Montréal Contre-information
Montréal Contre-information
Montréal Contre-information
Jun 112023

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

The author was a member of the MABC (Montreal Anarchist Bookfair Collective) between 2016 and 2020.

It is always an interesting question as to how, and to whom, we should assign blame for things that bother us. On Sunday, May 28, a strange scene played out on the footpath between the two venues in Little Burgundy’s parc Vinet, CÉDA and CCGV, where the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair takes place—a small crowd of pro-Ukrainians and/or Ukrainian nationalists[1] waved flags and sang and chanted in Ukrainian in order to drown out the words of an even smaller crowd of tankies[2] with a sound system. This took place in the assigned area for workshops, and it also disrupted the flow of pedestrian traffic between the two buildings. The commotion was overseen by Montréal police, which ruins the vibe at an anarchist event a little bit.

In the end, nothing particularly bad happened, at least as far as I know. The riot cops, who were spotted a block away, were not actually deployed. The tankies had a bad time, but I don’t especially care about them. A lot of anarchists had some fun taking in the stupid spectacle of it. That said, scheduled parts of the bookfair programme were disrupted, and some of the people responsible for organizing the bookfair were stressed out a bit. It’s not hard to imagine how things could have ended up really sour, too. Thus, if you care about any of this, this episode is a valid reason for conflict with whichever person might have been responsible for stunts what happened. That person is Yves Engler.

Okay, he’s not entirely to blame. But he, and the other tankies in his camp, are the ones who planned this event for this particular time and place. This got the wheel rolling for the pro-Ukrainians to hear about it and respond with a counterprotest, and the pro-Ukrainians, in turn, called in the cops. Even if it had just been the tankies, however, this rally—ostensibly against CÉDA, the underresourced community centre that mostly provides services to immigrants and pensioners in the neighbourhood—would have been obnoxious. Yves in particular is worth talking about because he has a history of conflict with the organizers of the bookfair that dates back a few years now.

Yves describes himself as a “Canadian Author and Activist” on the header of his website; the background to this text is a Canadian flag. A lot of what he does these days is get into politicians’ faces with a camera. He articulates the reason he pursues this strategy, while encouraging others to pursue it as well, in this blog post. After these disruptions, he typically writes a blog post about it, or he talks about it on his YouTube show, or he leverages it into an appearance on RT. This appears to be how he makes a living. It’s not up to me to tell other anarchists how they should feel about any of this, but I expect that few would care about him much either way if he hadn’t also chosen to make the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair a site of these stunts.

In September 2021, during the one-day, outdoor anarchist gathering in parc Lafontaine (a stand-in for a proper bookfair), Yves showed up in protest of “those overseeing Montréal’s Anarchist Bookfair” who had “lost the plot” because Black Rose Books, the publisher of some of Yves’ books, was not invited to participate. He was confronted and asked to leave. As Yves says in his blog post about it, the “ban” was indeed because of Black Rose’s association with him, but not only; there was at least one other matter that informed this decision, which has since been resolved. The part of the story that involves Yves is worth recounting, however.

During the 2019 bookfair, Yves spoke at a Black Rose “multi book launch event”, the actual details of which were not provided until a week before the bookfair itself, e.g. long past the deadline of when we had requested them. In the context of that chaotic week, a single person read the email; she, specifically, did not know who Yves was at that time, and we were not able to have a collective conversation about it. Multiple people asked me, over the course of the bookfair, why we had let an antisemite speak; I felt that the MABC’s good faith with respect to Black Rose, letting them get back to us a bit later with details about their book launch, had been abused. This was a valid grounds for conflict, too, but not an irresolvable one, and it should be noted that Black Rose was present at the bookfair in 2023.

The reason that the MABC would not have been okay with Yves getting a platform to speak at our event in 2019 is, above all, this 2016 article—one in which he takes about as provocative a tone as he can with respect to Canadian Jews, ostensibly as a function of his support for Palestinians’ liberation from the Israeli occupation.

There is a plausible deniability to his animus against Jews, and yet, throughout the article, he trivializes the historic oppression of Jews by means of comparison to the oppression that other groups have faced. He even writes that “compared to some other ‘white’ groups Canadian Jews have fared well”, citing as evidence the internment of Ukrainians during the First World War and the forced quarantine of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. But Yves’ reading of history is a partial one. He ignores, for example, the thousands of Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany interned by the Canadian state during World War II as “enemy aliens,” or the countless would-be Jewish refugees kept out by Canada’s “none is too many” policy and condemned to death in Hitler’s killing fields—refugees whose exclusion was motivated by the racial logic of protecting Canada from the “intermixture of foreign strains of blood”.

None of these details of history seem to matter much to Yves, who instead insists on associating Canadian Jews with wealth and privilege, noting, among other things, that they are more likely than the general population to be represented in “the billionaire class”.[3] What’s more, he implies that there is something nefarious about the fact that there are some Montréal suburbs where Jews comprise the majority of the population and about the fact that Canadian Jews often marry other Jews. He concludes: “Without an intervention of some sort, the Jewish community risks having future dictionaries defining ‘anti-Semitism’ as ‘a movement for justice and equality.’”

Since 2016, my assessment has been that “journalism” of this type fails to help Palestinians in Palestine. What it may do, however, is reinforce the idea that some Canadian Jews have in their heads already, namely that the only place where it might be safe or even just unremarkable to be Jewish is the territory of the Israeli state—which is bad for Jews and Palestinians alike. It’s bad for everyone else, too, except for those whose rent gets paid with reckless provocations.

With respect to the 2023 disruption, Yves once again possesses a degree of plausible deniability as regards his involvement. The rally was ostensibly organized by Montréal pour la paix (“Montréal for Peace”), a group that had previously booked a room at CÉDA (on the bookfair weekend, to be clear) for an event on “peace in Ukraine”; CÉDA subsequently canceled the booking. Yves, as well as Alex Tyrrell (the leader of Québec’s Green Party) and Samir Saul (a professor at UdeM), had been invited to speak during the original event. They chose to go ahead with the event anyway—and Yves wants us to think it’s merely a coincidence that this happened during the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair. For my part, I call bullshit. Yves knows about the bookfair, he was in a position to share what he knows to whoever is involved with Montréal pour la paix, and he could have always declined the invitation to come himself. But he wanted the confrontation.

The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair is, ostensibly, an event that is open to everyone. However, there have always been limits to that general principle. First of all, cops, fascists, and indeed tankies—in a capacity as proselytizers and pamphleteers, not merely as book buyers and hang-arounds—aren’t welcome. Second, at least in the past, journalists have also been asked to identify themselves if they want to show up (and relatedly, it has been asked that photographs only be taken with the consent of the concerned parties, so it is worth noting that Yves, while getting shit-talked at the door of CÉDA on the Sunday of the 2023 bookfair, moved to take a pic of one of his interlocuters with his smartphone). Third, of course, people with a history of intimate abuse have also been asked not to come. Finally, there are at least a few cases wherein people who have been shitty to one or more of the people who put in long unpaid hours throughout the year to make the bookfair happen have also been asked not to come, or to tread lightly if they do. Yves can be slotted into three of these categories, so I think it is reasonable to exclude him from the bookfair as a whole.

I am no longer a member of the MABC, so a decision to exclude Yves from the bookfair is ultimately not mine to make. I will say, however, that I would support a decision to exclude him, principally as a prick and an attention seeker whose antics in 2021 and 2023 made the bookfair more of a shitshow than it needed to be, and only secondarily as a tankie. Obviously, however, anarchists do not need an MABC mandate to make him feel unwelcome when he enters our spaces. When he walked over to the CÉDA building after participating in a protest of CÉDA, presumably because he needed to drain his bladder, it was quite proper that people got into it with him about his bullshit. He was arguably let off easy.

To conclude, although Yves has been reporting that it was one of the pro-Ukrainians who turned off the tankies’ sound system during their rally, credit actually goes to an anarchist attendee of the bookfair who simply thought the tankies were annoying as hell. May this same spirit animate our future collective encounters with this insufferable dweeb.

[1] I now prefer the term “pro-Ukrainians” to “Ukrainian nationalists” (which is used in other reports about this event) even though I previously said “Ukrainian nationalists” myself while talking friends over the past two weeks.

I think it is fair to guess that a large percentage of them were nationalists (and/or supportive of Ukrainian nationalism), whether of a more 21st-century, Zelenskyan, “civic” type (which, in and of itself, I consider no more and no less objectionable than a woman born in the Philippines having a Philippine flag up in her window) or a more 20th-century, Banderist, “ethnic” type (which is Nazi shit). Nevertheless, some of them may not have been Ukrainian nationalists themselves, but “allies”, or they may have been Ukrainians whose participation in the counterprotest had nothing to do with a nationalist imaginary. I didn’t interview them.

[2] I do not think “tankies” is the best way to describe them, but it is an easy way. Unlike the original tankies, who were members of the French Communist Party who supported the Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary to crush the uprising against the government there in 1956, these tankies probably never supported Putin’s tank columns rolling towards Kyiv. They might even really want peace. Nevertheless, in focusing on the governments that rule us (as well as governments with which the United States and Canada are friendly, like Israel’s, as well as intergovernmental organizations like NATO), they inadvertently (or maybe quite consciously) reproduce the media narratives promoted by other imperialist states governed by their own self-interested ruling classes. This is, at the very least, a distraction from anarchist revolution or whatever the hell we should be doing. It also tends to alienate immigrants to North America who understand that the governments in their homelands are shit.

[3] It’s worth noting Yves’ manipulative use of statistics here. In 2016, roughly 20% of Canadian billionaires were Jewish. That does sound pretty shocking, until you realize that in 2016, Canada only had 33 billionaires in total. This is hardly a sample size from which we can draw any meaningful conclusions. Moreover, looking at this sample, we can additionally conclude that Chinese-Canadians, Italian-Canadians, and Québécois people were, in 2016, disproportionately represented among “the billionaire class”. What of it?