Hundreds protest against the REM in Mercier-Est

Demonstrators rally to halt project, demand alternative options

Protestors seek to reroute or cancel proposed above-ground line Photo by Amany Mohanna

More than 300 people gathered in Pierre-Tétreault Park on Saturday, November 20, to take part in a demonstration against the new east link of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM).

The protest was organised by Collectif en environnement Mercier-Est [CEM-E], an environmental group based in the east of Montreal. 

The REM is an automated light rail transit project connecting downtown Montreal through two lines to CEGEP Marie-Victorin in the north and Pointe-aux-Trembles in the east end of the island. The new eastern line will pass through Sherbrooke St. above ground. Protestors raised their concerns that this would lead to neighbourhood disfiguration, noise pollution, and a decrease in value of nearby properties.

The protest called for stopping the project, listening to the concerns of residents, and mandating experts to study alternative options. These alternatives include changing the course of the train and adopting an underground option.

The gathering started with a press conference led by Daniel Chartier, vice-president of CEM-E. Chartier said that while east Montreal needs urbanized projects of public transportation, the entity responsible for researching and developing them should not be the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec CDPQ. Instead, Chartier explained that this should be the responsibility of the public L’Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM). 

Chartier described the $10 billion project as a “poisoned gift” and said it does not provide the right solution. “We want something that will really improve our quality of life, and [this] project is another bad apple. It's not the real solution. It's a way to make money for the Caisse de dépôt, the promoter of the REM,” said Chartier. 

Last October, CEM-E called upon east Montreal residents to sign a petition demanding the project be stopped. Chartier said that 1400 people signed the paper petition, with another 1200 adding signatures to an online version. He explained that the media coverage this generated will hopefully increase public awareness of this issue. 

Alexandre Leduc, member of the national assembly of Quebec, and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon, the leader of the Parti Quebecois, were also in attendance and gave speeches denouncing the project. 

Laurel Cleugh Thompson, an activist at the protest also gave a speech critical of the project. She explained to The Link that the REM project is very expensive; with its financing depending upon 85 per cent taxpayer support. “It’s going to saddle us with debt,” she said. 

After speeches ended, demonstrators marched along Des Ormeaux St. to arrive at Thomas Chapais Park. They carried signs denouncing the project and blew whistles and horns. 

Participants distributed articles outlining their reasons for refusing the project; emphasizing the negative impact on the environment it could have by reducing green spaces. As alternatives, these documents proposed new metro lines as solutions. 

One suggested alternative is a line connecting Laval to Boucherville via Anjou train station. It also proposes a ground train extension from Honoré-Beaugrand, connecting the network to the east. 

“There are tons of places where [the REM] can go without impacting the citizens' lives,” said Sylvain Medzalabenleth, a protester.

The mayor of the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough, Pierre Lessard Blais, also participated in the protest. He said the part of Sherbrooke St. marked for the new line is too narrow to support an aerial train. This, he added, would force tree cutting and a loss of green space in the neighborhood. 

Blais said the CDPQ neglected to study the underground alternative. He explained that there is no apparent reason for this particular line to run above ground. “All of the north branch is underground. For the REM de l’Est, why is the east part aerial?” he said.

Estelle Wache is a resident of the borough who has followed the issue since February. She participated in the protest to express her worries about her neighbourhood. “For people on Sherbrooke, it's terrible that REM will pass on their balconies and make everything shake,” she said. 

A protestor named Pierre criticised the way CDPQ has ignored residents’ complaints. “They're acting in a very undemocratic way. They're bulldozing everything because they have billions of dollars, but this is public money.”

A previous version of this article stated that Chartier referenced the REM as a potential urbanized projects of public transportation, this has been corrected. The Link regrets this error.