Tolerating intolerance in Quebec

By Dan Delmar on October 19, 2012

Anglophone pundits, myself included, were targeted recently by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a radical sovereignist group founded in 1834, whose ideas are barely more evolved than they were 178 years ago.

SSJB president Mario Beaulieu was so crass as to accuse some in Anglo media of creating a climate of hate that led a madman to shoot up the Parti Québécois’ victory celebration, killing Denis Blanchette. 

Beaulieu had some trouble with my use of the manufactured term “francosupremacy.” This seems particularly ironic considering the SSJB invited actual supremacists – in the truest sense of the word – to one of their ultranationalist parties in 2006. This is the same gentleman who sought to ban musical acts with English members from a Fête Nationale celebration in 2009.  

Not that it’s constructive to engage in an “I know you are but what am I” argument, but you know what they say about people who live in glass houses…

Used previously by some Anglo bloggers, “francosupremacy” is laced with satire. If Beaulieu could see past his own hypocritical self-righteousness to read the body of my texts, he would have realized that the use of the term is not a literal comparison of PQ ideas to those of Nazis (which would be, of course, hysterical and inaccurate). 

His objections are also ironic because Beaulieu himself is an admitted fighter for the supremacy of the French language in Quebec. He, along with the more extreme language zealots in the PQ, claim to encourage the promotion of the French language when they are instead more preoccupied with the demotion of other languages, particularly English. 

There is an important distinction to be made between referring to some PQ policies as xenophobic, and Pauline Marois or other individual péquistes as racists. Beaulieu and many in Quebec (and even Canadian) media don’t seem to understand that very crucial distinction. It is a distortion used by those desperate to win an argument by demonizing their opponent. The “racist” accusation is simply inapplicable if for no other reason than its use implies that actors in this debate are of different races – which is, in itself, a racist statement. 

“Xenophobia” is applicable because it literally refers to a fear of the other. It’s not a pretty word. It pains me to use it when describing those who shape the discourse in my home province. When Quebec nationalists speak incessantly about the “Anglo threat,” what word, pray tell, would be more appropriate? Words matter – to borrow the slogan of the other accused Quebec-bashers at The Gazette.

There’s no denying the furor that would ensue if Quebec politicians spoke of the “Arab threat,” or the “Chinese threat.” When one of the province’s most popular radio hosts, Benoît Dutrizac, mocks the Anglo accents of veteran, bilingual Montreal city councillors, where is the outrage? And had Charles Adler imitated a Québécois accent; what then? The double-standard is shocking: It is perfectly acceptable in Quebec to demean Anglophones as a form of over-compensation for past abuses. Institutionalizing that debasement is equally tolerated. 

To continue with the hypotheticals: What would be the reaction had Rob Ford proposed to ban Ontarians from running for any public office if they did not speak English at an adequate level? What if Dalton McGuinty wanted to secularize all government institutions, while granting exemptions only for Christian symbols? What if Stephen Harper proclaimed that there were too many minorities in Toronto and measures should be put into place to ensure that English Canadians would forever remain a majority in that city? These scenarios may seem far-fetched, but all are based on PQ policies unveiled during this past election campaign.

Thankfully, there are those who preach tolerance in the Rest of Canada to counter the Quebec-bashers at the Post.

“When you are part of a minority,” Jeffrey Simpson writes in The Globe and Mail, “you have collective nerve ends that people from the majority cannot easily comprehend.”

Indeed, understanding the underlying insecurities of Quebec culture when it comes to its linguistic minority status in North America is key to proper analysis. However, ensuring the prominence of the French language through government-sanctioned repression of other languages is the furthest thing from constructive; it’s combating perceived rhetorical intolerance with practical intolerance. 

As someone with progressive values, it offends me to see Anglo progressives in Quebec and in the ROC bend over backwards to tolerate the intolerance of some Québécois political and media figures. If so-called progressives condemn the concept of dissuasion in crime policies, they should be just as quick to condemn it in cultural policies. It is in no way virtuous to, without scepticism, accept divisive and demonstrably xenophobic rhetoric, even if it is coming from a minority group trying to preserve their culture. 

Quebec will never strengthen the French language by artificially repressing English; no such linguistic death match exists in everyday life. It is a battle waged almost exclusively in politics, media and on the radical fringes. 

It’s time to put all Quebecers, regardless of language, on a level playing field. In 2012, there should be no more excuses for intolerance. Anyone, on either side of this argument, who preaches that a group of people pose a threat simply because of their cultural origin and presence, are, by definition, xenophobes and should be condemned unanimously. Anyone who equates a critical look at Quebec society with inciting violence, as Beaulieu has, is simply attempting to further split populations along linguistic lines, perpetuating more intolerance and furthering an obsolete agenda. It’s time to end the politics of fear and division.

Dan Delmar is the co-founder of Provocateur Communications and a talk-show host with CJAD 800 Montreal.

Twitter: @delmarhasissues



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