Even amid tragedy, it's always hard to stop the politics

...this is Montreal, after all

We know, or are told, how friends of Denis Blanchette, the technician who died in last week’s Metropolis nightclub shooting, would like his death to be treated: as a straight-up tragedy. “Stop with the politics, OK?” one attendee at a vigil for Blanchette pleaded with the reporter in that story.

But it’s Montreal, and it’s hard to stop with politics.

So far what we’re hearing about Richard Bain, the man who was arrested after the shootings while shouting, “Les anglais se réveillent!” is that he was obsessed with politics and also a champion blowhard. He seems to have cherished some sort of real-estate scheme and been impressed with his own prowess as a hardy partier and stickman. But it’s not surprising his apparent stance on language politics — genus aggrieved anglo, subspecies homicidal — is getting most of the attention from commentators.

Where to start? Probably with Pierre Foglia, the dean of La Presse columnists, whose column today would be hard to summarize but who points out that, after the Polytechnique slaughter, the Norway massacre and the Dawson College shooting — he could have added Tucson and Columbine — the shooter’s political claims are always dismissed by some and taken up by others. He mostlydoesn’t buy the notion that Richard Bain is an accredited ambassador from a Montreal anglophone community that doesn’t know how sweet anglophone life in Montreal is, but he closes with a cutting comparison: “Imagine the same sort of attack at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce during a speech by Mr. Harper. Say the shooter’s name was Jean-Claude Desjardins and he shouted ‘The francophones are waking up!’ while being arrested. I could write the National Post editorial right now. And I can assure you it wouldn’t say it had nothing to do with Quebec.”

Over at the Journal de Montréal, Sophie Durocher files a column full of English-language commentary that she didn’t like about Quebec’s language laws and PQ language policies. She says The Gazette “won’t stop pouring oil on the fire,” although, I should note, she makes no reference to the Metropolis shooting. (Durocher’s column contains the subhed, “Marois, Fascist?” which is odd: the only paper I’ve seen make that comparison is this one, which is owned by the same company as Durocher’s paper and which she has not mentioned in two weeks of hand-wringing about the state of English-language commentary on Quebec affairs.)

Part of the dubious beauty of social media is that any fool can have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, and any group of grievance-mongers can lovingly curate the casual hatred spewed across those forums on election night. It’s worth doing a little forensic work on those Twitter and Facebook accounts. One guy has 13 followers. Others are clearly schoolchildren.

This sort of debate, including the finger-pointing across linguistic lines, is inevitable. It has been too easy for English-language commentators to slip down the slippery slope from “promoting French” (laudable, if you ask me) to “restricting English” (tricky) to “hating outsiders” (to be avoided), and I’ve had more trouble than I’d like deciding the proper positioning of too many of Mme Marois’s statements on that slope. As I wrote the other day, “There are honest points of view on every side of the language debate. There are frequent excesses of language on every side.” There should be excesses of language because politics is not honest if it is always genteel.

But when a gunman starts shooting, we flatter him unduly by making his act the logical extension of our political opponents’ editorial commentary. I was pleased to find this piece in Le Devoir by Stéphane Baillargeon, who points out the inconsistency in one of the finger-pointing groups, the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Montreal:

After the Dawson College shooting in Montreal, the SSJBM (like many others) firmly denounced the very dubious causal links established by a Globe and Mail columnist between this crime and Bill 101… Now the same SSJBM denounces ‘the anglophone media of Quebec and Canada’ all in one as a ‘socipolitical trigger’ of the Metropolis attack…

So for the SSJBM, when a crazy shooter shows up it’s not the fault of Quebec’s linguistic tensions, unlike what some anglophone media say; but when another crazy shooter shows up it’s the fault of linguistic tensions stirred up by the anglophone media.”

I’m with Foglia: if the situation were flipped around, the accusations would be going the other way, and wouldn’t make more sense. As Baillargeon points out, some politicians are skipping the media and simply blaming one another for the shooting. One defeated Liberal linked it to “the violence” that “some parties in the National Assembly” supposedly promote. Say what you want about Marois, I’m pretty sure she never gave a speech inviting gunmen to take potshots at her. The language debate in Quebec long predates Bain’s arrest and will long survive it. We can’t stop with the politics, because politics has always been the only partially organized expression of assorted human passions.


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