Even amid tragedy, it's always hard to stop the politics - Macleans.ca

Even amid tragedy, it’s always hard to stop the politics

…this is Montreal, after all


We know, or are told, how friends of Denis Blanchette, the technician who died in last week’s Metropolis nightclub shooting, would like his death to be treated: as a straight-up tragedy. “Stop with the politics, OK?” one attendee at a vigil for Blanchette pleaded with the reporter in that story.

But it’s Montreal, and it’s hard to stop with politics.

So far what we’re hearing about Richard Bain, the man who was arrested after the shootings while shouting, “Les anglais se réveillent!” is that he was obsessed with politics and also a champion blowhard. He seems to have cherished some sort of real-estate scheme and been impressed with his own prowess as a hardy partier and stickman. But it’s not surprising his apparent stance on language politics — genus aggrieved anglo, subspecies homicidal — is getting most of the attention from commentators.

Where to start? Probably with Pierre Foglia, the dean of La Presse columnists, whose column today would be hard to summarize but who points out that, after the Polytechnique slaughter, the Norway massacre and the Dawson College shooting — he could have added Tucson and Columbine — the shooter’s political claims are always dismissed by some and taken up by others. He mostlydoesn’t buy the notion that Richard Bain is an accredited ambassador from a Montreal anglophone community that doesn’t know how sweet anglophone life in Montreal is, but he closes with a cutting comparison: “Imagine the same sort of attack at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce during a speech by Mr. Harper. Say the shooter’s name was Jean-Claude Desjardins and he shouted ‘The francophones are waking up!’ while being arrested. I could write the National Post editorial right now. And I can assure you it wouldn’t say it had nothing to do with Quebec.”

Over at the Journal de Montréal, Sophie Durocher files a column full of English-language commentary that she didn’t like about Quebec’s language laws and PQ language policies. She says The Gazette “won’t stop pouring oil on the fire,” although, I should note, she makes no reference to the Metropolis shooting. (Durocher’s column contains the subhed, “Marois, Fascist?” which is odd: the only paper I’ve seen make that comparison is this one, which is owned by the same company as Durocher’s paper and which she has not mentioned in two weeks of hand-wringing about the state of English-language commentary on Quebec affairs.)

Part of the dubious beauty of social media is that any fool can have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, and any group of grievance-mongers can lovingly curate the casual hatred spewed across those forums on election night. It’s worth doing a little forensic work on those Twitter and Facebook accounts. One guy has 13 followers. Others are clearly schoolchildren.

This sort of debate, including the finger-pointing across linguistic lines, is inevitable. It has been too easy for English-language commentators to slip down the slippery slope from “promoting French” (laudable, if you ask me) to “restricting English” (tricky) to “hating outsiders” (to be avoided), and I’ve had more trouble than I’d like deciding the proper positioning of too many of Mme Marois’s statements on that slope. As I wrote the other day, “There are honest points of view on every side of the language debate. There are frequent excesses of language on every side.” There should be excesses of language because politics is not honest if it is always genteel.

But when a gunman starts shooting, we flatter him unduly by making his act the logical extension of our political opponents’ editorial commentary. I was pleased to find this piece in Le Devoir by Stéphane Baillargeon, who points out the inconsistency in one of the finger-pointing groups, the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Montreal:

After the Dawson College shooting in Montreal, the SSJBM (like many others) firmly denounced the very dubious causal links established by a Globe and Mail columnist between this crime and Bill 101… Now the same SSJBM denounces ‘the anglophone media of Quebec and Canada’ all in one as a ‘socipolitical trigger’ of the Metropolis attack…

So for the SSJBM, when a crazy shooter shows up it’s not the fault of Quebec’s linguistic tensions, unlike what some anglophone media say; but when another crazy shooter shows up it’s the fault of linguistic tensions stirred up by the anglophone media.”

I’m with Foglia: if the situation were flipped around, the accusations would be going the other way, and wouldn’t make more sense. As Baillargeon points out, some politicians are skipping the media and simply blaming one another for the shooting. One defeated Liberal linked it to “the violence” that “some parties in the National Assembly” supposedly promote. Say what you want about Marois, I’m pretty sure she never gave a speech inviting gunmen to take potshots at her. The language debate in Quebec long predates Bain’s arrest and will long survive it. We can’t stop with the politics, because politics has always been the only partially organized expression of assorted human passions.



Even amid tragedy, it’s always hard to stop the politics

  1. The problem is that promoting french without restricting english (to some degree) doesn’t work. That’s the reality.

    • thats like saying you can’t promote beer without restricting scotch ( to some degree)

      • Language are not alcohol. Bilingualism is as a social phenomenon over a long period of time is a always temporary. Bilingualism is fundamentalism an inefficiency of the brain (2 sounds/words for 1 concept??). Eventually the stronger language will win. It is culture/language Darwinism. I really doubt that french will still be the dominant language in Quebec 500 years from now.

        • . “Bilingualism is fundamentalism an inefficiency of the brain”

          Just being a unilingual i wouldn’t know, but i must pass that penetrating insight on to my bilingual wife when she gets home…as i’m going out the door.
          That’ll no doubt come as unwelcome news to millions of Swiss and Dutch folks too.

          • Yes bilingualism is an inefficiency. People are rarely bilingual generation after generation after generation. Eventually the bilingualism stop. Just a matter of time. Can take 200 years or 500 years but eventually it ends. The stronger language win out.

            That’s what happen with franco-ontarian for example. At every generation, 30% of franco-ontarians fail to pass the french language to their children. It is just matter of time before french as a mother tongue is completely wiped out in Ontario.

            The language lost do not occur for the already bilingual person. What happen is that very often bilingual people will not pass one of their language (the weakest) to the next generation. As such bilingualism is not sustained.
            This is not politic, this is science.

            In Quebec, english is the strongest language. I predict that what happen now to franco-ontarian will happen in Quebec in maybe 100-150 years. Maybe before, I don’t know. I am not optimistic for the situation of french in Quebec.

          • Care to link us to some of this science?

          • Well, I don’t agree with you. If parents speak two or more languages, they know what treasure that is and they will -for sure!- try to make their children speak two or more languages. I (an immigrant, living in Quebec City) speak French, English, my mother tongue and… you see, it goes in both directions: because my kid learns it -I’m studying Spanish now.

          • Switzerland, to take just one example, completely refutes your position.

        • So in order to protect French in the workplace, the PQ proposes to constrain businesses with as little as 11 employees to a programme of francization . Ergo a Korean dépanneur wont be able to function internally in Korean even though all the employees are family members. There are 54,000 such businesses in Quebec with between 11 and 50 employees, most of which are family businesses. How many inspectors will it take to ensure compliance ? Of course all these new inspectors will be unionized public servants belonging to one of the big unions coincidentally closely linked to the PQ. So everybody wins right ? The union gets more members, the PQ gets more allies, the government bureaucracy gets bigger. Thats where it all leads, but what about the protection of French ? no change there .

    • Actually I think the problem is that Quebec tends not to promote French by focusing on its selling points, but rather by curtailing other options. The reason for this error is that French’s selling points are the culture and history it verbalizes, and that culture is something Francophones largely rejected (indeed, grew ashamed of) during the Quiet Revolution.

  2. One defeated Liberal linked it to “the violence” that “some parties in the National Assembly” supposedly promote.
    Hi Paul; Just out of curiosity, that wouldn’t be Yves Michaud, would it? I know it’s a stretch (he was a defeated Liberal back in the ’70s) but just wanted to make sure, since he’s been in the news recently (I believe he was interviewed in La Presse just last week).

    • No, it was apparently the PLQ’s candidate in last week’s election in Dubuc riding, whose name escapes.

  3. But when a gunman starts shooting, we flatter him unduly by making his act the logical extension of our political opponents’ editorial commentary…some politicians are skipping the media and simply blaming one another
    for the shooting. One defeated Liberal linked it to “the violence” that
    “some parties in the National Assembly” supposedly promote.

    Well of course. They do this because that’s the way the game is played now. Some crazy deranged lunatic goes and shoots up Tucson? ZOMG! Sarah Palin showed an electoral district map that had cross-hairs on Tucson because they were hoping to win that seat! Must be her fault! Let’s get that accusation out there before the facts prove us wrong!

    James Holmes shot up a theater? Let’s check the Tea Party websi…HOLY SH!T! There’s a James Holmes in the Tea Party! Must be their fault, even though there are dozens of James Holmes in the area. Let’s get that accusation out there before the facts prove us wrong!

    I’m actually a little surprised that no-one blamed either Palin, the Tea Party, or their Canadian equivalents for this one. Too late now.

    • Good to see you’re being balanced about this – just the left that makes false claims.
      Anyway, are you saying that using cross hairs in a political context is a good idea? She also made some loony comments about blood libel. Face it, sometimes public figures are their own worst enemies.

      • Don’t give me that crap about balance. You want to see balance? Let’s see what happens when the shoe is in fact on the other foot.

        A few weeks ago a guy walked into the Family Research Center, an organization which promotes the traditional definition of marriage, and shot a security guard (who fortunately survived).

        The differences between the right and left?

        1) The left leaning guy actually did have a political motive in his shooting; he was an LGBT volunteer who opposed what FRC stood for, and told the victim so before firing on him.

        2) The right waited until there was evidence before hurling the accusation.

        3) The left leaning media downplayed the incident. My guess is this post is probably the first many of you would have even heard about it. CNN did not report it on air until several hours after the incident and several networks failed to mention the shooter’s political motive! Oops! Must’ve just forgot to mention it! You think they would have forgotten to do this if a Tea Partier had been involved?

        So yeah…does that sound balanced to you kcm2?

        • Maybe you have a point, i don’t know. I honestly don’t make a point of following US news stories other than big stories. As to balance, i was mostly taking a shot at you. You claimed at one point some time ago to be interested in remedying media bias in general, yet all i see from you are stories implicating or defending one particular side. It’s ok to to be a partisan,if that’s what you are, but personally i can only respect it when it is out in the open.

          • Maybe you have a point, i don’t know.”

            The comparison JohnG raised was about as apt as it gets. Is this really very difficult to grasp? Most media outlets are biased leftward. It’s about as arguable as the leaning tower of Pisa.

            “…yet all i see from you are stories implicating or defending one particular side.”

            Yes, because all you see from the media are stories implicating or defending the other particular side. When faced with an onslaught of biased smears, the way to bring balance is to defend against those smears. Which means defending one particular side.

          • I don’t deny JG’s example isn’t damning buti simply don’t see an overwhelming case for a left/liberal media bias in a world of corporate owners who only care about their bottom line. To the degree there is a bias, misinformation is now more than off set by one tone news outlets such as Fox or our ridiculous Sun tv.
            So, in a sense we have a balance of crappy news service. Not my Johns or your first choice, but there it is. Caveat emptor should be the rule.

          • I love people that come on here and parrot Fox as a biased news network, based solely on hearing other liberal media say so.

            C’mon man. I back up my accusations of bias with example after example of ridiculous media malpractice. Let’s see you do the same. If you have an example of Fox, let’s say, cutting away from the DNC convention every time a minority speaker took the stage, the way MSNBC did for the RNC, then by all means put it out there.

          • Pay attention JG. I’ve told you i don’t watch just about any US tv – i don’t think i could recognize a photo of Maddow or anyone else at MSNBC. Im just saying you only bother to come here with one side of the story. I guess that’s fine if you think you’re providing the other pov. Personally i have no interest in digging up dirt on republicans. They do a pretty good job on their own.
            Sure i get most of my info about Fox from liberal[ mostly written] sources, does that mean nothing that is said about them is true? The little i’ve seen of Fox tv has been farcical – i can’t be bothered to watch more – Same for Ezra.
            If what your link says about MSNBC is factual it reeks; but i’m not shocked. All you’ve shown is both sides are up to this crap. As i said i’m shocked!!!!
            By the by, i hope this isn’t a favourite site for you. I took a brief look at the comments and stopped after the third or forth comment alleging gay sex links between Obama and MSNBC hosts. I didn’t want to keep going until they got into the monkey stuff.
            No JG. I’m a written source guy, in the main. I prefer to see an argument made. It’s why i like macleans. I even read most of your stuff :)

          • ” I love people that come on here and parrot Fox as a biased news network, based solely on hearing other liberal media say so”

            But John aren’t you doing the same thing? Aren’t you merely looking through republican or Conservative friendly news sources to buttress your claims of left media bias?

            Edit: Besides that isn’t entirely logical. Am i supposed to get my impressions of Fox merely by reading non liberal news sources and only trust them ,or is it required for me to faithfully watch endless hours of their coverage? All you can do is try and watch and read your news intake from as wide a selection of quality sources as possible.