The silly season

By Alan Hustak on September 9, 2010

“Even the Marlboro man isn’t safe in Quebec.”

Summer traditionally is considered the silly season in the news business and it doesn’t get any sillier than in Quebec. There may be dumber regulatory jurisdictions in the world, but you would be hard pressed to find them.  Just when you thought nothing could be sillier than the language police, or the garbage police, the tobacco police appear.  You didn’t know we have tobacco police?  Either did I until the Journal de Montreal broke the story  that they were on the march, out in full force during the Grand Prix weekend. 

 Seems the cigarette cops decreed that an outdoor  exhibit on Crescent St. honouring  Gilles Villeneuve was against the law. The crime: Alain Bellehumeur, curator of the Villeneuve museum in Berthierville, had mounted vintage photographs of the famous race-car driver in his uniform sporting the name of the cigarette company that sponsored him. 

GILLES-VILLENEUVE.jpgUntil he died in a car crash in 1982, Villeneuve won six Grand Prix races and was Quebec’s Marlboro man.   It’s hard to find a photograph of him without the red- white- and- black Marlboro logo plastered all over his uniform or on his helmet.  Memorials to Villeneuve  in San Marino and in Fiorano, Italy, show him in his uniform with a shoulder patch that clearly spells out the Marlboro brand.  Only in Quebec  is it  considered illegal to display one of those pictures in public.  Here,  Villeneuve’s uniform  is  cigarette advertising – and against the law.  The inspectors ticketed Bellehumeur on the grounds that his exhibit was illegal because the pictures in it represented  “subliminal cigarette advertisements.”  

Bellehumeur  argued that the museum has a bank of more than 2,000 photographs of Villeneuve in his uniform, and he wasn’t about to photoshop the Marlboro logo out of all of  them.  “It just doesn’t make sense, it’s tampering with history,” he exclaimed.  

What next?  

One can only imagine what the cigarette police will do with  all  those  pictures of Rene Levesque and his Gitane packs, Churchill with his cigars, or those of Serge Gainsbourg, who always appeared on television in a wreath of smoke.  But we shouldn’t be all that surprised in a province that blows money it doesn’t have on frivolous rules. There are the language police, the secular police, the garbage police, the jaywalking patrol … the list is endless . 

Two years ago, Quebec became  the laughing stock of the world when the Office québécois de la langue française arbitrarily decreed that antique  signs in McKibbin’s Irish pub were too English and wanted them taken down. The signs advertised products no longer  on the m arket:  Guinness Dublin 1759, Cudthromach Aire, and Palethorpes Pork pies. 

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any dumber, the cigarette police appear. Small business drives the engine that fuels Quebec’s economy. You would think government would encourage and not undermine  innovative  spirits. 

We need police to protect us from all the idiots who are policing us. 


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