Saturday, February 4, 2017

Two Minutes Hate

I'm not entirely sure how long it took Alexandre Bissonnette to commit his horrible act but I think it's safe to assume that it was an act of hate. And regardless of whatever motives he may come up with, I think it's safe to assume that this guy is not right in the head. No sane reasoning can lead one to the cold-blooded murder of a bunch of innocent civilians. 

In the wake of this tragic event, there were many recriminations in Quebec despite the fact that we know virtually nothing about the killer's motives. Anyone who believes in a stricter understanding of secularism, thinks we may be accepting too many immigrants, or questions Canadian multiculturalism was made somehow guilty.

I won't be addressing any of that. This piece is in response to certain articles that I came across which try put the blame for this atrocity on all Quebecers. These biased articles reminded me of the Two Minutes Hate from George Orwell's book 1984. They aren't any kind of rational exercise which aims to get at truth. They are just an excuse to vent hate.

There was a nasty opinion piece on the CBC's web site doing just that. But what bothered me even more than having Canada's national broadcaster spewing hate against Quebecers was the fact that the Washington Post got a bigot from Vancouver to write an article placing the blame for this massacre on all Quebecers. 

I have a hard time understanding why the Washington Post would ask an anglophone from British Columbia to provide them with insight into Quebec. If they wanted insight into Croatian society would they ask a Serb living in Belgrade? A guy like that might have a biased opinion, don't you think? Well, I have news for you, Washington Post, J.J. McCullough is extremely biased.

Here are some of his claims from this article:

"A disproportionate share of the country’s massacres occur in the province of Quebec."

What is this claim based on? Cherry-picking would be my guess. The Huffington Post recently compiled a list of the thirteen worst mass shootings in Canada's recent history. Only three of them occurred in Quebec. That's pretty proportionate to our share of the population. J.J. only seems to remember the ones that happened in Quebec.

"Criticism of Quebec, meanwhile, is deeply taboo."

This claim is simply mind-boggling. You really need industrial-strength ideological blinders to make such a claim. The Quebec bashing article has become a kind of literary genre in English Canada. Some well-known, professional Quebec-bashers include the late author Mordecai Richler, former radio personality Howard Galganov, and alledged journalists such as Diane Francis and Barbara Kay. These are the more famous, over-the-top Quebec-bashers but there are countless others

J.J. then goes on to depict Jan Wong as some kind of martyr of this imagined "taboo." Let's recall her 15 minutes of fame. In 2006, there was a school shooting at Dawson College in Montreal. The perpetrator, Kimveer Gill, was the son of Indian immigrants. Without any evidence at all Jan Wong wrote an article, published in the Globe and Mail, claiming that the real cause of this and other mass shootings in Quebec was the racism of Quebecers. First of all, if that were true, then why shoot up an anglophone college? 

But Jan went even further. She claimed that Quebecers were obsessed with racial purity based on her interpretation of an antiquated expression, "pure lain" (pure wool), which is used to refer to old stock Quebecers. She claimed that "Elsewhere, to talk of racial purity is repugnant. Not in Quebec."

The claim was just so absurd, and such obvious hate propaganda against Quebecers, that it was called out and condemned by most rational people. J.J. McCullough was clearly not part of that group. J.J. obviously believes that Jan was attacked for speaking some kind of "taboo" truth about Quebec. 

"The English are waking up!" *

J.J. continues by telling us that despite the oppressive censorship on discussing the evils of Quebec, English Canadians are beginning to speak out. They're starting to grumble about "Quebec’s dark history of anti-Semitism, religious bigotry and pro-fascist sentiment", Quebec's "French-supremacist language and assimilation laws," and how Quebecers are "noticeably more racist than the Canadian norm."

I don't want to exaggerate this point, but really, this last bit from J.J. is the equivalent of someone in the U.S. claiming that white people are being oppressed by Blacks and other minorities. The anti-Semitism in Quebec's past has been exposed and it was not very different from the anti-Semitism in English Canada. Canada's Prime-Minister at the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King, was a raging anti-Semite who sent thousands of Jews back to Germany to end up in concentration camps. There are plenty of other examples of the anti-Semitism in English Canada at the time like Toronto's Christie Pits riots. But people like J.J. only seem to remember the anti-Semitism in Quebec for some reason.

Quebec, like Canada, engages in cultural protectionism. Given that we are such a small French-speaking minority living on an overwhelmingly English-speaking continent, calling a law that says that French has to be more prominent on commercial signs "French-supremacist" is a clear sign of bigotry. As for the "charter of values", that also needs to be put in its proper context. But regardless of the context, the basic idea that representatives of the State should not display any overt religious affiliation while performing their duties does not seem like a bad idea to me. My criticism would be in the way this idea was applied.

Also, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that Quebecers are more racist than your average Canadian. We do have a very different history from the rest of Canada and so we have a different perspective in regards to immigration, but Canadians have there own race issues to deal with. It is true that there has been a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec over the past few years, largely due to the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin. But this is equally true for other parts of Canada, like Ontario.

The recent events in Quebec City are horrible and disturbing. All Quebecers need to do some soul searching in the face of such an incident. But those who exploit a tragedy like this to vent their hatred of Quebecers should perhaps also be doing some soul searching instead. And to the Washington Post, if you want to give your readers some insight into Quebec society, why not ask someone who actually lives here next time? 

* Richard Bain, September 4, 2012


  1. Had you seen this abomination? The sheer contempt for specifically French-speaking Quebecers is breathtaking—and it's not even from a single author, it's from the entire Editorial Board.

    1. Read it. Typical. We see ourselves "as beleaguered and have trouble accepting that".Damn right! We should rollover and quit, willingly commit slow suicide as a society? Look forward to becoming "a big New-Brunswick" as once said Jean Chretien? I for one will not.

  2. Love it, well done. Thank you! I just finished writing something on the same subject, if you're curious:

  3. By the way, I don't want to be an picky annoying grammar nazi, but when you write " William Lyon Mackenzie King, was a raging anti-Semitism", it should be "anti-Semite".

    1. Thanks for catching that one, Prof. It has been corrected. I'll be sure to check your blog post, as well.

  4. The problem is that the language laws are not meant to just protect the French language but they're also meant to completely wipe out as much English as possible. Anyone with a brain can see that Bill 101 provisions that prevent children from attending English public schools is the major cause behind their closure.

    An independent Quebec will be put under further scrutiny with regards to its treatment of minorities in general because it will no longer be shielded by belonging to the Canadian federation.

    1. Do you understand the difference between suppressing a minority language and limiting the dominance of a majority language? English, not French, is the dominant language in this part of the world. So given that French is a minority language and given the high power of attraction of English in North America, it is essential to ensure that newcomers to Quebec acquire mastery over French. This is done by requiring the children of immigrants to send their kids to French primary and secondary schools.

      This makes them proficient in French but it does not necessarily make them francophones and a lot of these kids end up in English CEGEPs and universities. Just look at Sugar Sammy, for example. He went to French primary and secondary school and then went to Marianopolis College and later McGill. He speaks French very well but I think he probably sees himself more as an anglophone. According to the latest statistics that I've seen, roughly a third of immigrants to Quebec end up assimilating to English. So I really don't think that the anglophone community in Quebec is heading towards extinction.

      The English school system may lose out in primary and secondary education but they make up for it in higher education. Enrolment in English CEGEPs and universities in Quebec goes well beyond the traditional anglophone community and a third of government funding for higher education in Quebec goes to anglophone institutions.

      As for the treatment of the Anglo "minority" in Quebec, if any other Canadian province or American state wanted to offer its linguistic minorities access to the kind of education network Quebec finances for its anglophone minority, every single one of them would have to increase dramatically the number of minority schools and the amount of money spent on them.

      Although all Canadian provinces have some minority education rights and schools, no other provincial minority has the vast network of schools, colleges and universities that English-speakers in Quebec have access to. There are in Quebec about 367 English public schools, 4 English public colleges or CEGEPs and 3 English universities. We certainly don't need any lessons from English Canada on this topic

    2. There is nothing wrong with Quebecers wanting to make sure that French remain the dominant language. However, the purpose of Bill 101 is to cleanse Quebec of its linguistic minority, and this is how it strives to make French dominant. For example, the law makes no distinction between immigrants who come from English or French speaking countries. It is spiteful that children from English speaking countries cannot attend an English public primary or secondary school. Allowing these children into the English public system would give it some oxygen, while it would do absolutely nothing to the French school boards.

      Primary and secondary schools are the bedrock of any community and if you take this away, you destroy a vital part of said community. Just because many people go to Mgill, Concordia etc...doesn't mean anything--it doesn't make them angliphones. This just means that there a lot of people in Quebec who are fluent in English. Quebec's language laws treat the English speaking minority in the same matter as the many immigrant languages spoken in the province. And the only reason these English language institutions exist in the first place is because they were built by the anglo community itself, not the Quebec government

      Ontario itself has more French schools than Quebec has English ones. Ontario has 445 French schools, 1 French university and 4 bilingual ones, 2 French colleges. And Ontario's French population is about 4%. So yeah, Quebec does have a thing of two to learn from English Canada.

    3. "the purpose of Bill 101 is to cleanse Quebec of its linguistic minority"... That is absolute paranoid lunacy!

      The anglophone community in Quebec has had its own social institutions - hospitals, school boards, colleges and universities, etc, and it manages and improves them as it sees fit. They offer Quebec's English-speaking population a full range of services in English. The Charter of the French language did not question either the continuity of these institutions or the principle of the freedom to provide services in the client's language. What changed was the provision that no Quebecer would be wronged by the lack of service in French.

      In addition to the publicly funded English schools system, which includes three English-only universities that get almost a third of all government financing for higher education. There are roughly 15 hospitals in Quebec where you are guaranteed service in English. Most government services are available in English on demand. All laws passed in Quebec are written in French and English. You have the right to use English in the National Assembly. In fact, anglophones in Quebec have the right to demand that all of their court proceedings be in English. Therefore a judge in Quebec must be able to render verdicts and pass sentence in English.

      We just need to compare to see the stark differences. In the Greater Sudbury region of Ontario where francophones make up 28% of the population there is only one partially bilingual hospital where, in the words of Denis Constantineau, director of the Sudbury Community Health Center, you can be admitted to the hospital in French, but you will likely die in English because the more you progress in the system, fewer French services are offered.

      A study conducted by the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada concluded that: …access to health care services in French for Franco-Ontarians is severely lacking in hospital services, community health centers, medical clinics, and home care: these four sectors cover most health care services available in Ontario. Hospital emergency services are often the key entry point to the health care system, yet three quarters of Franco-Ontarians are denied such access in their language. 74% of Franco-Ontarians said they have either no access at all or rarely access to hospital services in French. In fact, only 12% claimed that they could access hospital services in French at all times."

      Or as we recently saw in the Caron case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Alberta had no constitutional obligation to translate its laws into French. So Quebec anglophones have rights that francophones in most of English Canada do not have.

    4. If the intention was to cleanse Quebec of its linguistic minority as you claim, wouldn't all of these rights and institutions have been taken away? That's exactly what most English Canadian provinces did to francophones at some point in the past, e.g.

      1871 - New Brunswick: The Common School Act imposes double taxation measures against French Catholic schools.
      1877 - Prince-Edward-Island: The Public School Act puts an end to the teaching of French in schools.
      1890 - Ontario: The Liberal government of Oliver Mowat adopted a law stating that English must be the language of education except when children cannot understand it.
      1890 - Manitoba: Official Language Act banning French, formerly an official language in the province. Premier Greenway diminishes the rights to French school, abolishes its use in the Parliament and in the Courts of the province.
      1891 - Ontario: The minister of education, George W. Ross, bans all French school books in Ontario.
      1905 - Alberta: The School Act of that year imposed English as the only language of instruction, while allowing some use of French in primary classes.
      1909 - Saskatchewan: The School Act makes English the only language of instruction but allowed limited use of French in primary classes. In 1929, a different Saskatchewan law abolished French in public education.
      1916 - Manitoba: The Thornton Act, by abolishing bilingual schools, completely ends the teaching of French in the province.
      1912 - Ontario: Circular of Instructions Regulation No. 17 and No. 18 Forbids the teaching of French above the first two grades of elementary school.

      "Primary and secondary schools are the bedrock of any community and if you take this away, you destroy a vital part of said community."... And that is exactly what English Canadians did to their francophone minority, but Quebec has never done that to its anglophone "minority." No one took your schools away. it's only newcomers to Quebec that are required send their kids to French primary and secondary schools, and for good reasons.

      But despite this requirement, French is still losing ground to English in Quebec. According to Statistics Canada, the number of people with French as a language of use at home throughout Quebec will experience a significant drop from 82% in 2011 to about 75% in 2036. On the other hand, the proportion of Anglophones by language of use will increase from 10.7% to 13%. But that's still not enough for you I guess. You're still intent on playing the victim of some great injustice with every minor inconvenience becoming an unbearable oppression.