Archive for April 2009
Way back in the day, after a young, ambitious and afro-ed young politician called Jean Charest was recruited by federalist headhunters to take the leadership of the Liberal Party of Québec and save Canada, a snoopy reporter dug up his birth certificate and discovered that – scandal! – his true name was not Jean has he had claimed, but John James!
Jean/John was coming to Québec months after the 1995 referendum, just as the emerging scandal about the illegal funding of the federalist campaign by secretive occult organizations was coming to light and amidst (still persistent) rumours that a ‘golden bridge’ was built for him by Canada’s business community, including a (confirmed) salary and Westmount home.
Already suspected of not being completely transparent about his financial supporters, the fact that he did not use the name his mother gave him only confirmed (at least in sovereingtist eyes) the duplicitous character of Jean Charest.
The Anglo-Canadian media’s interpretation? “Poor Jean Charest. He just isn’t pure laine enough for some Quebecers.”
It’s not that at all.
Jean/John James problem is that his birth certificate made him look like one of Québec’s most ridiculed archetypes, the Michel Gauvin/Mike Gauvin.
Michel Gauvin/Mike Gauvin is the hilarious character in the just as funny movie Québec/Montréal who completely changes the way he pronounces his name depending whether he is speaking French or English.
In some small circles, this is considered the ultimate in Canadian bicultural cosmopolitan cool. Justin Trudeau lives in that world. So does Robert Guy Scully/Robert Scully (said in a bad european accent in French).
This said, some people are able to pull off the Michel Gauvin/Mike Gauvin. Brian Mulroney could be both French and English, although, to his credit, he didn’t change the way he pronounced his name. To this day many francophones Québécois are convinced he is one of them, while many Anglos in Canada would be surprised to learn he speaks French at all! Of course, Pierre Elliot Trudeau also played that game. As did Paul Martin, with considerably less success.
Despite the appeal of this 21st century meta-Canadian who is both French AND English (and soon to be a little bit ethnic too) to nationalist Canadians, it is generally considered very uncool by the Québécois, both sovereigntists and federalists, to try to have two identities, depending on your audience.
The fact that the Michel Gauvin/Mike Gauvin is generally associated with politicians involved with shady financial conspiracies (Robert (Guy) Scully was never in politics but in 2000 he had to publicly and shamefully renouce the title of journalist after it was established he was involved in secretly government-financed federalist propaganda on CBC/Radio-Canada) doesn’t exactly help to project the image of name-switchers as stand-up honorable people.
The purity of the roots of these modern-day Januses is not what worries the Québécois. Gilles Duceppe will repeat to anyone who will listen that his grand-father was British and, yet, it didn’t prevent him from kicking federalist ass in Québec for two decades. The PQ had a Prime Minister called Pierre-Marc Johnson. The Curzi’s, Rebello’s, Khadir’s and Kotto’s and McKay’s of the sovereignty movement have no problem being elected despite the fact they can’t hide their non-pure laine-ness.
The problem is not purity. It’s a little bit about duplicity. And a lot about just plain silly.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.
Iqaluit, year of grace 2009
My fellow Canadians,
It is my pleasure to report that my long and perilous voyage has ended without any serious mishap and that I have now reached the desolate camp that, I am told, is the capital of our newest colony. I write this letter from my frugal apartments overlooking a few hundred rooftops and the barren no man’s land beyond. There is not much here in terms of civilised comfort- except for hard liquor which is plentiful – but a gentleman does not travel to a foreign country 2500 kilometers from his loving wife and family for frivolous entertainment.
Barely had I set foot on this land that I was served an effusive greeting by an Eskimo, not a word of which I understood. Mercifully one of his fellow people, who spoke English, came to my rescue and helped me locate transportation to my offices. For some strange reason it seems that the first chap had come to believe that my position as a senior administrator of the colony somehow meant I was required to speak their language!
On the topic of language, I am extremely pleased to report that we are making tremendous progress and that the local people are abandoning their tongue and learning English at a faster rate than achieved anywhere else in the Empire. In a single decade the number of Inuit who speak their own language at home has gone from 76% to 64%! With 24 of the 25 schools in the colony giving out education in the English tongue, the adoption of our language by the local youth should only accelerate.
In the immortal words of Toronto’s Reverend James George, the “rich freightage with which this Argosy is so majestically sailing down the stream of time’ could be borne to all people, and as a means of combating the evils the Lord had brought on humans after the building of the Tower of Babel.”
It’s amusing to note that because of the great constitution of Canada and the Charter of Human Rights – that brilliant piece of law-making- we were obligated to build a French school, but not to build any for the Inuit!
What were we going to do? Teach the children in the vernacular and treat English speaking people like a vulgar minority? Oh my, what a dreadful thought. No, the French school was expensive but it keeps them quiet. In the end the French are just like the Scots: let them play “nation” with their costumes, flags, schools, foul national dishes and bogus “resolutions” in the House of Commons and they’ll become the fiercest defenders of our country and of the English language you’ll ever find.
Today they’re the one forcing the Inuit to speak English in the restaurants an shops about town! That good Dr. Laurin must be spinning in his grave.
Speaking of Dr. Laurin, I know there was worry back home after the Native council passed that legislation suspiciously similar to Québec’s Bill 101 that purposed to make the local tongue the language of education, administration and business. Mercifully our great leader Stephen Harper has made it clear that the Empire is not bound by the laws of the colonies. Since the 700 million dollar budget of Nunavut comes almost exclusively from the Federal coffers, we probably won’t have to start chewing eel fat with the elders just as yet!
The Native youth is learning English but still seems to be struggling with some of our more modern knowledge. The drop-out rate is quite high, with but a quarter of them finishing secondary education. My personal opinion is that it is all the better as the tasks for which they are destined do not require to be well versed in science and literature. To paraphrase Macaulay who served on the Supreme Council of India in Calcutta in 1835: « It is impossible for us with our limited means to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be the interpreters between us and the thousands whom we govern – a class of persons Inuit in blood and colour, but Canadian in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. »
The many gold, iron and diamond mine projects in the area are moving along nicely and we’ve set aside a quarter of the jobs for the locals. Now that their English skills are improving we are able to train them to drive trucks and work for the skilled labourers who will come from the South to operate the mines.
In any case, they’ve been living a purposeless life of government handouts ever since we killed their hunting dogs and relocated them all over the territory in the 1950’s, so they are ripe and ready to begin working for the mining companies. It’s not like there is a « traditional lifestyle » left to save.
We’ve also begun training and arming many of them to serve as Rangers and patrol the colony. As you know, some rival countries like the United States, Denmark and Russia don’t fully recognize our sovereignty over these lands on the pretext that we never bothered to build any infrastructure whatsoever over here until the last few years! (Some Inuit are actually suing us over this! Don’t they understand how much more urgent it was that we distribute Canadian flags all over Québec?)
Well let them try to take our land from us now that we’ve taught a few hundred natives to speak English and parade around with the Maple Leaf flag held up high!
Amusing anecdote: A ranger I was talking to asked me why the maple leaf on the flag (which he thought was a snowflake) was red. It turns out the closest maple tree is at least 1,500 km away!
Isn’t it just glorious? The Inuit are giving up their native language and culture for English, a Maple Leaf and a badly translated version of a an old French-Canadian resistance song while the emblem of this once proud arctic people, the Inukshuk, now symbolises Vancouver, a city 3500 km away where a snowstorm is an aberration!
God Bless Canada!
So you think you know a better way of protecting the French language in Québec? You’ve figured out how to balance the rights of 7 million French-speakers gasping for air in a sea of more than 300 million English-speakers while respecting the rights of a historical English-speaking minority, natives and newly arrived immigrants? You’ve figured out the precise spot where one person’s right end and another’s freedom begins?
Today AngryFrenchGuy introduces Make Your Own Bill 101, a fully public Wiki where Purzédurzs and Angryphones can work together, hand in hand, to create a better language law for Québec.
If my past attempts at fixing bill 101 are any indication, you bitches only enjoy whining and you don’t have many actual alternatives offer. But I’m giving it another shot anyway.
MYOB101 begins with the Charter of the French Language as it stands on March 31st 2009. In the spirit of Wikipedia, Make your Own Bill 101 makes the French Language Charter Open Source. Anyone can change it, tweak it, fix it, add rules and remove rules. It was inspired by wikideddfu.com, a make-your-own-language-law wiki created by Hywel Williams, member of the British House of Commons to design a language law for Wales.
To get things started, I’ve already made a few changes to the law myself.
1. From now on, a minimum of three complaints against a business or commerce will be required before the Office Québécois de la Langue Française can begin an investigation and potentially issue a fine.
2. To discourage vigilantes, persons filing complaints with the OQLF shall provide proof that they live, work or own property in the same postal code, or in a postal code adjacent, to the business against which the complaint has been filed.
3. Businesses will no longer be required to have a French name. That is silly and useless. (English-only names are cheesy, tacky, and unimaginative. But we can’t start having laws against that…)
4. fines for repeat offender will be tougher.
You have a better idea? Please be my gest.
At a very precise moment in 1966, the Québécois just stopped going to Church. Everyone understands that the Church had become moribund when the provincial government took over its education, health care and social service missions, but to this day it remains a sociological mystery as to why it happened so fast. In a few months Québec went from the most actively religious place in North America to the least.
The recent decision of a Brazilian catholic bishop to excommunicate the mother of a 9 year old rape victim and of the doctors who got her an abortion while letting the rapist keep his membership card convinced many people in Québec that ignoring the Church just wasn’t enough. People are getting paperwork done. According to Le Devoir, about 50 people have asked the Québec City diocese for their certificate of excommunication last month. There is usually about 20 such requests every year. The Montreal and Sherbrooke dioceses confirm they’re getting the same order of requests.
In the words of 26 signers of a formal apostasy request published in Le Devoir: “We want to liberate ourselves from the shame we feel when the catholic Church, often against our will, considers us members of this this institution.”
I don’t believe in God. Let’s make that very clear. But I do believe in the sacred, in sacraments, in rituals and in the importance of non-commercial institutions.
That is why I will be keeping my membership card.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as disgusted as anyone by the Church’s behaviour in this affair. Actually, I’m disgusted by the Church’s position on most issues. But I’m disgusted catholic. And I’m keeping my right to speak out as a catholic.
When I was a kid, our NDG parish was run by Dominicans, also know as the Order of Preachers. The Dominicans are a highly intellectual order who don’t usually do mundane priest duties like celebrate Sunday mass. Every time we went to church they would openly and explicitly invite divorces and homosexuals to take communion, it direct violation of official doctrine. At my father’s funeral they invited Jewish and Protestant members of our family to receive benediction with the catholics who came up for communion.
Most non-catholics think the catholic Church is monolithic, centralized and dogmatic, but you have to understand that in reality, the central command of the Church has no more actual power than the Académie Française or the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
They make rules and tell us what good and bad. We listen, disagree and ignore.
The catholic Church is actually one of the more synchretic religions in the world, with the possible exception of Hinduism. Anyone who’s taken the time to try to untangle it’s diverse roots has found a dizzying mash-up of Judaïsm, Roman Mystery Cults, Celtic paganism and Zoroastrianism. It even made the Budhha a saint. As the very word catholic implies, its aim is to be universal. And universality means embracing contradiction.
The Church is, to use a fashionable image, a Team or Rivals. On the right you’ve got the Opus Dei and the Congregation for the doctrine of the faith, on the left you’ve got the Order of Dominicans. On one side you’ve got roman bishops sleeping in gold-laced satin sheets, on the other you’ve got the carthusian monks living in isolation and poverty.
The catholic Church condemns homosexuality but in just about every city you will find a catholic church that flies the diversity flag. The catholic Church condemns abortion, but former Bloc Québécois MP and priest Raymond Gravel could stand up in the House of Commons to defend a woman’s right to choose. When he was eventually asked to choose between politics and the priesthood, it was not because of opposition from his parishioners or even his bosses. Until conservative (Conservative?) western catholics demanded his head, Monseigneur Turcotte was happy to look the other way.
There is a Québec way of being a catholic. Québec as a country was founded by missionary catholic orders and it is men of cloth like Curé Labelle that opened the roads to the hinterland in the name of occupying God’s country. But this was not a always a Church controlled by Rome. In fact, the first four or five bishops that administered the Church after the British took over New-France were appointed not by the Pope, but by the protestant King of England!
Cut off from the rest of the Church and living in a society where there really wasn’t any other option except Catholicism, many Québécois developed an extremely loose attitude toward dogma. When my grand-mother watched the mass on television on Sunday morning, she would mute the sermon because she didn’t think a 50 year old virgin should be telling her how to live her life.
That’s the Catholic Church I belong to. My Grand-mother’s Church. And if the Pope doesn’t like our Church, he’s free to leave.