by JIM DUFF.
Every generation has its heroes, or in Anglo Quebec, every crisis. I daresay it began with Montreal fire marshal Alfred Perry, leader of the Tory mob that torched the Montreal Parliament buildings in 1849 (Westminster instituted the Perambulating Parliament to appease critics; Montreal was Canada’s capital that year) because the Liberal government of the day voted to pay French Canadians for losses incurred during the 1837-38 Rebellion.
I’m the Forrest Gump of the Anglo rights struggle. My journalistic watch began with Bob Beall, the hero of the 1968 language riots in St. Leonard. I was there for the McGill français riot led by renegade prof Stanley Gray and the late unlamented Paul Rose. I covered the 1981 creation of Alliance Quebec as a federal funding conduit for the English community and a career booster for Eric Maldoff, Michael Goldbloom, Tom Mulcair and Russ Williams.
I was there in’89 when Robert Libman, Gord Atkinson, Neil Cameron and Richard Holden rode the wave of Anglo anger over Bill 86 into the National Assembly as the Equality Party. I watched the 1998 angryphone takeover of Alliance Quebec and I was beside AQ leader William Johnson when he was briefly arrested by a bunch of undercover cops during the SSJB parade.
The other week, Bob Smith reminded me of the firebombing of the church where Howard Galganov, Brent Tyler and a bunch of us were scheduled to speak at a fundraiser for Brent Tyler’s court battle on behalf of French-speaking parents who wanted to send their kids to English schools.
I’m resurrecting old war stories because history has a habit of repeating itself.
The direct result of last September’s Quebec election cliffhanger, Anglo-rights groups are proliferating and mutating week to week. None of these newcomers has anything to do with the English community’s latest federally sponsored ‘official’ voice, the Quebec Community Groups Network. These new kids on the anglo-rights block:
• Canadian Rights in Quebec: CRITIQ’s website claims the group has no political aspirations, but it bases its existence on a “call to leadership” from a claimed 5,000 members. CRITIQ proposes to make Quebec officially bilingual, restore freedom of choice in education and fight “Quebec-based discriminatory legislation violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” The mailing address is a Shopper’s Drug Mart on Lucerne Ave. in TMR.
CRITIQ’s first public event was a rally at a downtown hotel in late February, where some 700 people listened to Suburban editor Beryl Wajsman, National Post columnist Barbara Kay, constitutional lawyer Brent Tyler and former Equality Party leader Robert Libman.
On Friday, I asked Wajsman, a regular voice on French radio and TV, whether he spoke for CRITIQ, The Suburban or the English community. He said he didn’t.
• Alliance Quebec 2.0: Led by Ian Stone, AQ2 proposes to embarrass Quebec within the international business community (can he outdo l’Office québécois de la langue française?) Stone, upset because The Suburban doesn’t give him any ink, is taking Wajsman and The Suburban to the Quebec Press Council. Meanwhile, AQ2 seeks donations with product offerings such as Bill 101 toilet paper.
• Equality Party 2.0: Dissolved in October, the party of Libman, Atkinson, Cameron and Holden was rekindled in November with Libman’s blessing and an estimated 100 members. Interim leader and Vaudreuil-Dorion resident Mark Bergeron said they’re hoping to run someone in the next provincial election, but admits they’re aiming high.
“It’s nice to see a revival,” Bergeron told me, “but we need to pool our assets. We need a united group. There’s a lot of infighting … it should be all of us working together.”
• The Quebec Office of the English Language: Spearheaded by Hugo Shebbeare, the OQLA shares that Shopper’s Drug Mart on Lucerne as its mailing address. Its mission — “to preserve and promote the English language, [as allowed by Bill 101] and to ensure that the English language does not become extinct, all in accordance with the language laws of Quebec. Huh?
• The Unity Group and Put Canadian Flag Back in Quebec Assembly: These Facebook groups, co-organizers of the Feb. 17 anti-Bill 14 rally outside Marois’s office, don’t wait for anyone’s blessing to get out there and do things. The Unity Group is planning to charter a bus to Quebec City for upcoming Bill 14 National Assembly hearings.
Publicly, these groups don’t criticize each other, but it’s a different story behind the scenes. “This is off the record, Jim, but…” usually precedes a catty comment about the organizational skills or the media-hogging propensities of a fellow warrior for the Anglo-rights cause.
I guess you could say it’s a sign that democracy is well. I don’t agree. In any other society, capable, motivated people would find their way into political parties and eventually, into political office. Not here in Quebec, where there’s a linguistic glass ceiling that makes certain nobody without the right accent, right genes, right last name and right credentials is welcome in that lineup. So Anglos fight with one another out of frustration and thwarted ambition.
Meanwhile, former talk show host and Anglo rights activist Howard Galganov watches the latest angryphone eruptions from his Glengarry vantage point with the cynic’s eyes of someone who’s been there.
“They’re all holding meetings to raise money to hold meetings,” he told me.
“Le Devoir got it exactly right,” added Quebec’s once most heartily loathed anglo. “Same old faces, same old story.”