna be in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the last "working-class" neighborhood of the upper town, but where exactly, no one knows. The organizers choose the tactic of the "snake-march", zigzagging into the small streets of the neighborhood, to reach as many people as possible and hopefully fool the police.

And it worked, we loosed the cops on motorcycles and in cruisers a few times by taking stairways and going into parks. At the end of one such instance of loosing the cops, we end up at the Ólot Berthelot on the southern part of the neighborhood. The cops probably think we are going to the parliament or one of the big hotels because they are waiting for us two blocs away. But this is exactly the moment masked men choose to open the doors of an empty building on 920 De la Chevrotière street and smash the padlocks with an hammer. The crowd completely fills the small street, people cheer from their windows. Many locals have joined us in the course of the march (while other left because it was too hard to follow in the ups and downs of Quebec City).

Activists from the Comite populaire get into the house, which is a small two-story building so typical of the city. 2 banners are fixed on the building, one reads "Let?s take back our hoods" and the other read "The logic of profit is encouraging slums". In the mean time, a food not bombs type collective was preparing a meal in a nearby park. Other peoples where distributing leaflets doors to doors explaining the action and the demands of the group. The demands of the activists occupying the place are three folds. First they want the place and the other empty building in front of it to be transformed into a selfmanaged housing cooperative for low-income families. Second, they want a stop to the transformation of apartments into luxury condominium (the city have the legal power to totally band them). 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).

The occupied place is highly significant for the hood and the Comite populaire. In the 1970?s, during the great demolitions, 6 houses known as l?Ólot Berthelot miraculously stand tall and where not demolished. Since 1970, the place is an outpost of resistance to both the destruction of the hood and its gentrification. 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 eigther huge tower instead of luxury apartments (known as ?condo?). In the face of public resistance, they all sold the place to someone else who think he would be able to break the resistance of the tenants who successfully contested all rent increase during a period of 20 years. 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 citizen committee active in the hood since 1976, and the social ecologist group Les AmiEs de la Terre de Quebec choose to move their offices in one of the house (910 De la Chevrotière). Their demand was clear: the wanted the take over of the buildings by a selfmanaged housing cooperative. Up until 1992, nothing moved, but then, the city announced a grant of 150 000 000 $ to help build Quebec City own Conference Center a few blocs away from l?Ólot Berthelot. In response the Comite populaire asked that the same amount of money be spent on social housing. In the face of public opposition, the city tried to save face by buying the 6 houses in 1994 at the cost of 1 000 000 $ (that?s almost 10 time their 1970 value!). 4 of them where finally transformed into a selfmanaged housing cooperative, but the 2 southern houses where not. Up until this day, they are empty and the city hope to sell them to some promoters who would demolish them and build luxury apartment sold at 150 000$ each. Now, 8 years latter, in front of an housing crisis --only 0.8% of the city apartments are empty-- the Comite populaire is back and so is the resistance.

Right now, the squatters, there are about 30 of them that are doing a rotation, are organized into a directly democratic collective with daily general assembly. The occupation is open to anyone who share the demands and analysis of the Comite populaire. Apparently the cops get the order from the city not to intervene as long as the occupation stay peaceful. So, after 3 days and nights, the squatters are still inside. It?s gonna be a long and hot spring...

Pictures of Friday march and direct action are available at Squatters can be reach at 418-522-0454 and

Nicolas Phebus. May 20th

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