Le Journal de Montreal
Division and discord
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“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” - Voltaire
Le Journal de Montréal recently staged a story about unilingual anglophones unable to serve the public in French. This is not only reprehensible journalism but incites the most dangerous kind of division and discord. It panders to the lowest common denominators not only in this profession but in our society. It must be roundly condemned.
For those few who missed it, Le Journal sent a reporter posing as a unilingual anglophone to almost one hundred companies looking for a job. Eighty-five companies refused employment because of language deficiency. In some of the places where the reporter got a “job” the reporter left after a few hours of serving the public. On this basis Le Journal started a three-day series, front-page, with the title “Sorry, I can’t speak French” and bemoaned how “hard” it is to be served in French in Montreal. Sadly, copies are selling like hotcakes.
Scintillating journalism is one thing. Scurrilous quite another. But what Le Journal did was symptomatic of a deeper malaise. And one evidenced by the venom in the chatter of francophone talk shows.
Le Journal was pandering to pathetic delusions of fear and insecurity. Never mind that it did not focus on the fact that 85 percent of the companies refused employment to a “unilingual anglophone”. What’s worse is that Le Journal seems to be stuck in a Duplessis-era time warp. Montreal is an international multicultural success story. An island where, as of five years ago, over 50 percent of the residents are neither anglophone nor francophone yet in some communities like the Italian and Jewish over 80 percent are bilingual. But victimization seems to sell better than confidence.
No amount of fake stories can sanitize illegitimate demands and latent insecurities. Nor can any amount of words cloak simmering prejudice.
There seems to be a visceral need to keep the pot of nullification and interposition boiling. It’s a shame. It’s not decent. It ought to stop. Those of us who have lived through the past three decades of “kulturkampf” — “culture war — “in “La Belle Province” have learned never to look at any event in isolation. Rather, we tend to look around 360 degrees to see what else is happening in the Quebec tableaux. It’s our own home-grown built-in sanity insurance. Kind of like anti-lock brakes for those black-iced Quebec roads. You know the skid is coming, you just don’t know where.
You see, for those of us considered “les autres”, the others, not pure-bred francophones “de vieille souche”, whenever we hear stories like this cooked up, the little hairs on the backs of our necks stand up. An early warning system if you like. And with Le Journal, we sometimes need warnings because this isn’t the first time the paper has engaged in the fabricated journalism of “optique”.
Last year Le Journal commissioned a Leger Marketing poll that “demonstrated” that 59 percent of Quebecers considered themselves racist to one degree or another. An astonishing figure outside of Okeefenokee Swamp if the percentage was half that. Yet what was troubling was that the questions themselves were tweaked to produce that result. More troubling still were the ads promoting the poll.
Below the question “êtes-vous raciste?” were pictures of Hasidic Jews and Chador-clad Muslim women. Since when do religious beliefs have anything to do with race or costume? Yet for Le Journal, in today’s Quebec, that is the subliminal message that still goes out more than 50 years after Premier Maurice Duplessis used his infamous Padlock Law to close Frank Roncarelli’s restaurant because Roncarelli had become a Jehovah’s Witness and Duplessis hated the Witnesses with a passion.
Le Journal decided to engage in its exercise on the heels of the Mouvement Montrealais Français’s successful boycott threat against Esso’s plan to change the name of its gas station shops from “Marché Express” to “On the Run” as they are everywhere else and as permitted by Quebec’s language law. Provincial Liberal Minister Line Beauchamp decided to declare that there was still not enough French in downtown Montreal and that more should be done to promote “the common language” of Quebec society. Chantage not-so-amicale at work.
And that is at the heart of the malaise at Le Journal. Exploitation and perpetuation of lies for profit and power. Poisoning the public discourse with the philosophy of “divide and conquer” creating a francophone majority riddled by self-doubt driven by a jealousy of others’ self-belief. Le Journal ca suffit!
Beryl Wajsman is president of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal, editor of The Suburban newspapers, publisher of Barricades magazine and host of Corus radio’s “The Last Angry Man” on 940 Montreal