Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quebec's language laws and schools

Quebec’s language laws limit access to English schools for most citizens of the province. This is true...

Yet, 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.

For example, if American states were expected to give their Spanish-speaking minority the same education rights that Quebec gives to its English-speaking minority, then New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Utah, Rhode Island, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Kansas – all states that have more Spanish-speakers than Quebec has English-speakers – would have to create a second publicly funded Spanish-language schools system.

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 called CEGEPs and 3 English universities.

In fact, if you use that standard definition of a major university as one that has both a law school and a medical school – New Brunswick’s Université de Moncton, the only autonomous French-language university outside Quebec, does not have the latter – then Quebec is the only state or province to fund a complete education system for its linguistic minority.

That’s if you accept the premise that English-speaking North Americans can be considered a minority at all…

Quebec’s dual school system is, in fact, as old as Canada. It was a compromise of sorts between the Protestant industrialists of Montreal and the all-powerful Catholic clergy who agreed that the province would have two completely separate and independently run school systems: one Protestant, one Catholic, which with time morphed into French and English-language systems. The dual school systems were constitutionalised in 1867 and, to this day, Quebec is the only Canadian province constitutionally obligated to maintain "separate but equal" schools.

Putting limits

In 1969, just a couple of years after the United States government had to send in the army to protect black students being integrated into Little Rock, Arkansas schools in spite of the violent opposition of a certain segment of the white population, the municipality of Saint-Léonard on the island of Montreal went through its own episodes of violent riots over the integration of minorities.

The only difference is that in the case of Saint-Léonard, the white, French-speaking majority was rioting against segregation, not in support of it.

Francophones in Montreal had become increasingly alarmed to see the vast majority of new immigrants to Quebec sending their children to English Schools. That situation, combined with the demographic decline of francophones in Canada and the availability of an extensive and totally free network of English schools in Quebec meant that within one generation French-speakers could have become a minority in Montreal.

Quebec’s francophones, representing about 80% of the population of Quebec but barely 2% of North Americans, were put in the position where they had to assist their neighbors in anglicizing immigrants. Not only were francophones being assimilated, but they were paying for it.

In 1977 the government of Quebec adopted the Charter of the French Language, known as bill 101, which made French the mandatory language of primary and secondary education. From that moment on, all residents of Quebec – except the anglophone minority and the First Nations – had to send their children to French schools from the 1st grade through to the end of High School.

Many people in Quebec’s anglophone community and in the rest of Canada were angered by this apparent limit to their freedom to choose their children’s language of instruction. Few noted that Quebec was the only place on the continent where an actual school network made that choice possible at all.

In any case, parents who have attended English schools anywhere in Canada have the privilege to send their children to either school network in Quebec. It is only francophones and new immigrants – those who make the informed decision of living in the French-speaking part of Canada – who are limited to French Schools.

In 1972, before the adoption of the Charter, only 10% of immigrants to Quebec sent their children to French schools. Since the adoption of bill 101 the situation has reversed. Parents who send their kids to private schools can still send them to English schools as long as the school does not receive government funding.

Freedom of choice remains total when it comes to higher education and students can study in English at college-level (CEGEPs) or in one of Quebec’s three English-language universities.

Yes, but it's your own fault!

After the defeat of the Rebellions of 1837-38 and the Act of Union of 1840, the French-speaking nation in Quebec was reduced to a minority status in a manner that shaped its national consciousness. French Canadians began to see themselves as an ethnic group in someone else's country. So, French Catholic schools in Quebec basically ended up as ethnic "French-Canadian" schools in the same sense that Jewish schools in Montreal are for Jews. No one in these schools really thought about or even cared about the integration of immigrants. 

In the 1960s a new national consciousness arose in Quebec which saw a shift from an ethnic model of the nation to a model which is at once civic, territorial, pluralistic, inclusive, and francophone and in 1964 French schools were taken out of the hands of the Catholic Church and secularized.

So saying that French Catholic schools weren't interested in integrating immigrants is not untrue but to pretend that this was the only thing pushing immigrants to opt for English in Quebec is a gross distortion of reality. Although there were certainly cases of immigrants being refused entry into French Catholic schools, this type of exclusion was in no way systemic. From the records of the Montreal Catholic School Commission, we can see that they did, in fact, admit immigrants into their schools, both French and English. We can also see that the demand by Catholic immigrants to Quebec for English schools grew steadily throughout the 20th century. In any case, by the mid-60s all immigrants had access to secular francophone schools but few chose them, preferring English schools instead. 

In a sense, it's an understandable choice. English was the language of money and power in Quebec and it was the language that dominated the continent including Montreal. Francophones earned on average 35% less than anglophones even with the same level of education. But regardless of this, Angryphones like to say that immigrants chose English over French because we were just a bunch of nasty, xenophobic frogs who excluded them from our schools. They conveniently ignore other factors, like the dominance and power of attraction of English as a reason. In any case, we eventually chose not to publicly fund English education for all of our immigrants. I think not making that choice would have been an act of suicide for our nation.

The dilemma

Quebec’s English-speaking minority has a right to its own parallel school system. To this day, anyone who has studied at least one year in an English school somewhere in Canada is allowed to opt out of the majority’s school system.

This, of course, is rationalized on the principal of some supposed right of children to receive education in their own language. That’s interesting because, at least in Montreal, the majority of English-speaking youth are not studying in English at all!

According to the English Montreal School Board as many as three out of four primary school students spend most of their school day in classes taught in French. The so-called “core” program where the majority of classes are taught in English is the least popular of all the school board’s options and is being abandoned by parents who demand immersion and biliteracy curriculum for their children.

Even Quebec’s stuffy English Private Schools that only a generation ago prepared kids in penny loafers to rule the world in English are now falling over themselves to provide rich people with the French the publicly-funded system can’t afford. The students of Westmount’s Selwyn Housenow spend between 50% and 80% of their class time studying in French and have even added a French verse to their school hymn! (Which, I believe, was the number 3 demand in the FLQ manifesto.)

Outside Montreal the situation is even stranger with many English schools having a majority of French students and very few actual Anglos exercising their right to receive an English-language education in Quebec. In Quebec City close to 60% of the students in English schools are francophones. This is possible because French-speaking, or for that matter, any family that has obtained a certificate of eligibility to English schools through, for example, a mixed marriage, can keep passing the privilege along to further generations until the End of Time.

Hey, it’s not that it’s a bad idea for Quebec’s English-speaking kids to take classes in French. What’s profoundly bizarre is the concept of English-speaking children immersing themselves in French in schools with no French kids, two blocks away from an actual French school…

As even the Montreal Gazette reported, the result is technically bilingual kids who don’t know any French people and who are uncomfortable ordering a burger in French at McDonald's.

On the French side there is growing tension between proponents and opponents to the kind of bilingual programs that have become common on the English side. While there is a lot of demand for them, opponents feel that the French schools’ mission of integrating immigrants into Quebec society, especially in Montreal, could be seriously compromised if more English was introduced in the schools.

As a result, many French-speaking families in Montreal are massively abandoning the public school system for private schools that offer, among other things, better English classes. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of students in Montreal’s private schools leaped by 30%.

All this together leads to a profoundly dyslexic school arrangement. Immigrants to Quebec are now integrating themselves into Quebec society in schools with no French-speaking Québécois, while Quebec francophones send their children to private schools. Montreal Anglos are building their own parallel French school network with no French students while francophones in the rest of the province are keeping an English school system alive even though there are no more actual English-speaking students.

Becoming independent will allow us to normalize our school situation as it will normalize many things in our society. It will allow us to break free from the constitutional straitjacket of the BNAA and of the 1982 constitution. Our language will no longer be a regional, minority language and will instead become the national language of an independent country. An immigrant to an independent Quebec will not be confused about which country he is immigrating to and will understand that French is our common language. Basically, independence will allow us to become a country like any other and we will cease to be a people who lives in fear of being absorbed into a larger nation that refuses to recognize our existence.

Based on two articles by Angry French Guy

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)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Canada's fundamental fraud

The opponents of the political unification of the British colonies of North America wanted an economic development based along the North-South axis rather than along the East-West axis. 

The people never consulted, Quebec representatives divided

150 years ago, on March 10, 1865, an important vote was held at the Parliament of United Canada. The 124 members of parliament voted on a motion giving support to the Quebec Resolutions. Written at the Quebec Conference in the fall of 1864, they requested that the imperial capital proceed with the political unification of the colonies of British North America.

The vote resulted in 91 MPs voting in favor and 33 voting against. In Ontario, 54 MPs voted in favor, while only 8 voted against. In Quebec, 37 MPs voted favorably and 25 voted against. Of these opponents in Quebec, there were Reds, Violets (moderate liberals) and Blues. Ten Reds voted against; eleven of the seventeen Violet members also; and four of the thirty-five Blue MPs. 

Across all colors, the opponents represented ridings connected to US commercial trading routes. They came mainly from the Greater Montreal, Montérégie, Eastern Townships, Bois-Francs and Beauce regions. Many of them came from towns or villages on or near the border. Their constituents wanted an economic development based on north-south rather than east-west trade.

Basically, we can say that the vast majority of MPs from the ridings north of Yamachiche voted for Confederation in 1865. On this national issue, French Quebec was torn in two: Upper Quebec, Northern Yamachiche, was conservative; Lower Quebec was republican.

Opposition movements were organized in three of the founding provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec. Yet the founding fathers refused to consult the people. "At the bottom of the abyss stands democracy" declared George-Étienne Cartier, while for John A. Macdonald, "an election is a civil disorder."

Canadian historiography is little more respectful of the views of the opponents. It sees them as troublemakers, traitors and paranoid. Yet their arguments were sensible. The Quebec opponents made three types of arguments. Politically, they noted a decline in the quality of democracy. Several resolutions were criticized: the abolition of the elective principle for the Upper House; the monarchical character of the regime; weak provincial governments; the right of disavowal granted to the Crown.

Culturally, English and French opponents were divided about the guarantees promised by the resolutions. The English were worried that the new provincial government might interfere with the rights of the Anglo-Protestant minority; the French feared that the federal union might bring about the decline of the French-Canadian nationality. Beyond this disagreement, they agreed on this: the constitutional guarantees were vague. Domestic quarrels, far from fading, would be exacerbated with the birth of the new regime.

Economically, the opponents challenged the need to raise a standing army and build an Inter-colonial Railway, since the military threat was bogus. These public expenditures would create an endless spiral of public debt. And this astronomical public debt would require large increases in taxes and thus impoverish the working classes.

The Grand Trunk

Incidentally, the very birth of the Great Coalition occurred in suspicious circumstances. If George Brown's wife was the "mother of Confederation" as the historian J.M.S. Careless wrote, in the eyes of the opponents of Confederation in Quebec there was also a "Godfather" in the Mafia sense. And it was the Grand Trunk railroad. Thanks to its resources, this Godfather was able to constantly widen the circle of the family, by buying off the most recalcitrant.

This interpretation proposed by opponents is not far-fetched, although it was associated with a "paranoid style of thinking" by historians. The impetus for the Great Coalition had indeed come from London's financial community. They became very nervous, in 1862, with the coming to power of a government led by the Reformer John Sandfield Macdonald and the Violet Louis-Victor Sicotte who wanted to free United Canada from the tutelage of British financiers, advocating an "economic decolonization", i.e. stop stuffing the coffers of the Grand Trunk; reduce borrowing from London; control the public debt and balance the budget.

This strategy alarmed the financiers of London. In response to this political and financial uncertainty, they created a lobby group, the British North America Association (BNAA), which actively supported the political unification of British North America and the construction of a railway between Halifax and Quebec.

Before the coming to power of the Macdonald-Sicotte government, the Colonial Office was indifferent and sometimes hostile to the political unification of the colonies. A shift in colonial policy came after the British North America Association had called for a unification of the colonies. With the return to power of the Conservatives in 1864, the conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec were held.

When the contents of the Quebec Resolutions were known in London, the big British financiers reacted positively. The reaction of the City was crucial for the continuation of the project. If the financiers had been hostile, it would have been abandoned, as its implementation depended on financial guarantees.

The British financiers hoped that the unification project would appease the democratic tensions expressed in the colonial parliaments. They advocated the adoption of more stringent criteria to qualify to vote but the founding fathers adopted another way by proposing a highly centralized federal union, important decisions would be pushed to a more remote level of government, the federal level.

The City had initially expressed disappointment on learning of the proposed continuation of the provincial parliaments. But it was reassured upon learning of the division of powers proposed by the Quebec resolutions. It was now clear that the provinces would be little more than vainglorious municipalities, subject to the will of a powerful central government.

By Stéphane Kelly, Sociologist, professor at the Saint-Jerome CEGEP

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The PKP enigma in 11 points

"What do you think about Péladeau? "I think this question has been asked to me dozens and dozens of times in the past year. For some he's the great Sovereigntist Messiah with the stature of a head of state who will lead Quebec to independence, fist in the air. For others, he's the demon boss-man, the anti-union dictator in the pay of the 1%, the Berlusconi of Quebec.

He is neither the Messiah nor the devil.

I propose here to look at the PKP enigma in a few points, which are the questions that come up most often when people speak to me about the MNA of St-Jérôme and of the PQ leadership race.

1- The pro big oil candidate, who's in favor of the Energy East pipeline

"This Sunday, Mr.Péladeau unveiled his platform on the subject of energy in which he foresees Quebec's energy independence from oil by 2050. The candidate does not exclude the possibility of extracting the oil from Anticosti island or the oil off the shores of the Madeleine Islands. He's promising to consult the population in order to determine if this should or should not be used as part of Quebec's oil exit strategy. Mr.Péladeau spoke of Norway, where oil royalties have helped to establish a fund of $880 billion. Mr.Péladeau asserted, however, that the issues of environmental protection and social acceptability shall be taken into account when it's time to decide whether to go ahead with it. Still, Mr.Péladeau stressed the benefits of oil exploitation. "I consider it a major asset. It's a the major asset for Quebec sovereignty and we can't simply discard its enormous potential to make Québec a rich and prosperous country. "- Le Devoir, March 29, 2015

He doesn't seem to have sided with the TransCanada pipeline, he said that Quebecers should be consulted. But anyway, this is, for now, still a federal jurisdiction. So long as Quebec is stuck in the Canadian federation, it doesn't really need to be consulted. In any case, wanting to get out of oil is fine but it won't happen in a single day. In an independent Quebec, the production of oil could be considered, preferably in the context of nationalization or at least with the negotiation of generous royalties. So these revenues could then be used by the Quebec government to finance its energy transition towards clean energy and to reduce its dependence on oil. If we look at PKP's energy policy, this is pretty much what he is proposing with the example of the Norwegian Sovereign Fund, with his proposal about the  electrification of transportation, with his energy efficiency plan and his plan for the exit from oil:

"To achieve our energy transition, it is also important to reduce our oil consumption by all possible means. We need to consume less oil and consume our own energy when substitutes are possible. Everyone agrees that the oil produced in Western Canada is among the most polluting in the world and it  would be more  advantageous to rely on other sources  which would benefit Quebecers. Drawing on the best international practices, we want to develop an oil exit plan that would include a 40% reduction target in the transportation sector by 2030."

2- Tax Evasion

In his economic platform, Péladeau has seen fit to mention a plan to fight tax evasion. Meanwhile, Alain Deneault raised some important questions: "The conversion of Mr. Péladeau is nothing banal and raises legitimate questions. For example, Quebecor World had once created an entity called "Quebecor World Centro America SA" Panama, an opaque tax haven? " On this point, it must be said that some countries require the creation and registration of companies on their territory when it comes to doing business. Quebecor World, which in 2003 had just concluded a contract to print Reader's Digest Panama created Quebecor World Centro America S.A. in Panama. There's still the question of Delaware, where Quebecor defended wanting to evade its tax obligations, but Alain Deneault, who wrote the book "Offshore" about tax havens, is skeptical. It's likely that this story will be continued.

3- Lockouts

Some say that because of this past, PKP will have trouble getting the support of the unions. This is a legitimate concern. Yet what must be understood is that the greatest enemy of unionism is the federal government. Just look at Bills C-4, C-377 and C-525, as well as the way the federal government responded to the labor conflicts at Air Canada and Canadian Pacific. This is probably what motivated trade unionists to support Pierre Karl.

4- He doesn't answer questions and his plan for independence is unclear

This is not something that worries me and I will explain why in point 11. Anyway, since Parizeau left the PQ, we have seen some fine speakers with nice plans...on paper. Like for example, the popular initiative referendum with the 850,000 signatures threshold plan proposed by Bernard Drainville in 2012, which was never really implemented. The kind of plan that Alexandre Cloutier seems to be proposing but would, this time, require one million signatures.

5- His media

Many people wonder if PKP, who was the CEO and remains the owner of one of the largest media companies in Quebec, will benefit from a Quebecor Media bias. I see no evidence that this would be the case. Let's not forget that at the Journal de Montreal and the Journal de Québec, there are a lot of federalists columnists who take pleasure in denigrating the independence movement. Of course, the Journal de Montreal and the Journal de Québec can claim to be representing a plurality of views, but I am skeptical that these papers would help Pierre Karl in an election or a possible referendum. Never mind the airtime that TVA grants to Jean Lapierre during election campaigns. Add to that Sun News, which Quebecor recently got rid of... It did give me a good laugh to see the Sun News journalists have to defend themselves for working for a "separatist" after PKP made the jump to the PQ.

6- His lack of experience in politics

We often hear that after Pierre Karl says something, he often has to explain his comments or clarify his position. This happens precisely because he lacks experience and he has not yet mastered the famous vacuousness of political speech. In a sense, it can harm him because today more than ever the media can create a tempest in a teacup from a trivial statement. On the other hand, his straight talk, which can sometimes create the impression that he made a gaff, could probably help him. Remember that Jean Chrétien, who could outdo anyone in terms of gaffs, was three times prime minister of Canada.

Parenthesis: take the controversial statement of PKP on immigration. The statement is rather awkward and there is a chance that, come election time, they will try to corner him with it, just like Parizeau's statement, which is still used by federalists as a scarecrow, but it puts the finger on something real. PKP eventually retracted it, but it is in the details of Maka Kotto's comments that we find an interesting element: "There is a system that ensures you when you come from abroad, all the symbols that are forced upon you inculcate into you, subliminally I would say, a notion of belonging to Canada, not Quebec."

Two other things: Immigration is still a taboo subject here, everyone walks on eggshells for fear of being called a racist or of offending someone, and because of this we can never have a real debate of any kind on the subject. Furthermore, the independence movement should not single out the immigrants as the sole source of its misfortune. Instead of pointing the finger at immigrants and saying "immigrants vote no," the PQ must initiate a genuine dialogue with the various cultural communities and must convince them of the viability of Quebec independence and the contributions each of these communities can make.

Personally, I've been having this dialogue for years. It works when you take the time to discuss, ask questions and explain. I went to high school in St-Michel, so I rubbed shoulders with Quebecers of all origins. I have friends from Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Haiti, Argentina, France, Belgium, Chile, Vietnam, etc. And contrary to what we are led to believe, the independence option is relatively alive among the children of Bill 101, the sons and daughters of immigrants. End of parenthesis.

7- Is the PQ the right vehicle?

On this point, I tend to agree with the analysis of Jacques Parizeau, for several reasons. The secularism charter was a serious strategic error on the part of the Parti Quebecois and it will continue to feel the repercussions over it for a while. While human beings have been killing one another on religious grounds for a long time, the PQ decided to make religion an election issue. On the PQ and what it has become, I had questioned Jean-François Lisée at the time. I still think the same way. And that was not counting the endless debate on secularism and the electoral drubbing last year. The Parti Quebecois is not a very popular party among young people and among immigrants. The independence option is currently more popular than the party. There is certainly a lot of work to do on this front. As for those who are serious about independence, they no longer believe the empty promises of this party. How could anyone blame them. Personally, I'm sick of hearing the interchangeable heads of the PQ proclaiming loudly that they will do everything in their power to bring about the independence of Quebec once a year at the party convention. Then, 2 or 3 YouTube videos, a powerpoint, a hollow formula like "popular initiative referendum", the "tool box" or a "White Paper on sovereignty" and when election time comes around, they avoid the issue. So on this point, I'll wait and see.

8- The economy

PKP's economic prestige and his ambitious economic plan will surely allow him to get votes from the CAQ and give him a chance of convincing those who believe that a sovereign Quebec would not be economically viable. It could also help him convince people from the business world as well. In his platform, there are two points that I find particularly interesting, and that's not counting his regional development plan and his manufacturing policy. First, the strategy of buying locally, which he calls the concept of "préférence québécoise". Then his desire to create a Quebec Institute of Applied Research on independence. This institute will "analyze the economic dimensions of the national independence project".

9- Federal control over vital sectors

I must say that I'm glad to finally hear someone make this point. Shipping, rail, air transport, the CRTC, etc. Economically speaking, the Quebec Institute of Applied Research on independence should demonstrate how these "federal jurisdictions slow or disadvantage Quebec." Furthermore, I would also suggest that this Institute focus on the ideological control of the federal government on thought and culture through what Heritage Canada funds; Telefilm Canada, the CRTC, the Canada Council, Museums and Parks Canada, CBC Radio and Television, the NFB, in addition to some other areas such as university research or amateur sport.

10- The glamour

This is obviously not something that reaches me personally but it's still significant that PKP and Julie Snyder form a glamorous couple. Besides, Julie Snyder is a brilliant woman, with an ability to rally people to her. I see her political involvement in a favorable light. And if in addition, it can attract the sympathy of the people who watch La Voix or Star Académie, and convinces them to vote "Yes", then I'm all for it.

11- Has Pierre Karl Peladeau really entered politics for Quebec independence?

This is the crucial question. First, it must be said that never before has a businessman of his importance taken a stand in this way. The Canadian establishment will never forgive him for it. Yes, in Quebec Quebecor is big, but if you look at the largest companies in Canada, Quebecor Media ranks 94th, and Quebecor Inc. ranks at 96th place. Its media competitors, that is to say Power Corporation, Bell and Rogers, rank respectively in the 3rd, 17th and 33rd places.

In addition, by placing his company in a blind trust he is placing himself in a very risky position. Not only will the Canadian establishment do everything, including all of the low blows unimaginable to weaken his business, he will be a victim of media persecution by the competitors especially at election time. When we look at the recent history of Quebec, particularly in regard to the political struggle against the independence of Quebec, the federal government and the Canadian establishment spared no means to get their way. The Brinks job, Operation Ham, the Samson Case, and the underhanded methods used during the 1995 referendum (see for example the book by Robin Philpot "Le Référendum volé").

Why take that risk? I believe Pierre Karl knows what he is exposing himself to and how it exposes the company he inherited from his father. Being aware of these risks, he must succeed in a certain sense. It's all or nothing, really. He's taking a calculated risk because, firstly he must really want Quebec to achieve its independence and, I believe, he also wants to make history. He wants to be the one who will create this country. He wants to be what René Lévesque and Jacques Parizeau could not be. And he is not afraid. This, I believe, can only do good to the PQ of recent years.

I have often complained about people who refuse to take a stand, Pierre Karl has, he is putting his company at risk and doing it fearlessly. I won't spit on that. So, I choose to support him. There, it's said. However, in regards to the PQ as a whole, I still remain skeptical. I'll wait and see how things change. Substance. Audacity. Vision...

Well, there it is. It's a decision long reflected on. A rational and thoughtful decision. And for those who will to see in this support an inconsistency with my usual positions, I say this: I'm still leftist, I'm the same dirty red square leftist who mourned Hugo Chavez, who was in the streets in 2012, the same leftist who supports the striking students and the same one who writes columns on the growing the police state we live in. But I'm an independentist first. I, therefore, only see consistency in supporting PKP. I do not accept any nonsense under the pretext that it is leftist, just as I do not reject any idea on the grounds that it is from the right. I analyze and evaluate ideas according to my first objective; the independence of Quebec. And I recognize, more than ever, the urgency. We must exit Canada quickly. Because meanwhile, a police state is being built up around us and our social gains are being eroded. La Caisse de dépôt is being hijacked and our natural resources are slowly being plundered for a song and without any long term vision. Quietly our Crown corporations such as Hydro-Québec and the SAQ will be privatized...

Quebec independence is not an end. It's a start. It is the first step towards liberty.

"It is very difficult to start a revolution. It is even more difficult to continue it. The most difficult of all is to win it. And it is only there that the real difficulties begin"- Larbi Ben M'hidi from the film The Battle of Algiers

By Jules Falardeau, film and documentary director, April 22, 2015

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The blind spot in our history

The 175th anniversary of the Act of Union

John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham
Federalist propaganda is preparing us for the celebration in 2017 of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canada. In 1867, an Act of the British Parliament, the British North America Act, replaced the 1840 Legislative Union of Upper Canada and Lower Canada and its single parliament with a broader federal union of four colonies. The birth of this new country is presented to us as harmonious and in the interest of the "two founding peoples" by underlining the alliance of conservatives Macdonald and Cartier. They forget that the first Union was brutally imposed by London in July 1840 after the harsh military repression demanded by the British merchants of Montreal. And it's this first union that made the union of 1867 possible.

2015 marks the 175th anniversary the abolishment by the British government of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, our separate Parliament which had existed since 1791 and the establishment of a new political entity, the Province of Canada. This Union laid the foundations of the British nation of North America, known today as Canada. The union of the two colonies had been called for as early 1810 by the British merchants of Montreal. Quebec historians need to remind people of 1840, this fundamental date of our too often forgotten history. For 1840 is the real political conquest of French Canada following the British military conquest in 1760, it is the blind spot in our history, even paradoxically for some Sovereignists.

We must remember that, in 1839, Lord Durham, who was sent to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Lower Canada Rebellion, wrote in his report that he initially envisioned a federal union as a permanent solution to the crisis. But he was finally convinced that only a legislative union without provincial parliaments was possible. For Durham, the urgent priority was to first make French Canadians a minority in a union Parliament of Upper and Lower Canada. He believed that a parliament made up of a French majority would only slow down the economic development of British North America. In his view, the liberal solution of responsible government could not apply to the separate Lower Canada. He clearly stated the need to promote English immigration and to entrust the administration to a legislature dominated by the English. The legislative union was therefore required and it was done in the interests of English colonization.

He concluded that a federal union was not possible at that time, as the British merchants of Montreal would never submit to an Assembly, even a provincial one, which was dominated by a French majority. Moreover, he believed that a legislature granted to a provincialized Lower Canada as part of a federal union would use the limited power it possessed to paralyze the central government.

Instead, Lord Durham proposed:

  1. to Unite Upper and Lower Canada into a single province to stimulate the economy and create conditions of prosperity as well as to reduce to dominant position of the French, render them increasingly politically powerless and, eventually, assimilate them.
  2. to institute Responsible Government so as to remove a major source of friction that had existed between the government and elected officials prior to 1837.
  3. to assimilate the French.

It was evident that one of the purposes of the Act of Union was to remove from the French the little amount of self-government, of control over their political institutions, that they had had between 1791 and 1837. It was also evident that various clauses in the Act aimed at assimilating the French or introduced a threat to their survival in the future. Especially objectionable to Quebec were the following clauses:

  • The debts of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were now merged into one. Upper Canada had a large debt when Lower Canada had an accumulated surplus.
  • The Union Act provided for equal representation of the two parts of the new province in the new House of Assembly when in fact Lower Canada contained 60% of the population and Upper Canada had only 40%. This had been done to ensure an English majority in the House of Assembly right from the start of the Union.
  • The financial requirements to vote in elections, or to be elected, had been raised making it more difficult for the poor to exercise their franchise. As the French tended to be poorer than the English, more of them were adversely affected by this.
  • There was no requirements for French to be used in the laws and by the government of the Province. French could be used in the debates of the House but was slated to disappear within 15 years.

The Act of Union sealed, for more than a century, the destiny of the French-speaking nation, reducing it to minority status in a manner that shaped its national consciousness. French Canadians henceforth conceived of themselves as a national minority, developing complexes about disadvantages and the economic and political leadership set over them, to the extent that they became afraid to make claims for themselves. The governing elite pronounced them to be inferior, and French Canadians adapted to a world in which their exclusion from certain circles and executive positions was almost a given, to the point of interiorizing some of these complexes. This inferiority complex had not yet crystallized before the failure of the Rebellions and the ensuing annexation of 1840, which may therefore be regarded as a turning point.

We must reread the work of the historian Maurice Séguin to understand the beginnings of the political annexation of French Canada. According to him, the Fathers of Confederation were, despite their speeches, the implementers of Lord Durhams project, who saw in the history of Louisiana a good example of the way a majority can erase the national distinctions of a people and realize its smooth assimilation.

Based on  a text by historian Robert Comeau, February 7, 2015

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Quebec under the War Measure Act 1918

In this installment, I continue my examination of Canadian history by reviewing the latest interesting historical essay. To be honest, I’m always hoping that the Historica Canada foundation will find inspiration in my articles for the latest Heritage Minute, that excellent series of historical vignettes whose choice of subjects is not biased in any way!  This time, I choose to talk about the essay Québec sous la loi des mesures de guerre 1918, by Jean Provencher. The title translates as “Quebec under the War Measure Act 1918” and it deals with the events in Quebec City around Easter 1918, namely the popular uprising against the obnoxious recruitment effort for the war, the brutal suppression of the anti-war demonstrations by the army on Easter Monday and the declaration of the War Measures Act (WMA) soon afterwards, along with mass arrests, in order to find a foreign conspiracy behind the uprising which, of course, never materialized. I chose this work partly because of its relative brevity (150 pages or so), but also because it perfectly encapsulates the Quebec experience in Canada. The exploitation of the Quebec people for imperial ends, the ‘rule of law’ interpreted in such a way as to further those ends and the final repression led by an ambitious francophone toady who knew what it took to get promoted; it’s all there!

War Measures Acts, old and new

The current essay is actually a reprint of the original published in 1971, not long after another application of the WMA by another ambitious francophone toady who knew what it took to get promoted. The new edition includes an interesting foreword by Provencher, where he explains the genesis of his book and its impact after publication. It all started in the 1960s, when the author was working for the Quebec government as part of the commission for territorial integrity. Provencher and his colleague were tasked with reviewing documents from other ministries in order to find material relating to Quebec’s borders. During the course of this endeavor, he came across the coroner’s inquest report on the cause of death of the four innocent people gunned down during the Quebec riot of 1918. This discovery led to years of research finding material from the public archives of Ottawa, Quebec City and other sources.

A few years after its publication, Provencher’s book was turned into a play at the Trident Theater and was the biggest hit of the 1973-74 season. Two years later it was turned into a television play featured on the program Beaux Dimanches on SRC, which would later win the Annik prize of 1975 and represent the SRC at the International Television Festival in Venice, 1977. Finally, the play was translated into English by the American writer Leo Skir and published in the Canadian Theater Review in 1980. Skir saw a parallel between the events in Quebec in the spring 1918 and the killing of students at Kent State University during the Vietnam War. There is some truth to this, but it ignores the fundamental fact that the events in Quebec City, 1918, were the result of a dominant nation exploiting a subject nation, as cheap labor during peacetime, as cannon fodder during wartime. The national guardsmen and the students at Kent State were part of the same nation.

Setting the stage

Provencher starts by describing the overall context of the uprising.  Summer 1914, the Great War begins, and soon the lightning war that was supposed to be over by Christmas turns into a stalemate on the Western front. The initial influx of enthusiastic volunteers dries up and thoughts quickly turn to conscription. Obviously, Quebecers weren't too keen to volunteer to get themselves blown up for an empire that clearly held them in contempt. The infamous regulation 17 severely restricting French instruction in Ontario’s schools was passed in 1912 and was therefore still fresh in people’s minds. Campaigning against conscription was Henri Bourassa, founder and then director of Le Devoir, as well as a prominent Quebec City lawyer Armand Lavergne, who will play an important part in this story.

Naturally, the reticence on the part of Quebecers to go to France in order to inhale mustard gas for King George V aroused the hostility of Canadians. English newspapers were filled with Quebec bashing (a national sport, then and now). Some Orangemen MP’s in the House of Commons called for the arrest of Bourassa and the suppression of his newspaper. Rights and freedoms are great as long as they’re convenient (then and now). The Federal government tried to drum up support for conscription in Quebec through third parties. Military officers gave interviews in the press calling for or predicting conscription. They even offered to Lavergne the command of a battalion that he would recruit himself. Lavergne turned down the offer in an open letter published in Le Devoir on November 2, 1915. On June 11, 1916, the minister for the militia, Col. Sam Hughes, asked for and received the support of Cardinal Begin of Quebec City for conscription. The support of the Catholic Church for conscription shows the ambiguous role it played in Quebec society prior to the Quiet Revolution: on the one hand defending Quebec’s distinctly French and, especially, Catholic character, and on the other supporting the status quo and its own self-perpetuation.

Anti-conscription demonstration Victoria Square, Montreal, 1917
As can be expected, all this tension over conscription led to violent clashes. On August 23, 1916, the Federal government set up a recruitment center on Montreal’s Place d’Armes. The recruiting sergeants from the Irish Canadian Rangers thought they could increase recruitment by insulting people who happen to be passing by. A certain Mr. Pagé, a local hairdresser with oratory skills, worked up the assembled crowd against such treatment. Together, they demonstrated and forced the soldiers to retreat from the Place d’Armes. 

By late May 1917, with rumors of conscription becoming more persistent, large demonstrations took place in Montreal and Quebec City. During which, the offices of some francophone pro-conscription newspapers were attacked. This was because a certain francophone press, such as La Patrie, L’Événement and, of course, La Presse, were pro-conscription since they were more concerned with defending the interests of their rich owners than those of the population. Then as now, the corporate media was more concerned with forming public opinion than informing it.

The incident

It’s in this context of social tension and violence that the Borden government passed into law the Military Service Act on July 24th 1917. This bill called to arms all able-bodied men, single or widowed, between the ages of 20 to 35 years. Conscription was now in effect. Naturally, many men didn't want to go. If you didn't think you were fit for military service, you could make your case before a special tribunal in the hopes of obtaining an exemption. The judges on the tribunals, however, had a very restrictive view of what constituted unfitness. The population of Quebec City was shocked by several cases of virtual invalids being sent to the front.

The man charged with enforcing the Military Service Act in Quebec City was a Captain Charles Desrochers, an inspector for the federal police. He did this by hiring ‘spotters’, men of dubious reputations and questionable methods. These spotters weren't policemen, but rather former boxers or wrestlers, and sometimes figures from the criminal underground. The spotters were paid three dollars a day and may have been paid a bonus of ten dollars for each deserter recovered. Whether they really were given a bonus or not, they had a reputation among the populace as a bunch of bounty hunters.

As if this wasn't enough, even with a hard to get exemption you could still get sent to the front. Some young men who were asked to show their exemptions had it ripped up by the military police and then were accused of desertion. Some others, whose exemption request was still before the tribunal, were picked up off the streets and weeks later their parents would find out that their son was sent to Europe. Finally, on Thursday the 28th of March 1918, what had to happen happened. Around half past eight in the evening, a 23 year old Joseph Mercier arrived at a crowded bowling alley in the working class neighborhood of Saint-Roch where he met a friend. They saw three spotters enter the bowling alley. Although Mercier and his friend had their exemptions, they decided to leave anyway.

As they were leaving, the spotters blocked the door and asked them for their papers. Mercier’s friend showed them his exemption and was allowed to leave. Mercier, on the other hand, had forgotten his exemption at home. They detained Mercier at the bowling alley as they waited for the soldiers to arrive. Mercier asked if he could call his parents so that they may bring over his exemption, but the spotters refused without giving a reason.  As this was going on, the hundred or so young people at the bowling alley stopped playing and started watching the unfolding scene. Mercier then suggested that they escort him home, but the spotters refused again.  Word got out and a crowd started gathering outside the bowling alley. The chief of police, Émile Trudel, estimated the crowd at two thousand.

Finally, four rather large soldiers arrived. The spotters handed Mercier to them, who was then brutally manhandled to the Saint-Roch police station. “Let him go! Let him go!” the crowd chanted. When his father arrived at the station with Mercier’s exemption, he was released. While this was going on, two more young men were arrested at the bowling alley. The first one was let go after fifteen minutes, but the second was ripped from the hands of the soldiers by the enraged crowd. Before long, the crowd was in front of the police station, shouting slogans and throwing projectiles. At around ten o’clock at night, Captain Desrochers called the military commander of the Quebec City region, General Joseph-Philippe Landry, asking for a hundred men to rescue him from the crowd that he estimated at three thousand. Landry then calls the mayor, Henri-Edgar Lavigueur, who tells him the he will try to appease the mob. Chief Trudel and a few of his men tried that, but were met with flying debris. Landry then calls the Citadel, telling them to prepare their men, about four hundred of them.

Meanwhile, the mayor arrived at the scene and tried to placate the protesters by telling them that the spotters were no longer at the station house and that they should go home. At first the crowd seemed to be dispersing and satisfied with a job well done, the mayor went home. Not long after his departure though, according to the chief, the crowd  gathered again and were baying for the spotter’s blood. When word got out that Desrochers and his spotters slipped out the back, a chase ensued in the streets and alleys of Saint-Roch. The protesters eventually caught up with two of the spotters, Bélanger (who was especially detested in the neighborhood) and Éventurel. They were both beaten, Bélanger severely enough to require medical attention. And so ended the first night of what was to become known at the Quebec City conscription riots.

The escalation

The next morning, the events of the previous night were all over the newspapers. Rumors spread of violent mobs attacking key buildings. Rich citizens felt threatened and were asking for police protection. Chief Trudel, with a little over eighty constables at his disposal, was not ready to control a crowd of thousands, let alone protect a few over-privileged upper class types. The mayor asked Gen. Landry to deploy his men, but a procedural mix-up caused delays. Then, at around half-past seven in the evening, a crowd of about three thousand people left Saint-Roch and made its way to the upper city. Once there, they attacked the offices of the Chronicle and L’Événement newspapers by breaking their windows with projectiles. As it happened, the mayor, the chief of police and the army commander were in the post office across the street and saw the whole thing.

The crowd, by now numbering about eight thousand, moved to the auditorium where the files for conscripts were kept. The few policemen guarding it were overwhelmed by the size of the crowd, which quickly began throwing rocks through the windows. Protesters then entered the auditorium and headed to the second floor, where they overpowered two detectives guarding the files. They then proceeded to rip up files, throw them out the window and ripped out a light fixture which started a fire. The flames rapidly spread and soon the entire building was on fire. Twenty minutes later the firemen showed up and the riot is effectively over. Finally, the mayor, having worked out the paperwork allowing him to take command, arrives on the scene with a battalion from the Citadel in an attempt to disperse the crowd, now estimated at twelve to fifteen thousand. The sight of the soldiers, along with Lavigueur’s attempt to reason with the crowd, brought an end to the second night of the riots.

Major-General Lessard
Over the course of the 29th, the chief showed a marked reluctance to order his men to fire on the crowd. He would later explain at the inquest that women and children were mixed in the crowd and he didn't want to hit any of them. Nevertheless, his unwillingness to shoot his own people clearly troubled the Canadian authorities. That’s why on the morning of the 30th, Gen. Landry informed the mayor that he received new orders from Ottawa. He was to take control of all means to restore order. The mayor meekly acquiesced and placed the municipal police under the army’s control.  From here on, law and order was a strictly military affair. Train stations in Toronto and even Winnipeg were asked to facilitate the transport of troops. And one Major-General François-Louis Lessard was ordered to get to Quebec City urgently. Lessard rose through the ranks due to his enthusiastic service crushing striking workers in 1878, the Métis out West in 1885, and the Boers in South Africa 1900-1901. Basically, he went wherever the Empire thought the natives were restless, and they were certainly that in Quebec City.

The army was on alert and patrolling the city. During the afternoon a business center was sacked, but the real incident took place in front of the Manège militaire (the army’s horse riding school) at around nine o’clock in the evening. A large crowd gathered there and was shouting at the soldiers guarding the building. Their commanding officer ordered his men to fix bayonets and then shouted insults at the crowd. A certain senator Philippe-Auguste Choquette was present and tried to diffuse the situation. He seemed to be succeeding when soldiers on horseback strode into the crowd waving some kind of club (described by witnesses as pic or axe handles) and almost knocking the senator down in the process. The cavalry managed to push the demonstrators out of the square and onto St-Jean Street. The demonstrators countered by throwing rocks and chunks of ice. This startled the horses and stopped the cavalry in its tracks.

The deal

March 31, 1918 was Easter Sunday and Quebecers were flocking to their churches for the morning Mass. Cardinal Begin wrote a pastoral letter to be read at every Mass in his diocese. It said that a Christian conscience disapproves of the recent troubles and that the Church forbids them. However, many of the parish priests, who witnessed the suffering of their parishioners, blamed the federal forces for the unrest and said as much after reading the Cardinal’s letter. And more unrest was yet to come. During the afternoon, there were rumors that protesters were going to loot hardware stores and take the rifles inside. As a result Gen. Landry sent a regiment of the Eight Royal Rifles to confiscate the weapons in a Saint-Roch hardware store. On their way back to the Citadel with the weapons, they were met with two to three thousand people throwing rocks, bricks and ice. The soldiers responded with a salvo, wounding three people and intimidating the protesters, who let them pass.

Over the afternoon, about two thousands heavily armed soldiers were arriving by train in Quebec City, Major-General Lessard along with them. When news of this got out, it provoked anger in many people and a crowd was gathering in the lower city. On that day Armand Lavergne was resting at home with the flu. At around seven in the evening he received a call from Alleyn Taschereau of the federal ministry of justice and an old friend, exhorting Lavergne to meet him in his room at the Chateau Frontenac. Lavergne protested he had the flu, but Taschereau insisted and Lavergne relented. At the Chateau Frontenac, Taschereau introduced Lavergne to Lieutenant-Colonels H.A.C. Machin and G.A. Carruthers.  The three men explained to Lavergne that they want him to talk to the crowds. They’re convinced that Lavergne had enough influence among the population to prevent any more unrest. Lavergne wasn't sure what influence he had, but that he would try on the condition that the spotters and the army were withdrawn from the city. Machin promised to fire the spotters.  As for the army, he said he didn't have the authority but that he would do his best and offered his ‘moral certainty’ that they would be withdrawn.

Armand Lavergne
Lavergne set off to find a crowd about to make trouble. After some wandering he eventually came upon a large crowd, he estimated it at four to five thousand, at Place Jacques-Cartier. It was about nine o’clock in the evening. He delivered an impassioned speech telling the people of the deal between him and the army. He told them that if they returned home and remained calm, there would be no more soldiers on the streets the next day.  And he said that if the Canadian government did not keep its word, he would be with them tomorrow. The crowd gave him a long ovation and then started to disperse. Lavergne returned to the Chateau Frontenac where he reminded Machin of his promise.  “I’ll do my very best!” he replied. On his way out of the Chateau, Lavergne passed Gen. Lessard. He reminded the General how important it was that there should be no troops on the streets tomorrow, but Lessard didn’t acknowledge him as he rushed past. About half an hour later, Machin leaves the Chateau, suitcase in hand, for the midnight train to Ottawa. Lavergne, who stuck around to converse with some people who recognized him, saw Machin leaving. He asked him if he had spoken to the General.  Machin answered “I think everything will be all right” as he flew past.

Shoot to kill!

April 1st was Easter Monday and, ironically, April fool’s day. Lavergne, upon reading the morning newspapers notices without surprise that the pro-conscription newspapers blasted his intervention of the previous night, L’Événement going so far as to call him an “impostor with a Bosh mentality”. On his way to the mayor’s residence to recount the previous evening’s events to him, he noticed that the Place Jacques-Cartier was crawling with soldiers. He told the mayor that the sight of these soldiers were contrary to what he promised last evening and could provoke further unrest. The mayor told Lavergne that he would talk to Lessard about it, but Lavergne decided to take matters into his own hands and see the General himself. When he arrived at the Chateau Frontenac, Lavergne was made to wait outside the General’s office in the company of representatives of Quebec City’s various newspapers. Lessard was going to ask them for the support of their editorial pages. A free and independent press is fine as long as it does what it’s told (then and now).

When Lavergne got to see Lessard, he repeated to him that the sight of all these soldiers might provoke trouble. He also said that the men need only be kept out of sight, inside the buildings. Should anything happen, they could intervene at a moment’s notice. But the General would have none of it. “I have the power and I am using it!”, he repeated that exact phrase no less than three times during the exchange. Given Lessard’s career, that sentence could serve as his epitaph. He then warned Lavergne not to return to Saint-Roch. It turns out that as soon as Lessard got off the train, he ordered detectives to follow Lavergne, and they would have arrested him if he had gone there that evening.

After Lavergne left, Lessard told Landry to put the men on high alert. Lessard also had a notice posted on the walls of the city and printed in the newspapers saying that it would be dangerous for citizens to wander the streets and that they should stay home. This notice was not the Riot Act, nor did it expressly forbid public gatherings. But most strangely of all, it was unsigned. It did not carry the coat-of-arms of the Canadian government or anything else. Lessard would later testify at the inquest that he was not obligated to publish such a notice and that he only did it to prevent bloodshed, and that in the context of the time it was clear what it meant. Nevertheless, the notice clearly carried no legal weight and probably just added to the general confusion more than anything else.

At around eight o’clock that evening, a crowd was gathering at the Place Jacques-Cartier. The army surrounded the Place with bayonets fixed and emptied out the bowling alleys, pool halls and the clubs. But the people there, who may have resented having their evenings cut short, weren’t dispersing quickly enough. It was then that the cavalry strode onto the sidewalks, sabres drawn. In so doing they knocked over some women and children who didn’t get out of the way rapidly enough. This enraged the crowd who started throwing rocks, bricks and chunks of ice at the soldiers. Meanwhile, in the Saint-Sauveur neighborhood soldiers emptied out a popular pool hall, whose disgruntled patrons started throwing projectiles at the soldiers. A cat-and-mouse game between the protesters and the soldiers ensued. Protesters would throw rocks at the soldiers then slip into back alleys. Groups of soldiers would run after them only to be cut off from the main group and surrounded by protesters. Some people observing the mayhem from their balconies would join in. The soldiers would tell them to go home, in English, only to be told: “Parlez français!

Sometime past ten in the evening, this entire sorry episode came to a tragic conclusion. In the Saint-Roch neighborhood, corner of Saint-Joseph and Couronne, a concentration of 1200 to 1500 troops was spotted by protesters. The troops reported hearing shots coming from the crowd. A certain Major Mitchell orders the crowd to disperse, in English.  Seeing that this had no effect, and that his men were being pelted by debris, Mitchell ordered his men to open fire. Between salvos, the soldiers shouted obscenities at the crowd. Finally they opened up with Lewis guns, bipod-mounted drum-fed machine guns used on the Western Front. The result was about seventy wounded and four dead, who were just trying to get home. The next day, the soldiers were given a simple order: “shoot to kill”.

Summing it all up

There were some aggravating factors on the day of the shootings. There was a thick fog. Mitchell thought someone else read the Riot Act, which would have given him the authority to open fire, but witnesses don’t recall the Act being read. There was talk that some protesters had hunting rifles, but according to some testimony they claimed they were filled with blanks. We do know that the five soldiers who were injured that day were hit by flying projectiles, none were shot.

But the biggest aggravating factor that day was the Canadian imperial system itself. Its unrelenting drive for cannon fodder fed popular resentment. It imported a large number of English speaking troops from Ontario and the West who could be counted on to fire into a crowd of unarmed people they despised. Above all, the worst thing the Canadian imperial system did was putting François-Louis Lessard in charge of this fiasco.

Indeed, as an ambitious francophone in the deeply Francophobic Canadian army, Lessard knew the only way to make General was to exploit the “niche”. That is, to crush his own people with zeal whenever the Empire demanded it, thereby giving it a thin veneer of legitimacy while advancing his career. This niche started in 1759 and continues to this day with the likes of the reptilian Pierre “War Measures Act” Trudeau and the rodent-like Stéphane “Clarity” Dion.

The niche also explains Lessard’s strange behavior with respect to the deal struck with Lavergne, starting with his absence from the meeting between Lavergne and the slippery Col. Machin. Was Lessard too busy to attend a meeting that Machin was not authorized to hold, as he said at the inquest?  Perhaps. Or maybe Lessard knew perfectly well what Machin was up to, but decided not to attend so that he would not be obliged to honor any promises made. We know that after repeatedly assuring Lavergne that no soldiers would be visible on the streets the next day, Machin was urgently sent to Ottawa where he couldn't testify at the inquest, thus leaving Lessard free to tell the official story without fear of being contradicted by an underling under the pressure of a withering cross-examination.

But the worst thing about Lessard that day was his deliberately provocative attitude, starting with the posting of the ambiguous notice meant more to excuse him in the event of bloodshed than to prevent it, and ending with the open parading of troops in the city. The deal between Lavergne and the army may not have been officially sanctioned, but it was in effect and seemed to be working. Going along with it would have cost Lessard nothing, as he could simply have hid the soldiers in the buildings, to be deployed at a moment’s notice should anything happen.

So why didn't he go along with it? Because any concession to the “rabble”, no matter how small, would imply that they had a say in what happens to them and that, to a United Empire Loyalist like Lessard, was completely unacceptable. Besides, Lessard had no personal incentive to be reasonable since the killing of a few “frogs” could only enhance his standing in the army. The protesters, on the other hand, were essentially a group of people without leaders, without organization and without a well-defined strategy. Day after day, they expressed their outrage at the injustices, humiliations and servitude of their daily lives. Naturally, they never had a chance.

Printemps Érable, 2012
It’s clear that the Quebec riots of 1918 weren't about the arrest of Joseph Mercier. He was just the catalyst that unleashed the pent-up resentment of the population. And while the riots were mainly about the war, there was more to it than that. It was also about Quebec’s colonial condition within the Canadian empire. This is the thread that ties all of Quebec’s large demonstrations, riots and unrest in its turbulent history. From the Printemps Érable of 2012, to the large demonstrations of the 1960’s and even to the Rebellions of 1837-38 (that started with a large political rally which the British felt compelled to attack), the underlying cause of all these events, beyond the specific issues of tuition hikes, the protection of the French language or responsible government, was the occupation of Quebec by the British/Canadian empire. Only independence will put an end to these recurring cycles of unrest and make Quebec a normal country.


Provencher, Jean, Québec sous la loi des mesures de guerre 1918, Lux Éditeur, 2014.