MONTREAL — Quebec student leaders say they will try to curb anti-tuition hike demonstrators from using the Nazi salute again.
Both B’nai Brith Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) denounced the gesture last week as unacceptable and insensitive to Jews and others, whatever the intention of those who do it.
A relatively small number of young people raising their arms straight out, and sometimes goose-stepping, has been observed occasionally at the demonstrations, which began in March and sometimes attract thousands.
However, the impact of the salute has been magnified by the circulation of images on the Internet.
The saluting has been directed at police as a taunt, to say that demonstrators believe the police are acting like fascists. The French acronym of the Montreal police department, SSPVM, is also said to have provoked the Nazi mockery.
Martine Desjardins, president of the largest student group organizing the daily protests, mainly in downtown Montreal, contacted both B’nai Brith and CIJA to apologize immediately after the two groups voiced their objections.
She said she understands how hurtful this reminder of the horror of World War II is and that it has no place in the students’ campaign.
The demonstrations have expanded to include a denunciation of Bill 78, the emergency legislation enacted in May to quell the social unrest, and general discontent with the government.
Desjardins heads the largest student organization in the province, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). Speaking via Twitter, the much smaller and generally considered most radical of the student groups, CLASSE, also urged an end to any mimicking of Nazi gestures.
“Regardless of the intentions, it is deeply offensive to Jews and non-Jews,” said David Ouellette, CIJA’s associate director for Quebec public affairs. “It defiles the memory of the Holocaust and is an assault on Quebec society, which lives by the rule of law.”
He added that it “reflects a disturbing lack of awareness of the true nature of Nazism… But our understanding is that it does not express sympathy for Nazism. We will be monitoring the situation.”
Ouellette said he is grateful for Desjardins having responded “quickly and unambiguously” to condemn the Nazi imagery.
But he said it’s not surprising, because CIJA and its predecessor organizations have maintained a good relationship with FEUQ, and its members have taken part in organized trips to Israel and the Jewish community’s Fête nationale receptions, for example.
B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant also welcomed the swift apology and assurance from Desjardins that she will make every effort to curtail this behaviour.
“We reiterate our call to all other Quebec student organizations, protest groups and individual students to refrain from hateful gestures that have caused shock and outrage throughout the Jewish community and are tremendously offensive to all Canadians.”