St. Denis Street's 'battle of the flags' costs two people their jobs

Par P.A. Sévigny le 7 mars 2012

More than a year after they first raised their flags and banners  outside Yves Archambault's Le Marcheur-a shoe store located on one of  Montreal's hottest retail shopping strips, more than a few business  people with stores located along St. Denis Street wish the Tremblay administration would do something about lawyer 'Bill' Sloan and his  group's Saturday afternoon demonstrations. Every Saturday afternoon,  Sloan and his tiny little group of so-called political activists known  as PAJU (Palestinians and Jews United) stretch their banners and flags  along the sidewalk opposite Naot-one of the many shoe stores located  along the sunny side of Rue St. Denis. Aside from being a retail sales  outlet for its parent company which happens to be an Israeli shoe  manufacturer and distributor, more than a few observers believe it's  time that city's entire community begins to understand that this  particular store is being singled out for consistent harassment  precisely because it is a Jewish (not an Israeli) business that is  owned by Jews who happen to sell products made in Israel. While nobody  has tossed a brick through its window nor used a broad brush and yellow house paint to scrawl the usual epithets across both its window  and its door, it's easy to see the Saturday shoppers avert their eyes as they pick up their pace in order to hurry past the bothersome picket line on their way up the street.

Aside from their original intention to boycott Archambault's business,  PAJU's busy activists were forced to move their flags and banners down  the street after Amir Khadir, Québec Solidaire's sole MNA in the National Assembly, was criticized in the city's French-speaking media  because of his visible and audible support for PAJU and their efforts  to destroy a business in the neighbourhood he represents. The stores are one block south of his riding. Compared to the original media  storm which occurred when PAJU first began to raise its banners  outside Le Marcheur, a cursory media check indicates only two stories  have appeared about their Saturday afternoon efforts to wreck Naot.

“It's a bad situation,” said 60-year-old jewelry craftsman Thanh Van  Pham who came to Canada after he saw the communists take over South  Vietnam when their tanks finally rolled into Saigon. “We've been  losing clients for over a year now and people don't want to come into the store because they don't want to be bothered by these people out on the sidewalk.”

Pham is a skilled craftsman who works in Oz- a mid-level jewelry  outlet owned by Monique Oz who has more than a few choice words for  Sloan, PAJU and their Saturday afternoon activities. “Are these people crazy,” she said. “Don't they know how hard it is to do business in this city?”

st_denis_01.jpgDuring a short interview with, both Pham and Oz said they tried to  reason with Sloan and his supporters (who include Chadi Marouf and  Sabine Friesinger, a former president of Concordia's student union)  but they both said the PAJU activists didn't want to know anything  about the damage they were doing to a retail business that depends  upon passing pedestrian traffic. According to previous reports, Bruce  Katz, PAJU's president, said his organization was concerned about “the  big issue” and would fold up its flags and banners once Israel moved out of what he called 'the occupied territories' or when the store  stopped selling shoes made in Israel. As Monique's business is located  next to Naot it wasn't long before her weekend business began to slow  down to a trickle after which she said her Saturday afternoon walk-in trade finally dried up and went away. Visibly annoyed, Oz told The  Suburban she had to let two of her sales people go because she couldn't afford to keep them on the payroll. “This is starting to cost us a lot of money,” she said.”If this keeps up, it's going to put us out of business.”

Aside from the weekly counter-demonstration led by publisher and  editor Daniel Laprès  and a loyal group of friends and supporters who  object to what Sloan and his tiny gang are doing to an innocent business, nobody seems to be taking the situation seriously. When  asked about the reasons behind his efforts, Laprès said it's nothing  less than a moral choice, “…et mon devoir,” [my duty, he added] when  faced with people who are attacking a small business for no other  reason except that it's a Jewish business that sells shoes made in Israel. “It's sad,” said Naot executive Corinne Lasoos. “It's very sad and what's worse is to see how nobody seems to know  what to do about it.”

During a brief telephone interview, Lasoos said she wrote letters to  ministers in both Ottawa and Quebec about what was going on in front  of her store on St. Denis Street. “As far as I'm concerned, they're  the 'Honorable Invisibles',” said Lasoos. Apart from a letter she  received from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office telling her  about the Ottawa protocol-a measure which outlines the present  government's disdain for any kind of anti-Semitic activity, she said  she is still waiting for some kind of an answer from political leaders  in both Canada and Quebec about what can be done about a tiny group's  ongoing efforts to ruin her business. When asked about her future  plans to fight PAJU's ongoing activities, she said she was also planning to write to Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, but at this point, she said that she was very disappointed with all the politicians and she didn't expect much action from any of them.

As far as Laprès and other merchants are concerned, a cowardly city  administration combined with a complacent police force and a compliant  community has contributed to a political impasse in which a number of  small business concerns are being ruined simply because it suits a  radical political agenda.

“As far as I'm concerned,” said Laprès, “…I'm far more interested in  what people are going to do about this than anything people have to say about it. It's been more than a year now and these people are still there and if  nothing is done to stop them; this street is going to begin to lose  its business. Stores will begin to close and these brutes (as he calls  them!) will be free to move on to ruin other people and their business.”



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