No sign French lost Plains of Abraham

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

People demonstrate during a 24-hour long series of public readings on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, Sept. 13, 2009. The banner reads, "Independence is on its way, if we don't do it, who will?"
The T-shirt favoured by some dyed-in-the-wool separatists this weekend read, "They won the Battle of the Plains, but we will win the war." And when it came to the war of words that erupted over the historic battle's 250th anniversary, the sovereigntists won in a rout as lopsided as the one that saw Quebec City fall to the British.
The 24-hour marathon of historical readings -- which became the main commemoration after a battle re-enactment was cancelled following threats -- turned into the "sovereigntist show" that some critics had predicted. From former Parti Quebecois leader Bernard Landry intoning, "Long live freedom," as he read a letter from a rebel facing execution in 1839 to the enthusiastic applause that greeted a reading of the FLQ manifesto, the federalists were chased from the Plains of Abraham.
News that the Front de Liberation du Quebec manifesto would be part of the program's 156 readings led the provincial Liberal government to boycott the event and withdraw a $20,000 grant.
"At first it was supposed to be about poetry, but now with the FLQ manifesto, we are closer to bombs and assassinations," said Sam Hamad, the provincial minister responsible for the Quebec City region.
But the controversy over the manifesto had no apparent sobering effect on the hundreds of spectators present when singer Luck Mervil took the stage to a loud ovation in the early hours of yesterday morning. Mr. Mervil delivered an impassioned reading of the manifesto, first broadcast in October 1970 as the FLQ held British trade commissioner James Cross hostage and two days before Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte would be kidnapped.
There was more applause as Mr. Mervil read a passage denouncing "the big bosses" who exploited Quebec's "cheap labour." Cheers followed other passages, including when the late Pierre Trudeau was called a pansy. The loudest applause came as Mr. Mervil ended with his fist raised: "Long live a free Quebec! Long live our imprisoned comrades. Long live the Quebec revolution! Long live the Front de Liberation du Quebec!" Chants of "We will win" could be heard.
Organizers of the event, called the Moulin a paroles, followed the manifesto with a letter written by Mr. Laporte during his captivity to then premier Robert Bourassa. In the letter, seemingly written at the behest of his captors, he urges Mr. Bourassa to call off the police to avoid bloodshed. Mr. Laporte was strangled and his body was discovered in the trunk of a car on Oct. 18.
Mr. Mervil, who in 2004 was named "Patriot of the Year" for his support of the independence cause, said afterwards that he was not alarmed by the crowd's response. "When they applaud, they are not saying we agree or we don't agree," he said. "They are just saying we understand that this is a historical event." The FLQ's appeal to oppressed workers is still relevant today, he added. He felt the reading of Mr. Laporte's letter calmed things down and reminded people that the FLQ killed a man.
"That's what has to be remembered about this," he said. "Quebec did not stand and say, 'Let's kill more.' They stood and said, 'No, we're not like that. We do a Quiet Revolution. We do things the other way. We don't want any bloodshed.' "
The National Battlefields Commission, a federal agency, had initially planned to mark the anniversary this summer with a re-enactment on the Plains featuring more than 2,000 people in period uniforms. But it was cancelled in February after being criticized by sovereigntists as a "celebration of defeat." Filmmaker Pierre Falardeau had warned that people would "get their asses kicked" if the event went ahead, and a fringe separatist group, the Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois, promised to disrupt the re-enactment. (A text from Mr. Falardeau was read on the weekend, and the Reseau's leader was among the presenters.)
The partisan tone of the replacement event was set by Mr. Landry who read a letter by Chevalier de Lorimier on the eve of his hanging for participation in the 1837-38 rebellion. Mr. Landry received a standing ovation as he took the stage. As he ended with de Lorimier's, "Long live freedom. Long live independence," the crowd of more than 2,000 erupted again.
Mr. Landry said afterward that de Lorimier's message resonates in Quebec today.
"Independence and freedom of nations must be pursued until it is achieved," he said. "Nations that can be free have a duty to be. Quebec can be, and it must do it. What Chevalier de Lorimier said in 1839, we can say today, and we will say it as long as [independence] is not done."
The kiosk where the readings took place is topped by a Canadian flag, once referred to as "red rags" by Mr. Landry. (Organizers hadinquiredabout having the flag removed for the weekend but were refused.) On Saturday, Mr. Landry contained his rage. "The only way to remove [the flag] from there is to achieve independence. That is what we are working at," he said.
The lineup of speakers was heavy with sovereigntist politicians and activists, including Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and PQ leader Pauline Marois. There were several aboriginal participants but English content was limited to brief excerpts of letters by General James Wolfe, a passage by Mordecai Richler, a poem by Jack Kerouac, a song by Leonard Cohen and an essay by Jane Jacobs. Montreal writer Christopher Hall, who read the excerpt from Mr. Richler's The Street, joked as he took the stage, "I'll accept your applause right away before you hear what I'm going to read." When he announced it was Mr. Richler, who was loathed by Quebec separatists for his criticism of their project, there were groans and scattered boos from the crowd.
Playwright Jean-Marc Dalpe, who read from a 1950 essay by Mr. Trudeau, deliberately avoided announcing the identity of the author until he was finished to avoid provoking the crowd.
The event had begun with a picnic atmosphere as the crowd enjoyed Saturday's afternoon sun. Historian Michel Lessard said the anniversary of the French defeat on the Plains "is not a loss. For me, what we celebrate is 250 years of progress. It is a country that was built and that continues to be built." In keeping with the spirit of the day, he ended his reading of an 18th-century text with a wish that Quebec become a country.

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé