Man barred from UMoncton in 1970 allowed back on campus

"It finished with a handshake," says former activist for francophone rights

After four decades of court-ordered exile from the University of Moncton campus, the slate has been wiped clean for a man who once battled for francophone rights in the city.

Upon agreement between Michel-Vital Blanchard and the university, the court has lifted an injunction that had prevented Blanchard from setting foot on the campus since 1970.

Blanchard was a charismatic young student who rose to prominence during the raucous round of protests that rocked the campus in 1968.

The protests included a march on city hall, the occupation of the university’s science building, and the covert delivery of a severed pig’s head to the home of Mayor Leonard Jones.

Blanchard stood out among his peers as they bemoaned the underfunding of their university, and demanded equal language rights in Moncton.

The National Film Board documentary l’Acadie l’Acadie cemented his place in contemporary Acadian history, and has introduced his contribution to the events of 1968 to waves of freshmen at the Acadian university.

But while Blanchard has been remembered as a symbol of the protests that are credited with starting a positive dialogue over language issues in what is now an officially bilingual city, he has also carried a heavy burden since being banned from the campus since 1970.

“Let’s say it was long, a lot longer than I thought,” Blanchard said from his art studio in Caraquet on Thursday. “I feel a lot lighter now that I no longer have that burden on my shoulders.

“Symbolically, it continued to weigh on me … now it is finished. It finished with a handshake.”

What did Blanchard do to cause such a lengthy exile?

About one year after his central participation in the 1968 protests, Blanchard says he was on campus in August 1969 attending summer courses when he and some collaborators decided to start up an improvised student newspaper that irritated the university’s administration.

“It was what you would call the last straw,” he said.

“What they said was that they were a private entity and as the owners of a private entity, they said they didn’t want me on campus because I wasn’t signed up as a student.”

Blanchard was served with an interlocutory injunction to stay off the campus until a court could decide whether he was rightfully registered as a student.

After his request for a French trial in a Moncton courtroom was denied, Blanchard refused to defend himself at the proceedings that were scheduled for May 1970.

“I refused to defend myself, I didn’t show up in court, and the injunction was given to the university,” said Blanchard, who fell two courses short of his diploma.

“What do you think I was doing in Moncton in the middle of the summer? Normally I would have gone home to Caraquet for the summer.”

Efforts to lift the injunction began in 1991 but were never completed.

University of Moncton president Yvon Fontaine said Thursday that the university’s board of directors was happy to agree to lift the injunction when the issue arose last year as the 40th anniversary of the protests were marked.

“De facto, we knew that he came and visited the campus and we didn’t object about that, but we thought it was important to say let’s pass on to another era,” said Fontaine.

Blanchard spends much of his time songwriting and is currently working on his third album, as well as a photography book about the Tintamarre celebration in Caraquet each year.

– The Canadian Press