Quebec’s self-appointed defenders take issue

To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a masked protester is just a masked protester


For its October 1, 2007 edition, Maclean’s published a Photoshopped picture of George W. Bush as Saddam Hussein on the cover with the cutline “How Bush Became The New Saddam”. Our June 8, 2009 edition had as its front page a perturbed looking Brian Mulroney with the word “UNBELIEVABLE” scrawled over his forehead. The cutline was all the more devastating: “Brian Mulroney’s pathetic last stand.” A few months later, we ran a picture of then Toronto Mayor David Miller sitting in a trash can, a banana on his head. “Toronto Stinks,” read the accompanying headline. Earlier this year, one of our cover depicted a veiled woman wearing an abaya and glaring at a naked young lady whose arms barely covering her breasts. “Veils: Who Are We To Judge?” read the headline.

I provide all of this as context for those who, over the last week or so, have accused Maclean’s of unfairly picking on Quebec. Get it? We’re cheeky, outrageous, provocative, pushy and occasionally hyperbolic with everyone—not just Quebec. Maybe we should publish a notice on every non-Quebec cover. Here’s Uncle Sam, giving the ‘up yours’ motion to Maclean’s readers. Here’s the pope, literally turning his back on the Catholic Church’s myriad sex scandals. Here’s Adolf Hitler, making an ideological return to Europe, Pakistan and Russia. You see, Quebec? It’s not all about you. 

I refer, of course, to last week’s cover, which depicts a masked protester with “Quebec’s New Ruling Class: how a group of entitled students went to war and shut down a province. Over $325.” I saw the cover for the first time last Tuesday, and had the same reaction I always do when it involves the province of my birth: a mixture of amusement at what the magazine’s art department is able to churn out on a weekly basis, and mild giddiness at how the self-professed arbiters of Quebec’s apparently very thin skin would react.

I wasn’t disappointed. Setting the tone was Le Devoir, which while it wasn’t the first out of the block—La Presse, as usual, beat it to the punch—was certainly first in its ability to drum up 600 wounded, weepy, woe-is-moi words. Under the headline “Maclean’s attacks students”, reporter Alexandre Shields takes pains to note how the cover, “far from focusing on the nuances of the [student] movement,” depicts a “supposed student, totally masked, looking defiant.”

“The image clearly recalls that of a jihadist,” Shields reports.

Er, it was a pic snapped by a Reuters photographer on the streets of Victoriaville. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a masked protester is just a masked protester, and not some fantasy conjured up by Toronto’s WASPy overlords to demonize a movement and/or an entire province.

I’ll spare you the comments posted at the end of Shields’s story. OK, maybe just one comment. “This confirms what I’ve thought for a long time,” writes Oeuvres Saint-Charles. “For the rest of Canada, Quebecers are frogs to be cooked.”

Over at Radio-Canada, meanwhile, radio host Louis Plamondon suggested my piece wasn’t analysis but “opinion”, and suggested I was saying the protesters were Nazis because I noted how they were throwing up “cheeky Nazi salutes.” The Twittersphere was equally incredulous, though apparently without first reading the piece. “You compare the Stanley Cup riots in 1993 with the student protests? You have understood nothing.” (I didn’t, and I do. But thanks.)

About the only person to offer insightful, measured criticism was Benoit Dutrizac, a radio host at 98.1 FM. You can listen to our exchange here (second segment from the top.) Dutrizac and I don’t see eye to eye on many things, but at least he doesn’t take it as a given that Maclean’s is out to stick it to Quebec.

Over the weekend, La Presse’s Rima Elkouri took on the tone, if not quite the language, of the charming cooked frog analogy in a column entitled “Le Mépris” (“Contempt”). Elkouri took it upon herself to chide Maclean’s for “hitting the student strikers with a truncheon with (another) controversial cover.”

“Many people saw another example of Quebec bashing on the part of the English Canadian magazine that, two years ago, put a photo of a mafioso’ed Bonhomme Carnival, and qualifying Quebec as ‘The most corrupt province in Canada,” sniffs Elkouri. “These people surely aren’t wrong. That a national magazine, Canada’s equivalent to Time, would use such a tendentious front cover is frankly depressing.”

Yes, depressing… sort of like how, in her 800-word diatribe about Maclean’s supposed Quebec bashing, Elkouri never once refers to a certain article, printed in the New York Times last week, that compares Quebec to some backwater Putin-era Russia gulag where the rule of law is dictated by a power-hungry oligarch by the name of Jean Charest.

“When Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese. But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr. Putin’s medicine.”

The pair goes on: “Bill 78 has been fiercely denounced by three of four opposition parties in Quebec’s Legislature, the Quebec Bar Association, labor unions and Amnesty International.”

These two Université de Montréal professors apparently forgot that the law, constitutionally dubious as it may be, came into being thanks to a majority vote in Quebec’s National Assembly—by the very government Quebecers themselves have voted into power three times in the last ten years. The nightly protests, meanwhile, continue across the province, even though they are often declared illegal at their outset thanks to the new law. If Charest is emulating Putin, he’s doing a piss poor job of it.

Yet these spurious comparisons to Russian autocracy, not to mention the barely veiled suggestions that Americans refrain from visiting Quebec this summer because the its government “rides roughshod over its citizens’ fundamental freedoms”, hardly elicited a peep. Some even reveled in it.

You have to wonder whether for Quebec’s self-appointed defenders, some hyperbole is worth believing.


Quebec’s self-appointed defenders take issue

  1. While the image may be real, I think ignoring how the cover photo was cut, framed, and centred on the cover to obviously invoke a jihadist is being obtuse. And while Macleans may pick on Ottawa and TO along with QC, it’s rather dubious for anyone to be all shocked that Macleans might indeed get some flak in return. Maclean’s takes in taxpayer subsidies, which makes the sensationalist hyperbolic coverage of the strikes and protests… amusing. Yes, amusing. As for loi78, that law was enaced purely to dampen a movement (it failed). We already had laws against assault, blocking mobility, blocking access, noise, etc. They simply weren’t being enforced.

    • Why must there be some sort of fairness in ‘provincial content’? News is about topics, not about geographical equality.

      • Well if all the other provinces were perfect, and never had a problem with corruption or protests or riots or dubious policies etc…..it would be fine.

        However we know that’s not the case.

        • Again, you’re fixated on some equality in provincial coverage. Maclean’s has (in my limited memory) ‘taken shots’ at Ontario, the Fed. Gov., Tar Sands, the Harper family, Toronto, Vancouver riots, the G20, Bush, Islam, bad parenting, the norms and morays of beauty, Christianity, violent sports, lawyers, the pharmaceutical industry, teachers vs parents, obesity, American gun culture, etc. etc. etc.

          And to even pretend that Quebec has not been, historically, the most troubled province in the last 50-75 years (if not longer), is utter fiction. The culture clash is systemic and too often violent — more than anything I have observed in Ontario. Of the people I know who are from Quebec, there are many things they absolutely adore about their home province. Those admirable things are many, varied, and I’m sure positively heavenly. However, there seems to be a commonality of what they do not like, and these include cultural issues and corruption.

          Anyway, I don’t want to make this ‘about’ Quebec vs the rest of Canada as it seems you do. Look, if someone came to my house and said it’s messy, I’m not going to yell at them for not saying the same thing about my neighbours. What I should be doing is saying, “You’re right,” and then start cleaning my house.

          That way, the next time they came to my house, they wouldn’t have a single reason to say my house was messy. And if they did, I could quite easily prove them wrong.

          Pointing out the flaws of others does nothing to fix your own.

          • Macleans covers all the news….there hasn’t been a sustained vitriolic attack on any other province but Quebec though.

            And I have no intention of being diverted by your red herrings.

          • And this is indicative of isolationist thinking. “If you don’t agree with me then I have no intention of having this discussion because clearly you don’t understand.” It’s even punctuated with “You’re pulling some intentional and malicious trick!”

            Well, enjoy your ivory tower.

          • Yup, sure.Yawn.

          • Damn I’m annoying.

          • Yeah, maybe. But if that person who came to your house were a journalist, would you think it’s normal that that journalist decided to say it’s messy without asking why. Would you find it normal if that person titled “Angelo’s house, just like everything he owns, is messy”. If that person, then, instead of saying Angelo does own a broom, however, didn’t say anything about how you have proposed to clean the house?
            Ok it’s starting to be confusing, what I mean is the coverage isn’t an analysis, it does take everything into account, it’s not a serious article and therefore shouldn’t be defended as such.

            Macleans provokes for the fun of provoking knowing full well the impact it’s gonna have. It’s not like Quebec bashing doesn’t exist, it’s not like some people (even here see Drunkpunk911) don’t accuse Quebeckers of being whiners, Macleans knew it was gonna strike a chord and exploited it by giving what the bashers want: another reason for bashing claiming that protests are often violent, claiming that the noise on the street comes from a few faculties, not taking into account that some students did finish their classes but didn’t approve the hike and are now taking the streets, using results from a survey that has since then been challenged for its methodology (as it was done before the law was promulgated with a small pool of people not representative of the whole population), not providing any explanations on the actual ideas stemming from the students…

            So yeah, maybe you wouldn’t yell at the person telling you your house is messy because they didn’t do the same for your neighbours. But wouldn’t you be kinda frustrated if you knew the person said the house was a fucking mess because your neighbours told them “Please tell me it’s messy”. Wouldn’t you have preferred that person to simply have said, there is somewhat of a mess but I’m sure something can be done about it or I’m not sure how’s he’s gonna clean his house,but I know someone’s got an interesting idea on it. That would sure be a better recipe for journalism.

  2. You’re assuming people still do the due diligence of reading something before reacting to it when the trend is surely and rapidly going in the other direction. In the world of Facebook shares, Tumblr streams, and Pinterest collages, the idea that the media audience go beyond the headline and cover page is almost preposterous. In fact, at this point, THIS comment is TL;DR for the majority of ‘readers’.

    The knee-jerk reaction has become the de facto position which even so-called professionals will use as the core talking point. The oversensitive righteous indignation of many in Quebec aside, they are not alone in taking far too much umbrage about a topic which they haven’t fully (or even partially) investigated. This kind of lazy outrage has grown beyond the layman and infested the establishment itself.

    In short, informed opinions are becoming increasingly less frequent and less informed.

    • You are right, people should read and informed opinions should be informed. But the article in question should be just that, an article, not an opinion, and therefore not biased. But it is. Mr. Patriquin sees what he wants to see, what he knows will ignite a spark in the ROC. Violence created by students, nazi signs… No quotes from the student ‘leaders’, no quote from the government and outrageous generalisations. I cannot say this is what best describes the protests.

      Now, if you were one of those protesters and you saw the cover, the biased news in Macleans, but also in other ROC news outlets since the beginning of the crisis, if you saw that most of the comments on the articles on the student strike were actually Quebec bashing, rather than informed opinions, you might feel attacked too. Because Macleans may be provocative and hyperbolic in other instances but when it’s about Quebec, they strike a chord and they know it: a minority feels insulted, a majority feels entitled to insult (or so it feels from Quebec). So maybe people reacted fast, but with a cover saying that students are entitled and holding the province hostage it’s not being provocative, it’s twisting reality. Nuances are key, that’s what really is being informed.

      • Well, see? Here’s a well-constructed counterpoint devoid of vitriol. Thank you for that. I don’t wholly agree with you (in the matter of intent) but, in truth, I can’t wholly disagree with you (in the matter of result).

        Where we do completely see eye-to-eye is about nuance being the key. I would add that when it comes to people, there is no blanket answer or all encompassing solution. Thanks for your response. It is certainly food for thought.

  3. ‘When you say : ‘You see, Quebec? It’s not all about you.” aren’t you generalizing a tad, comparing the hundred or so Le Devoir readers who vitriolically reacted to the reaction to your piece ( the same 100 or so who react against everything that isn’t of a staunchly sovereignist persuasion).

    Aren’t you over reacting the exact same way as those you justly accuse of ove reacting in the first place?

    Aren’t all minorities across the world a little thin skinned, if they weren’t they would be majorities, wouldn’t they ?

  4. Youths all over the world should unite to compel change. The current system is working against them now and in the future. Governments don’t see high youth unemployment as an issue. Governments continue to pander to the wealthy. The others are just too busy eking out a living to put up a fight. It is left to the visionary youths to change the world.

    • I agree. It’s the only way the world has ever made any progress.

      As you can see, boomers/hippies have now turned into the fusty old ‘establishment’ they used to hate.

  5. By the way the increase is much more than $325. It is in fact a $1625 increase spread out on 5 years; this amounts to a 75% increase from the current tuition costs. No matter which side you defend, get the facts right. Are Maclean’s journalists so biased or ignorant?

    • LOL, you blow my mind!

  6. The word whiners should be placed after ‘entitled’ on the cover

  7. Well written article. As a former resident of Quebec, having been born and raised there, I used to take on this very defensive persona when it came to criticism about my province and my city. I’d defend Quebec as if my honour as a resident was at stake. Having left Quebec and having lived in Europe and now living in the West Coast of Canada, I can look back at my former home and really see it for what it has become. Its a sad state of affairs what’s happening in my former home and to be honest, it’s quite shameful.

    Regardless, what strikes me as ludicrous are the asinine assertions by French press and those protesting that the medie coverage of the protests by the outside press has not been reporting the protests fairly. I’m sorry but I call BS. I commend M. Patriquin in his article for brining up the NYT article that was written by two highly politicized individuals who not once provided a balanced perspective on the strike. Moreover, I find absolutely incredulous that the protestors keep referring to these protests as the “Printemps d’Erable” or the “Maple Spring”, a play on the Arab Spring metaphor. As if what is happening in Quebec even closely resembles what was occurring in the Arab world under dictators. All this rhetoric is offensive to me as a Quebecois and I hate that we’re comparing the society that I lived in and grew up in as being equal to the type of society my father escaped when he fled Uganda under the rule of Idi Amin. These protestors need some perspective because they have NO IDEA how good they have it.

    • I agree completely! Or when some of the protesters do a Hitler salute! It’s offensive to those who were impacted by Hitler and it sours their cause. I find it revolting that they could liken their protests against tuition hikes to a leader who killed innocent people due to their race. To me I just see a ridiculous entitlement complex and I’ve lost the little respect that I had for their cause.
      It doesn’t help that I’m a student in BC paying more than double what they do in a year and haven’t needed to look into a student loan once because I work two jobs alongside my five courses throughout the school year (yes I have a social life and lots of amazing friends). I can tell you that my marks are average due to all my commitments and because I believe that there is more to life than perfect grades or becoming a doctor just for the salary, but I’ve picked a career I like, with good pay and I’ll graduate with little to no debt. If I ever run into troubles in my life (just like in the past) I know I can get through them because I’m persistent and hard-working and don’t blame or ridicule someone else for my troubles.

    • Just a bunch of whiners, sycophants, and losers

  8. The New York Times should be more careful about what it prints. That sort of garbage can be bad for your reputation.

  9. So you admit you’re trolling people with your covers, and then get upset when they react?

    Make up your minds, kids.

  10. I’m amazed at the consistancy of Maclean’s coverage. From the start, instead of asking the question “Why are these students so riled up?” they’ve been providing a dictat: “You kids shouldn’t be so riled up.”. I’m quite surprised, as most writers here don’t strike me as such old-timey fussybots, but rather as serious journalists who actually know how to ask questions. Why is there such a breakdown in professionalism when it comes to this protest?
    I noted the same problem with the early coverage of the Occupy protesters, until it was clear that Occupy was actually pretty popular even with non-protesters.

  11. Maclean’s, you have again contributed to the myth that Canadians (anyone) have some control over their country (anywhere). BIG OIL, whose yearly profits dwarf the Canadian government’s value, has control. They smile when they see the media propagating a little story about power and control being on the hands of a democracy, or a rabble of students.

  12. If your piece was any good, it might have been okay to have a tabloid-worthy cover, but it was really not good journalism. I’m copy-pasting my comment on said article here, just to be sure nobody thinks I just want to insult you:

    “Some parts of the article are quite misleading, or weren’t updated: most protests are declared illegal without the use of molotov cocktails (that particular sentenced can be read as if it was declared illegal only when the were molotov cocktails thrown). The last offer of Charest’s governement included a tuition hike over seven years, so you should also correct that. And again, you say nothing of the support against the Loi 78 by Quebec’s Barreau, which is unfortunate since you do quote Julius Grey (a great man by the way) when the highest authority in Quebec regarding Law is denouncing it.
    You also say nothing about the now-daily neigboorhood protests of “pans concerts” at 8 o clock and grossly exagerate the violence of the whole thing, especially considering the bigger protests (April 22nd: biggest protest in Quebec’s history, and no violence whatsoever) which were in no way violent. And the police’s overuse of violence, like plastic bullets and pepper spray should also be mentionned, since journalism is supposed to be “fair”.
    Finally, I know sensationalism kinda works in the ROC when talking about your strange neighboors, but the title is really misleading, as the students and/or protesters themselves don’t “rule” anything: the government hasn’t made a significant move (hell, they waited a couple of weeks just to acknowledge the protests), it’s just a nice tagline (if you’re interested, a nice altenative was made: just search for “vaillancourt maclean’s” on google, it’s one of the first pictures).-Some guy who doesn’t care about tuition fees but cares about the respect of the citizens, through law and through fair portrayal of reality in journalism”

    So, basically, yes, you should call that article opinion, because a great deal of its facts are actually not. A piece like this couldn’t run if the subject was about something happening in the rest of Canada and I hope you know it, simply because you want to give your readers (mostly English Canadians) something they’d enjoy reading about that strange frenchie place, not something to keep them well-informed. You are not showing respect, either to the readers, or to all of Canada’s citizens, like you’re treating Quebec’s protesters. And if you don’t know it, well, I don’t know how you got your job.
    Also, the examples you picked in this article as “fair” attacks from this magazine attacked public individuals (Wow, you attacked Bush, how courageous) or general movement, not a group of citizens (even “Toronto stinks”: using the mayor’s image for that cover implied that it was his fault, not the citizens). So, yeah, don’t try to play the “vierge offensée” when people accuse you of Quebec-bashing. I don’t think it is that simple: I think the obivous answer is just bad journalism.
    -Some guy who doesn’t care that much about Quebec getting closer to independence because of the way they are antagonized through bad journalism but cares about the respect of the citizens, through law and through fair portrayal of reality in journalism

  13. What does Quebec want ? Even quebecers do not have a clue. I live near Quebec City and what’s going on do not make sense. It is fully justitfied to ask what is this all about. They want some change but they do not have a single idea of what they want. It is simple protesting for the sake of it. Students have been bullied away from their classrooms, they call to civil desobedience because of 1650$ over six years. They act like teamsters on the campus. If this is the intelligentia of the future generation, we are doomed!


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