Premier Jean Charest used the invitation of an anarchist, anti-police musical group to Quebec’s national holiday festivities this month to condemn what he characterized as a growing acceptance of violence in Quebec.
“What I have seen in the last six months as Premier of Quebec is something I’m worried about,” Mr. Charest said in lengthy remarks to reporters on Thursday. “There’s new tolerance for violence, intimidation, civil disobedience. Some people justify this because for them anything is justified for the cause. Well, that is not what our society is about.”
The comments, which are expected to form a theme for the Liberals’ re-election efforts, come after months of social upheaval and street protests sparked by the Charest government’s tuition-fee increases.
The Premier’s tipping point, however, appears to be the inclusion of an obscure band called Mise en demeure at Quebec City’s St. Jean Baptiste festivities, known as the Fête nationale.
The group’s songs are explicitly violent. One refers to a university rector by name and says he will be stabbed in the back. Another threatens to hit Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne in the face with a sledgehammer, and rhymes Courchesne with “scie à chaine” (chainsaw in French). An image on the band’s website refers to killing a Quebec columnist who has been critical of the student movement.
The group had been invited to a youth-oriented party to mark St. Jean Baptiste festivities on the historic Plains of Abraham.
And while Quebec’s annual celebrations tend to be politically tinged, mostly with pro-sovereigntist sympathies, the Premier says the party should be apolitical and inclusive. He said the group’s music amounted to a “direct threat” against the Education Minister.
“Do these people think we don’t have families? That we aren’t human beings?” he said. “It’s as if we’re dehumanizing politics, dehumanizing life.” He called for a “profound reflection on the kind of society we live in.”
Amid the controversy, organizers cancelled the group’s appearance.
Mr. Charest has been returning to the theme of social disorder in recent weeks but has denied using the prolonged student conflict as a political wedge issue. The opposition Parti Québécois has allied itself with the student movement.
Mise en demeure was a virtually unknown group until last week, when a poster for one of its albums was found in the home of left-wing MNA Amir Khadir. Mr. Khadir’s teenaged daughter had been arrested in connection with violent student protest actions.
The poster, depicting a scene from the French Revolution, is a takeoff of Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People. It has been doctored so that a musket-toting Mr. Khadir is standing over a dead, half-naked Mr. Charest.
While the great majority of demonstrations in Quebec have been peaceful, others have degenerated into broken windows and confrontations with police.
“When I was younger, I was part of a student movement. It would have never crossed our mind to commit violent acts,” Mr. Charest said Thursday. “Now it’s become acceptable … no, this is not Quebec.”
He added: “It’s time to stand up and say, ‘This doesn’t reflect our values. This doesn’t reflect who we are as Quebeckers.’”