It doesn’t take someone born in the 1950s to understand how dangerous the 1970 October Crisis was. For those who need a history refresher, the separatist terrorist group Front de libération du Québec kidnapped British diplomat James Cross on October 5 1970 and Quebec minister Pierre Laporte – who was later murdered – on October 10. In response to the crisis, the federal government passed the War Measures Act establishing martial law which flooded the city of Montreal with armed forces. At issue was the independence of Quebec and supremacy of the French language. However, the FLQ didn’t start off by kidnapping diplomats and politicians; they began with more modest – yet still as extremist – means.
The FLQ formed in 1963 – around the same time as the Quiet Revolution and a rise in nationalism – and spared no time pushing their radical vision of an independent Quebec. They began planting bombs in the mailboxes of wealthy Anglophones in the Westmount area. They also took to helping striking workers, building on their socialist vision for the province. By 1968, they were using more powerful bombs and targeted English institutions like McGill University, the Montreal Stock Exchange, and several federal buildings. The mayor of Montreal Jean Drapeau was also targeted by the group. By 1970, they had planted over 200 bombs and created a very frantic anglophone community.
It took them ten years to go from small-scale bombings to full-blown crisis. With the help of the War Measures Act, the FLQ was effectively shut down in 1971. FLQ members were sentenced to prison for their role in the kidnappings and the murder of Pierre Laporte, but the damage had already been done. A harder crackdown on the FLQ prior to 1970 would have spared Montreal an unnecessary crisis.
As the cliché goes, history repeats itself. No one has yet been bombed, but anglophones have nevertheless been targeted by those who feel it is their personal duty to enforce French supremacy. As the FLQ was a product of the Quiet Revolution, recent attacks seemed to have been sparked by the Parti Québécois’ electoral victory on September 4, 2012.
The first attack came less than a week after the PQ victory. Alex Montreuil was ordering a sandwich in English at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital, emphasising his allergy to a chemical in tomatoes and asking for special care in his food’s preparation. A woman came up to Mr. Montreuil, telling him “Here in Quebec, we speak French, not English.” Quick to defend himself, Mr. Montreuil told her that he can speak whatever language he wants in his country. After leaving furiously, the woman came back, armed with a tuna and tomato sandwich which she deliberately threw at him. He suffered a serious allergic reaction turning red and swelling all over his body. Luckily for him, he was already at a hospital and received care immediately, but it could have been deadly had it happened anywhere else. The woman was charged for assault with a deadly weapon.
Two weeks later, a 17 year old boy in St. Leonard was attacked by a 20 year old man after speaking English on the streets with his cousins. The older man was alleged to have yelled out – just like the Sandwich Attacker – that in Quebec “you have to speak French” and other racist slurs before pummeling the young Italian man’s face.
Then, a month later a truly disgusting incident threatened to end the life of a two year old suffering from a seizure. When Mark Bergeron called 911 after his daughter suffered convulsions caused by high fever, the operator opened up a language debate with him and refused to speak to him in English. An ambulance did finally arrive and the girl was brought to a hospital. However, the thought that an anglophone could suffer medical mistreatment because of their language is deeply concerning. Any dispatcher or first responder who is willing to put politics before help should be fired, no matter the issue at hand. They are there to serve all citizens, not the ones of their choosing. It is especially ridiculous in a field where mere seconds can make the difference between life and death.
Finally, another Anglophone suffered the wrath of an angry French woman on October 29. While the Société de transport de Montréal had received criticism earlier in the month after an employee posted a sign that read “In Quebec, we operate in French” at his ticket booth, another employee managed to outdo her colleague. After having difficulty with the STM’s metro fare machine, commuter Mina Barak faced a ticket booth clerk who, while refusing to speak in English to her and telling her to “go back to your country”, was less than sympathetic to Ms. Barak’s problems. Obviously insulted by the clerk’s behaviour, she filled a complaint with the STM in front of the clerk, who responded by giving her the middle finger. When the call was over, the clerk stepped out of the booth, put Ms. Barak in a headlock and started punching her. Thankfully for Ms. Barak, others came to her defence and she was taken to a local hospital.
These are deliberate attacks targeting English speakers, and they must stop.
These assaults, along with dangerous PQ rhetoric, reinforce the image that English is somehow inherently evil and that its only purpose is to destroy the French language. Hardline nationalists are now seeing it as their mission to take the law in their own hands and punish English speakers wherever they encounter them. While random attacks on the streets are disconcerting, it is appalling coming from those in the service sector. Anglophones must now constantly worry about full Nelsons and biological attacks wherever they go, whether it’s on the metro or in a hospital, or wherever else the next attack might take place.
While the PQ’s anglophobic and xenophobic policies do not help the current situation, they are not solely to blame. If this trend is to stop soon, those who have engaged in targeted violence towards linguistic groups must be made an example of and suffer the full extent of the law. By showing that physically assaulting people and denying services based on language is not acceptable behaviour in our society, we can discourage future offenders. The FLQ went too long without burdening the cost of their actions and it took the Canadian Armed Forces to stop them.
One incident is a coincidence, four is a pattern. We cannot let this trend get out of hand.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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