CSL holds memorial tribute for Cllr. Ruth Kovac

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Last week the City of Cote Saint-Luc held a moving and emotional tribute to remember Councillor Ruth Kovac who passed away on October 1, 2019. The mayor, councillors, former council colleagues and members of the public spoke publicly along with Ruth’s family.

The first video, below, is a photo-video montage remembering the civic contributions of Councillor Kovac.

The second video, below, is the footage of the speeches as well as the photo-video montage all in one. You can watch the full event or you will find my tribute at 18:45 and the family’s remarks at 37:40.

I welcome your comments and memories of Ruth right here on my blog or on Facebook.

My speech begins at 18:45

Goodbye friend. A tribute to Ruth Kovac.

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I met Ruth Kovac nearly 40 years ago. We were both enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician course and so began a four decade long friendship that was rooted in our common desire to help others in their time of need.

Ruth always sought out opportunities to give back to her community. We volunteered our way up through the ranks at Cote Saint-Luc Emergency Measures Organization in the 1980s, responding to hundreds of medical emergencies, helping those who were sick or injured and organizing CPR courses.

We decided together with my friend Mitchell Brownstein that the best way to make a bigger impact and help more people was to run for public office. The three of us were elected to Cote Saint-Luc City Council in 1990. Ruth developed expertise in many civic areas, but she excelled when it came to Parks and Recreation and Urban Planning. For years she championed these departments working closely with staff of all levels.

Councillors Glenn J. Nashen and Ruth Kovac enrolled at the Emergency Preparedness College of Canada 1991

She was a fierce defender of Canadian Unity and proudly wore her Maple Leaf flag but never forgetting her rich Dutch heritage.

Councillors Ruth Kovac and Glenn J. Nashen

Ruth and I worked closely on seeking recognition of Paramedics in Quebec, on getting CPR into school curriculum, on acquiring Automated External Defibrillators in our municipal buildings and vehicles. One of our biggest efforts was promoting bilingualism, especially on emergency communications from the government and also from companies doing business in English-speaking areas across western Montreal. She continued this gargantuan effort most recently with Harold Staviss.

Celebrating demerger victory (June 2004) with Ruth Kovac, Anthony Housefather and Mitchell Brownstein

Ruth and I fought for pioneering No-Smoking bylaws in the early 1990s and for promoting the first mandatory municipal cycling helmet bylaw in Canada. We also worked together to make Cote Saint-Luc first to require residential sprinkler systems for single family homes.

Whether it was her beloved Mount Sinai Hospital, where she served in several leadership positions through the years, or Canada Day festivities in Cote Saint-Luc which we co-chaired numerous times or the annual blood donor clinic that she chaired year after year, she put her heart and soul into every activity that she touched. And my, how she touched a lot of organizations and people.

Our seats were side by side for all 24 years that we served together on City Council. So, she jokingly referred to me as her “Council-husband” and she affectionately became my “Council-wife”.

We co-chaired so many projects and events and together with Mitch, Dida Berku, Allan J. Levine, Isadore Goldberg, Harold Greenspon, Richard Schwartz we became a Council family. We supported one another’s ideas and projects and always tried to seek consensus. Sure, we all fought a bit behind closed doors, but we always emerged as friends and colleagues for the benefit of our beloved City of Cote Saint-Luc. Ruth would have it no other way. She would stick two index fingers to her lips and blast out an ear piercing whistle to catch our attention. “When we go out there, we are united,” she would blast. And so it was.

Councillor Ruth Kovac greeting new citizens on Canada Day with Councillors Sam Goldbloom, Glenn J. Nashen and Steven Erdelyi

She was one of the few who got along quite well with Mayor Lang, respecting his perspective and experience and often playing the diplomat in connecting divergent opinions.

Ruth agonized over each new development, every exterior home renovation, each zoning bylaw and amendment. Box loads of cheques would be sent before each weekend to her house to cross-check invoices and ensure that our city operated smoothly and transparently. She would read through stacks of paperwork and only sign the cheque once she was satisfied that staff met her expectations in due diligence. She took this responsibility very seriously and made it a full time endeavour.

Celebrating another victory: Ruth and Peter Kovac

Every year or two we would travel, along with a few other council members, to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conferences across this great country. Ruth proudly represented our city, region and province and loved engaging with councillors, aldermen, reeves, mayors, provincial and national legislators. She would have no issue walking up to anyone and starting a conversation. She loved to boast about our amazing services back in Cote saint-Luc and to learn from others. She developed acquaintances across Canada and would reach out from time to time.

Ruth with the Boys in Blue. She always admired Constable Vincent Di Angeles of PDQ 9.

Ruth banded together with Mitch, Anthony Housefather and me as the co-chairs of the Cote Saint-Luc demerger committee. We fought mega-Montreal and against all odds we succeeded in reestablishing our City of Cote Saint-Luc. The four of us worked very closely on numerous files and projects, with Anthony as our new mayor along with our new colleagues Mike Cohen, Steven Erdelyi and Sam Goldbloom. The council family evolved and worked so well together, succeeding at major expansion with the new Aquatic and Community Centre which Ruth championed with gusto, like she was building her own house.

Ruth Kovac actively involved in the development of the Cote Saint-Luc Aquatic and Community Centre in 2011

We typically greeted each other with a goofy, “Hello friend.” We chuckled each time.

Ruth developed a great working relationship with successive police commanders from Neighbourhood Station 9, which we fought to protect from closure, together with Anthony and Mitch. We won.

She relished in her relationships with directors and managers and all city staff. She remembered everyone’s name and always gave a cheery hello to all as she entered City Hall.

Councillor Ruth Kovac with Commander Bissonnette and Director Jordy Reichson

And we fought to save our Emergency Medical Services from being wiped out by the merger madness. And won again. Ruth was determined to do the right thing, she would say. “Listen to the people,” a quote she’d remind us of from one of her political favourites.

Councillor Ruth Kovac even convinced her husband, Peter, to join vCOP. Seen here on Canada Day 2012.

Somehow, she managed to carry out a very full council agenda for three decades, all the while raising her three children with Peter and then taking an active role with her grand-kids. And she was so devoted to her mother, Ilse, bringing her everywhere she needed to go. But Ruth would rarely miss a meeting, was always prepared, did her research and got ready for discussion and debate. She was a wise and thoughtful woman of balanced and sage advice and kept a calm head about her.

She would berate Anthony and me for not wearing ties, for being too casual. She’d offer to take us shopping for more formal attire. “You need to dress smart, look sharp,” she’d say. She liked to think of herself as old fashion, but she was really quite avant guard.

Ruth was always so proud of those around her, especially when she worked to see Anthony Housefather elected as our Member of Parliament

Ruth never backed off from a battle. She pulled herself together no matter the odds and gave it her all. She handled her bout with cancer in the same way, preferring to keep it as her secret for the very longest time. And throughout this period she attended her council meetings, read the reams of required documents even when she was too weak to lift them, responded to emails from constituents and posted city announcements on her Facebook page. Most others would likely have thrown in the towel. Given up. Not Ruth. She slugged it out to the very end. As she always did.

I’m so lucky that I had one last chance to sit and talk and laugh and cry with Ruth last Thursday and together with Anthony and Mitch send her flowers to share online for her very last Shabbat, as she made a weekly habit of posting beautiful flowers to share with her world and to send messages of peace and togetherness.

As I left her home my eyes swelled with tears at the thought this could be my last, “Hello friend.” Luckily, I had never had to deal with such a suffering friend or the prospect of loss. Ruth, knew this and in her own generous way made it easy for me, and for others. She told me she was at peace with her circumstances, was proud of her accomplishments and those that we achieved together. She couldn’t ask for more than the beautiful family that she and Peter had raised and the wonderful friends that surrounded her nor the supportive community that comforted her. I told her that her legacy would carry on for generations and that I was proud of all she had done for so many people.

Ruth pushed me to go beyond my limits. She enriched my life. I will forever be grateful for our friendship.

Goodbye friend.

Cote Saint-Luc loses a civic giant

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Mitchell Brownstein, Anthony Housefather, Ruth Kovac and Glenn J. Nashen tally up results in leading the city to victory in the demerger battle

Ruth Kovac passed away this morning.

Cote Saint Luc City Councillor, champion volunteer, wife, mother, grandmother- Ruth was a woman of extraordinary accomplishment who was deeply loved. Our council was like a second family and having been co-chairs of the demerger campaign with her we felt exceptionally close.

At times Ruth could be like a second mother or sister but she was always an exceptional friend. Nobody was more pragmatic. Nobody more driven and nobody cared more about the community she loved in.

CSL demerger co-chairs, 10 years later: Mitchell Brownstein, Anthony Housefather, Glenn J. Nashen, Ruth Kovac

Up until last week she was responding to resident emails and proposing improvements in her City and at her synagogue. She even arranged for remote viewing of High Holiday services so those who were home unwell could watch.

We have lost a leading light of our community and extend our deepest sympathies to Peter, Debbie and Anthony, Jeff, Tammy and Jason and her entire family.

We love and miss you Ruth.

All our love, Mitch, Glenn and Anthony

Celebrating demerger victory (June 2004) with Ruth Kovac, Anthony Housefather and Mitchell Brownstein

More:

Longtime Cote Saint-Luc City Councillor Ruth Kovac passes away, CTV News

‘She was one of a kind’: Côte Saint-Luc city councillor Ruth Kovac passes away, Global News

Obituary: Longtime Côte St-Luc city councillor Ruth Kovac, Montreal Gazette

Côte Saint-Luc mourns the death of longtime city councillor Ruth Kovac, CBC News

Ruth Kovac: A personal tribute to a warrior, The Suburban

Swift and angry backlash against D’Arcy McGee MNA’s vote for Bonjour-Hi resolution

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By Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban Jun 12, 2019

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum voted along with fellow Quebec Liberals, the Parti Québécois and the governing CAQ in encouraging Montreal merchants to drop the “Hi” in the now-traditional Bonjour-Hi greeting.

Be sure to read below: In my opinion

The vote, proposed by the PQ, came in advance of Grand Prix weekend, when numerous tourists, including many who do not speak French, visit Montreal.

Liberal MNAs Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley were not present for the symbolic vote. Weil told the media she stayed away after receiving numerous complaints from constituents after voting for the same motion in 2017.

Birnbaum provided an extensive explanation for his vote on Facebook. The MNA said the wording of the resolution was acceptable to him, and it passed unanimously in terms of all MNAs present in the Assembly.

“Here is why I chose to rise for the vote….verrrry slowly,” he wrote. “English-speaking Quebecers, whether they live in Snowdon, Sillery or Sherbrooke, have a stake in supporting the protection and promotion of the French language. We are allies, not enemies in that cause— it’s time that this be recognized by all parties, as it is by ours.”

Birnbaum also contended that the CAQ government “has failed to take the slightest concrete measure to truly strengthen the place of French in Quebec — by increasing spending, as our government did, on francisation programs for new immigrants, by supporting English school boards in their constant efforts to improve French-second language programs (the CAQ plans to abolish the board), and in calling for the inclusion of all Quebecers in the legitimate and necessary effort of French-language promotion.”

There was much reaction to Birnbaum’s vote.

Harold Staviss, who with CSL councillor Ruth Kovac has been lobbying businesses to put up bilingual signs and send out bilingual communications to consumers, was very displeased.

“Do our MNAs have nothing better to do?” he wrote on Facebook. “What a joke! Three cheers and kudos to Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley for standing up for those that elected them. At least two Liberals stood up for their constituents. But with all due respect to David Birnbaum and Jennifer Maccarone, you let us down big time. I urge you all to show both David and Jennifer your total disgust for what they did. E-mail them, call them, use social media.”

Kovac herself sent a note to Birnbaum, which she shared with The Suburban, announcing that she is withdrawing her Quebec Liberal Party membership as well as her seat on the D’Arcy McGee riding association.

“We have discussed this issue on more than one occasion,” she added. “As an MNA, in my opinion, you are elected by the people and responsible first to them, irrespective of parliamentary duties. The 2017 backlash should have guided your vote this time. This vote was a resolution, not legislation! It is the English and multi- ethnic population that elected you, not a small Francophone town in a rural area.”

Kovac also wrote that Bill 101 and the OQLF “have never been about promoting French, but pushing for a slow and painful death of anything English.

“Having worked in different businesses before becoming a councillor, we know that it is the language of the customer that is paramount. This was an opportunity where you could have easily risen slowly or quickly with true vigour and represented D’Arcy McGee.

“I suspect that I speak for many.”

Former Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen responded to Birnbaum on Facebook

“To be inclusive, forward looking and positive… sure,” he wrote. “To respect, promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversations between private business and private citizens? Not the role of our parliamentarians. As you rightly point out, French is as healthy as ever in Montreal. No need to suppress the English language.”

CSL council regular Toby Shulman wrote: “I am calling my MNA. He has lost my vote.”

joel@thesuburban.com

More:

In my opinion:

While I an upset about the motion in the National Assembly, I don’t believe that David Birnbaum’s ‘reluctant’ vote in favour makes him unworthy as a representative of the English-speaking community, as expressed by some others. Now I’m no apologist for anyone, however politics isn’t a zero sum game. I believe in measuring a leader by the overall good he or she does for the community. I’m really not pleased with David’s decision to vote in favour of this resolution. I would have preferred that he cast a vote against, as difficult as that would have been for him. It would have sent a much stronger message than rising slowly, in my opinion. But, one cannot erase the many good choices David has made as our MNA. So I do think anyone who’s upset should let him know. It is only through these many contacts that any MNA can better represent us on the next resolution. Too often people are quick to criticize on single issues, disregarding a history of achievement.

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin

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Very proud of my friends and colleagues Ruth Kovac, Harold Staviss and David Birnbaum on this important step forward. My readers will recall my many posts and communications with various ministries and agencies of the Quebec government, as well as the city of Montreal (notably the Fire Department) demanding that messages pertaining to public safety be in both French and English, as permitted by the oppressive and dreaded Charter of the French language. Many of these communiques received a polite we’ll look into it with little action or follow up.

The case of the highway road signs proclaiming completely unintelligible warning messages to any non-French-speaker were particularly unjust and illogical. Search my blog for these posts and pictures.

Well, thanks to perseverance and determination of Ruth and Harold they pushed and hounded, and engaged the assistance of our duty-bound MNA, David. The result is favourable in terms of agreeing to pictograms, unfortunately not bilingual signs, but the work is still to be done by the ministry. We’ll continue to follow this important dossier and hold the next government to account and press forward until this gets done in the name of public safety!

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin
From left, D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss, CSL councillor Ruth Kovac and Transport Minister André Fortin at a recent meeting.

Transports Quebec is in the process of changing French-only directive highway signs to pictograms, and will gradually also do so on electronic message boards, provincial Transport Minister André Fortin told The Suburban Saturday.

The changeover is coming about following a 7,000-name National Assembly petition, created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Cote St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac and sponsored by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, which sought bilingual traffic signage dealing with health and public safety. Last year, we reported that Transports Quebec committed to more and better pictograms.

Fortin praised the petition, and pointed out that he recently met with Staviss and Kovac along with Birnbaum.

“In terms of using more pictograms and to make sure highway signs are understood by everybody who uses the roads, there’s a couple of things we have developed,” Fortin said. “It’s important to know that we already use more pictograms on Quebec roads than anywhere else in Canada, but obviously we can go further.”

Some examples already addressed include signs indicating thaw following the winter season, and uneven pavement.

“And there are others that are in the course of being replaced,” Fortin said, including some addressed in the petition such as “incident voie droite bloquée” (right lane blocked because of incident) and “risque d’aquaplanage” (risk of hydroplaning). “So to make our roads safer and make sure everyone understands the warnings, we are moving to using more pictograms.”

Another aspect of the petition was electronic message boards warning of accidents and incidents, and providing directives.

“A lot of them are first-generation message boards and they don’t necessarily allow for the use of pictograms,” Fortin explained. “With the newer boards, the technology is better and it enables us to use less words and more pictograms. We’re changing a lot of these message boards right now to use more pictograms.”

The Minister also pointed out that, as the petition addressed, sometimes there are too many words on the message boards, “and we agree with that.

“We certainly don’t want our message boards to be an added distraction to drivers, so we’ve already given a directive to the various regional sections of the ministry  to leave the boards blank if there’s no particular information of value.

Staviss and Kovac were very happy.

“We are ecstatic with the news that the traffic signage and message boards on Quebec roads dealing with health and public safety are in the midst of being replaced by symbols or pictographs,” they said in an e-mail to The Suburban. “It is welcoming to know that such public safety signage as Dégel shall be replaced by pictographs, which most certainly will be more clearly understood by motorists using our Quebec roads.

“As we have said since the launching of our petition in early December 2016, the change has nothing to do with language, it has all to do with everyone’s health and safety,” they added. “Kudos and many thanks to David Birnbaum, the MNA for the riding of D’Arcy McGee who deposited our petition in the Quebec National Assembly on March 14, 2017, to André Fortin, our Minister of Transport and the MNA for the riding of Pontiac for considering and implementing our petition and someone who gets it, as well as to Elisabeth Prass (Bureau Chief and Political Attaché to Birnbaum) and Caroline Des Rosiers (Press Secretary/Attaché responsible for the file and Political Advisor) for their input. It goes without saying that we are excited and overjoyed that our petition really made a difference. It sometimes pays to stand up for what one truly believes will make a positive change.”

Birnbaum praised Staviss and Kovac, and those who signed the petition, “which I was pleased to present in the National Assembly. And, frankly, I commend The Suburban for having kept this issue in the news.

“I’m really encouraged that my colleague, Minister Fortin, has taken concrete and prompt action to respond. We’re talking safety and security, for all Quebecers and for all visitors to the province. André has spelled out specific measures to replace unilingual wording with easily understandable pictograms on key road and traffic signs and on electronic billboards. Furthermore, he’s given instructions to have those changes implemented promptly.”

Birnbaum goes for #2 in D’Arcy McGee

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D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum looks on as he is announced as the official candidate for the Quebec Liberal Party in this year’s general election

 

A political and community ‘Who’s Who’ turned out Monday night for the nomination meeting for the Quebec Liberal Party candidate for D’Arcy McGee riding where incumbent Member of the National Assembly David Birnbaum is seeking a second mandate.

 

Flanked by Deputy Premier Dominique Anglade, Finance minister Carlos Leitao, English-speaking community relations minister Kathleen Weil and MNA Rita De Santes, Birnbaum was clearly beaming with pride on having served his constituents well over the past four years.

From right: David Birnbaum, John Parisella, Carlos Leitao, William Steinberg, Mitchell Brownstein, Kathleen Weil, Dominique Anglade

Special guest speaker John Parisella, chief of staff to Premier Robert Bourassa and decades-long senior adviser to the QLP introduced Birnbaum as a man with great focus and an excellent representative for the riding. He noted, as I have on several occasions, Birnbaum’s eloquence in choosing the very best words in making his point.

 

Said Birnbaum, in accepting the nomination and becoming the official QLP candidate, “We’re working hard in building Canada.” He pointed out how his government is not only looking inward at Quebec but seeking ways to strengthen the entire country, for example through bilateral work with other provinces.

 

“It’s rewarding to contribute to the rest of the country,” the liberal member said.

 

With regard to the work the QLP is doing for the local community and the Jewish community, he singled out the Jewish General Hospital and the government’s recent decision to fund “Phase 4” of the multi-million dollar redevelopment project.

David Birnbaum at the Jewish General Hospital

“The JGH is a model, as our health minister has said many times, and now has funding for the next step of its major expansion,” Birnbaum said.

 

“I’m doing my piece to move the Cavendish dossier forward,” Birnbaum announced, citing his many meetings with municipal and provincial leaders. “In 2024 you’re going to see something happen,” he stated.

More locally, “We recently announced one million dollars in funding for the Cote Saint-Luc Samuel Moscovitch Arena.”

Quebec Liberal leader Dr. Philippe Couillard introduces D’Arcy McGee candidate David Birnbaum (2014)

“I presented a resolution by Cllr. Ruth Kovac concerning safety on signs,” Birnbaum mentioned. In fact, Cllr. Ruth Kovac and Harold Staviss have been remarkable in their consistent advocacy for bilingualism in the retail and commercial arena. It was yours truly that began a local push for bilingual safety messages on Quebec road signs and English content on provincial department websites. I must say that it is still quite disappointing that not only is there far too little English on road signs as well as in commerce it is quite sad that Ruth, Harold, myself and many others must advocate in the first place for something that is already within the law.

MNA David Birnbaum and Councillor Ruth Kovac

Birnbaum stated, “As MNA you need to be present for the constituents each and every day… solving problems, serving the community.” To that end he thanked his two very accessible and effective attachés, Chris and Liz.

 

Among other issues, Birnbaum also highlighted:

  • last year’s economic mission Historic mission to Israel, the first time a Quebec Premier made such a visit.
  • The Premier’s three visits into the riding, including last week for Yom Hashoah and a previous appearance at the CSL Men’s Club. “There’s no tougher place in Quebec for hard questions than from the 600 men of the CSL Men’s Club,” he said to applause, with a nod to past president Sidney Margles who was present.

 

In considering the opposition in the upcoming October 1 general election Birnbaum said, “Ask the CAQ why a judge in Quebec cannot discharge his duties while wearing a kippa. Or ask why the CAQ wouldn’t continue funding the English community secretariat, or why they’re against current immigration levels.”

David Birnbaum, MNA, welcomes Cllrs. Dida Berku, Mitchell Brownstein, Allan J. Levine, Acting Mayor Glenn J. Nashen and Chief of Staff Bonnie Feigenbaum (2015)

“As to the PQ, despite a referendum on sovereignty is not on the agenda it keeps coming up time and again.”

 

He also referred to PQ leader Jean-Francois Lisée’s “stupid question”, as Leitao called it, last week on Yom Hashoah. Lisée questioned why Birnbaum should have more rights than Lisée is being allowed to wear a kippa in the assembly while Lisée was singled out for wearing a political symbol in his PQ lapel pin, something not permitted by assembly rules. A political three-party free for all ensued for several days that doesn’t look like it will be over soon as the “identity” question boils over, yet again.

Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Cllr. Allan J. Levine, MNA David Birnbaum, Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, Cllr. Dida Berku, Cllr. Ruth Kovac, Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen (2016)

Birnbaum called the Liberals, “Inclusive, compassionate and proudly Canadian.” While some may call that an exaggeration, Birnbaum is quite convinced, to be sure.

 

The evening opened with Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg welcoming everyone to his town and throwing his full support behind the candidate. CSL Mayor Mitchell Brownstein was close-by in showing his ongoing support for the MNA, along with Councillors Mike Cohen, Ruth Kovac, Steven Erdelyi and Dida Berku as well as myself and Allan Levine, as former CSL Councillors. Veteran Montreal Councillor Marvin Rotrand was also on hand as was former MNA Judge Herbert Marx and many community leaders.

 

It was clear from this friendly crowd that although D’Arcy McGee doesn’t tend to be a nail-biter in provincial elections they were plenty pleased to have David Birnbaum selected as the local superstar.

Station 9 conducts Senior Safety Day

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Police officers from CSL Station 9 at their information booth together with Cllr. Ruth Kovac

 

Thank you to Police Station 9 officers Marie-Christine Norbert, Vincent Deangelis, and more, for educating and reaching out to our residents at the recent Senior Safety Day at the Cavendish Mall.

“Your visibility instills confidence and the little gifts are valued and useful,” said CSL Councillor Ruth Kovac who visited the kiosk.

Ruth and I have worked on every major (and most minor) safety campaigns since we began volunteering at the CSL Emergency Measures Organization in the early 1980s. Thanks to our first class security programs CSL remains the safest place on the Island of Montreal. We need to be vigilant, always looking to improve and expand these services to ensure we stay in this position and that just what Ruth and I speak out on throughout the year.

Celebrating Canada Day 2017 with our local police officers. Thank you to these fine officers for their vigilance in CSL.

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