When Marco Fortier wrote last month in his blog on the popular news site ruefrontenac. com that Quebecers are rude, it was followed by a mostly civil discussion in the blog’s comments section, writes Don Macpherson in Canada’s The Montreal Gazette.
Nobody dashed off a post angrily suggesting that Fortier move away if he didn’t like it here.
That’s because Fortier had kept it in the family. He had satisfied three unofficial conditions for exercising his freedom to express public criticism of Quebecers.
He had done so in French, and to a French-speaking audience. And most important, as a French-speaking Quebecer, he is a member of the family himself.
Jacob Tierney met, at best, only the first two conditions when, a few days earlier, the Montreal-based director complained that Quebec cinema ignores the province’s minorities.
Tierney speaks French and delivered his complaint in an interview with a La Presse correspondent while he was in Los Angeles to promote his film The Trotsky.
But while he referred in the interview to “notre art et notre culture” representing only white francophones, he does not belong to the Quebecois “nous.”
As someone who lives mainly in a language other than French, he is an outsider. And the Quebecois, as a minority, are sensitive to how they are seen by outsiders.
It might be that in private, relations between Frenchspeaking Quebecois and English-speaking Quebecers have never been better, thanks at least in part to the latter’s increasing bilingualism.
But in public discussion, non-francophones in Quebec are still expected to behave as more-or-less-welcome guests in a house where we live (and pay our share of the costs).
Forty-eight years after the expression was coined as an election slogan, the Quebecois are “maitres chez nous” -masters in our own house. The rest of us are invites chez nous. And guests show good manners by expressing appreciation of the hospitality of their hosts.
Instead, Tierney criticized them out loud, breaking an unofficial rule of public linguistic etiquette in Quebec.
Few people disagreed with the substance of Tierney’s criticism. Those who attempted to prove him wrong came up with so few examples of familiar, recent Quebec productions featuring minorities that they instead made his point for him.
But even in the mainstream media, much of the published response consisted of personal attacks on Tierney as a non-francophone.
He was condemned for “Quebec bashing,” as though he were not part of Quebec himself, thereby confirming his status as an outsider.
He was likened to the late novelist Mordecai Richler for supposedly smearing French Quebecers abroad, because Tierney had made his remarks in Los Angeles. In fact, they attracted little notice outside French Quebec, and only then because the loud reaction here drew attention to them.
One of Le Journal de Montreal’s minority-baiting specialists was clearly frustrated at being unable to defend French Quebecers against an accusation of racism that Tierney hadn’t made. So instead he called Tierney a hypocrite for not making the accusation.
And this week, referring to the complaint of “this young Jewish Montreal director,” a La Presse columnist sarcastically suggested that films receive public funding only if their casts of characters are sufficiently multicultural.
Tierney shouldn’t have been surprised at the reaction. For as he said in the La Presse interview, “I was born in Quebec, I speak French, but for people, it doesn’t matter, I’ll always be perceived as ‘the other.'”
To which one of his defenders, fearless La Presse columnist Marc Cassivi, added: “It took two days to prove that to him 10 times over.”