Bloc Québécois tries to influence narrative 50 years after the fact

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Hopefully, Quebecers will not fall for this blatant attempt to rewrite history.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on November 2, 2020.

OTTAWA—October is a huge month in Quebec history.

It has been a half century since the October Crisis, which saw a deputy premier murdered and a diplomat kidnapped by the Front de libération du Québec.

It has been a quarter century since the referendum which took Quebec to the brink of a divorce from the rest of the country. Historians and filmmakers are busy interpreting both those events through today’s lens.

It is not surprising that the Bloc Québécois is also trying to influence the narrative 50 years after the fact tabling a resolution calling for the House to “demand an official apology from the prime minister on behalf of the government of Canada for the enactment, on Oct. 16, 1970, of the War Measures Act and the use of the army against Quebec’s civilian population to arbitrarily arrest, detain without charge and intimidate nearly 500 innocent (Quebecers).”

The resolution was handily defeated Thursday, but it served the Bloc’s purpose. The debate gave the party an opportunity to cast the separatists in the victim role, victimization at the hands of the bully Canada, the behemoth that is responsible for all harm to the Quebec nation.

What the resolution fails to mention, and what separatists would like everyone to simply forget, is that the request for the army to intervene actually came from the City of Montreal and the Quebec government of the day.

It also fails to capture the feeling of fear that gripped the province when FLQ cells were working to plant mail bombs that killed several people and culminated in an explosion at the Montreal stock exchange that injured 28 people.

Instead, “You cannot pretend to be deeply in love with Quebec without respecting this desire of Quebecers to receive some apologies from Her Majesty’s government,” was the explanation given by Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet in defence of the motion.

Two elements of his statement bear analysis. First, his claim that it was the “desire of Quebecers” to receive apologi(es) plural.

The Bloc is usually very successful in portraying its views as the gold standard for the thinking of all Quebecers. But in this day of pandemics, I doubt very much that revisionist history is the primary preoccupation of the people.

Second is the reference to “Her Majesty’s government.” Last time I looked the Canadian government was led by a Quebecer who lives in Quebec, not England. But the reference to the Queen is just one more attempt by separatists to convince Quebecers that their destiny is still in the hands of the bloody English.

The same time the Bloc was debating its motion in Parliament, the son of one of the terrorists got sympathetic full-page coverage in The Globe and Mail covering a documentary he made about his “gentle” father Paul Rose.

According to Rose’s son, his killer instinct sprung from living in acute poverty while English-speaking neighbours were all living high off the hog. The story of Rose’s upbringing could just as easily have been the story of prime minister Jean Chrétien, who grew up in a family of 15 on the wrong side of the hill in Shawinigan.

Yet Chrétien turned those early years into leadership and did not set up a terrorist cell with the intention to inflict mayhem on anglos. My own father grew up in abject poverty in northern Ontario, complete with rickets, a bone disease caused by malnutrition. As a child in Hamilton, on my way to Catholic school I was spit on, beat up and called “cat licker” on a daily basis. But that experience made me believe more strongly in the power of diversity.

The Rose documentary views the FLQ from the sympathetic eye of a son. But there is zero recognition of the pain of Pierre Laporte’s family. That does not fit the narrative.

Fifty years ago, Quebec was a very different place, francophones were treated as second-class citizens in their own homes. The same could be said for other minorities in many parts of the country. Witness the shameful treatment of gays and lesbians in that period and later.

Now the same spurned citizens have been premiers and prime ministers.

The country has changed, and we do a disservice to history by rehashing one-sided old grievances.

The wedge politics strategy in the Bloc strategy is self-evident. But, as we have witnessed south of the border, wedge politics can work.

Hopefully, Quebecers will not fall for this blatant attempt to rewrite history.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.