MONTREAL -- Asbestos, it's not over until it's over.

Opponents of the name change have assembled a massive petition calling for a referendum on the very idea of ​​renaming the municipality.

The initiator of the process, Jeff Therrien, and two other residents of the small municipality of in Quebec's Eastern Townships claim to have collected no less than 547 signatures of Asbestrians aged 18 and over by intercepting citizens leaving the "car vote" on a new name last week. Therrien said city councillors and the mayor decided behind closed doors that the city would change its name.

"They gave the citizens an illusion of power by offering them to choose the new name, but beforehand they did not ask them if they were ok with the name change," he said.

Mayor Hugues Grimard announced Monday that voters have chosen to rename their town Val-des-Sources after three rounds of voting in which 2,796 people participated (almost one in two voters).

Therrien pointed out that the name Asbestos was not among the name choices and that Asbestrians did not have the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted a name change.

The young man in his 30s intends to continue collecting signatures over the coming weeks before forwarding the petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Andree Laforest.

She will ultimately have to decide on the issue.

Asked on Wednesday what proportion of the population needs to sign the petition to put a stop to the name change, Laforest still had not answered at the time of publication.

Therrien believes that the residents of Asbestos should keep the original name of their municipality to preserve "the origins, the pride and avoid obscuring its history."

He points out that "people will continue to call it Asbestos for decades anyway."

By Therrien's own admission, the petition is not making people happy.

He says he has received a lot of criticism, including that he is not a native of the city or that he is clinging to the past.


"There will never be a unanimous decision. We must govern for the majority," the mayor replied in an interview, noting that the law simply requires the city council to adopt a resolution.

Not only are all elected officials convinced they are making the best decision for the future of the community, but, in addition, from the public information evening organized at the start of the year, "I really felt that the population was behind us," said Grimard.

The town of 6,786 inhabitants is trying to shed the negative connotation of its name, which is the same as a mineral that causes cancer.

The industry has been relegated to oblivion after the mine closed in 2012.

"We've been talking about it for 30 years," said the mayor with a sigh. He implored citizens to "stop looking at the past and look to the future."

Under the Act respecting municipal territorial organization, citizens who oppose the name change have 30 days following the publication of a notice of change in a local newspaper to make their opinion known to the minister.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.