Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Demonization of Quebec

Quebec nationalism = racism

Racism and Its Metamorphoses

Like mushrooms in the undergrowth, ideologies which seem to have been buried once and for all are always ready to reappear with the slightest rain. The main difference between ideologies and mushrooms is that the former always reappear in new forms. In order to impose itself again, an old and discredited idea must first undergo a metamorphosis, for it must be readily perceived as a new idea. 

The “classical” racist discourse had a certain structure which went beyond making accusations. It claimed to be an ideology based on a scientific theory. Racist theories were based on the idea of races and the psychological, cultural, social, and political superiority of some races over others. This ideology constituted a political weapon of persuasion justifying the domination or the privileges of the “superior races”.

However, this type of “classical” racism has largely been de-legitimized during the twentieth century. Today, real or imagined differences in cultures, languages, customs, and life-styles have taken over the role of race. Albert Memmi’s famous definition, adopted by the Encylopedia Universalis and UNESCO, describes racism as “the generalized and final assigning of values to real or imaginary differences, to the accuser's benefit and at his victim's expense, in order to justify the former's own privilege or aggression”. 

Some authors now speak in terms of a contemporary “neo-racism”, in part because of its ideological metamorphoses, in part because of its discursive modes of racialization (implicit, indirect). In other words, this neo-racism has apparently shifted from race to culture and since it can no longer be displayed legitimately, it manifests itself more indirectly in a symbolic mode. 

But despite its metamorphoses, the fundamental structure of racism, just like its underlying function remains unchanged. It is always made up of two major analytical logics: differentiation and inferiorization. In its most common and spontaneous form, the ideological metamorphoses of contemporary racism no longer allow the basic racist categorization to be expressed through the establishment of a hierarchy of races, but according to criteria which appear more legitimate (e.g. those who can be assimilated versus those who cannot), and which are rationalized in cultural terms. In its political form, this new categorization acquires greater legitimacy in a pluralist ideology based on the diversity of cultures than on a classical racist ideology. 

Although the modalities of racism have changed, its structure and mechanisms remain the same. Racism remains an aggressive rejection of “the Other”, the goal of which is to legitimize a dominant position and to justify a feeling of superiority at the expense of “the Other”, especially those who have already been “defeated by history”. However, racists want neither the disappearance of their object nor the disappearance of its “differences”. Rather, they want to maintain its humiliated presence in order to confirm their domination and advantages. As Memmi reminds us, “To understand a given form of racism, one must always ask how this particular racist benefits from this particular victim”. 

National Representations as a Backdrop to Racism

Quebec: clearly an inferior people
Although Quebec nationalism was established on the basis of a historical relation of domination, it would be difficult to pinpoint with any certainty the elements of that relation which are still active today. Among other things, Quebec-Canada relations are currently characterized less by pure domination than by competition between two national visions with universalist aspirations.

However, there is a representation of the Canadian nation (especially since 1982) as a country made up of numerous cultural minorities, two official languages, and ten equal provinces, and a strong central state that looks after it. According to this representation, federal institutions possess a moral superiority and ensure not only the respect of equality among the provinces and among citizens, but also the protection of minorities in Canada. This presumption of moral superiority is based on the representation of a Canada “which has no history of slavery”, “which did not exterminate the Indians”, “which allowed francophones to keep their institutions and their language” and “which is more egalitarian than the United States” because it is concerned with maintaining its social programs.

In Quebec, however, the dominant representations diverge in many ways from those prevailing in English Canada. The historical development of Quebec society is generally defined as a shift from an ethnic model of the nation to a model which is at once civic, territorial, pluralistic, inclusive, and francophone. Because the thesis of self-determination is largely shared by both federalist and sovereignist Quebecers, the idea that Quebecers constitute “an ethnic minority like any other in Canada” is perceived as an insult and as nonsense in historical terms. 

So the backdrop to this particularly Canadian form of racism is the conflict between the now widely accepted Canadian “national idea” and a Quebec that cannot be assimilated to the Canadian universalism. The result is an impulse to reduce Quebecers with their competing nationalism and their own concepts of universalism to an ethnic group with racist designs. 

The circular logic of racism can become convenient: those who reject this “best country in the world”, this multicultural, bilingual, and egalitarian country, are either “ethnics who cannot be assimilated” to universalism, or “false Canadians” who hate us and no doubt deserve our hatred. These “unstable”, “dissatisfied” people, who want to destroy this nice place, justify our legitimate self-defense.

Generally speaking, collective conflicts are nourished by these ingredients. The step from fear to hostility, then from hostility to aggression, is easily made. Fear, first expressed in the form of “We love Quebec” on October 27, 1995, was succeeded by a new partitionist movement among anglophone Quebecers who feared losing their membership in Canada’s majority group. This movement, marginalized at first, was subsequently legitimized by the federal government, which now no longer excludes two possibilities: that of formulating territorial claims during negotiations with a sovereign Quebec, in order to attach some “federalist enclaves” to Canada; and that of reprisals or even defending its territory by force. Although there has been a constant fear of Canada’s balkanization in English Canada, it is used much more as a weapon against the adversary (partition, Plan B, etc.). We’ve seen ideologically rationalized justifications in order to make these fears politically legitimate. The Canadian media have provided eloquent examples of the de-legitimization of the Parti Quebecois through the demonization (even Nazification) of sovereignists.  

Gerry Weiner: From Accusation to Demonization via Inferiorization

Gerry Weiner, former federal Minister of Immigration, launched an attack on Quebec that exemplified the common argument that Quebecers constitute an ethnic group trying to impose (by force) their language onto others. Quebec, in this view, is not a nation or a society possessing liberal and democratic institutions, as well as a diversified public, social, and cultural life. Quebecers are just one of many ethnic groups in Canada and it is therefore unacceptable that French become the integration language for immigrants in Quebec.

In August 1997, Weiner accused the sovereignist government of Quebec of wanting to create an “ethnocentric Francophone enclave” through its immigration policy. In his press conference, held in Ottawa on August 28, 1997, he labelled the Quebec immigration policy “racist” because it would favour persons who spoke French to the detriment of those who spoke another language. Two mechanisms are employed here: demonization and the inferiorization of Quebec institutions. The demonization of the adversary occurs through the historical de-contextualization of Quebec’s public policies. The current selection grid for immigration applicants (and its point system), as well as the efforts made to encourage people from francophone countries to immigrate to Quebec, are the results of policies adopted by the federalist Quebec Liberal Party, policies which Weiner never denounced when he was federal Minister of Immigration and which had not changed when he made his accusations. 

Lucien Bouchard as you-know-who...
The mechanism intended to demonstrate the moral superiority of Canadian institutions in order to delegitimize the PQ government was then employed: “This country had a non-discriminatory immigration policy. It’s clear that Quebec is building an ethnocentric French-speaking enclave by a careful method of selecting immigrants”. In his declaration, Weiner even asked the federal government to put a stop to this manoeuvre, even though Quebec has not changed its policy since the accord signed with the federal government in 1991. “The federal government is sitting by, silently watching the separatists ram their agenda down the throats of Canadians by imposing racist and discriminatory immigration policies … Where is Ottawa?” His discourse adopts arguments which, by extension, approach a colonialist discourse: the federal government must put Quebec in its proper place as a minority in the Canadian system, and keep an eye on its schemes to protect it against itself.

These ethnicizing remarks activate the elements of the national myth in two ways: first, through the conviction — stemming directly from the structure of the myth (universalism versus ethnocentrism) — that Quebec is an ethnic minority community incapable of defending individual rights or of claiming universalism; and, second, through the strategic use of this belief in order to disqualify and delegitimize, through demonization, Quebec sovereignists’ intentions with regard to language. Without the advantages of federal institutions, which ensure national unity and the respect of rights, this minority group (Quebecers) is considered incapable of governing itself and especially, of protecting and respecting the individual rights characteristic of the liberal tradition. Since, in this view, the sovereignist project is ethnic and racist — because it rejects the so-called universalism of Canadian institutions — its components must necessarily be so too, especially the French language, which francophones want to “impose on immigrants” through their immigration and integration policies. The objective here is to delegitimize Quebec sovereignists through various uses: accusations of racism, threats of reprisals, inferiorization of the French language, and demonization of the political elite.

Diane Francis: Demonization and Conspiracy Theories 

In her books and articles in The Financial Post, The Suburban, and Maclean's, Diane Francis has clearly been employing a double rhetoric: on the one hand, there is the demonization of "secessionists" ("Who will never be reasonable," The Suburban, September 24, 1997), a claim based on the presumption of a "separatist Conspiracy" (see chap. 14 of her book, Fighting for Canada); and, on the other hand, there is the victimization of the anglophone majority group and an accompanying populist rhetoric of legitimate self-defence, based on the presumption that the adversary is racist. The basis and tone of her statements are akin to anti-Semitic discourses of the 1930s and 1940s, which were based on the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy, unbeknownst to the population, and which had to be brought out into the open to reveal the "true nature" of the Jews:
Quebec separatism is not the legitimate struggle for self-determination. It is a racially motivated conspiracy that has run roughshod over human rights, fair play, the Quebec economy, and democracy. The separatists should be treated like the ruthless elite that they are. ... English Canadians still remain in the dark and do not fully understand the extent of separatist wrongdoing. The separatists have cheated. Lied. Hidden facts. Revised history. Disenfranchised thousands of voters. Fraudulently spoiled ballots, then covered up their crimes. They have tampered with the armed forces of the nation. Stripped anglophones and allophones of their civil rights for more than three decades. Purposely driven anglophones out of Quebec. Passed laws that legalized employment discrimination and educational discrimination. Ruined Montreal's economy. Engaged in acts that transgress international treaties Canada has signed, and otherwise embarassed Canada internationally. All of this has cost each and every Canadian dearly as a result of higher interest rates on mortgages, consumer loans, and government borrowings.  
Fighting For Canada, 1996

She urges Canadian citizens to get their municipal councils to adopt resolutions for "remaining in Canada," pushing them "to unite" against the adversary. "They are the original partitionists, not those of us fighting for Canada" (The Suburban, September 24, 1997). The real "secessionists," who are in the minority anyway, are from rural areas: "Montreal, with two-thirds of the province's gross domestic product, voted No and will do so again ... So the next referendum is about whether rural Quebec wants to leave Canada or not." (Ibid.). Francis constantly steers the debate to the issue of the legitimacy of the "struggle against sovereignists" instead of to the "reasons" for Quebec nationalism, or even to the best possible solutions in the search for the common good:
Equally telling in the most recent Quebec poll is that there is only 34 per cent support for secession. The rigorous and emotional defence of this great country has made all the difference. Not concessions and not constitutionalizing. 
The Suburban, September 24, 1997

The “Levine Affair

It was during the “Levine Affair” that the use of demonization reached its peak, and that the analogy between sovereignists and Nazis was the most repetitive in some newspapers.  David Levine, a health administrator who had been a PQ candidate in a 1979 by-election, was appointed CEO of a new Ottawa Hospital in 1998. This appointment enabled racism to reach another level, in discourse as well as in practice: racism became an action and mobilization principle based on anti-Quebec sentiments which were strongly crystallized around David Levine, who, in some media, was presented as a “traitor” and an enemy, and not as a political adversary. This nuance is significant: adversaries maintain a status and equal rights, and are inscribed in a relationship based on negotiation, whereas enemies are those with whom one refuses any type of relationship in order to eliminate, exterminate, or destroy them.

At the beginning of the controversy, some newspapers cautiously displayed prejudices against David Levine. On May 11, Susan Riley, columnist for The Ottawa Citizen, argued:
There may be no legal, practical or even moral justification for revoking David Levine’s appointment as head of the new Ottawa hospital, but it still rankles … why should someone who prefers an independent Quebec to a united Canada choose to work in an alien territory?

But the more the controversy escalated, the more the racist slips were multiplied and reinforced. In his editorial on May 22, John Robson tried to justify “Why Levine has to got to go” (The Ottawa Citizen). First, he maintained that since separatism was a position that offended the community, a former sovereignist could not be the head of an institution serving the community. For Robson, the fact that Levine was a sovereignist (even if he was clearly no longer politically active) placed Levine in the enemy camp: “Not knowing that he is one isn’t the same as knowing that he isn’t one … If you ran for the Nazis in 1979, never repudiated them, and won’t say if you are one now, you are one. Right? “. The correlation with Nazism would appear to be a means for justifying his argumentation, one which is used on several occasions:
One can claim that political beliefs should have nothing to do with one’s job. But if you hire someone with outrageous beliefs, you outrage the community. Obviously. How many Levine supporters think it would be OK if he was a Nazi? … What we do know is that Jean-Louis Roux (who supports Mr. Levine) had to step down as lieutenant-governor of Quebec because he once drew a swastika on his sleeve in a moment of youthful folly … In Quebec, federalism and sovereignty are just two political options. On this side of the Ottawa river it doesn’t work that way. Over here, Liberal, Conservative, Reform and NDP are political options. Separatists want to destroy our home and native land … That’s why, although separatism is clearly not Nazism, it’s equally clearly on the wrong side of the line dividing opinions that don’t outrage the community from ones that do. 
The Ottawa Citizen, May 22

Sovereignists and Nazis are on the same level, a parallel which is made naturally, which is repeated and made commonplace, as if sovereignists had committed the same degree of atrocities as the Nazis, and as if the actions of Nazis could easily be reduced to those of sovereignists. This is a clear case of historical revisionism.

In addition, this parallel affects that half of Quebec’s population that voted for sovereignty during the 1995 referendum. Yet, Robson denies being a racist or a bigot, even if Levine appears, in his discourse, all the more a traitor because he is Jewish, anglophone, bilingual, and sovereignist, all at once: 
How can it be bigotry? Mr. Levine is an anglophone, albeit a bilingual one. Anglophones angry at other anglophones over an anglophone they hired is hardly anti-French prejudice. As for racism, everyone in the story is white. Of course Mr. Levine is of Jewish ancestry. But it isn’t Jean Chretien who mutters darkly about monied ethics. It’s Jacques Parizeau. And we all know he didn’t mean Haitians … No, if racism is a problem, it’s David Levine who associates with bigots, not his critics … Mr. Levine is still in bed with intolerant people. 
The Ottawa Citizen, May 22

Robson supported and justified a rally of approximately 500 people who went to listen to the hospital’s Board of Governors at the Administration Centre on May 19, 1998 to manifest a clearly hate-laden discourse expressive of their fear of sovereignists and their rage:
This is an avowed separatist. We shouldn’t give this person the time of day, let alone a $300,000-a-year job. We should no longer be polite to these bastards. He should go and tell Lucien he needs a job.
The Ottawa Citizen, May 20 

Mike Harris, former Premier of Ontario, fell into step by stating that:
Given his background, if that’s what he still believes in, he wouldn’t have been our first choice … Surely, there is an administrative capability within Ontario, or at least within Canada, or even a non-Canadian who believes in Canada and keeping Canada together. 
The Ottawa Citizen, May 21

But he was not the only politician who opposed Levine’s candidature, or at least who adopted an attitude expressing doubts about Levine:
Ontario MP Garry Guzzo said he feared that Levine would fill the hospital’s administration with sovereignists (The Gazette, May 16); federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Stephane Dion maintained that the manifestations of intolerance experienced by Levine were inevitable as long as the threat of separation existed (The Gazette, May 16); Ontario’s Minister of Health, Elizabeth Witmer, wondered whether the Board of Governors of the Ottawa Hospital should not reconsider its decision, given the impact it would have on the community (The Gazette, May 16); Ottawa’s Mayor, Jim Watson, maintained that Levine’s candidature would affect the hospital’s fundraising. Because of this, Levine “should do the honourable thing and resign … I think if I was David Levine I would resign and put the good of the hospital at the forefront…, to hire someone who is a known separatist doesn’t make a whole lot of sense” (The Ottawa Citizen, May 20, 1998); the Mayor of Gloucester wondered how David Levine, who had been in the service of the Quebec government in New York and a sovereignist, …could keep his personal political beliefs separate from his role as the head of a public institution … His mandate is to run the hospital, [but] human nature says he has beliefs that want to destroy our country and somehow, somewhere it infiltrates into your persona. He even went to New York for the Quebec government. His past background will have a bearing on his job. I think they should rescind his appointment and get somebody else. 
The Ottawa Citizen, May 20, 1998


Parizeau looking remarkably like an untermensch

These incidents show how the two logics of racism most often merge: the logic of inferiorization is only effective when it also operates from an accusatory differentiation aiming to justify “legitimate self-defence” or, eventually, aggression. Racism truly starts when hatred is justified through the denigration of those viewed as enemies. Quebec sovereignists constitute a target of choice because those "trouble-makers are going to destroy this great country". Why? Because they are pushing Quebecers into becoming outlaws of sorts, and do not have the right to separate by using clever ruses and a process of popular consultation which has become illegitimate (deceptive question). But, even though almost all Quebecers have at least one family member who voted “Yes” in the last referendum, if they weren’t victims of a vast conspiracy and led by “emotional” leaders with “unstable” personalities (Bouchard) or “revenge mongers” full of “tricks” (Parizeau), they would be quite placid and everything would fall into place, just like before. 

Sovereignists are on the dark side, and not on the side of “Reason”. David Levine remains a traitor as long as he does not publicly embrace Canadian unity. Isn’t it necessary to "protect" Quebec citizens against the sovereignists — and against themselves — since their dark design is to make Quebec an “ethnocentric francophone enclave”?

What stands out, first and most clearly is the use of universalist arguments (drawn from the Canadian national conception) to delegitimize “the Other”. Secondly, is the element of a contemporary form of “neo-racism”, the discursive racialization of which is implicit and implied, but in which the functions and classical mechanisms of racism remain unchanged: the demonization of the accused. 

The inability of Canadians to comprehend Quebec sovereignists is based on the conviction that Quebecers are a “minority like any other”, and that Canada is “the best country in the world”, universalist, open to differences, bilingual, etc. The conviction among some Anglo-Canadians that unity existed in the past is part of the national myth, and kindles a strong desire to maintain or to re-establish it. 

These incidents, and many more like them, expose the myth of the Canadian nation; the results of the 1995 referendum activated an identity crisis among English Canadians, a breakdown of universalist ideals, and a desire for revenge. 

Based on a text by Maryse Potvin, political scientist and sociologist, professor at the University of Québec in Montréal (UQAM)

1 comment:

  1. Funny to hear a nation that's built on three centuries of ethnic cleansing against all those who were in Canada before them claim to have any kind of moral superiority.