Clause prohibiting Jewish property buyers or renters in eastern Quebec city still existed – until recently

The sun sets on St-Jean l'Evangéliste Cathedral in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. (Pierre Bona photo)

A clause discriminating against Jews involved in real estate transactions in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., still existed on paper until very recently.

That fact came to light when a man went to court last year over a matter concerning a property he had owned there since 1994. He was shocked to discover an explicit prohibition on Jewish buyers or renters in that area of the city that was placed in the notarial documents.

The servitude, the legal term for such a condition, was placed by farmer Alphonse Waegener when he sold land in the mid-1960s that was to be subdivided for residential development. Today, there are about 350 houses in that neighbourhood.

The fact that such a clause remained on the books for decades, even though it was unenforceable, was brought to light by the Montreal newspaper La Presse on Jan. 14.

It reported on a case that was brought by Carl Nadeau against a developer that had made an offer to buy his property in 2018, but backed out when the non-construction servitude was found.

In December, a Superior Court judge ordered the provincial land registry office to erase the anti-Jewish servitude from its records within 30 days.

Judge Claude Dallaire wrote that such discrimination is prohibited under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that earlier court decisions made them illegal well before that.

Dallaire ruled that the two clauses banning the sale or rental of properties to “persons of the Jewish race” are “contrary to public order and must be struck.”

She added that their existence “shocks the conscience.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which says it’s the first time it has heard of such a clause still being around in recent memory in the province, is asking the city to rename a street and park that were named after Waegener. Alphonse Waegener died in the 1980s; his son Louis, 99, still lives in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

While Nadeau was not aware of the clause, several residents of Waegener Street were, according to La Presse.

The Commission de toponymie du Québec records that the street was named in 1989 and the park, which is on that street, got its name 10 years later.

CIJA also denounced Louis Waegener for telling La Presse that, “My father was devoted to everyone, but you see, the Jews, they become masters a bit in everything. That’s what he didn’t like. He had Jewish friends. He didn’t want to have any trouble with Canadians.”

“CIJA condemns in the strongest terms the anti-Semitic comments made by (Louis Waegener) justifying the discriminatory clause used by his father to prohibit the sale and rental of his lands to Jews,” Rabbi Reuben Poupko, CIJA’s Quebec co-chair, said in a statement.

“Anti-Semitic and racist clauses, prevalent in the 1950s, have since been invalidated by a Supreme Court decision.”

(In fact, as early as 1950, the Supreme Court struck down “restrictive covenants” used to keep Jews and other minorities out of specific neighbourhoods.)

“In light of this revelation and Mr. Waegener’s comments, CIJA calls on the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu to do the right thing and commit to renaming the street and park bearing the Waegener name,” said Rabbi Poupko.

On behalf of the city, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Coun. Maryline Charbonneau said in a Jan. 14 statement that, “We are aware of the sensitivity of this file, which affects the whole Jewish community. We will take the time to check the facts and consult the population on (renaming the street and park).”

St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, which has a population of close to 100,000, is about 40 kilometres southeast of Montreal.