By P.A. Sévigny
Last Friday night, Quebec’s assorted media outlets all put aside their well-known rivalries when they agreed to broadcast a benefit concert which covered every media base in the province. As of 8 o’clock in the evening, when soprano Marie-Josée Lord opened the show with the pop classic Le Monde est Stone, telephones began to ring as people all over the province looked into their hearts and opened their wallets to help Haiti’s desperate, and now starving, survivors. While the concert could be seen on TV, heard on radio or caught courtesy of broadband internet access, hundreds of people, including several federal, provincial and local politicians, took the trouble to go to TOHU pavilion in Montreal North because they wanted to demonstrate their sympathy and solidarity with what is now described as Haiti’s “diaspora”-many of whom live in Montreal North.
While there was a lot of political star power in the room, Governor General Michaëlle Jean stole the show with her frank and sincere appeal for all of Canada’s generosity and support for the victims of the Haitian catastrophe. As Jean got ready to take her turn before the television cameras, many of the city’s Haitian policemen could be seen smiling with obvious pride as they watched the nation’s Governor General, a native-born Haitian, speak for the people of their homeland.
“This isn’t about politics, this is all about helping people when they really need our help,” Louise Harel said as she quickly wrote a serious cheque for the Canadian Red Cross effort in Haiti.
Papineau MP Justin Trudeau was also in the crowd along with Quebec’s Immigration Minister Yolande James and Viau MNA Emmanuel Dubourg, who took his own star turn with his “Je me souviens’ quote during the Thursday night Telus party. Dubourg’s recent work among affected community groups in his district is quickly giving him the reputation as being one of the major players among Jean Charest’s Liberal phalange in Montreal North.
“This is wonderful,” he told The Suburban. “The people of Montreal are getting to know who we really are, but we still have to remember how the situation is still urgent. People are hungry, people are thirsty and we still have to help them build a new city.”
Denis Coderre agrees with Dubourg. Not only does he believe Canada should commit itself to seeking permanent solutions for Haiti’s endemic poverty but it should also take advantage of the present situation “to build a new Haiti, a truly democratic Haiti and finally a sustainable Haiti.”
While he was pleased to see how quickly both the federal and the provincial governments managed to deal with the Haitian orphans’ issue, he believes there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Later, in La Perle Retrouvée, a community centre located in the basement of a de-consecrated Montreal North church, organizers were setting up more chairs as people kept coming in to see the televised benefit concert. When Montreal entertainment personality Gregory Charles began signing La Dessaliniere, Haiti’s national anthem, with a singular gospel beat, the entire room stood up as they added their voice to the anthem.
Antoine Alexandre was standing near the basement’s back door as he was getting ready to go home and hit the books. As a communications student who is trying to get his Quebec teacher’s certificate, Alexandre spent most of the last week wondering what happened to his family. His brother Hans, a Catholic priest, lost his church and he only recently received news about the rest of his family who are all safe but completely destitute and effectively out on the street.
“I want to bring them to Canada,” he said, “but now we lost all of our papers and it’s going to be very difficult.”
Just then, police and security men came through the back door as they were escorting the Governor General to the front of the room. Just as the Governor General came through the door, she saw Alexandre and immediately put out her hand to greet him and say a few words before moving on to meet others who were eager to see her.
“I can’t believe it,” said Alexandre, who was visibly moved by the experience. “I just met the Governor General of Canada who shook my hand and talked to me like I was a friend. This is such a great country… I just love this country.”