Vive les Alouettes!

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After the game, Montreal safety and Quebec native Marc-Antoine Dequoy told broadcaster RDS that the French language was disrespected due to the lack of bilingual signage in Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Stadium. He’s right.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on November 27, 2023.

OTTAWA—The Grey Cup in Hamilton delivered a shocker last weekend when the expected frontrunner Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Montreal Alouettes.

Most Canadians probably heard more about the Super Bowl rematch between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs last Monday night.

Both games were exciting, with the Eagles defeating the Chiefs by four points, and the Alouettes delivering a touchdown in the last 15 seconds to overtake the Bombers 28-24.

But nobody in the sports world saw a victory in the offing for the Alouettes.

It was pretty well unanimous that Winnipeg would grab the win, given that Montreal had trailed the Toronto Argonauts through most of the regular CFL season, and was not even expected to get to the Grey Cup.

Montreal quarterback Cody Fajardo said the underdog status was what bonded the team and led to the upset. Fajardo was named the most valuable player in the game, passing for 290 yards and three touchdowns.

There was some doubt the Alouettes would survive long enough to complete the season as the financially-troubled club was taken over by the league last February and then purchased by Quebec billionaire Pierre-Karl Péladeau the following month.

It wouldn’t be the Grey Cup without a photo finish. And it wouldn’t be Canada without a linguistic controversy.

Following the game, Montreal safety and Quebec native Marc-Antoine Dequoy told broadcaster RDS that the French language was disrespected because of the lack of bilingual signage in Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Stadium.

He also said, in French, that no one believed in Montreal, pointing out that only two days before the games, a TSN broadcast listed the Toronto Argonauts as the Eastern finalist in the match.

“But you know what man, keep your English because we’re grabbing the Cup and we’re bringing it home to Montreal, and we’re bringing it home to Quebec, and we’re bringing it home … parce qu’ on est f*cking champions.”

Dequoy subsequently sent out a clarification, explaining he was not attacking English people, but rather the Canadian Football League’s unilingual approach to the national game.

Dequoy’s comments were made in the context of post-game adrenaline. But he was right. The eastern final between Toronto and Montreal did not even include a French version of the national anthem.

How difficult could it be to find a singer capable of performing in two official languages? The absence of French in the anthem was totally disrespectful.

Would it be too much to ask for Tim Hortons Stadium to post signs in both languages during the Grey Cup? The company sells plenty of donuts in Quebec, and it would not take much to amend key signage for the national event.

But what is good for the goose should also be good for the gander. Not sure how many English signs were posted in Quebec City when the National Hockey League still had a team there?

The Canadian Football League should take Dequoy’s criticism to heart, and spend some time and money to bring the league up to a better bilingual standard.

In amateur sport, the federal government provides financial support to ensure that national organizations can function in a bilingual fashion.

Perhaps the CFL could seek similar support to ensure that the next Grey Cup does not make francophone participants feel left out.

At the end of the day, the Montreal Alouettes’ blockbuster performance is good for Canadian unity. Sport has a way of bringing people together, and the Grey Cup has been around for 110 years.

The American Super Bowl, which garners so much attention in Canada, has only been in existence since 1967.

As a general rule, the Super Bowl has a spectacular half-time show, and a lopsided game.

The CFL half-time show is not usually as spectacular, but the game is always a nail-biter with the winner often being decided in the last couple of minutes.

With Péladeau taking over as the Alouette’s owner, there will be plenty of French news coverage as he owns Canada’s largest tabloid newspaper, le Journal de Montreal.

Péladeau is the most well-known business sovereigntist in Quebec, having served briefly as leader of the Parti Québécois almost a decade ago.

His decision to purchase the Alouettes may actually soften his separatist stance.

Sport has a way of bringing people together. Connecting with other Canadians should take any wind out of separatists’ sails. Many other Canadians were cheering for underdog Montreal in last Sunday’s game.

Montreal is the home of Canada’s Grey Cup champions. Vive les Alouettes!

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