In the spring of 2006, Le Journal de Montréal reported that it was hard for customers of stores in downtown Montreal to get service in French.
The Office québécois de la langue française, the province's language bureaucracy, investigated, and found that service in French was offered in 90 per cent of the 2,500 downtown stores it visited.
Then, in the fall of the same year, Le Journal began playing up friction over the "reasonable accommodation" of non-Christian religions. The Bouchard-Taylor commission, formed in response to the resulting controversy over accommodations, later investigated, and found that the reports of incidents were largely unfounded.
So to judge by its own recent record, Le Journal is not an unimpeachable source of information on the state of relations between majority and minorities in Quebec. Just as it used to be said that the Mounties always get their man, Le Journal always finds what it's looking for - even if it's not really there.
And now Le Journal has cried wolf again. Because its reporter, posing as an anglophone who couldn't speak French, got hired in 15 different stores and restaurants (out of 97 where she applied during the pre-holiday rush), the newspaper has concluded that it is "hard to be served in French in Montreal."
This time Le Journal has made it hard for others to check the accuracy of its story, since it won't identify the businesses concerned, to shield them, it says, from reprisals.
(Others are not so circumspect. One fringe nationalist group, les Jeunes Patriotes du Québec, has invited complaints about offending businesses, which it promises to identify on its website so they can be "avoided"- except, perhaps, by language vigilantes with vandalism in mind.)
Le Journal has some of the best journalists in Quebec. But it also has a penchant for alerting its readers to threats from their minority fellow citizens to their values, identity or even physical safety, threats that are exaggerated or even non-existent.
In late November, it illustrated a story on veiled voting in Canada with a photo of a Muslim woman, her face covered by a niqab, casting a ballot. A close examination of the photo revealed Arabic lettering on the ballot box. Le Journal couldn't very well use a photo taken locally, since there are no recorded instances in Quebec of Muslim women insisting on voting without lifting their face veils to identify themselves.
The same week, it declared in a headline that "the Sikh weapon is in school to stay." In fact, the school board in question didn't know whether any Sikh pupils were wearing the dagger-like symbol known as the kirpan, since it wasn't aware of any incidents involving one. And in the more than 100 years that Sikhs have been living in Canada, there isn't a single recorded instance of the kirpan's being used as a weapon in school. That story was illustrated by a photo of a Sikh boy wearing a kirpan on his belt, shot from an angle to make it look the size of a scimitar.
But Le Journal is Quebec's best-selling and most widely distributed daily as well as part of the close-knit Quebecor media empire that also includes the TVA television network. So a lot of people, elsewhere in the province as well as in Montreal, read or hear what it reports, and believe it.
That's why Pauline Marois might have scored some points this week by declaring, in response to Le Journal's story, that "we (francophones) are too accommodating."
Her remark that "it's clear we've almost gone back to the situation that prevailed before the adoption of Bill 101" was patently ridiculous.
But voters in the pure-laine hinterland, whose identity Marois is competing with Mario Dumont to "defend," aren't well informed about the language situation in a metropolis they imagine to be overrun by hordes of minorities.
Her opportunism landed Marois on a Le Journal front page reminiscent of the one in November, 2006, on which Dumont launched his successful campaign against religious accommodations.
For just as fearmongering sells newspapers, demagoguery often wins votes.
Le Journal discovers that fearmongering sells newspapers
Montreal daily has a penchant for alerting readers to threats from minority citizens