Montrealers eager to distance Metropolis shooting from political debate

Paul Wells on a city and its exquisite sense of proportion in political debate

by Paul Wells

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois is whisked off stage as she delivered her victory speech in Tuesday, Que. September 4, 2012. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Last week I attended the Parti Québécois’s last big rally of the campaign. It was at the Metropolis nightclub on Ste Catherine St. A familiar venue. It’s a big old music hall with a capacity of about 2,200 and superb sightlines, so politicans of all stripes like to rent it when they think they can fill it, but mostly it’s one of the city’s most popular entertainment venues. The last two shows I saw there were Jean Leloup and a Men Without Hats reunion. It’s a second home for a lot of Montrealers younger than me.

I was prepared to do my I’m-with-the-press spiel to get into the Marois rally but there was no need. Hundreds of people streamed in, cheerful, chatting happily. Partisans like to be with partisans. It makes you feel like you’re doing something right. I stepped into line and wandered in.

Last night, before the shooting started, the PQ was tweeting the location of their victory rally and urging anyone who wanted to come see the next premier of Quebec. This morning there’s a little talk about the cost of lax security but that’s pure 20/20 hindsight: there is no place in Quebec where you’d have less reason to expect trouble, and that includes during partisan rallies. The No side used Metropolis for a rally during the 1995 referendum, no problem. The Bloc Québécois was there often over the years, no problem. Montrealers’ passions sometimes overheat, but usually they are world champions at treating strangers in public with distracted benevolence.

“What about the language tension?” I asked Gazette editor Ray Brassard when he interviewed me for a summer job in 1989.

“Most days, if we weren’t writing about it you’d never know it was there,” he said.

The exceptions are searing, and you never really forget them. I returned from a trip to Toronto in 1989 to find that the entire Gazette newsroom had been sent to the Ecole polytechnique and to area hospitals to plumb the depths of the atrocity Marc Lépine had committed. Our story meetings for a week after felt like group therapy. I remember the joking exchange of emails I was trading with a fellow newsroom cynic when she sent me a message saying something bad had happened at Concordia. That was Valery Fabrikant.

Montreal has no more of these sad tales to tell than any large city does. But this city’s maniacs often manage to hitch their demons to some political post. Lépine fancied himself a member of the anti-feminist men’s movement. Fabrikant thought he was striking a blow for reforms to academic credit in research papers. Last night’s horrible fool seems to have thought he was correcting injustices against Montreal’s benighted anglophone minority.

Most Montrealers I know have an exquisite sense of proportion in political debate, honed through a lifetime of trial and error in a never-ending succession of conflicts and controversies. Most that I’ve heard from last night, not all but most, are eager to isolate last night’s assassination attempt from the broader discussion about the conflicting rights of francophone and non-francophone Quebecers. If we’re lucky, that will be as easy as it was to separate Fabrikant’s madness from a healthy and necessary debate over proper footnoting. There are honest points of view on every side of the language debate. There are frequent excesses of language on every side. Honest points of view aren’t murder. Excesses of language aren’t murder.

What I loved about this election campaign was that just about everything that Quebecers should be thinking about in the public space got a thorough and extended talking-about: education, taxation, culture, the nature of identity in a complex world, the right place of Quebec in a new century. Of course it was a sloppy conversation, facts got bent or ignored, tempers got heated. That’s how we know we’re human. There will be people who try to hang the Metropolis shooting on their favourite political enemy. That’s human too. They’re outnumbered by those who understand that after every flash of horror, the rest of us have to keep figuring out how to get along.




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Montrealers eager to distance Metropolis shooting from political debate

  1. Thanks for a calm and considered post on this terrible incident. This is not Quebec. This is not Canada. Instead of politicizing the action of another nut whose name will be repeated, all of the parties will hopefully see this as an opportunity to smother any resentment and bitterness that may have swirled in the election run-up. We are a society with differences that make for good arguments and long evening debates, but we use words not violence. Don’t let the irrational acts of a single person deflect from the civilized execution of political debate. More than in the last decade, the National Assembly will need to find areas of common ground and mutual respect. Achieving a functional, working Assembly would bury the crazy intentions of this moment of insanity forever.

    • Am sorry but this statement is fasle: “but usually they are world
      champions at treating strangers in public with distracted benevolence.”
      We just had students here banging pots, led by WHO?…. throwing smoke
      bombs in the metro etc..creating unrest and bullying local buisnesses
      and our government with threats assaulting police officers, as well as
      what they did to Charest’s family plot. And in years before many other
      acts of viloence around repetetive language issues. I suggest that
      Marois does not abolish bill 78. And people should rethink Montrealers
      kindnesses. There is a lot of anger here. I see it everywhere. I do not
      live in Montreal anymore I live outside the city as there is little
      unity there. I just hope it does not get worse. I used to love Montreal.

      • He meant prominent strangers. Celebrities, be they political ones, athletes, movie stars, etc. He meant it in reference to why security was so lax. Also, you’re way, way off-base about Montreal. But that’s to be expected from frightened suburbanites. I hope that wherever it is that you live now is to your liking.

      • It’s false, not fasle!

  2. Wells, what you say is true.

    However, Montreal has been in decline, economically, politically, and socially, for years now, since the mid 70s. Even the infrastructure is falling down, whether it’s pieces of Olympic stadium, overpasses in Laval, bridges Champlain and Mercier, or pieces falling off the sides of buildings onto unsuspecting diners.

    The malaise is showing up in random places. The student protests were a sign of the malaise. So was this.

    There is no excuse for such things. But they have become more common. And they are more common in Montreal than elsewhere in Canada or the USA (with perhaps a few notable exceptions like Detroit). There are more Lepines, Farikants, Kimveer Gills in Montreal than most places of similar size. There is more poverty in Montreal than in most Canadian cities. There is more political discord, whether it’s the war measures act, referendums, or this crazed lunatic.

    I think it will be easy to separate this senseless shooting from the broader debates. But I suspect such senseless acts may become more common, rather than less.

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