By Joe Bongiorno
Park-Extension citizens gathered for a festive protest on Monday evening in front of the fence dividing Ogilvy from De Castelnau. Armed with homemade cookies, construction paper, and orange yarn, protestors demanded that the fence come down once and for all.
Orange yarn and the words ouvrez-nous written on sheets of multicoloured construction paper were tied to the fence. The flocks of teenagers jumping over the barrier were applauded. Then, as the boom barriers descended and the lights flashed red, the group waved their arms and cheered.
Marie-Josée Nantel, who organized the event on Facebook, passed out oatmeal cookies. The event was more of a festive gathering than a protest, she insisted. Some in the group were hopeful after rumours had circulated that Exo was going to remove the fence on Sunday night, Nantel explained, but the fence did not come down.
Marino Tremblay was first to arrive. Holding up a placard in one hand and a cane in the other, Tremblay stood on the other side of the fence. Before it was reinstalled, he could easily pass through and access the train or subway, but with his reduced mobility, he chose not to take the 35-minute detour to join the other Facebook group members.
“Passing under the overpass with the cyclists, pedestrians, and baby strollers [with] everyone together on the sidewalk, it’s not easy,” said Tremblay.
According to Isabelle Larrivée, the fence also restricts access to families and the elderly. “We have to have the right to circulate,” she said.
To the residents who were present, the chain-link fence is more than an obstruction to access. It is symbolic of the neighbourhood’s isolation.
“Park-Ex has barriers on all four sides,” said Melissa Claisse. “It’s really inconvenient to enter the neighbourhood, so each passage is a big loss when we lose it.”
Tremblay feels that the fence seals off a neighbourhood and a population that is already isolated and marginalized. “For the people of Park-Extension […] who are completely sealed off, in a city like Montreal, it’s completely unacceptable.”
Park-Extension City Councillor Mary Deros was among those in attendance. “I’m here because I support this initiative I’ve been working on for the last 15 years,” she said.
“Two years ago, there was a decision taken by Transport Canada […] to allow the fence to come down [and] to make this crossing safe,” said Deros. “All the other elements are in place. You have the barriers, the sound system, and the sensors at a distance to jumpstart the lights.
“I’ve been told that it is the city’s responsibility to make this a safe crossing,” said Deros, pointing to a small unpaved stretch along the ground that the city says must be levelled off for safety purposes. “All we need is to remove the fence and put asphalt.
“I did a similar level crossing down from Ball over to Jarry Park. It cost us $375,000 and took me six months to have it done.”
Meanwhile, Tremblay has been taking matters into his own hands, making phone calls to get answers about why the fence was reinstalled after it was torn down in May.
“Exo says they’re not responsible, [and that] the city is responsible. Mayor Plante says she’s not responsible [and that] it’s Exo that’s responsible, and they are looking for a solution.”
Villeray—Saint-Michel—Park-Extension Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli also made an appearance. “It is because [the citizens] have been persistent that we will possibly see it opened soon,” said Fumagalli.
Throughout the years, citizens have cut openings in the metal or have torn down the barrier only for it be reinstalled. In fact, the fence saga spans multiple generations. “My mother came here in the 50s, and in the 50s the fence was here,” she said.
According to Fumagalli, she is unable to act on this issue without Mayor Plante. “It’s a question of decentralization of powers. Why is it that as the mayor of this borough who knows what the needs of the citizens are [I] cannot […] do what needs to be done?”
The protestors were less than convinced about the supposed danger of opening access to the passageway.
“It’s been almost a year that somebody cut the fence open and people were crossing,” said Deros. “Never an accident.”
Claisse shared a similar view on the apparent risk to commuters. “There’s no danger, clearly. It’s just excuses,” she said. “I think it’s probably more of a matter of liability than actual care for citizen security. No one wants to take responsibility for this.”
A petition was set up on www.change.org bearing over 400 signatures at the time of this article’s publishing.