Équipe Coderre stands by Outremont candidate with anti-Hasidic reputation

Équipe Denis Coderre is running a candidate for borough council in Outremont who has a reputation for virulent opposition to the Hasidic community.

For 2nd time in campaign, a Coderre candidate in Outremont comes under scrutiny

Jean-Marc Corbeil is running for a borough council seat in the Outremont district of Robert-Bourassa. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Équipe Denis Coderre is running a candidate for borough council in Outremont who has a reputation for virulent opposition to the Hasidic community.

Jean-Marc Corbeil is seeking a seat in the Robert-Bourassa district as part of the team being fielded by Marie Potvin, Équipe Coderre's candidate for borough mayor.

Community activists said that before the election campaign began, they tried to raise concerns to Mayor Denis Coderre about Corbeil and Potvin, but these went unheeded.

Corbeil, a financial instruments negotiator, has been active in borough politics for several years and often attends Outremont's borough council meetings. He is seen as an ally of a vocal group of citizens who object to accommodations for the Hasidic community.

"He has been very insensitive to the community, very antagonistic to the community," said Mayer Feig, a prominent member of the Hasidic community who also regularly attends Outremont's council meetings.

"[Corbeil] is part of a core group of an extreme minority, and the only agenda that they have is to try and divide people and to try and push anything that they can against the Jewish community. That's what he's made a business of."

Feig, who lives in Plateau–Mont-Royal, donated to Équipe Denis Coderre in 2014 and to Projet Montréal in 2016.

Coderre maintains zero-tolerance policy

'I checked on it myself and it seems that it’s not the case," Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said in response to concerns about a candidate on his team running in Outremont who has a reputation for opposing the Hasidic community. (CBC)
Coderre acknowledged he had heard about the concerns raised by Feig and others, and he investigated.

"We spoke about it, and I heard about that situation and I checked on it myself, and it seems that it's not the case," he told reporters at an event Monday morning.

"I know that maybe there was a discussion between individuals, but clearly you know what I think about that: it's zero tolerance. We've been working and making to fight against anti-Semitism. We'll have to take a look, but my understanding is it wasn't the case.… Clearly I will never accept an anti-Semitic comment, and this is not the case right now."

Support for controversial blogger

Corbeil's involvement in Outremont politics includes support for local blogger Pierre Lacerte, whose postings have drawn accusations of anti-Semitism.

He has commented multiple times on Lacerte's blog, Accommodements Outremont, which advocates for radical secularism and often ridicules local Outremont figures through crudely Photoshopped images.

Lacerte has been called a "hate-monger" by Leila Marshy, co-founder of the community group Friends of Hutchison (Mindy Pollak, a Projet Montréal borough councillor, is also a co-founder).

Many of Corbeil's comments on the blog from the past five years have been deleted. But in those that remain, he indicates support for Lacerte's positions.

Jean-Marc Corbeil, seen here on Denis Coderre's right, at a recent campaign event in Outremont. Marie Potvin is to the mayor's left. (Twitter)

In a 2012 response to a posting about the Jewish holiday Purim, Corbeil writes: "Although municipal authorities will do nothing to jeopardize their electoral base, the fact remains that the Purim festival is a dangerous drinking binge for those who go out on our streets. The majority of revelers who drive have a blood alcohol level that makes them criminals."

Following the 2015 terrorist attacks on the staff of the Paris-based satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, Corbeil described Lacerte as "our local Charlie" and thanked him for his "Charlism."

'Not the biggest fan of the Jewish community'

In 2008, Lacerte was sued for defamation by three prominent members of the Hasidic community: Michael Rosenberg, Martin Rosenberg (Michael's son) and Alex Werzberger. They claimed he was using his blog to make anti-Semitic comments about them.

The case took several years to come to trial, and Corbeil, the borough council candidate, was at one point a member of a group that raised money to cover Lacerte's legal fees. He also testified in Lacerte's defence.

In 2013, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled in Lacerte's favour.

The Rosenbergs and Werzberger have each donated to Équipe Coderre. Werzberger, a vocal member of the Hasidic community, was surprised to learn that Corbeil is a candidate for Coderre's party.

In his blog, Lacerte often includes altered images with commentary. Here, he puts the Rosenbergs' and Werzberger's faces on bodies nailed to crosses as current Outremont mayor Marie Cinq-Mars looks on. (Pierre Lacerte)

"We are definitely going to try our best to defeat him if possible, or at least let people know about him," said Werzberger.

"Let's just say Corbeil is not the biggest fan of the Jewish community."

The Rosenbergs did not respond to a request for comment. Équipe Coderre refused to grant CBC News an interview with Corbeil.

CBC News asked Équipe Coderre whether it was concerned about Corbeil's associations with Lacerte. A campaign spokesperson, Marc-André Gosselin, replied: "There was a lawsuit and Mr. Lacerte was vindicated. I won't comment on the judge's decision."

Gosselin added that Corbeil's comments on the blog were made while he was a private citizen, well before he decided to seek elected office. 

Concerns raised at summer meeting with Coderre

This is not the first time during the municipal election campaign that concerns have been voiced about a candidate on Potvin's slate.

Jeremy Murray, who is running in the Claude-Ryan district, was forced to apologize earlier this month when media surfaced social media posts in which he made racist and sexist remarks. He remains a candidate for the party.

In late June, a group of Outremont residents — including members of Friends of Hutchison — met with Coderre to discuss a number of local issues.

During the meeting at City Hall, they expressed reservations about Potvin, a borough councillor who had just announced her intention to run for mayor under the Équipe Coderre banner.

As a borough councillor, Potvin voted in favour of banning new places of worship on two of Outremont's commercial streets.

The bylaw passed four votes to one, but was criticized by the borough's sizeable Hasidic community, who felt unfairly targeted.

A comment left by Jean-Marc Corbeil on Pierre Lacerte's blog.

Coderre promised to consider their concerns about Potvin, said Jennifer Dorner, an Outremont resident who attended the meeting.

"He seemed very open," she said. "The reason he was meeting with us was because he recognizes that there are challenges in Outremont and he was wanting to work on this."

Later in the summer, she learned that Corbeil would be joining the Équipe Coderre ticket in Outremont. She said that during a phone call about a separate matter with Howard Liebman, a special advisor to Coderre, she drew his attention to Corbeil's relationship with Lacerte.

Dorner said she never heard back from Liebman and is upset they decided to keep Corbeil and Potvin on the ballot despite the misgivings.

"We were shocked that he [Coderre] was going with them anyway," Dorner said.

Liebman does not work for the Équipe Coderre campaign and is not involved in the vetting of candidates.

Attempts by CBC News to contact Potvin went unanswered. But Gosselin, the party's spokesperson, defended her record of working with the Hasidic community.

While she did vote in favour of the ban on new places of worship, he said, she did not campaign for one side or the other when the bylaw was partially challenged in a referendum (it was upheld).

Gosselin added that Coderre has an "impeccable" record on issues of cultural tolerance. "The mayor will always favour openness," he said. 

Robert-Bourassa, where Corbeil is running, is a largely francophone district where the vast majority of residents identify as either Catholic (61 per cent) or having no religion (19 per cent). The district has been held by Potvin since a 2015 byelection.