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"Reasonable Accommodation": A Feminist Response

November 29, 2007

"Reasonable Accommodation": A Feminist Response

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Photograph: Women's studies student Lily Tandel presenting the statement (below) to the Commission's Citizens' Forum on November 20, at the Bibliothèque Interculturelle in Côte-des-Neiges, Montréal. Also pictured, Nada Fadol, a member of the statement-writing committee. Photo credit: Tanya Déry-Obin.

"Reasonable Accommodation": A Feminist Response /
Les « accommodements raisonnables » : Une réponse féministe

Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Montréal

[version française à suivre]

As anti-racist, anti-colonial feminists in Québec, we have serious misgivings about the Commission de Consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles. The Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec (CSF) has proposed that the Québec Charter be changed so as to accord the right of gender equality relative priority over the right to religious expression and to ban the wearing of "ostentatious" religious symbols in public institutions by public employees. Our concern is that the Commission and the CSF's subsequent intervention pave the way for legislation that will restrict rather than enhance the rights of women. We invite you to join us in questioning the exclusionary structure of the Commission, the assumptions it supports, and the negative impact it is likely to have on women's lives.

So, why call into question the legitimacy and the effects of the Commission?

1. because although we see the urgent need for dialogue about racism and sexism in Québec society, we object to how this consultation process has been undertaken. Listening to people "air out" their racism is not conducive to promoting critical reflection and dialogue, but instead creates a climate of fear-mongering and moral panic. Furthermore, in asking whether or not "difference" and "minorities" should be accommodated the commission assumes and perpetuates "commonsense" racist understandings of some "cultures" as homogeneous, backward and inferior. In addition, the Commission's reliance on the notion of "reason" must also be critically examined. Historically, white men have been positioned as the exclusive bearers of reason, and the Commission runs the risk of reproducing this in a context of ongoing social inequality.

2. because the design of the Commission and the language of "accommodation" assumes and perpetuates a system of power whereby western "hosts" act as gatekeepers for non-western "guests." A better consultative process would start with the recognition that Canada is a white-settler state, and that its history is one of colonial and patriarchal violence against Indigenous people.

3. because the public debates that the Commission has sparked construct certain ethno-cultural communities as perpetual outsiders and as threats to Québec identity rather than as integral to it. Concerns about ethno-cultural others as socially regressive obscure the everyday homophobia, sexism and racism that pervade Québec society.

4. because the ways that the Commission has been represented in mainstream English media promotes the idea that racism is a feature exclusive to Québec society and is not a problem -- or is less of a problem -- in the rest of Canada.

5. because the preoccupation with veiled women serves to deflect from the sexism and racism that has historically pervaded Québec and Canadian society. As feminists, we must challenge our complicity with the state's violence against women both in its colonial relations with Indigenous people and in its use of the figure of the veiled woman as an alibi for imperialist war and occupation in Afghanistan.

6. because appeals to secularism as a guarantor of gender equality effectively function to promote Christian culture as the norm and to scapegoat Muslims as inherently sexist, erasing secular forms of sexism.

7. because although it is still underway, the Commission has already prompted the proposal of laws that could restrict, regulate, and otherwise impede the lives of immigrant and racialized people in Québec.

8. because regulating women's public religious expression is gender discrimination insofar as it takes away women's freedom and inhibits their civic participation.

9. because the CSF is failing to meet its mandate of "defending the interests of women." The CSF would better serve the interests of women in Québec by focusing on the conditions of poverty, violence, criminalization and racism that many of us face, and not on what women wear.

Signed: The Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University, November 2007

A list of further resources can be found on the Simone de Beauvoir Institute website: http://artsandscience1.concordia.ca/wsdb/

Please circulate widely. To endorse this statement please email acarastathis@gmail.com

Media contact: Viviane Namaste, Acting Principal, Simone de Beauvoir Institute
514.848.2424x2371 or viviane@alcor.concordia.ca

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la version française commence içi
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En tant que féministes antiracistes et anticoloniales, nous avons d'importantes réserves à l'égard de la Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles. Par ailleurs, le Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec (CSF) a suggéré des modifications à la Charte québécoise afin de réclamer la priorité relative du droit à l'égalité des sexes sur le droit à l'expression religieuse, ainsi qu'une interdiction du port de symboles religieux « ostentatoires » dans les institutions publiques par leurs salarié-e-s. Le fait que la Commission, suivie de l'intervention du CSF, ouvrent la voie à des législations qui limiteront les droits des femmes plutôt que les améliorer, nous préoccupe. Nous vous invitons à sonder avec nous la structure d'exclusion de la Commission, les présomptions qu'elle avance et l'impact néfaste qu'elle pourrait avoir sur la vie des femmes.

Cela dit, pourquoi contester la légitimité et les effets de la Commission ?

1) Parce que malgré l'urgent besoin d'amorcer une discussion sur le racisme et le sexisme dans la société québécoise, nous nous opposons au procédé par lequel la consultation de la Commission a pris place. Écouter des gens exposer ouvertement leur racisme ne constitue pas un cadre propice à la réflexion critique et au dialogue, mais incite plutôt à un climat de peur et de panique morale. De plus, par le fait même de demander si la « différence » et les « minorités » devraient être accommodées ou non, la Commission tient pour acquis et perpétue une perspective selon laquelle certaines « cultures » sont homogènes, inférieures et rétrogrades. En outre, la notion de « raison » à laquelle la Commission a recours doit aussi être étudiée de manière critique. En effet, historiquement, les hommes blancs ont occupé la position d'uniques détenteurs de la raison, et la Commission court le risque de reproduire cet état de choses dans le présent contexte d'inégalités sociales.

2) Parce que la conception de la Commission et le vocabulaire des « accommodements » tiennent pour acquis et perpétuent un système de pouvoir selon lequel des « hôtes » occidentaux doivent protéger leurs frontières des « visiteurs » non occidentaux. Un procédé consultatif plus rigoureux reconnaîtrait d'abord que le Canada est un état de colons blancs et que son histoire en est une de violence coloniale et patriarcale envers les peuples autochtones.

3) Parce que les débats publics engendrés par la Commission présentent certaines communautés ethnoculturelles comme de perpétuelles étrangères et comme une menace à l'identité québécoise au lieu d'admettre qu'elles en sont partie intégrante. L'inquiétude que les « autres » d'origine ethnocuturelle puissent être socialement régressifs occulte l'homophobie, le sexisme et le racisme prévalents au quotidien dans la société québécoise.

4) Parce que les médias francophones couvrent les débats de manière à légitimer un protectionnisme de l'identité québécoise et de la langue française qui autorise la peur de l'autre et le racisme au nom de la sauvegarde d'une culture distincte.

5) Parce que l'attention prêtée aux femmes voilées sert à détourner l'attention du sexisme et du racisme qui ont historiquement dominés les sociétés québécoises et canadiennes. En tant que féministes, nous devons refuser d'être complices de la violence envers les femmes que perpétue l'état, soit par ses rapports coloniaux avec les peuples autochtones, soit par son emploi de la femme voilée comme justification de la guerre et de l'occupation impérialistes en Afghanistan.

6) Parce que recourir à la laïcité, supposément garante de l'égalité des sexes, sert dans les faits à promouvoir une norme chrétienne et à faire des musulmans les boucs émissaires du sexisme, masquant ainsi les formes laïques de sexisme.

7) Parce que, même si la Commission est encore en cours, elle a déjà donné lieu à des propositions de lois pouvant restreindre, réguler et autrement entraver la vie des immigrant-e-s et des personnes provenant des communautés ethnoculturelles au Québec.

8) Parce que réguler l'expression religieuse publique des femmes constitue de la discrimination sexuelle, portant atteinte à la liberté des femmes et restreignant leur participation civique.

9) Parce que le CSF ne remplit pas son mandat, soit « défendre les intérêts des femmes. » Le CSF défendrait mieux les intérêts des femmes du Québec s'il mettait l'accent sur les conditions de pauvreté, de violence, de criminalisation et de racisme auxquelles bon nombre font face, et non sur ce qu'elles portent.

Signé : L'Institut Simone de Beauvoir, Université Concordia, Novembre 2007

Vous trouverez une liste de lectures sur le site internet de l'Institut Simone de Beauvoir : http://artsandscience1.concordia.ca/wsdb/

Prière de faire circuler. Pour appuyer la déclaration, merci d'envoyer un courriel à:
acarastathis@gmail.com

Relations publiques : Viviane Namaste, directrice par intérim, Institut Simone de Beauvoir 514 848-2424 poste 2371, viviane@alcor.concordia.ca


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is it past time to decolonize carpetbaggercordia?

On why the Simone de Beauvoir Institute's statement on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission is tendentious, sanctimonious and more a "Rhodesian" perspective than a feminist one on Reasonable Accommodation:

1) because the statement occults any presentation of the national oppression of the French Canadians and Québécois in the British Imperial and Canadian space. By reducing what should be the "correct" premises of discussion to the idea "that Canada is a white-settler state, and that its history is one of colonial and patriarchal violence against Indigenous people," the statement airbrushes the Acadian Shoah, the forcible annexation of French Canadians and their Native American allies into Canada by Anglo-Saxon military conquest and their inferiorization by the English Canadian majority ever since, and the exclusion of French from federal institutions, economic decision-making and public life, such that more than two centuries following this conquest, Canada's cultural genocide program against French Canadians outside Québec was largely complete and irreversible, and French Canadians stood essentially at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid in Québec itself, excluded from all the senior echelons of socio-economic power, ranking 12th of 14 groups surveyed for income by the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission in a province where they formed the large majority of the population. Welcome to South Africa.

2) because like the English Canadian left and English Canadians generally, the statement ignores that language is a major metric of oppression and discrimination not only in Canada, but in Québec itself, where educational and health care institutions for anglophones are much better financed in proportion to their demographic base than are those of francophones, and that this inequitable and colonial situation has persisted for hundreds of years unchallenged by public opinion in English Canada. The drop-out rate for francophones in Québec schools is much higher than for anglophones as is the suicide rate, suicide being the leading cause of death for Québécois men between the ages of 17 and 45. This scandalous testament to inequality of opportunity and fulfilment between anglophones and francophones within Québec itself goes unmentioned by this institute based in an anglophone university which is part of this ethnically privileged system, which imposed the "gatekeeping" rule that francophone students should check with their profs to see if they "understand" French before submitting their assignments in their mother tongue, whose administration cannot even finance a single all-French newspaper despite 20% of the student body being Francophone, and whose "activists" cannot even muster a quorum to decide on supporting an all-Québec student strike. Perhaps the pontificating on "accommodation" and "othering" and "colonial attitudes" should start at home. It should also interest this institute that the chasm of socio-economic privilege separating anglophones from francophones, as well as chauvinistic sentiment toward the French fact, is reproducing itself "within" the immigration in Québec, such that allophone immigrants in Montréal who assimmilate only to English earn 30% more on average than those who assimmilate only to French, a matter which the commissioners themselves banalized despite being confronted with the evidence, because the stultifying climate of discussion created by the federalist and "post-nationalist" dominated media here - our "media of occupation" - renders the subject taboo.

3) because while pretending to deplore English Canadian media's stilted presentation of intercultural issues in Québec, the statement indulges in the very same technique, not just by the methods described above in (1) and (2), but by selectively highlighting and dishonestly conflating the views of marginal and unaffiliated individuals representing nobody but themselves with the views of the commissioners, whose published statements and reputations provide no grounds for such an amalgam at all. Nor do the commission's conclusions (summarized here in a particularly self-serving manner by the anglophone Gazette: http://sisyphe.org/spip.php?article2983). The institute thus imitates the reflex of English Canadian observers, which as feminist Josée Legault put it, consists of "always assuming the worst" about any discussion of intercultural issues as it pertains to French Canadians. The institute also imitates the anglo-hegemonist media by intimating that the only intolerance given a "platform" was that of old-stock French Canadians toward "outsiders", when in fact its "open door" policy also provided a platform for very refractory anglo-chauvinist views (of people from various ethnicities) about francophone insistence on the primacy of French as a public language in Québec and banalizing well-founded francophone concerns about English gaining ground in Québec, anglophone privileges in health and education, Canada's inappropriate promotion of assimmilation to English in Québec, and so on. The commission also provided a platform for (mostly francophone) immigrants who solidarize with Québécois aspirations to sovereignty and autonomy, which are as absent from the institute's commentary as they are from the CBC or Globe and Mail coverage, as were descriptions of the overwhelming majority of views expressed, across all ethnicities and confessions, and which were supportive of the Québec and Canadian Charters of Rights, the equality of men and women, and the religious neutrality of public institutions.

4) because the statement recycles the lame canard (in its point 6) that anyone defending the principle of the religious neutrality of public institutions, viz. laicity, is acting from some thinly disguised motive of "Christian" chauvinism, a claim which breathlessly ignores the last 50 years of Québec history, in which the movement for laicity was an integral part of the Quiet Revolution, and sought to free the Québécois from the overweaning and oppressive controls of their own Christian Catholic Church in public and political life. There are probably no jurisdictions anywhere in North America where the Christian Church and Christian dogma has less sway in the intelligentsia and the political class than in Québec. This is a shameless trading in stereotypes nursed outside of Québec, and again belied by the Commission's report, which recommends removing the Crucifix from the National Assembly in Québec City. The statement encourages ignorance about the real basis of laical sentiment in Québec which many newcomers have owing to lack of corrective information about the historical context, as described here by a Québécois Muslim of Maghreban origin: http://www.latribuduverbe.com/archives/2007/10/immigrant_et_laieque_cest_poss.html

5) because the statement falsely suggests that the CSF is "focusing" on what women wear when in fact this focus is by the English Canadian media and not the CSF. The recommendation that public servants - and not clients of public institutions - not wear ostentatious religious symbols, is only one of several recommendations by the CSF, which include anti-racist education in schools. See here: http://sisyphe.org/spip.php?article2846 A more restrictive version of the recommendation, referring to a very select group of public servants, was adopted by the Commission, whose final report incidentally was praised by a wide array of groups representing minorities in Québec including Muslim ones. e.g. http://www.montrealmuslims.ca/module-pagesetter-viewpub-tid-7-pid-2030.html

6) because the statement hypocritically stigmatizes the CSF and Québec feminists for wanting an interpretive clause in the Québec Charter of Rights which would disallow the inferiorization of women in the name of "religious freedom" when in fact such a clause already exists in the Canadian Charter of Rights and has never been the object of either denunciation nor critique by the institute, and this clause was incorporated because of the pressures applied by English Canadian feminists nearly thirty years ago. Why are English Canadian feminists allowed to realize that religious fundamentalists of all stripes share the objective of controlling women's sexuality and autonomy and not Québec feminists? Hypocrisy! The Canadian Bar Association supported such an amendment, as did all of Québec's political parties including Québec Solidaire, a progressive party with a multicultural base.

7) because while affecting to criticize the discourse of "othering", the statement does precisely that, by dishonestly magnifying the gulf supposedly separating the native-born and immigrant populations on the question of reasonable accommodation, when in fact public opinion research clearly demonstrates largely congruent views across these groups in support for laical public institutions, the equality of men and women etc. This was noted by the Commission, who found for example that immigrants from majority Muslim countries had very modern attitudes toward the separation of church and state and male-female equality.

8) because the statement falsely insinuates that the Québécois as a collectivity have no legitimate business reflecting on questions of interculturalism and how this should be negotiated within their public institutions since this would constitute "gatekeeping". Again the institute mirrors the arrogance of the English Canadian collectivity whose language is under no assimilative threat and who aren't experiencing colonial occupation by a contemptuous national-chauvinist oppressor nation with its attendant politicized immigration policies. Following the British Conquest all cultural contact with and immigration from the French-speaking world was cut off from French Canada and the stated goal of authorities was to assimilate the French Canadian nation to English and to anglicize all the immigration to English, including in Québec, producing a painful legacy which endures to this day, where a majority of Montréal allophones still assimilate to English. English Canadians and Anglo-Quebeckers are mostly refractory to the idea that immigrants to Québec assimmilate to French, yet this pervasive racist rejection of empowering the underprivilged Francophone majority goes uncritiqued by these supposed paragons of cross-cultural understanding, who are based in Québec and at an anglophone-privileged university. Quelle inconscience! French Canadians have a living memory of when virtually all immigrants assimilated to English in Québec as a matter of course, without any second thought and while adopting the old stock anglophones' contempt for and fear of the francophone majority, and the French Language Charter, an anti-racist law which sought to de-ghettoize and diversity the francophone collectivity has never been accepted in its basic principles by English Canadians anywhere including in Québec, which would be analogous to most white anglo Americans rejecting the principles of the Civil Rights Act. What shameful negligence for a "progressive" group to ignore this historical context to what has been happening, especially when nothing has changed in anglophone attitudes toward the French Language Charter and the primacy of French except a militant hardening of them. Would these pious anti-racists of the institute similarly banalize and airbrush China's policy of promoting Han immigration to Tibet without the immigrants assimilating to Tibetan, or the czarist and Stalinist policy of sending Russian immigrants to the Baltics who never assimilated? Or the westward expansion of anglo-Americans with no regard for Native American culture or rights? Hypocrisy! That empires have manipulated migration as an instrument of political control should be self-evident to any student of history.

Since it opposes colonial privilege What is this institute's position on providing equal funding to the francophone and anglophone health and educational systems? Does is support the French language Charter which has made the franco-Québécois collectivity more ethnically diverse than it's ever been and which is under constant challenge? Should anti-colonialism start at home?

Jacques
Basse-Ville-de-Québec

February 15, 2009 9:17 PM

reasonable accommodation at carpetbaggercordia

so should fighting colonialism *begin at home*?

http://media.www.theconcordian.com/media/storage/paper290/news/2003/04/02/News/Concordia.Franais.Future.Uncertain-405710.shtml

Concordia Français' future uncertain
Tim McSorley
Issue date: 4/2/03 Section: News
PrintEmail DoubleClick Any Word Page 1 of 1 Concordia's first and only Francophone student newspaper, Concordia Français, is facing an uncertain future after last week's referendum.

David Lamarche, a member of the newspaper's editorial board, called the situation for the newspaper, founded last year, "precarious" after students voted against a $0.06 per credit fee levy.

Last year, the newspaper obtained its funds through the council of representatives. The newspaper was hoping to create it's own fee levy to gain independence from council and to ensure a secure source of funds for the future.

Lamarche was predictably disappointed with the result of the referendum, although he believes that eventually the newspaper will get its own funding.

"Fortunately, and despite these results, I know that sooner or later the Concordia Français will have its credit based funding. Why? Because it is logical and legitimate; for the country, the province, the city, the university and the students," he wrote in an e-mail.

Lamarche also believes that by voting down the fee levy, students did damage not just to the newspaper, but to the university as a whole.

"You see, our university likes to portray itself as diverse and open-minded. The referendum results cast a shadow on that reputation," said the communications and political science student.

He said the result could also harm the university's attempts to recruit Francophone students as well as impede the work of many of Concordia's translation students who use Concordia Français to practice their craft.

Lamarche did not rule out possible future referendum questions, although he said the editorial board of the newspaper had yet to officially discuss it.

Whatever happens next year, though, Lamarche feels the only way for the young newspaper to keep going is through a reliable fee levy.

"The only thing that the Concordia Français asked for was a breather. The paper needs stability, hence stable recurrent funding. The university hasn't even given it an office to put the material it doesn't have into. The Concordia Français has no belongings. No pens, no sheets, no typewriters, no computers, no chairs, no desks, no nothing. They're just a bunch of honest people working their asses off with nothing and for nothing just so that this university can get now what McGill got 25 years ago."
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http://media.www.theconcordian.com/media/storage/paper290/news/2003/11/25/News/Concordia.Franais.Needs.Student.Support.To.Survive-568198.shtml

Concordia Français needs student support to survive
Katie Franzios
Issue date: 11/25/03 Section: News
PrintEmail Article Tools Page 1 of 1 As the Concordia Student Union (CSU) by-election takes place, the staff of Concordia Français wait with bated breath. A referendum question concerning a fee levy from zero to $0.06 a credit will secure the future of Concordia's only French-language newspaper.

"Right now, we're working on a two to three-month basis with funding," said editor-in-chief Marc-André Boisvert of the paper's finances. "At least with this fee levy, we know that we will have an exact budget per year and we will get a better idea on what type of financial situation that we are in."

Founded in January 2002, the monthly newspaper is not like the other campus papers. Instead of a focus on news pieces, Concordia Français is filled with opinion pieces from students, that sometimes reach over 2,000 words.

The paper currently receives all of its funding from the CSU, which barely covers printing costs. There are no advertisements in the paper, a large source of revenue for any media, and the staff does not plan on including them anytime soon. Boisvert feels that newspapers should not have any form of corporate sponsorship. He says that the paper's funding needs will not cause them to turn down that road in the near future.

The newspaper hopes to implement a three-year plan concerning funding, under which all of their finances will be put towards purchasing equipment and printing costs. The Concordia Français staff does not have a room to operate out of, but location is not as pressing of a concern. The staff is currently putting the paper together from their own equipment, but Boisvert does not know how the long the paper will be able to survive that way.

"We are worried because, after two years with the paper, people are starting to leave," the third year liberal arts and political science student said. "The new people that come in may not have access to the type of equipment that is needed to publish a newspaper."

This is not the first time the paper is askng for increased funding. Concordia Français asked for the same amount during the CSU by-elections last March, but voters rejected the proposition. This time around, attitudes within the newspaper's staff are brighter.

"We are much more visible this time, last time we didn't know as much about campaigning as we do now," Boisvert stated. "We are definitely positive this time around."

It remains to be seen if the campaigning will work. Posters all over both campuses boast the fee levy will make the paper the "most cost-effective indie media on campus." But even if they are, it is the voters' response that will decide the fate of the paper.

Art education student Angela Mastro-Baril, 22, is for the fee levy if it will help diversify the university press. "Its important for them to do that work that they are doing. Everyone is allowed their right too the freedom of speech, and if the levy will help, I don't see a problem in that."
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http://thelink.theorem.ca/view.php?aid=38593

Newspaper changes wrong
By Jean-Sebastien Levesque
Dear editor,

We are former and current Concordia students. We used to be active members of the French-language student newspaper Concordia Français. We have to speak up regarding what we see as a breach of trust, which completely undermines the founding principles of the newspaper, between the current executive, the Concordia student community and those who worked so hard to create Concordia's first French-language newspaper.

Concordia Français was founded in 2002. It was intended to be a space for debate and creation, free of publicity and dedicated to be a forum for expression for francophones and francophiles from all horizons studying at Concordia. By that logic, in the November 2003 CSU referendum it was awarded a fee-levy of 6 cents per credit by the student community. This amounts to more than $50,000 a year.

Recently, the current administration of the paper undertook major changes that make it radically different. These changes break the spirit of the contract between Concordia Français and the student community, as voted in 2003.

The newspaper administration, claiming to be "cash-strapped,? rescinded their commitment to be advertisement-free and is now actively seeking advertising revenues to which it is ready to dedicate an important space of the publication.

They have now gone so far as to compromise Concordia Français' raison d'être, effectively putting an end to Concordia's only French-language student media. It changed the name of the publication to l?Organe as a question of marketing. l'Organe is now branded as "bilingual" and includes a significant portion of English-language articles, despite the existence of many unilingual English-language student publications on campus.

We ask why the $50,000-plus fee-levy is not enough for a paper that used to be made for $6,000 a year by exclusively voluntary unpaid students? We ask what is the purpose of this paper now that it tries to become what already exists in terms of student medium at Concordia?

We ask the students to remind the current newspaper administration that it is accountable to them by requesting a general assembly of the Concordia Français, whereupon the it should be summoned to get back to its original mission: providing a French, publicity-free student media. Should the current administration refuse, we will ask the students to reject the fee levy. Let them survive on publicity and off-campus sponsors.

We also want to remind the students that their contribution of 6 cents per credit is totally refundable upon request to the Société de publication du Concordia Français. You are under no obligation to finance this waste.

La liberté de le dire!

Jean-Sebastien Levesque

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