Some racist slips about Quebec in English Canada between 1995 and 1998

Some racist slips about Quebec in English Canada between 1995 and 1998 (1).


This article analyses, from a selection of newspapers articles, some « racist tendencies » that appeared in English Canada since the 1995 referendum. Examining several events in the media (« cases » Rakoff, Lawrence Martin, Diane Francis, Gerry Weiner, David Levine …), the analysis shows how marginalized discourses went through several stages of racism (Wieviorka 1991), leading to a slightly more systematic racist opinion within the « Rest of Canada, » and to a verbal violence that occurs often enough that the problem can no longer be considered secondary. In a particular case (Levine), racism even became a principle of action and mobilization which reached several (journalistic, political, popular) spheres of society. To illustrate the spread, the banalization, and the legitimization of a certain racist discourse (which uses universal arguments to delegitimize the « Other »), the analysis emphasizes the link between discourse and theory in the light of recent scientific works which define the structure, the discur sive elements, and the mechanisms for the production of racism.

L’ article analyse certaines dérives racistes survenues au Canada anglais depuis le referendum de 1995. A partir d’une sélection d’articles de la presse anglo-canadienne et travers l’examen de plusieurs  événements médiatisés (affaires Rakoff, Lawrence Martin, Diane Francis, Gerry Weiner, David Levine), l’analyse indique comment les discours  marginalisant franchi plusieurs paliers du racisme (Wieviorka, 1991) en faisant place a une opinion un peu plus systématique dans le Reste du Canada et une violence verbale suffisamment répétitive pour que le problème ne soit plus juge secondaire. Dans un cas particulier, celui de l’affaire Levine, le racisme est même devenu un principe d’action et de mobilisation atteignant plusieurs milieux (journalistique, politique, populaire). Afin d’illustrer à la fois l’extension, la banalisation et la légitimation d’un certain discours raciste (qui fait usage d’arguments universalistes a des fins de délégitimation de l’Autre), l’analyse fait ressorti r les liens entre discours et théories la lumière des travaux scientifiques récents qui définissent la structure, les éléments de discours et les mécanismes de production du racisme.


National representations are generally Janus-like; they all contain elements of universalism and ethnicism, of « abstract rationalism » and « tribalism. » These two faces or heads lying at the foundation of nations (contract and culture) do not always strike a balance: certain socio-historical conditions and events favour their reversal or struggle. In Canada, it is within the relations of competition between two « national » visions that the tension between the two faces is constantly reactivated.

Although the Canadian and Quebec national visions have undergone a parallel development (Meisel, Rocher, and Silver 1999) toward an increasingly civic, contractual, pluralistic, and inclusive self-definition, (2) political relations among Quebeckers and between Quebeckers and other Canadians (3) are still imbued with an essentialist conception of an « Us » and an « Other. » Through a selection of often reified historical elements, a mythical construction of the nation and the Other was formed and remains active in relations between the « two solitudes. » Following constitutional negotiations or referendums, the political competition (4) between the two universalist ambitions often reveals a breakdown of the universalist ideals into ethnicizing ideological discourses. This reversal is based on feelings of failure and fear, which fuel a will to promote, legitimate, and justify a certain political and institutional vision: on one side, the universalist project of sovereignty is said to have been undermined by « ethnic votes » and « money » (Parizeau), (5) and, on the other side, Canadian federalism is considered to be more « universalist, » more apt to protect individual rights (and thus morally superior) than the « Quebec project » — borne by an ethnic minority « like the others. » (6) One way or another, ethnics are always minorities and the universalist (or civic) project is always that of majorities.

There is no need for an exhaustive review of newspaper clippings since 1995 to note the alarmist tone and proliferation in the anglophone media of ethnicizing, even racializing, « slips » (7) about Quebec, Quebeckers, Lucien Bouchard, and the sovereignist government; slips visibly based on the fear of the destruction of Canada and, consequently, on a form of nationalist and patriotic pride. (8) Although public opinion in English Canada is divided on the question of Quebec sovereignty and does not speak in a single voice, several of these discursive slips which are analyzed here have nevertheless activated preconceived ideas, contributed to the creation of a climate of tension, and provided a feast for the media. When asked about Lawrence Martin’s biography of Lucien Bouchard on the television newsmagazine, Le Point (September 11, 1997), a journalist from The Globe and Mail spoke of a real « psychosis of national unity » in English Canada, which reached its peak with the David Levine affair in the spring of 1998. (9) In his analysis of this case, Randal Marlin (1998:9) argued that « we are dealing … with a problem that is at the core of the Canadian unity debate. The Levine affair is a microcosm of suspicion, mistrust and misunderstanding that could someday be repeated on a larger scale with worse consequences. » According to Marlin, the media have played a major role « in fanning the flames of this controversy. » But, although « the impact of the media are cumulative, » because « repetition of facts and rumours creates a sense of certainty when this may not be warranted » (Ibid.:5, 9), there was « also a set of pre-existing attitudes that were surprisingly receptive to such incitement » (Ibid.: 15).

Until recently these slips had been limited to a number of extremist prejudices — usually marginalized by the media — voiced by individuals such as Mordecai Richler, Mel Hurtig, (10) and Howard Galganov. (11) In recent months, they have been coming from several other sources: Dr. Vivian Rakoff, an « eminent psychiatrist, » according to The Globe and Mail (August 23, 1997), who drew up a psychological profile of Lucien Bouchard; the journalist, Lawrence Martin, in his biography of Lucien Bouchard; former federal Minister of Immigration, Gerry Weiner, who claims that the French language is used as a racist immigrant-selection criterion to create an « ethnocentric francophone enclave »; editorials by Diane Francis in the Financial Post and her works, which speak of a « separatist conspiracy »; Saturday Night with its sensationalist articles about Lucien Bouchard’s neurons; another former federal minister, Doug Young, who wants to send sovereignist immigrants « back to where they came from »; the Reform Party during it s last election campaign against Quebec’s political leaders; the populist discourses and demonstrations of some Ottawa citizens during the « Levine Affair, » which was supported by some politicians (including Mike Harris); not to mention the Nazification of sovereignists on the Internet or in « letters by readers, » and Howard Stern’s racist jokes about francophones on Montreal radio station CHOM-FM, which contribute to making racism commonplace. (12)

My purpose in this article, which is the result of my preliminary research, is to draw out some of the forms taken by these « ethnicizing slips » through the analysis of a selection of articles published in the English-Canadian press and on the basis of some contemporary theoretical explanations of racism. Four events illustrating the spread and escalation of a racist discourse are analyzed in their chronological order: the case of Gerry Weiner (and more indirectly, Doug Young) for the politicians; the « Rakoff Affair » among experts; the Lawrence Martin and Diane Francis « cases » among journalists; and, finally, the « Levine Affair, » which involved journalists, politicians, and ordinary citizens. This article neither intends to take a political stand, (13) nor claims to analyze overall positions in the debates on these cases or tendencies in the English-Canadian press through an exhaustive examination of articles from different media. (14) Nor does it analyze the socio-historical sources at the basis of the constr uction of the Other, sources which draw from the development of two parallel systems of national representation arising from historical relations, political, popular and media discourses, and analyses by intellectuals and academics (Meisel, Rocher, and Silver 1999). (15) The purpose of this article is simply to underline, without falling into « political correctness, » the fact that some ethnicist, even racist, slips have occupied an increasingly large public space since the 1995 referendum, without having been the object of sufficiently quick criticisms or of strong and repeated condemnations by the English-Canadian press, intellectuals, or politicians. Because these slips participate in the mythical construction of the Other, it is important to analyze them by establishing links between racist discourses and theories in light of recent studies, which define the structure and mechanisms of racism as well as the components of its discourse.

In analyzing the slips which appear to be the most excessive, are we not playing the same game as the media? The danger is certainly there, but we must remember that racist discourse first occurs in marginal spaces before it expands and becomes banal (Wieviorka 1991). In Canada, these slips seem to have moved up several racist levels in a few months. Marginal discourses have, in fact, given way to more systematic racist opinions in the « rest of Canada, » and to a form of verbal violence which is repetitive enough that the problem can no longer be considered secondary. (16) In the « Levine Affair, » racism even became an action and a mobilizing principle among a section of the population and was subsequently legitimized by some politicians. But, the dangers lurking behind the breakdown of universalist ideals into racialized discourses are, first, making racism a commonplace in popular discourses, followed by its gelling into irreducible identities, and, finally, its use as a « political weapon » (Arendt 1982).

Racism and Its Metamorphoses

Like mushrooms in the undergrowth, ideologies which seem to have been buried once and for all are always ready to reappear with the slightest rain. The main difference between ideologies and mushrooms is that the former always reappear in new forms. Pareto saw it clearly: in order to impose itself again, an old and discredited idea must first undergo a metamorphosis, for it must be readily perceived as a new idea. (Boudon 1986:283) [Unofficial translation].

The main theoretical writings on racism have shown that « classical » racist discourse had a certain structure: which went beyond making accusations. It claimed, first, to be a system (based on a scientific theory) and, second, to constitute a general representation (doctrine) based on a « will to persuade » aimed at promoting a political order (an ideology) (Guillaumin 1972; Memmi [1982] 1994:20). The three « levels » involve elements that have more or less blended under certain socio-historical conditions. Racist theorization was based on the idea of the existence of races, » or of distinct and significant biological differences. Doctrine added a hierarchization by introducing the idea of the psychological, cultural, social, and political superiority of some races. Ideology constituted the political weapon of persuasion, adding to the other elements the explanation and justification for domination, or the privileges of « superior races. »

However, contemporary authors concur that racism in the strict sense – that is, the biological accusation, largely de-legitimated during the twentieth century – is no longer essential to racism. Today, real or imagined differences in cultures, languages, customs, and life-styles are easily (and generally) naturalized to play the role of race (Taguieff 1988). Indeed, the notion of ethnicity is considered to be a new way of naming race, with all the appearances of legitimacy (Guillaumin 1992). (17) Along the same lines, Memmi’s famous definition, adopted by the Encylopedia Universalis and UNESCO, describes racism as « the general and definitive (de)valorization of real or imagined differences to the advantage of the accuser and to the detriment of the victim, in order to legitimate aggression. » Racism is « reactive argumentation » (Memmi [1982] 1994:13), « a mythical and rationalizing projection based on experience » (13), an explanation and a justification (Guillaumin 1972) with an « emotional foundation. »

Some authors now speak in terms of a contemporary « neo-racism » (Balibar 1988; Taguieff 1988, 1991), in part because of its ideological metamorphoses (its basic criteria), in part because of its discursive modes of racialization (implicit, indirect). In other words, this neo-racism has apparently shifted from race to culture (Gilroy [1987], 1991), and from inequality to difference (« authentic » cultural identity, the superiority » of the dominant « universalist » culture, the particularism « Others » want to impose on majorities). And since it can no longer be displayed legitimately, it manifests itself more indirectly in a symbolic mode. Its manifestations in popular discourse illustrate these new uses well: it is defined as a « normal » reaction of citizens in a state of legitimate self-defence against the imposition by minorities of unassimilatable » cultures which would undo the « accomplishments » of history, the order of things, national identity, or its supposed unity. Under the guise of a mythified conviction — that of the universalism of the pluralist nation embodied by its values and (notably) by its institutions — neo-racism turns these exasperated citizens into victims of « aggression, » and finds its justification in « irrefutable » arguments, drawn from the contractual and voluntarist conception of the nation.

But despite its metamorphoses, the fundamental structure of racism, just like its underlying function or mechanism, remains unchanged. It is always made up of two major analytical logics – differentiation and inferiorization (Wieviorka 1991), two functions-demarcation and legitimization of a domination (Memmi [1982] 1994:106), a number of more or less active elements – the national myth, elements of history, the negative image of the Other, and the possibility of various uses – globalization, demonization, essentialization, aggression, threat, inferiorization or destruction of the Other, protection of privileges, and self-persuasion of those in power. It maintains its basic structure, which manifests itself in different forms and which analysis must bring to light: in the form of an « everyday ideology » (or popular perception), that is, a spontaneous form based on the presumption of the « national » group’s homogeneity; in the form of political practices, that is, political explanations based on the concept of d ifference – real or supposed; and in a more formalized expression of racist ideology found in the legal system (Guillaumin 1992:16). In other words, the phenomenon can attain various levels in certain socio-historical conditions, going from marginal spaces to more formalized ones (Wieviorka 1991). In its most common and spontaneous form, the ideological metamorphoses of contemporary racism no longer allow the basic racist categorization to be expressed through the establishment of a hierarchy of races, but according to criteria which appear more legitimate (those who can be assimilated versus those who cannot), and which are rationalized in cultural terms. In its political form, this new categorization acquires greater legitimacy in a pluralist ideology based on the diversity of cultures than on a classical racist ideology (Taguieff 1991:42). Through a sort of reversal, certain « irrefutable » universalist arguments are used to denounce the « particularisms » of minorities. Finally, in its most formalized form, a supposed or real difference becomes a category of right or of non-right (for example: the Nazi state, Apartheid).

Today, almost all formalized forms of racism have been reduced or eliminated, and, with the exception of some marginal groups, very few people openly declare themselves as racists, at least on the philosophical or doctrinaire level, not even those who justify or rationalize their discourse and their attitudes when refusing to rent an apartment to Blacks, or when defending a « daughter’s honour » or the « nation’s integrity. » However, racism remains a social reality, a « convenient » explanation, a « sort of solution for real problems, » and an element often present in the construction of ideologies which have emerged from relations of force and institutions (Memmi [1982] 1994:144, 149), and which shapes political action and provides it with powerful common-sense meanings (Hall 1980). The persuasive power of an ideology – defined as a set of ideas treated as the keys to history or as explaining entire historical trends (Arendt 1982:35) – does not appear spontaneously: it is only possible by appealing to either experiences or desires, in other words, to « immediate political necessities » (Arendt 1982:71). These necessities sometimes lead to the search for, or the use of, doctrine to the benefit of the accuser. The plausibility of an ideology is not based on « scientific facts » or « historical laws, » but on the fact that it has been conceived and perpetuated as « a political weapon » (Arendt 1982:71).

Racism takes conflicts out of the realm of negotiation by appealing to putatively « flawless » arguments in its attempts to persuade populations. The structure of the discourse becomes circular by basing itself on myths or on some of their elements: abstract universalism, the myth of the homogeneity of the group to which one belongs, the myth of the superiority of a given people relative to another, the myth of a continuous and glorious past and future. The legitimacy of domination or privileges is based on essentialized, deified, or naturalized moral, historical, cultural, and social arguments. There is no self-criticism. These justifications have an emotional foundation: the feeling that one’s privileges, prestige, property, security are threatened, which translates into a desire to destroy, inferiorize, or remove the threat and fear of the Other. The mechanisms for justifying discourse arising from myths are essentially: demonization and denigration of adversaries and their negativity (« they are strange, unp redictable, threatening ») to justify a refusal to change or, if need he, the recovery of territory; generalization or globalization of certain individual traits or behaviour (e.g., those of the political elite) toward a group of persons who have certain things in common, such as inhabiting a given territory, speaking a given language (« they are all the same, » « if they were not influenced by crazy leaders, they would be decent people »); the distinction between the « good » (Jew, Black, Quebecker, etc.) and the « bad »; and the moral justification allowing one to legitimate one’s behaviour and potential acts of aggression (« because they are like this, we have to protect them from themselves »), and also makes it possible to avoid feeling guilty when faced with a clear case of injustice. These mechanisms are based on the conviction that one embodies the universal (the norm), and on a mythical portrait of the accused (their inferiority and difference) and their timelessness (« they have always been inferior and differe nt »).

In short, although the modalities of racism have changed, its structure and mechanisms remain the same. According to the authors cited above, racism remains, without question, an aggressive rejection, the goal of which is to legitimate a will to dominate by means of a discourse justifying it. In this view, acts of hostility and aggression are motivated by the need to defend an advantage out of a fear of losing a privilege, prestige, or property because of the Other, who must be dominated (through differentiation or inferiorization) to defend one’s due, be it real or potential. Racists fear the more or less unpredictable reactions of the Other — a fear of the unknown, invasion, disorder, and loss of status, prestige, or property. They justify the differentiation and inferiorization of their victim to such an extent that racist ideology is considered to be « an adequate expression » of the victim’s « objective situation » (Memmi [1982] 1994:146). Ideology — this accusation pushed to mythical proportions — explai ns and legitimates the situation in which the accused is placed. It permits racists individually or collectively to strengthen their position and justify their superiority at the expense of the Other, especially those who have already been « defeated by history » (Memmi [1982] 1994:146, 147). However, racists want neither the disappearance of their object nor the disappearance of its « differences. » Rather, they want to maintain its humiliated presence in order to confirm their domination and advantages at a precise moment in history. As Memmi reminds us, « To understand a given form of racism, one must always ask how this particular racist benefits from this particular victim » ([1982] 1994:146). Each situation, therefore, requires that the political and socio-historical conditions favouring or discouraging the manifestation of various forms of racism be analyzed (Hall 1978).

From Fear to Accusation, from Demonization to Totalization

National Representations as a Backdrop to Racist Slips

What about Canada-Quebec relations in the current post-referendum dynamics? Although Quebec nationalism was established on the basis of a historical relation of domination from the early stages of colonization, it would be difficult without a detailed analysis to pinpoint with any certainty the elements of that relation which are still active. Among other things, Quebec-Canada relations are currently characterized less by pure domination than by competition between two national visions with universalist aspirations. (18) This said, this competitive logic excludes neither the use of reified historical arguments nor attempts to justify a certain order through the reversal of universalist arguments employed in deligitimating the ambitions of the adversary. These arguments become hard to refute because they rely on mythical elements at the source of national ideals, and because they use ideological elements of cultural pluralism and universal liberalism alike, and not without contradictions. Upon this amalgamatio n of ideological elements are constructed (and reinforced since 1982) a representation of the Canadian nation made up of numerous cultural minorities, two official languages, and ten equal provinces, and a strong central state that looks after its flock (McRoberts 1997). According to this representation, federal institutions possess a moral superiority, insofar as they are the symbols of Canadian unity, and ensure not only the respect of equality among the provinces and among citizens, but also the protection of minorities in Canada. (19) This presumption of moral superiority is based on the representation of a Canada « which has no history of slavery, » « which did not exterminate the Indians, » « which allowed francophones to keep their institutions and their language, » and « which is more egalitarian than the United States » because it is concerned with maintaining its social programs.

In Quebec, however, the dominant representations diverge in many ways from those prevailing in English Canada (Meisel, Rocher, and Silver 1999). The historical development of Quebec society is generally defined as a shift from an ethnic model of the nation to a model which is at once civic, territorial, pluralistic, inclusive, and francophone (Juteau and McAndrew 1992). Because the thesis of self-determination is largely shared by both federalist and sovereignist Quebeckers (see the political parties’ and Claude Ryan’s positions on the recourse to the Supreme Court), the idea that Quebeckers constitute « an ethnic minority like any other in Canada » is perceived as an insult and as nonsense in historical terms. Sovereignists believe that the current « psychosis of national unity » in English Canada is attributable to a baring of abstract Canadian universalism, which has occluded concrete social and political relations (Meisel, Rocher, and Silver 1999).

The backdrop to slips in recent months consists of the constitutive elements of the Canadian « national idea. » They are based either on a presumed homogeneity of the Canadian nation — expressed by the idea that Quebeckers are an internal minority that cannot be assimilated to universalism (What does Quebec Want?) –, or on the idea of difference (externalized), by opposing the pluralist and universalist conception of the nation to this ethnic group with racist designs. Here, we are dealing with a deconstruction of universalist ideals into ethnicizing discourse articulated around an opposition between universalism and particularism, certain liberal traditions and the selection of re-actualized historical elements — among others: the loyalism (the moral distinction from the United States), the constitutional compromise of 1982, the Charter, and the image of a sovereignist movement supported only by the interests of a petite bourgeois francophone elite.

The Transition from One Level to Another

Alternatives have been absent from the post-referendum « constitutional debate » since 1995. Between Plan A and Plan B, appeals to the Supreme Court and the partitionist movement, the feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction of the Canadian population with political life has reached a nadir, particularly visible during the 1997 federal elections. This sentiment has in large part been responsible for opening a space for the expression of feelings of malaise stemming from the fear by some of Quebec sovereignty (more tangible for Canadians since the results of the October 1995 referendum) and the fear among others of reprisal (which revives a circular « victim/aggressor » logic for a number of Quebeckers). The rise of intolerance and ethnicizing discourses among Anglo-Canadians is occurring at a time when the turmoil and the dread in the face of uncertainties are strongest, when the irreducibility of political positions and the absence of new solutions lead to feelings of worry and even guilt, casting the Canadian c onstitutional order into doubt. At the same time, numerous politicians constantly tell them that they live « in the best country in the world, » with institutions that are « morally superior to non-egalitarian » American institutions and Quebec’s « ethnic » institutions. The circular logic of racism can then become convenient (Memmi): those who reject this « best country in the world, » this multicultural, bilingual, and egalitarian country, are either « ethnics who cannot be assimilated » to universalism, or « false Canadians » who hate us and no doubt deserve our hatred. These « unstable, » « dissatisfied » people, who want to destroy the nice balance, justify our legitimate self-defence, which, in turn, is justified by assaults (real or imaginary) by these Others, who try to make us feel guilty.

Generally speaking, collective conflicts are nourished by these ingredients. The step from fear to hostility, then from hostility to aggression, is easily made. Fear, first expressed in the form of « We love Quebec » on October 27, 1995, was succeeded by a new partitionist movement among anglophone Quebeckers who feared losing their membership in Canada’s majority group. (20) This movement, marginalized at first, was subsequently legitimated by the federal government, which now no longer excludes two possibilities: that of formulating territorial claims during negotiations with a sovereign Quebec, (21) in order to attach some « federalist enclaves » to Canada; and that of reprisals or even defending its territory by force. Although there has been a constant fear of Canada’s balkanization in English Canada (Denis 1993), it is used much more as a weapon against the adversary (partition, Plan B, etc.). We saw ideologically rationalized justifications in order to make these fears politically legitimate. Finally, in t he past few months, the Canadian media have provided eloquent examples of the de-legitimation of the Parti Quebecois government through the naturalization and demonization (even Nazification) of sovereignists: Lawrence Martin’s controversial biography of Lucien Bouchard; Dr. Rakoff’s psychological portrait; the reactions of the various anglophone media which published Rakoff’s argument on the front page without any criticism (Ottawa Citizen, Maclean’s, and the Sunday Province from Vancouver, which displayed a photograph of Bouchard and the headline « Is this man crazy? »), or went as far as publishing sensationalist articles about Lucien Bouchard’s « neurons » (Saturday Night, September, 1997); and the « Levine Affair. »

Throughout this series of events, racist discourse exceeded simple fear, and went up various levels. The four « Affairs » discussed below demonstrate how repetitive this discourse has been and how it has reached increasingly disturbing degrees, going from accusation to demonization, and from opinion to action principle in the Levine Affair. They illustrate at once the multiplication of racializing slips, their spread into various contexts, and their progressive aggravation since 1995: the Weiner case among politicians; the Rakoff Affair among experts; the Martin and Francis cases among journalists; and the Levine Affair, which involved journalists, politicians, and popular movements.

Gerry Weiner:

From Accusation to Demonization via Inferiorization through Language

In the Case involving Gerry Weiner, former federal Minister of Immigration, the arguments used are clearly based on the idea that Quebeckers constitute an ethnic group trying to impose (by force) its language onto others, and not a society possessing liberal and democratic institutions, as well as a diversified public, social, and cultural life. In this view, it is unacceptable that French become the integration language for immigrants.

In August 1997, Weiner accused the sovereignist government of Quebec of wanting to create an « ethnocentric Francophone enclave » through its immigration policy. In his press conference, held in Ottawa on August 28, 1997, he labelled the Quebec immigration policy « racist » because it would favour persons who spoke French to the detriment of those who spoke another language. Two mechanisms are employed here: demonization and inferiorization of Quebec institutions. The demonization of the adversary occurs through the historical decontextualization of Quebec’s public policies. Yet, objectively speaking, the current selection grid for immigration applicants (and its point system), as well as the efforts made to encourage people from francophone countries to immigrate to Quebec, are the results of policies adopted by the Quebec Liberal Party government, policies which Weiner never denounced when he was federal Minister of Immigration and which have not changed since. The mechanism intended to demonstrate the moral su periority of Canadian institutions in order to de-legitimate the PQ government is then employed: « This country had a non-discriminatory immigration policy. It’s clear that Quebec is building an ethnocentric French-speaking enclave by a careful method of selecting immigrants » (The Suburban September 3, 1997; A-1). The opposition between universalism and particularism remains intact. In his declaration, Weiner even asked the federal government to put a stop to this manoeuvre, even though Quebec has not changed its policy since the accord signed with the federal government in 1991. « The federal government is sitting by, silently watching the separatists ram their agenda down the throats of Canadians by imposing racist and discriminatory immigration policies … Where is Ottawa? » His discourse adopts arguments which, by extension, approach a colonialist discourse: the federal government must put Quebec in its proper place as a minority in the Canadian system, and keep an eye on its schemes to protect it against itself.

What can be observed here is the presumption of the moral superiority of Canadian immigrat ion policy, the historical decontextualization of Quebec policies, and the strategic use of facts in existence for several years against the adversary in order to de-legitimate it to its advantage. First, the accusation of racism presupposes that what is racist is primarily defined by race. However, this cannot be true of the immigration policy since it contains no racial criteria. But the accusation can only be maintained through the confusion or amalgamation of two notions: language and race. The author presumes that language (French) is a racial criterion, thereby « biologizing » those who speak this language. Is it necessary to remind a former Minister of Immigration that both the Canadian and the Quebec immigration policies give points for language, without their being the basis for elimination? The provisions of the two policies with regard to language have, moreover, been judged to be compatible with both Charters of Rights and Liberties (Canada’s and Quebec’s), because they are skills which are evaluate d (language is a skill which can be acquired), and not inherent characteristics in individuals.

Then, since all immigration policies in the world are selective in their choice of candidates, the author displays a prejudice more unfavourable toward a linguistic criterion (although it can be universalized, since a language can be acquired) than toward a number of other immigration criteria assessing financial and even class status, which are taken into account in most immigration policies throughout the world. These policies generally favour candidates who can be more easily integrated into the job market (candidates who have $500,000 in their pockets rather than the street musician from Singapore). In Canada, economic compatibility is the only eliminatory criterion in the selection of candidates for immigration.

These ethnicizing remarks activate the elements of the national myth in two ways: first, through the conviction — stemming directly from the structure of the myth (universalism versus particularism) — that Quebec is an ethnic minority community incapable of defending individual rights or of claiming universalism; and, second, through the strategic use of this belief — ideology’s « power of persuasion » by virtue of « immediate political necessities » (Arendt 1982:71) — in order to disqualify and delegitimate, through demonization, Quebec sovereignists’ intentions with regard to language. Without the advantages of federal institutions, which ensure national unity and the respect of rights, this minority group (Quebeckers) is considered incapable of governing itself (« Where is Ottawa? ») and, especially, of protecting and respecting the individual rights characteristic of the liberal tradition. Since, in this view, the sovereignist project is particularist, ethnic, and racist — because it rejects the so-called universalism of Canadian institutions — its components must necessarily be so too, especially the French language, which francophones want to « impose on immigrants » through their immigration and integration policies. The objective here is to delegitimate sovereignists through various uses: accusations of racism, threats of reprisals, inferiorization of the French language, and demonization of the political elite.

Vivian Rakoff:

From Ethnicization to Demonization via Conspiracy Theories

The examples of demonization, particularly through the use of the opposition between universalism and particularism, were then multiplied. The positions taken by the « eminent » Dr. Vivian Rakoff (The Globe and Mail, August 26, 1997: A-1, A-4) illustrate this process perfectly. Toward the end of August 1997, he appeared in the media on several occasions, first, with a psychological profile (sketched from a distance) of Premier Lucien Bouchard, and then with a « memo » on Quebec nationalism sent to Liberal MP John Godfrey in 1996, in which he stated that Quebec’s political life and public policies were caking a « gloomy, » « Germanic, » and « volkisch » direction, and that he hoped this direction would be increasingly subjected to the « beneficial » influence of the Enlightenment (which, according to the author, had exclusively French and English roots, thereby excluding German Aufklarung philosophers and other European intellectuals). In the same memo, parts of which were published in The Globe and Mail on August 26, 199 7 (A- 15), Rakoff considered sovereignists to be in the grip of a « politics of desire, » with a « politics of resentment » as its essential component. Led by a « political poet of the blood » (Bouchard), Quebeckers were, he claimed, dreamers, and « when one enters the arena of the dream, the rules of reason are suspended. » He concluded that: « If they have the thrill of smoke, darkness and ancient yearnings, our side will have to have daylight, and hope. The politics of civility has to fight hard against the politics of desire » (Ibid.).

Rakoff maintained, in his 1996 « memo, » that the pluralist and modern conception of Quebec was nothing more than a « ruse » employed by sovereignist intellectuals:

Even the most ardent Quebec nationalists recognize that their particular « politics of desire » require a package which will make it acceptable to contemporary sensitivities. They need a contemporary disguise for old longings … In a recent New Yorker article the point is well made that Quebec really wants a 19th-century ethnic state, but that the leaders and intellectuals try to square the circle by packaging it into a late 20th-century notion of a pluralistic society, bound only by the use of French as the lingua franca

The Globe and Mail, August 26, 1997: A-15

In his now-famous « psychological profile » of Lucien Bouchard, Rakoff used a spectacular demonization of the accused. He drew his « portrait » on the basis of Bouchard’s autobiography and various newspaper articles (which ones?) without ever speaking to the party concerned. Although he claimed to have acted as « an ordinary citizen, » without considering this profile as a diagnosis, he concluded that Bouchard suffered from an « aesthetic character disorder » (The Globe and Mail, August 23, 1997). Bouchard was depicted as a madman, excessively emotional, an ambitious narcissist, unstable, and a « bad shepherd, » who induced Quebeckers to be « bad » Canadians, and who would abandon them at an opportune moment, because that was his « nature. » Moreover, Rakoff insinuated that this so-called chaotic personality embodied the personal history of every Quebecker. In The Globe and Mail (August 23 1997: A-10), he said that he was struck,

… by how closely the personal history of the Quebec Premier embodies that of Quebeckers in general. Like the province he represents, Mr. Bouchard has made the transition in his lifetime from an agrarian, Catholic background to a secular one … The constant word we hear is we were humiliated, we were insulted and his personal fate rhymes with the fate of his community.

Diane Francis and Lawrence Martin:

The Recurrence of Demonization and Conspiracy Theories

In her books and articles in The Financial Post, The Suburban, and Maclean’s in recent years, Diane Francis has clearly been employing a double rhetoric: on the one hand, there is the demonization of « secessionists » (« Who will never be reasonable, » The Suburban, September 24, 1997: A-13), a claim based on the presumption of a « separatist Conspiracy » (see chap. 14 of her book, Fighting for Canada); and, on the other hand, there is the victimization of the anglophone majority group and an accompanying populist rhetoric of legitimate self-defence, based on the presumption that the adversary is racist. The basis and tone of her statements are akin to anti-Semitic discourses of the 1930s and 1940s, which were based on the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy, unbeknown to the population, and which had to be brought out into the open to reveal the « true nature » of the Jews:

Quebec separatism is not the legitimate struggle for self-determination. It is a racially motivated conspiracy that has run roughshod over human rights, fair play, the Quebec economy, and democracy. The separatists should be treated like the ruthless elite that they are. … English Canadians still remain in the dark and do not fully understand the extent of separatist wrongdoing. The separatists have cheated. Lied. Hidden facts. Revised history. Disenfranchised thousands of voters. Fraudulently spoiled ballots, then covered up their crimes. They have tampered with the armed forces of the nation. Stripped anglophones and allophones of their civil rights for more than three decades. Purposely driven anglophones out of Quebec. Passed laws that legalized employment discrimination and educational discrimination. Ruined Montreal’s economy. Engaged in acts that transgress international treaties Canada has signed, and otherwise embarassed Canada internationally. All of this has cost each and every Canadian dearly as a result of higher interest rates on mortgages, consumer loans, and government borrowings.

Fighting For Canada, 1996: 184-185

She urges Canadian citizens to get their municipal councils to adopt resolutions for « remaining in Canada, » pushing them « to unite » against the adversary. « They are the original partitionists, not those of us fighting for Canada » (The Suburban, September 24, 1997: A-13). The real « secessionists, » who are in the minority anyway, are from rural areas: « Montreal, with two-thirds of the province’s gross domestic product, voted No and will do so again … So the next referendum is about whether rural Quebec wants to leave Canada or not. » (Ibid.). Francis constantly steers the debate to the issue of the legitimacy of the « struggle against sovereignists » instead of to the « reasons » for Quebec nationalism, or even to the best possible solutions in the search for the common good:

Equally telling in the most recent Quebec poll is that there is only 34 per cent support for secession. The rigorous and emotional defence of this great country has made all the difference. Not concessions and not constitutionalizing. Power to the people.

The Suburban, September 24, 1997: A-13

Journalist Lawrence Martin, author of the biography, The Antagonist (1997), made a point of distancing himself publicly from Rakoff’s « profile » when his book came out. But, by basing himself in part on this profile and by adopting an approach similar to Rakoff’s, Martin clearly demonized Lucien Bouchard, not only in his biography, but also in an article published in The Globe and Mail (August 30, 1997, pp. D-1-2): « Lucien Bouchard is a magnificent inferno of myth and mystique, of hubris and seething brilliance. The Lucifer of our land. » Because Bouchard was raised and educated in a Catholic culture, prefers French literature (over Canadian literature), and only learned English at the age of 40 — « a significant contributing factor to his sense of being on the outside, » Rakoff wrote in his memo published in The Globe and Mail) — he therefore belongs to a « most uncanadian culture » (« Who will lead us, » The Globe and Mail, August 30, 1997: D-1-2). Through him, all Quebecker s are targeted, because Bouchard embodies the tortuous route Quebec has been following for the past thirty years: « He was simply following the tortuous route of the Quebec conscience on the unity issue. This reasoning is not so easily accepted in the rest of Canada, where chameleonism can only be taken so far » (Ibid.). These statements are very similar to those made by Rakoff, as we saw earlier.

According to Martin, Lucien Bouchard transcends Quebec « reality » because he has been « in contact » with French intellectuals and French culture (by reading Proust and Rousseau in his youth, as if young English-Canadians didn’t read Shakespeare!). But, on the other hand, he embodies his community as a whole. For both Rakoff and Martin, the function of racism is guided not only by demonization, but also by totalization: the individual possesses the characteristics (Catholic, tortuous conscience, etc.) of an entire social group, and, consequently, the entire group is stigmatized as tortuous, complainers, etc. Moreover, don’t Francophones dominate political life and the justice system in Canada? This is what Lawrence Martin argues, following on the heels of the Reform Party:

Francophones dominate the national-unity issue. The PM is French, so is the entire third party — the Bloc quebecois. The Clerk of the Privy Council is French, so is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Speaker of the House, the leader of the Senate, the chief of staff to the Prime Minister, the Governor-General and a slew of top cabinet ministers.

The Globe and Mail, August 30, 1997: D-2

In the same article, Martin, not unlike Rakoff, considered the irrational, unpredictable, and passionate personality of Bouchard (« He is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ») and claimed that Quebeckers were fools if they believed that Bouchard would be their saviour (« he has shifted so much in the past that he can surely shift again »). He concluded his article with a surprisingly irrational statement: he hoped that Bouchard would « convert » (in the right direction) and start working to « save Canada »: « And logic suggests that the one man who can turn from Lucifer to Gabriel and become the country’s great saviour is none other than Lucien Bouchard himself. » For, ironically enough, the « Gorbachev » of Canada is not Mr. Chretien, but Mr. Bouchard. « Maybe, in his musings, Lucien Bouchard may come up with a whole new vocabulary for the Canadian federation » (The Globe and Mail, August 30, 1997: D-1-2).

The psychological profile and, after that, Martin’s biography, appeared at a time when a kind of collective anti-Quebecker venting was (re-)emerging. These portraits opened the door for the naturalization of Bouchard’s character; witness the September 1997 issue of Saturday Night, which went beyond Lucien Bouchard’s character to his neurons, thereby reinforcing the biologization of the « enemy. » Several articles and letters by readers accentuated the mechanism of demonization by establishing a natural link between sovereignists and Nazis: (Excerpts cited and translated in French by Voir, June 18-24, 1998: 12. Unofficial retranslation)

There is a parallel between what happened in Europe and what is taking place here. [The Nazis] first founded a party, and then they infiltrated the unions and institutions before they got themselves a charismatic leader. What is taking place today corresponds to what happened in Germany before the war. Now we are in the process of moving on to ethnic purification. (…) Hitler was crazy; I don’t think Bouchard is.

Anna Terrana, Liberal MP from Vancouver, July 1996

If the members of the PQ get indignant when I describe their party as neo-fascist, let them. Any party which supports a law that can sentence a citizen to a $7,000 dollar fine for having put out a sign with the inscription « Today’s special/Specialite du jour » has a nasty totalitarian streak. Sure, the law was passed by the Liberals in Quebec, which illustrates another fact: Francophone culture in itself isn’t as intrinsically democratic as the cultures which are based on British traditions. If the separatists someday get their state, it will be an unpleasant country, bureaucratic, state-controlled and intolerant.

Barbara Amiel, Maclean’s, June 1997

The « Levine Affair »:

Nazification of Sovereignists, Populist Mobilization and Legitimation by Politicians

It was during the « Levine Affair » that the use of demonization reached its peak, and that the analogy between sovereignists and Nazis was the most repetitive in some newspapers. Certain journalists (John Robson, Susan Riley, etc.) and radio hosts (Lowell Green) exploited the demagogic use of existing fears and hateful prejudices among the population, and even fostered their incubation, trivialization, (22) and legitimation. Some newspapers, such as The Ottawa Citizen and The Ottawa Sun, were opposed to Levine’s candidature from the start. This « Affair » enabled racism to reach another level, in discourse as well as in practice: racism became an action and mobilization principle based on anti-Quebec sentiments which were strongly crystallized around David Levine, who, in some media, was presented as a « traitor » and an enemy, and not as a political adversary. This nuance is significant: adversaries maintain a status and equal rights, and are inscribed in a relationship based on negotiation, whereas enemies are t hose with whom one refuses any type of relationship in order to eliminate, exterminate, or destroy them.

At the beginning of the controversy, some newspapers cautiously displayed prejudices against David Levine. On May 11, Susan Riley, columnist for The Ottawa Citizen, argued:

There may be no legal, practical or even moral justification for revoking David Levine’s appointment as head of the new Ottawa hospital, but it still rankles … why should someone who prefers an independent Quebec to a united Canada choose to work in an alien territory?

But the more the controversy escalated, the more the racist slips were multiplied and reinforced. In his editorial on May 22, John Robson tried to justify « Why Levine has to got to go » (The Ottawa Citizen). First, he maintained that since separatism was a position that offended the community, a former sovereignist could not be the head of an institution serving the community. For Robson, the fact that Levine was a sovereignist (even if he was clearly no longer politically active), and the fact that it was not clear whether he still was one, placed Levine in the enemy camp: « Not knowing that he is one isn’t the same as knowing that he isn’t one … If you ran for the Nazis in 1979, never repudiated them, and won’t say if you are one now, you are one. Right? » He thus voiced a doubt about the way Levine might act towards the clientele of the Ottawa hospital, without verifying whether he truly served the federalists in Quebec differently when he oversaw the merger of the three Montreal hospitals. The correlation with Nazism (and not with communism, for instance) would appear to be a means for justifying his argumentation, one which is used on several occasions:

One can claim that political beliefs should have nothing to do with one’s job. But if you hire someone with outrageous beliefs, you outrage the community. Obviously. How many Levine supporters think it would be OK if he was a Nazi? … What we do know is that Jean-Louis Roux (who supports Mr. Levine) had to step down as lieutenant-governor of Quebec because he once drew a swastika on his sleeve in a moment of youthful folly … In Quebec, federalism and sovereignty are just two political options. On this side of the Ottawa river it doesn’t work that way. Over here, Liberal, Conservative, Reform and NDP are political options. Separatists want to destroy our home and native land … That’s why, although separatism is clearly not Nazism, it’s equally clearly on the wrong side of the line dividing opinions that don’t outrage the community from ones that do.

The Ottawa Citizen, May 22

Sovereignists and Nazis are on the same level, a parallel which is made naturally, which is repeated and made commonplace, as if sovereignists had committed the same degree of atrocities as the Nazis, and as if the actions of Nazis could easily be reduced to those of sovereignists. This is a clear case of historical revisionism.

In addition, this parallel affects that half of Quebec’s population that voted for sovereignty during the 1995 referendum. Yet, Robson denies being a racist or a bigot, even if Levine appears, in his discourse, all the more a traitor because he is Jewish, anglophone, bilingual, and sovereignist, all at once: (23)

How can it be bigotry? Mr. Levine is an anglophone, albeit a bilingual one. Anglophones angry at other anglophones over an anglophone they hired is hardly anti-French prejudice. As for racism, everyone in the story is white. Of course Mr. Levine is of Jewish ancestry. But it isn’t Jean Chretien who mutters darkly about monied ethics. It’s Jacques Parizeau. And we all know he didn’t mean Haitians … No, if racism is a problem, it’s David Levine who associates with bigots, not his critics … Mr. Levine is still in bed with intolerant people.

The Ottawa Citizen, May 22

Robson supported and justified a rally of approximately 500 persons who went to listen to the hospital’s Board of Governors at the Administration Centre on May 19, 1998. In his book, The David Levine Affair, Marlin (1998) sustains that « on the evening of May 19, 1998, an ugly, noisy, militant and uncompromising face of English Canada was presented to the world. » During this populist mobilization, many citizens manifested a clearly hate-laden discourse expressive of their fear of sovereignists and their rage:

This is an avowed separatist. We shouldn’t give this person the time of day, let alone a $300,O0O-a-yearjob. We should no longer be polite to these bastards. He should go and tell Lucien he needs a job.

Roger Hull, citizen, quoted in The Ottawa Citizen, May 20

If English Canadians are finally mad enough about separatism to start vocally denouncing it, even if they aren’t bilingual elitists who are accustomed to microphones and sound good in public meetings, it’s not just understandable. It’s commendable. Quebecers might even respect us for it… Whether they do or do not, though, the bottom line is that if you want to burn my house down, I won’t invite you over for dinner. Not even if you promise not to bring any matches this time.

J. Robson, The Ottawa Citizen, May 22

Mike Harris fell into step by stating that:

Given his background, if that’s what he still believes in, he wouldn’t have been our first choice … Surely, there is an administrative capability within Ontario, or at least within Canada, or even a non-Canadian who believes in Canada and keeping Canada together.

The Ottawa Citizen, May 21; McDonald, The Gazette, May 22

But he was not the only politician who opposed Levine’s candidature, or at least who adopted an attitude expressing doubts about Levine:

Ontario MP Garry Guzzo said he feared that Levine would fill the hospital’s administration with sovereignists (The Gazette, May 16); federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Stephane Dion maintained that the manifestations of intolerance experienced by Levine were inevitable as long as the threat of separation existed (The Gazette, May 16); Ontario’s Minister of Health, Elizabeth Witmer, wondered whether the Board of Governors of the Ottawa Hospital should not reconsider its decision, given the impact it would have on the community (The Gazette, May 16); Ottawa’s Mayor, Jim Watson, maintained that Levine’s candidature would affect the hospital’s fundraising. Because of this, Levine « should do the honourable thing and resign … I think if I was David Levine I would resign and put the good of the hospital at the forefront…, to hire someone who is a known separatist doe sn’t make a whole lot of sense » (The Ottawa Citizen, May 20, 1998); the Mayor of Gloucester wondered how David Levine, who had been in the service of the Quebec government in New York and a sovereignist, …could keep his personal political beliefs separate from his role as the head of a public institution … His mandate is to run the hospital, [but] human nature says he has beliefs that want to destroy our country and somehow, somewhere it infiltrates into your persona. He even went to New York for the Quebec government. His past background will have a bearing on his job. I think they should rescind his appointment and get somebody else.

The Ottawa Citizen, May 20, 1998

But, on May 26, when the Board decided to keep David Levine at his post, the Ottawa Citizen attenuated its positions. Following Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s speech in favour of freedom of thought in a democratic society — with which some unions, the leader of Quebec’s Liberal party, and the National Assembly (which adopted a motion along these lines), a few Ontario MPs and former Premiers agreed — some media recanted. In an editorial, The Ottawa Citizen denied any intention to compare sovereignists to Nazis, arguing that the analogy only served to illustrate the limits which must be imposed when it comes to respecting « freedom of opinion. »

This is not to equate the Parti quebecois with the Nazi Party, but merely to test the definition of what is meant by the « political beliefs » that are to have no role in judging a person’s suitability for appointed office. Hard cases may make bad law but, as the country found out last week, hard cases are the only way to test principles … When is it legitimate to refuse a person public employment because of his beliefs?

The Ottawa Citizen, May 26, 1998

Racist slips had never affected the political and media space as strongly before, even in the Reform Party’s election campaign during the course of the last federal elections, which had also been quite indicative of how the mechanisms of demonizing and globalizing the accused operate. By externalizing and demonizing political leaders from Quebec in its television commercials, the Reform Party manifested a clearly racist discourse. The message was that these leaders were not Canadians like other leaders, had been invading the federal political scene for years, and, in any case, the population would no longer want them as Prime Ministers of Canada. The implied message was that all politicians from Quebec were the same, shared the same goals or values, were « invasive, » and embodied all that is going badly in Canada.


The racist slips which have emerged in the « hard line » political context indicate how the two logics of racism most often merge: the logic of inferiorization is only effective (or active) when it also operates from an accusatory differentiation aiming to justify « legitimate self-defence » or, eventually, aggression. Racism truly starts when the potentialities of aggression are being prepared and when there is an attempt to justify it through the denigration of those viewed, initially, as adversaries and, then, as enemies. And examples of apocalyptic scenarios, threats, and preparation for potentialities of aggression have not been lacking in Canadian current affairs in the past few months. Quebec’s political elite constitute a target of choice for the delegitimation of secessionist aspirations: those trouble-makers are going to destroy the country and lead it into civil war. Why? Because they are pushing Quebeckers into becoming outlaws of sorts, and do not have the right to separate by using clever ruses and a process of popular consultation which has become illegitimate (repeated, « illegal » referendums (Guy Bertrand) and which uses « bad questions » (Dion and Chretien)). But, even though almost all Quebeckers have at least one family member who voted « Yes » in the last referendum, if they weren’t victims of a vast conspiracy and led by « emotional » leaders with « unstable » personalities (Bouchard) or « revenge mongers » full of « tricks » (Parizeau), they would be quite placid and everything would fall into place, just like before. This « before » is turned into a golden age. Aggressiveness and fear stem from the desire to return to this mythical « before, » to a lost harmony, to a self-satisfied image of the « best country in the world. » They encourage the search for a clear picture of what is going wrong. The status of Quebec therefore becomes convenient for some: the major cause of the country’s political and economic instability and its « national identity » woes is traced to Quebec’s political agitators.

Sovereignists are on the particularist and dark side, and not on the side of « Reason » (Rakoff). Lucien Bouchard is the « Lucifer of our land, » whom we should constantly mistrust (Martin) as the leader of a vast conspiracy (Francis). David Levine remains a doubtful case and a traitor as long as he does not publicly embrace Canadian unity (Robson and others). Through a sort of globalizing turn, Quebeckers control the country (Martin), without being « true » Canadians (the population, according to the Reform Party, no longer wants them as Prime Ministers; and their elite, claims Martin, belong to a « most uncanadian culture »). Isn’t it necessary to protect Quebec citizens against this sovereignist government — and against themselves, who gave the government its power — since its dark design is to make Quebec an « ethnocentric francophone enclave » (Weiner)?

What stands out, first and most clearly, in the Rakoff, Weiner, Martin, Francis, and Levine « cases » — in addition to numerous articles and statements from other citizens or personalities — is the use of universalist arguments (drawn from the Canadian national conception) to de-legitimate the Other. Secondly, they converge to the extent that almost all of these cases contain several elements of a contemporary form of « neo-racism » (Balibar 1988), namely, the naturalization of differences (real or imaginary) in languages, cultures, and life-styles, the discursive racialization of which is implicit and implied, but in which the functions and classical mechanisms of racism remain unchanged: the demonization and essentialization of the accused (institutions or the Quebec government); the accusation through the idea of a conspiracy; the generalization to an entire population; the legitimation and the justification of its status, situation, negation, or, eventually, aggression (Memmi [1982] 1994). Finally, these in cidents mark the shift from one level to another, from mere marginalized prejudice to populist mobilization with racist undertones.

With the levelling of the socio-economic conditions of francophones and anglophones in Canada over the years, and, according to several studies (Dion 1991, 1992; Norman 1995), the sharing of a large number of values (tolerance, equality of men and women, pacifism, social equity, etc.), some people wonder why the Canadian federation is showing many signs of a breakdown. Or, again, why have these elements of similarity not been able to consolidate a national feeling with regard to Canada among Quebeckers, and to make them into « Canadians like others »? The famous question, still asked today, « What does Quebec want? », reveals the full depth of the astonishment, indeed the incomprehension, of a majority group faced with a minority that differs little with regard to values and socio-economic conditions, but that would like to destroy the « established order. » This incomprehension is all the stronger inasmuch as it is based on the conviction that Quebeckers are a « minority like any other, » and that Canada is « the bes t country in the world, » universalist, open to differences, bilingual, etc. The conviction among some Anglo-Canadians that unity existed in the past is part of the national myth, and kindles a strong desire to maintain or to re-establish it. In other words, the more Quebec resembles other provinces, the more it has modernized and universalized its public policies and institutions (Kymlicka 1995:88), the more a particular discourse tends to particularize or ethnicize it. Racializing discourse accuses the closest possible group (and its members). Quebec is depicted as a minority so embroiled in its relations with its partner that the metaphor of the couple is constantly applied. This metaphor, a constant in caricatures of, and statements about, Canada-Quebec relations, contains certain tendencies that are both racializing and sexist, and it would seem worthwhile to analyse these more closely. Is not Quebec generally represented as the woman (she is less an embodiment of universality than the man), one who is ne ver satisfied, who plays the victim even though she consented to the marriage, is supported by the federal government, is guilty of her dissatisfaction with respect to the couple, and has to suffer the negative consequences of the divorce (partition, even civil war)?

These slips show that by exposing the myth of the Canadian nation, the results of the 1995 referendum have activated an identity crisis among English Canadians, a breakdown of universalist ideals, and a desire for revenge. The crisis, born of the confrontation between myth and reality, gave rise to a desire for compensation, giving free reign to racist slips based on the irreducibility of the universalist myth (« federal institutions have always been universalist, protectors of unity and individual rights ») and on the naturalization of the Other (Quebeckers, via the sovereignist « conspiracy, » Lucien Bouchard’s « unstable nature » and « neurons »).

These slips, which have taken up considerable space in the media in recent months, have reached levels that might lead to potentially more serious ideological tendencies. In this respect, the crystallization of racism in populist political formations in Europe gives pause for thought, not to mention the Reform Party’s last election campaign and the populist mobilization against David Levine. Intellectuals, politicians, and even the media have a significant role to play in rediscovering a common horizon of meaning enabling the opening of the space of public deliberation — currently locked into a circular and self-justifying accusatory logic. Is it not their primary role to reflect upon the avenues that are most likely to lead to a common good? To keep the space of deliberation open, these actors must rely on the universalist components of the two national visions, that is, on their capacities for recognition and institutional adjustments, on their negotiable and non-irreducible nature, by virtue of their volu ntarist, contractual, and pluralist functions. It is necessary not only to begin a real critique of institutions, but also to evacuate the obsession with national identity which, on the one side, is articulated around the reinforcement of the federal state, the Charter, and a mythified version of the Canadian multicultural project, and which, on the other side, is based on a logic of ideological victimization and crystallization of the political project.


(1.) A slightly different version of this article was published in French in Politique et societes, vol. 18, no.2, 1999, pp. 101-132.

(2.) Government rhetoric aside, federal policies on multiculturalism and Quebec interculturalism policies have experienced a very similar development as far as their implementation and actual practices are concerned. Both moved from an emphasis on the maintenance of cultures and the encouragement of cultural differences to giving priority to intercultural reconciliation, the struggle against racism, and support for egalitarian participation (Guay 1985; Juteau 1994, McAndrew 1995, Potvin and McAndrew 1996). For example, both governments recently took a similar but parallel turn, with each developing an approach to citizenship based on diversity, inclusion, solidarity, and the sharing of responsibilities between sociological partners, as is revealed by the new Canadian policy on multiculturalism, the creation of the Quebec Ministere des Relations avec les citoyens et de l’Immigration, and extensive public consultations organized by the two governments (eg. Comite senatorial permanent des Affaires sociales, des Sciences et de la Technologie, 1993; Quebec’s Bill 18; etc.).

(3.) The expression « other Canadians » refers to what is now the commonly called « The Rest of Canada. » The expression « Quebeckers » includes all inhabitants of Quebec’s territory.

(4.) Prior to being based on a relationship of competition, relations between Quebec and Canada (or between French-speaking Canadians and English-speaking Canadians) were based on a relation of domination, which still informs the current relations of competition insofar as it has nourished the construction of an « Us » and a « Them, » and as it recurs to relations between majorities and minorities.

(5.) Jacques Parizeau’s remarks have brought out the paradox according to which the « ethnics, » in his opinion, are those who refused to support the « universalist » sovereignty project, whereas the « Rest of Canada » generally accuses the sovereignists of promoting an « ethnic » project.

(6.) In this respect, consider the positions held by some English-Canadian intellectuals and popular groups in the debate about the Meech Lake Agreement (McKay 1988; Mahoney 1988; Denis 1992, 1993). These positions are largely based on the idea that the recognition of collective rights for Quebec would amount to preferential treatment which would affect the rights of other minority groups (women, aboriginal peoples, etc.) and go against principles which have become « fundamental » in English Canada: the equality of the provinces; the « virtues » of the Charter; the reinforcement of the federal state as the only guarantor of the distinction from the United States and of the preservation of social programs and individual rights.

(7.) The term « slip » will be used to indicate those discourses that exceed the limits of « reasonable » democratic discourse. Some of these discourses were made into an issue by the media in recent years. These discourses are « slips » insofar as, under analysis, they betray racializing tendencies and certain, sometimes mythical, elements of « national identity. » For a better understanding of this term, the reader is referred to Sections 2 and 3 of this article.

(8.) The repeated failures which have characterized the constitutional debate for the past thirty years have affected not only Quebec’s but also English-Canada’s « national identity. » They have given rise to racializing slips about Quebec, on the one hand, and to the resurgence of small anti-bilingual groups in Quebec, especially since 1995 (for instance, the small group of ultra-nationalists led by Raymond Villeneuve, who attacks mobilizing efforts by Alliance Quebec, not on the basis of racialized criteria, but on political and linguistic grounds), on the other. Until now, repeated constitutional failures have heightened, above all, tensions between Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec, and had much less affect on relations between the francophone majority and the so-called « ethnic » minorities. Former Premier Jacques Parizeau’s 1995 remarks about « ethnic votes » do not appear to have had the devastating effect on ethnic minorities which many people feared, since clearly racializing outbursts regarding minor ity groups have apparently subsided since the mid-1990s (according to the Anti-gang Division of the Montreal Urban community Police Department, the number of racial confrontations has decreased, and the small groups of skinheads and neo-Nazis disappeared around 1994). However, the sandwiching of ethnic minorities in this debate could lead to a search for scapegoats or for easy outlets, of which they will become the targets (Bataille, McAndrew, and Potvin 1998). In this regard, the « Levine Case » has indicated how the incidents linked to the constitutional crisis are likely to affect members of ethnic-minority groups, as much in English Canada as among Quebec nationalists who consider themselves social democrats and open to pluralism.

(9.) The Board of Governors of the Ottawa hospital chose David Levine as the director for the new hospital. He had been the director of the Verdun Hospital for ten years, president of the Association quebecoise des directeurs d’hopitaux, taught health administration at Concordia University, and was director of Notre-Dame Hospital between 1992-1997, which he merged with two other hospitals. He was a Parti Quebecois candidate in 1979, and Quebec’s Delegate General in New York. Levine’s candidature for the position of director at the Royal Ottawa Hospital was the object of a major controversy and has unleashed patriotic passions among Ottawa citizens because of his involvement with the Parti Quebecois in the past, as we will see further on in this article.

(10.) In 1993, Mel Hurtig, leader of the National Party of Canada, declared: « I don’t want the taxpayers’ money to support the cause of those people who want to destroy our country, » referring to Bloc Quebecois MPs who « should not have the right to sit in Parliament » without « swearing allegiance to Canada » (La Presse, May 8, 1993, p. D-20).

(11.) Galganov calls himself a victim of Quebec’s language laws and organizes demonstrations in shopping centres to get large stores to display more English signs. The new president of Alliance Quebec, William Johnson, took over from him. Cf., the demonstration at Lasalle City Hall on September 26, 1997.

(12.) On September 2, 1997, American radio show host Howard Stern, wrapped in a Canadian flag, asked on his show at CHOM-FM (the audience of which is 65 percent francophone): « What’s a francophone? » He suggested to francophones that they « return to France »(!), and claimed that francophones were the « greatest cowards on the planet, » « as stupid as the French, » because « they want to preserve their culture. What culture?, » etc. These comments were considered hateful and denounced by Quebec minister Serge Menard, as well as by the controversial Howard Galganov on his new morning radio program. The Manager of CHOM-FM stated that Stern’s remarks should not be taken seriously since they were jokes and meant to be provocative.

(13.) In the Canadian constitutional debate, it became almost impossible to analyze the historical facts without being suspected of using them as means to prove a political opinion.

(14.) In an upcoming study (Heritage-Canada, 1999-2000), I intend to carry out a more detailed analysis based on a more exhaustive selection of newspapers in each Canadian province.

(15.) One would have to resituate the evolution of Anglo-Canadian representations with respect to the « Quebec Question » over a number of years through, in particular, an examination of opinion polls, political decisions and discourses, and studies by Anglo-Canadian intellectuals. This work would involve considerable research, and I leave it to others to carry out this exercise. I do, however, refer you to the studies by Denis (1992, 1993) on the evolution of Anglo-Canadian progressive theories about Quebec, which went from a « contestatory enthusiasm » regarding Quebec’s self-determination at the beginning of the 1970s (Drache 1972; Teeple 1972; Laxer 1973) to a quasi-complete divergence from the Quebec analysts since 1982, and especially since the Free-Trade Agreement and the Meech Lake Agreement. This divergence is based on the idea that the promotion of the rights of individuals was at once guaranteed and linked to the centralization and the reinforcement of the federal state. Toward the end of the 1970s, a number of these analysts began to see in Quebec nationalism dark consequences for the Canadian nation, even among those who criticized the absence of the democratic tradition of Canadian institutions (Resnick 1990; Whitaker 1977). The fear that Quebec’s self-determination might lead to balkanization and the absorption of Canadian regions by the United States led some thinkers to favour a reinforcement of the central state (Stevenson 1979, 1988). With the constitutional reform of 1982, some commentators developed the notion of an « acceptable compromise » among the provinces (Cairns 1988; Whitaker 1984), which would become predominant in English Canada, in opposition to the sovereignist « unilateral imposition » thesis.

(16.) In a short article by P. Frisko and J.S. Gagne entitled « Hate. Quebec Seen Through The Eyes of English Canada, » the cultural weekly Voir (June 18-24, 1998) presented a loose collection of excerpts of remarks, articles, and readers’ letters which had appeared in the English-Canadian press in the preceding months.

(17.) « And the underlying social function is crafty: the term « ethnie, » by erasing the biogenetic presuppositions, has not so much put aside the term « race, » but, rather, the meaning of the term « race » has subreptitiously reinvested the term « ethnie ». » (Guillaumin 1992:13).

(18.) Memmi would certainly not agree with this point of view. In a text which became famous (1975), he maintained that the Quebec situation had « a resemblance and similarities to classical colonization, » even if one found « particularities which had to be taken into consideration » in a socio-historical analysis, such as its « enviable economic situation, » the importance of the United States in Quebec-Canada relations, and the relations with France. He nevertheless stated having noticed « among the English a number of traits common to colonizer, if only a barely restrained disdain for the customs, culture and language of Quebeckers, from which they benefited. » ([1982] 1994:95).

(19.) The Meech Lake debate revealed the importance of this dominant (Trudeauist) representation of Canada (McRoberts 1997). See, for example, Wells (1990), Laforest (1992), Swinton and Rogerson (1988), and Robert (1988).

(20.) This movement began with a first debate, organized by the Equality Party, between Bill Shaw, co-author of Partition, who wanted to make it into priority, and Brent Tyler, from the Committee for Canadian Unity, who advocated a poison-pill strategy in the event of Quebec separation. A month later, partition was on the agenda at a conference at McGill University, at which the federal cabinet minister Stephane Dion reaffirmed that « if Canada can be divided, so can Quebec. » Some time later, the Quebec Committee for Canada was created and lobbied for resolutions for « remaining Canadian, » adopted by a number of municipalities.

(21.) Letter from Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stephane Dion to Bernard Landry, dated August 27, 1997. The declaration was made by Dion during a broadcast of Tele-Quebec’s Quebec Plein ecran on September 11, 1997.

(22.) « Trivialization » is used here in the sense of making them commonplace or banal (banalisation in french).

(23.) Another example of this type of demonization emerged at the end of 1996, when Minister Doug Young attacked Osvaldo Nunez, a Bloc Quebecois member of parliament of Chilean origin, claiming that he was an immigrant who had come to « destroy » the country, and that he should « return to his country » if he continued to behave that way. English-Canadian newspapers reacted very little to this remark, notwithstanding the fact that it clearly contained all the elements of racism: inferiorization and underscoring the differences of an individual because of his origins; the dream of reestablishing order and homogeneity against those who are disrupting it (immigrants and sovereignists, even more when the one is also the other); the desire to exclude that which stains, etc. These « excesses » have reinforced the idea of a Canadian « vertical mosaic’ (Porter 1965), i.e. a hierarchical stratification of all cultural groups in relation to each other. While Porter at one point demonstrated its socio-economic scope, Doug Youn g confirmed its political scope. In fact, the remarks made by the Minister let it be understood that, in the Canada-Quebec dichotomy, immigrants are excluded; symbolically, they are part of a « separate » category and should not poke their noses into historical relations between the former « founding groups » (who wash their dirty laundry in private). When they step outside of their (ethnicized or racialized) category, and no longer speak as or on behalf of’ Italian-Canadians, Jewish-Canadians, or Chilean-Canadians (in short, as hyphenated Canadians), they sow confusion, blur the hierarchical structure of ethnicity, and, worse still, make it more difficult to reduce the sovereignist project to an « ethnocentric, racist, » and « ethnicist » dream


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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.

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