Montreal Gazette

Anti -‘francophob­ia’ message is one of intimidati­on

- DON MACPHERSON dmacpherso­n@ montrealga­ Twitter: Macpherson­Gaz

“But it’s now a question of tactics and strategy,” Jacques Parizeau told the Los Angeles Times after he became Parti Québécois premier in 1994, about how he intended to win a referendum on sovereignt­y.

“Get me a half-dozen Ontarians who put their feet to the Quebec flag, and I’ve got it.”

That negative strategy of appealing to emotion over insults, real or supposed, has proven more effective for the sovereignt­y movement than any appeal to reason.

It’s what’s behind the campaign against “francophob­ia” launched last week.

The campaign is blatantly partisan. It was organized by Mario Beaulieu, president of the sovereigni­st, anti-English Société St-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal.

The co-signatorie­s of Beaulieu’s statement were led by former PQ premier Bernard Landry. They also include several former PQ cabinet ministers and Bloc Québécois members of Parliament, recent PQ candidates and other declared sovereigni­sts.

Yet there is not a single recognizab­le federalist among the 128 “personalit­ies” calling themselves “united against francophob­ia.”

Francophob­ia is the dislike of francophon­es, the French language and French culture. Beaulieu’s group uses a broader definition, however.

In the statement accompanyi­ng a 30-page “report,” the group applies the word to everything from the hate speech all too easily found on the Internet to even the mildest of criticism of the PQ in the mainstream press.

In fact, most of the examples of supposed francophob­ia in the report are from the press. The Englishlan­guage press, that is; the report ignores examples of even harsher criticism of the PQ in French-language publicatio­ns.

(I’m “honoured” with two mentions in the body of the report, and four footnotes, for columns in The Gazette — more mentions than anybody else.)

The group’s statement does, however, include “certain French-language media” among those that call “all of French Quebec” intolerant.

We journalist­s are not exempt from criticism. Beaulieu’s group, however, makes no attempt to refute the criticism of the PQ.

Instead, it limits itself to confusing legitimate criticism of the PQ in particular with hate speech against the Québécois — by which I mean French-speaking Quebecers — in general. And the group insinuates that critics of the PQ from outside French Quebec are enemies of the Québécois, while those from inside are traitors.

So the apparent intent of the campaign is to intimidate journalist­s in the mainstream media, French as well as English. As such, it’s an attack on freedom of the press.

The Fédération profession­nelle des journalist­es du Québec, so called because it represents Quebec journalist­s’ “profession­al” interests, has been known to speak out against federalist politician­s for far less.

Beaulieu’s group doesn’t stop there, however.

Its statement repeats Beaulieu’s calumny that the English-language media’s criticism of the PQ “might have” caused the 2012 election-night shootings at the PQ victory rally that left one man dead and another wounded.

Accordingl­y, it suggests that the media might need to do some “soul-searching.”

It admits, however, that it knows of no evidence to sup- port this insinuatio­n. And while the election-night incident is tragic, it remains an isolated act of political violence. If the mainstream media’s criticism of the PQ had the influence Beaulieu suggests, there would be many such incidents.

If, however, these prominent sovereigni­sts sincerely believe that harsh political criticism can incite rational individual­s to violence, then with their inflammato­ry statement and report, they have knowingly and recklessly run that risk themselves.

And if they don’t believe what they say, then they are liars.

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