Sure, Stéphane Gendron has apologized for saying that he likes to drive over stray kittens, but then this is a man who has also said Israel is an illegitimate state, who asked for the number 666 on his license plate and who has gotten himself disbarred for mocking a judge.
Mr. Gendron, who just made headlines across the country for his felinicidal remarks, has made a career of courting controversy.
News reports usually identify Mr. Gendron as the mayor of the small Quebec town of Huntingdon but calling him a mayor is like calling Don Cherry a sports commentator. There’s a bit more to the man than his job title.
The latest uproar came after Mr. Gendron, who also works as a radio shock jock, went on a rant last Tuesday on the airwaves of Montreal’s CHOI 919 Radio X.
Decrying the proliferation of stray cats – “an urban plague” – he said with a laugh that “the other day, I backed over one. He’d just been born. Am sure he didn’t feel anything. The pickup went over as if nothing was there. I was pretty happy. Yes! One fewer.”
Predictable outrage followed and Mr. Gendron had to post a clarification on the show’s website, suggesting that he had been joking all along. “I apologize. It was a dark humour that was inappropriate for the subject matter.”
To put the news in perspective, look at the following highlights from his past:
* He indeed started his public life when he became mayor of Huntingdon, a small town in the Châteauguay Valley, 70 kilometres southwest of Montreal, near the New York border.
Mr. Gendron, a lawyer and father of three, quickly hit the spotlight in 2004 when he tried to fight a vandalism problem by suggesting the imposition of a curfew on the town’s teenagers.
* He then parlayed his budding fame into a career as a provocative television and radio host. Troubles quickly followed.
He is a staunch critic of Israel. He supports boycotts of Israeli products, comparing it to the boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era. “Unfortunately, Israel has not yet collapsed but I support the boycott,” he has said.
Because of what Israel does to the Palestinians, “a country like that does not deserve to exist,” he added.
* In 2005 he had to apologize to then-Quebec premier Jean Charest after calling Mr. Charest a “murderer,” a “liar” and an “imbecile” because the province wasn’t providing access to Herceptin, a breast-cancer drug.
* The next year, believing that Justice Lise Côté of the Quebec Court of Appeals was too lenient in sentencing a man convicted of incest and possession of child pornography, Mr. Gendron called the judge a “stupid woman,” “a national shame” and an “an intellectual failure.”
Since Mr. Gendron was a lawyer, he was investigated by the Quebec Bar Association. He shot back that the judicial system is “corrupt” and lit a copy of the disciplinary decision on fire during a morning TV show. “Madame Côté you disgust me,” he said.
The Quebec bar fined him $500 and disbarred him for four years. He has not applied to be reinstated.
* Huntingdon is a mill town that has been hit hard by globalization, and the local textile plants had to close. Mr. Gendron has tried to counter the town’s population decline by courting immigrants, especially French-speaking North Africans. He has said Muslims are unfairly painted as terrorists and has promised to build a mosque and halal slaughterhouse.
The town’s website offers a fiscal credit to newcomers if they are immigrants, anglophones, young families or retirees.
* Mr. Gendron has also picked a fight with Quebec’s language bureaucrats, insisting that municipal communications should be bilingual and complaining that Bill 101 reflects poorly on the province.
* He is fascinated with death. A big fan of Ford Mustangs, he asked for the number 666 on the license plate of his black GT 2006 convertible and applied pentagram decals on its trunk. He kept a coffin in his house after using it as a Halloween lawn decoration. He has talked about how comfortable it is to nap in a casket. He says he distrusts religion after his wife lost a baby born prematurely.