Janette Bertrand, Wealthy McGill Muslims and the Eaton’s Sales Lady

LOL. Everyone on Twitter’s mocking Janette Bertrand. The ancient 89-year-old feminist imagines hordes of rich McGill students taking over the swimming pool in her building and booting her out, which — ROFL — is why she’s pro charter and voting PQ.

ZOMG, what a freaking xenophobe. No wonder those guys didn’t want to swim with a dementia-ridden racist like that. PQ be cray. Do they seriously think rich McGill muslims are going to take over Montreal pools? Reminds me of that old story about the Eaton’s (apostrophe intentional) sales lady, #Qc2014.

Except, here’s the thing. Much of what Janette Bertrand is actually right.

For some time now, McGill and Concordia have been on a major and successful campaign to attract foreign students who pay very high tuition fees relative to the heavily subsidized locals. Unsurprisingly, these foreign students are often quite wealthy. As a result, they have gravitated toward buildings that Canadian students typically can not afford and do not inhabit, including condos and very high-end rental units.

As anyone who’s ever lived in a building with lots of students knows, when students start to make up a critical mass, it changes things.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s the dive-iest apartment building in the McGill ghetto or a brand new condo with spectacular views from the rooftop pool.

So yes, those wealthy students that Quebec universities went out of their way to attract, are having a noticeable impact. Just like when yuppies start gentrifying neighbourhoods.

Janette Bertrand is not imagining rich McGill students in places they didn’t used to be. It’s reality. And here’s more reality, those foreign students are coming largely from two places — China and the middle east.

And, cough, cough, immigrants from the middle east have been raising swimming pool “accommodation” issues for years all over Canada. Toronto dads were told last year they can’t watch their daughters‘ swim classes.  Calgary pools moved to allow head scarves, saris and other religious attire a few years back.  And, in Quebec, there have been gender-segregated swimming debates before.

This is not a ludicrously far-fetched outlier non-issue. In fact, it’s pretty typical of the problems that force us to think about how we define “reasonable accommodation” and how far we’re prepared to go. Now, I know some people will disagree with me here but I think reasonable people can disagree on what constitutes reasonable accommodation.

The Twitter mocking of Bertrand is mindless and mean. If you’re pro Burkhas in pools and segregated swimming, fine, but say so and explain why. Just don’t LOL and ROFL yourself into pretending it’s a non-issue that men in Bertrand’s apartment building — who may very well be wealthy McGill students, as she seems to think — object to swimming with women.

Personally, I don’t think it’s reasonable to have Burkhas in pools. I could probably be talked into girl-only swimming classes, but I don’t like the idea of banning fathers from watching. And I would vociferously protest if anyone in my building advocated for gender-segregated swims.

As for the Quebec charter, I don’t like it but I don’t get a say. I left my home province in 2008 and have never looked back. I voted “no” in two referendums. (LMAO, M. Parizeau). I’m not a fan of small-minded nationalism and the demagoguery that comes along with it. But I also don’t like shutting down discussion of how to make a multicultural society work nor am I in favour of ridiculing 89-year-old women, who have made major contributions to society.

What I find especially ironic is that the wealthy McGill students are now being equated — including by Franco Quebecers of all people — with that mythical Eaton’s sales lady, the one who ordered everyone to speak English or, worse yet, to “speak white.” In all the years and decades that she was held over my normally skeptical Anglo head, I never once doubted her existence. Sure, I thought she might have been a composite character, but she represented the reality of my childhood.

The fact that the Eaton’s lady is long gone doesn’t mean she didn’t exist. She did and so do the men at the swimming pool. Denial doesn’t change reality. It just makes it easy to laugh at an old woman, who doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.

Screen shot 2014-03-30 at 9.22.39 PM
Another Quebec swimming pool with a middle east connection

2 thoughts on “Janette Bertrand, Wealthy McGill Muslims and the Eaton’s Sales Lady

  1. The number of foreign students McGill and Concordia can attract is limited (and always has been) to 20%. McGill has less than 20% right now. What campaign are you talking about? Less foreign students want to come here (QC) and can you blame them! FYI the fat Eaton Lady never existed and I am wondering if these McGill students are really who she says they are, this is one delusional lady which I am happy not to have to share a pool with at any time.


    1. I was using the word campaign informally as in McGill and Concordia have been making concerted efforts for years to boost their numbers of foreign students. A quick Google search will show this to be the case. What I can’t find on Google, however, is any reference to this 20% limit. Would you be able to provide a source?

      And now you’re telling me the Eaton’s lady is fat? Never heard that one before. Do you have any other biographical info to share?


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