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Lysiane Gagnon (LaszloMontreal.com)

Lysiane Gagnon


Lysiane Gagnon

The PQ must heal Quebec’s language rift Add to ...

For the third time in three decades, Quebeckers are engaged in painful soul-searching: Does one man’s deadly outburst on election night say something about politics in Quebec? Or was it just a random act of violence?

The same question was raised in 1984, when Denis Lortie stormed into the National Assembly in a mad search for then-premier René Lévesque and shot to death three government employees, and in 1989, when Marc Lépine killed 14 female students at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.

Both these cases had political overtones. Mr. Lortie was angry at Mr. Lévesque, whom he apparently saw as a bad father figure, and Mr. Lépine targeted women, prompting many feminists to believe that the attack was the symptom of a sexist society.

Last week’s shooting was fraught with even starker political implications, since the accused is an anglophone and the people inside the Metropolis concert hall, including premier-designate Pauline Marois, were Parti Québécois separatists celebrating their party’s election victory. The shooting left one man, a stagehand, dead.

The accused gunman, Richard Henry Bain, faces 16 charges, including first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. As police restrained the suspect, he yelled (in French): “The English are waking up!” and later (in English): “It’s payback time!”

The shock reverberated throughout the province. Quebec anglophones were horrified that the gunman spoke in their name. Radical francophone nationalists known for their own vicious anglophobia accused the English media of demonizing the PQ. Many blamed the inflammatory rhetoric of the election campaign for the shooting. Others said it was just the unpredictable act of a lone wolf.

Still, the drama took place within a context of language tensions, with the PQ platform calling for both sovereignty and a radicalization of the province’s language laws – the two major sources of anxiety for Quebec anglophones.

According to two Ontario tourists who said they had met Mr. Bain two weeks before the shooting, the accused gunman was “obsessed with Quebec politics.” Anthea Rowe and her husband, Will Rounds, told the QMI news agency they had spent four hours with Mr. Bain when they hired him as a guide on a fishing expedition. (Mr. Bain owns a modest fishing camp in the Laurentians.)

The London couple said Mr. Bain told them he often went to political meetings and that, if he were in power, he’d separate Montreal from the rest of the province. He said he loathed unions, immigrants and welfare recipients. He also said he had opened his heart to Jesus and wasn’t afraid to die.

Quebeckers may be divided on language issues, but they all have something in common: They’re fundamentally moderate. There are now calls from all quarters for more understanding between the English- and French-speaking communities.

According to a Leger Marketing survey, 73 per cent of francophones and 79 per cent of anglophones want Ms. Marois to meet anglophone leaders as soon as possible to calm language tensions.

During the election campaign, Ms. Marois deliberately ignored the anglophones. The few words she uttered in halting English during her victory speech were the first in a month. And unlike previous PQ leaders, she declined to be interviewed by the Montreal Gazette’s editorial board. She must now find the words to build bridges with the anglophone community.

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