Airing a troubled past

Reading these words is not trivializing; it is hoisting a previous generation of violent separatists by their own petards.

1759 - Commémoration de la Conquête - 12 et 13 septembre 2009

The anniversary of the defining military confrontation on Canadian soil and the memory of Canada's only modern political assassination make for a contentious brew. A planned reading of the Front de libération du Québec's manifesto at an event on the Plains of Abraham marking the 250th anniversary of the battle there has raised the ire of the Quebec government. But the reading should go ahead; principles of free speech trump concerns about the political appeal of this marginal text, which will serve as a reminder of why Quebeckers rejected the FLQ's violent project.
The Sept. 12 and 13 event, dubbed Moulin à paroles ("Chatterbox"), features readings of poems, stories, letters and diary excerpts covering a range of Quebec writers and history, from Jacques Cartier to Mordecai Richler. It had been planned by Quebec artists in the place of a re-enactment of the battle itself. In response to the choice of the manifesto by the actor Luck Mervil, Premier Jean Charest spoke out against the event, saying, "We are not going to be associated with an event that trivializes the FLQ, terrorism and violence."
Mr. Charest's response is understandable, not least due to the brutal kidnapping and murder of the Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte by the FLQ, just days after the manifesto was broadcast. But rather than reflexively oppose anything that hints at a troubled past, consider the content of the manifesto. When Mr. Marvil reads, what will his audience hear? What many Quebeckers heard on the night of Oct. 8, 1970, or what many Canadians read in the pages of this newspaper that week: "We will always be the diligent servants and bootlickers of the big shots, as long as there is a Westmount, a Town of Mount Royal, a Hampstead, an Outremont, all these veritable fortresses of high finance" and "We are terrorized by the Roman Capitalist Church ... by the advertising of the grand masters of consumption ... by those exclusive clubs of science and culture, the universities."
Reading these words is not trivializing; it is hoisting a previous generation of violent separatists by their own petards. Moreover, this text has no audience today, and in no way reflects contemporary political realities in Quebec or Canada.
Canadians realize that their history is not simply a meliorist triumph, but rather has included all kinds of speed bumps. From Pierre Falardeau's film Octobre to Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes, they have been able to see the complexities and discomforts, and mark that in their art and their artistic commemorations. A set of readings that includes an absurd historical curiosity such as the FLQ manifesto is another part of that tradition.

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