Canada and Julie Cuillard

By Beryl Wajsman on October 16, 2008

My interview with Julie Couillard caused me to reflect on some issues in her story that really are message and metaphor for some sad realities in the public life - political and journalistic - of this country. I wanted to share them with you particularly on election week.

One comes away from an interview with Julie Couillard wanting to make apologies. Apologies for what Andrew Cohen has called Canada’s “tall poppy syndrome”, always wanting to cut down those who stand out. Apologies for Couillard’s good looks. Apologies for her having a social life. Apologies that some may not have liked her choice of men. But hey, Canada, here’s a newsflash. It’s really nobody’s business!

And as for her being a security threat, an accusation like that coming from Gilles Duceppe who started this whole storm is rich. Think about it, who’s the likelier security threat? An alpha female capitalist businesswoman or a former radical union leader now dedicated to the break-up of this country?

What amazes us is that this country debates to no end the privacy rights of pedophiles, for example, who have served their sentences and come back into society. But a citizen who has never committed a crime is fair game to have her life ripped apart; her private credit records reprinted in a national newspaper and to be hounded from her home by photographers. The press has reported that she faced threats from gangs? She’s lived at the same address for 12 years with her number publicly listed. No one has ever bothered her until “legitimate” elements took an interest.

The fact is sex still sells. There are far too many people in this country who really need to get a life. In France, President Sarkozy’s new wife Carla Bruni poses nude and there is hardly a peep! In a perverse way she should be complimented.

George Clooney’s movie on the battles between broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy entitled Good Night and Good Luck comes to mind through all this. The film reminds us of what can happen when the instruments of the state are used to destroy a person’s character through innuendo, rumour and hearsay. And we’ve seen it before in our recent history. Murrow won his battle with McCarthy. But the troubling question of what protections can be given ordinary citizens against the destruction of their rights if they do not have access to a public platform persists. That’s why the treatment of Julie Couillard has broader implications for us all.

 What in the end is Julie Couillard looking for? One thinks back again to the McCarthy era. McCarthy used the power of his committee and national television to score political points. Many things brought him down. Including Murrow’s reporting. But the final nail in his coffin was hammered in by a simple sentence from Boston attorney Joseph Welch who had had enough. He asked of McCarthy, “Senator, have you no shame. Have you no decency left?” Well, Julie Couillard has had enough, and as she said in our interview she asks Canadians — particularly in the media and political class in Ottawa — “Have you no shame? Have you no decency?” Decency folks. Its an easy concept. We all learned it at our mothers’ knees.

American Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once wrote. “If we have to live our lives weighing every action, every communication, every human contact, wondering what agents of the state might find out about them, how they would analyze them, judge them, tamper with them, and somehow use them against us, we are not really free.” Think about that. Ours is very much an Alice-in-Wonderland culture. Black is white. White is black. “Sentence first, trial after,” said the Mad Hatter. Remember, today the victim was her. Tomorrow it could be you. If we all don’t smarten up then the fault, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Caesar, “… won’t lie in the stars but in ourselves…”.



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