How Quebec’s 1995 referendum was a turning point for racist comments in political discourse that’s still felt

Of note:

Standing on a stage in Montreal Wednesday night, singer Allison Russell recalled what it was like to live in the city after the Parti Québécois lost the referendum 27 years ago.

“I was spat on, called a monkey and told to go back to Africa,” Russell, who is Black and was born in Montreal, told the audience.

In defeat, former premier Jacques Parizeau had blamed the 1995 loss on “money and ethnic votes.”

Russell, who was 17 at the time, said the comments sparked racist acts in the streets and contributed to her decision to move away shortly afterward. She compared the remark to recent comments about immigration made by Coalition Avenir Québec candidate Jean Boulet and party leader François Legault.

The topic has dominated political discourse in the last days and weeks of the campaign.

In a local debate on Radio-Canada last week, Boulet — who serves as both the province’s labour and immigration minister —  said “80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, don’t work, don’t speak French or don’t adhere to the values of Quebec society.”

After Radio-Canada brought the comments to light this week, Boulet issued an apology on Twitter, saying he misspoke and that the statement about immigrants not working and not speaking French “does not reflect what I think.”

Legault said Boulet didn’t deserve to keep the immigration file if re-elected. But Legault himself said Monday that welcoming more than 50,000 immigrants per year would be “a bit suicidal,”referring to the protection of the French language.

Earlier this month, Legault apologized for citing the threat of “extremism” and “violence” as well as the need to preserve Quebec’s way of life as reasons to limit the number of immigrants to the province.

Aly Ndiaye, a Quebec-city based historian and rapper also known as Webster, said he sees the 1995 referendum loss and Parizeau’s remark as a turning point for Quebec nationalism that made way for the kind of things Boulet and Legault have said this election campaign.

From inclusive nationalism to a change in Quebec identity

In the 1960s and 70s, Quebec’s nationalist movement was intent on being progressive and inclusive, Ndiaye said. The movement was inspired by decolonization and revolutions happening across the world at the time — it was looking “outward,” he said.

“After Parizeau, there was a closure,” Ndiaye said. Quebec nationalism turned inward, he added.

“There started to be a more exclusive vision of Quebec identity… That’s what Legault represents.”

What worries Ndiaye is the fact that such comments are rarely labelled as racist, despite the fact that they stem from a vision of society that sees immigrants and their descendants as “second-class citizens.”

“The Legault government is a racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic government,” Ndiaye said. “It’s aberrant.”

Hate calls

Fo Niemi, who founded the Montreal Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in 1983, said he remembers the Parizeau moment clearly.

“I almost fell off my chair,” he said.

Niemi said the centre received hate calls in the days following the Oct. 30, 1995 vote and stopped answering the phone for two or three days as a result.

When it comes to racist comments made in this year’s provincial election, Niemi said that while there is a possibility they could lead to violence, or aggression against immigrants, they could also lead to an overall negative attitude in Quebec toward immigration and immigrants.

“Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about all immigrants. We’re talking about immigrants who are clearly identifiable, i.e. non-white immigrants.”

He agrees with Ndiaye about the hesitation to name racism.

“They don’t call a spade a spade,” Niemi said, calling the CAQ remarks “dog whistle politics,” which refers to the use of messages that convey a particular — usually racist — sentiment to a target audience.

Evelyn Calugay, who runs PINAY, a Filipino women’s rights group, said she remembers hearing about comments made to people in her community as well as to people of Chinese descent in 1995.

Stuff like, “You don’t know how to speak French? Go back to where you belong, where you came from,” Calugay said.

“They will always have somebody to blame and the people they have to blame are always the minorities, the marginalized — because they are a bunch of racists to me!” she said with a bit of a laugh.

Calugay came to Quebec in 1975 to work as a nurse. She is 76.

What happens after the election?

The CAQ isn’t the only party to have come under fire for anti-immigrant sentiments. Comments about Quebec Muslims from Parti Québécois candidates Lyne Jubinville, Suzanne Gagnon and Pierre Vanier and his wife Catherine Provost have surfaced in the past two weeks.

Vanier, the candidate for Rousseau, and Provost, the candidate for neighbouring L’Assomption, were both suspended by PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon Friday for posts they made on social media, one of which questioned the intelligence of Muslim women who wear head scarves.

Whatever the election result Monday, Niemi says his concern is what will happen afterward.

“Are we going to talk about the negative fallout of all of these, shall we say, hateful statements?” he said. “What credibility will the government have to address racism and xenophobia and any other negative consequence of these statements?”

As for Russell, the Quebec-born singer now lives in Nashville with her family and recently, after playing in well-known American folk bands, began a solo career with her album Outside Child.

Source: How Quebec’s 1995 referendum was a turning point for racist comments in political discourse that’s still felt

Charter of Values Round-Up

And then there were three – three former premiers joined in their critique of the proposed Charter (and Landry has changed from his initial support), in addition to former Prime Minister Chrétien, and another federal minister, Christian Paradis, unlike Denis Lebel, reinforces the government’s line against the Charter:

Bernard Landry joins Bouchard, Parizeau in charter critique – Montreal – CBC News.

Jean Chrétien weighs in on Charter of Quebec Values

La charte est un message hostile aux immigrants, selon Paradis

Mixed signals from the PQ government on how they will, if they will, respond to this strong political signal to back down, starting with Premier Marois who signals an opening but her Minister, Bernard Drainville, does not:

Charte des valeurs: Marois attentive à l’appel de Bouchard et Parizeau

Drainville garde le cap sur la Charte en dépit des dissensions

Some commentary advising the PQ government to follow the advice of the former premiers and go for the Bouchard-Tayor model of laïcité ouverte, and other commentary arguing for a broader debate, situated outside political and electoral considerations:

La voie de la raison

Charte des valeurs québécoises – Alors, que fait-on?

La Charte de l’inconfort collectif

And a piece by Stéphane Dion, former Liberal Cabinet Minister and Leader, on the difference between showing political allegiance and religious faith for public servants:

Signes politiques, signes religieux : une dangereuse analogie

A reminder from a former professor of Egyptian origin, Nadia Alexan, who has experience with fundamentalists, that our openness creates space for fundamentalists. One of the risks in an open, democratic society, but one that applies to all religions, not just Islam. Singling out one religion without acknowledging integration-related issues for the fundamentalist strains of all religions, and recognizing the balance between religious and other freedoms, is not tenable:

Arrêtons de dorloter l’intégrisme

And lastly, while I think Andrew Coyne goes too far in his portrayal of the internal contradictions of the PQ (and the Bloc), he does have a point of the challenge for a society like Quebec to define what “nous” means without it being reduced to Québécois de pure laine, or ethnicity.

There were significant efforts to enlarge the definition of “nous” to include the “cultural communities” and interculturalisme, the Quebec subtle variant of multiculturalism, does have an inclusive element:

There is a basic, unresolvable incompatibility between a pluralist, open, civic nationalism and a nationalism devoted to the interests of a particular ethnocultural group. No amount of careful obsequies can paper this over. Once you have freed yourself from the obligation, incumbent on governments in every other liberal state, to govern on behalf of all your citizens equally — once you have decided, frankly and unashamedly, to speak of and for “nous” — you have made your choice. If the province’s ethnic minorities have failed to respond to the PQ’s entreaties, that may explain why. If, after all, it were really about an inclusive nationalism, with equality for all, if that were the society you were trying to create, what need would there be to separate?

Péquistes, then, can be divided into two groups. Those who have persuaded themselves there is no contradiction, that they can be both inclusive and exclusive at the same time. And those who have shed the illusion.

Don’t be fooled, the Parti Québécois has never been inclusive

Jacques Parizeau, former PQ premier, slams charter of values

The big news yesterday was not only that Jacques Parizeau, former PQ premier and famous for blaming the defeat of the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence on “money and ethnic votes” but how carefully choreographed it was, to maximize public attention. Lot’s of commentary:

Jacques Parizeau, former PQ premier, slams charter of values – Montreal – CBC News.

PQ stung by Jacques Parizeau’s rebuke of values charter: Hébert

Charte des valeurs – Parizeau a parlé

Jacques Parizeau, voice of reason (Yes, you read that right)

Jacques Parizeau, voice of reason, Tasha Kheiriddin

And another former premier, Lucien Bouchard, who led the “yes” forces during the 1995 referendum (he was much more popular than Parizeau), supports Parizeau’s comments and comes back to the Bouchard-Taylor laicité ouverte (he is also the brother of Gérard). Worth reading:

Charte: «Le gouvernement peut frapper un coup de circuit!»

Charte des valeurs: Interesting Silence

An interesting commentary on the silence of Quebec National Assembly member Fatima Houda-Pepin, who in the past has been one of the most vocal speakers on the risks of Islamic fundamentalists and sharia law. I had a number of discussions with her during a study tour in Holland a number of years ago, and she is  impressive and worth listening to. From a 2012 interview, worth reading from an integration perspective:

« J’ai un cheminement particulier et ce cheminement-là n’est pas fait par tout le monde », ajoutait-elle. D’origine marocaine, Fatima Houda-Pepin, élue en 1994, est issue d’une « famille très religieuse et pratiquante », précisait-elle. Elle-même a fréquenté l’école coranique. Mais la religion, c’était pour elle « la joie, le partage, la musique » avec des amies juives et chrétiennes aussi. « J’ai connu le fondamentalisme en arrivant au Canada », a-t-elle signalé.

« Quel choc, à mon arrivée au Canada, il y a 35 ans, confiait-elle à La Presse en 2007. J’y ai découvert des cercles d’endoctrinement où les femmes sont voilées entre elles, à l’intérieur de leurs propres maisons. » Elle disait avoir reçu un deuxième choc : l’indifférence des pouvoirs publics.

Charte des valeurs québécoises – Le silence de Fatima

On the more mundane political level, interesting opposition to the proposed Charter from the politician who after the loss of the 1995 referendum blamed the loss on money and the ethnic vote:

Charte des valeurs: Parizeau s’apprête à sauter dans le débat | DENIS LESSARD | Politique québécoise.

Not surprisingly, the inconsistency between the strong position of the Conservative Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, and the “I have no problem” position of the Conservative Minister for Quebec, Denis Lebel, gets criticized:

Charte des valeurs: Denis Lebel attaqué par les libéraux