Quebec’s forgotten scandal

Actualité québécoise - de la dépendance québécoise et du triomphalisme canadian

Après 70 ans, la Gâzette vient de comprendre le potentiel culpabilisant de cette vieille histoire, surtout de l'amalgame Vichy-Camille Laurin-Loi 101. Pôvre Gâzette, racisme larvé, rampant! Yves Lavertu, comme Esther
, exploités jusqu'à l'os, en attendant d'être rejetés comme de vieux bas par leurs "mécènes". - Vigile

By Yves Lavertu, Special to The Gazette - This saga remains a taboo among Quebec’s intelligentsia. What started as an escape from justice for a French war criminal is now a topic that the elite would rather like to forget. Here is a short recapitulation.
On Nov. 26, 1946, a French war criminal disguised as a priest arrived in Canada from New York. The man who successfully fled to North America with help from religious officials declares to customs agents that he is a tourist and shows them a fake passport.
The “priest,” Jacques de Bernonville, is the former right-hand man of Klaus Barbie and a former torturer during German occupation of France. He swore allegiance to Hitler during the war and his name was listed on the Waffen SS payroll. In France, Bernonville was a powerful leader of the French militia that hunted resistance fighters.
Upon his entry in Canada, the runaway goes to Quebec City, then to the small town of St. Pacôme, then to Montreal. But on Sept. 2, 1948, Bernonville is arrested and incarcerated. Civil servants confirm that he will soon be deported to France. Alarmed, one of his major protectors, historian Robert Rumilly, convinces Montreal’s mayor, populist orator Camillien Houde, to call upon public opinion. The involvement of the mayor launches the Bernonville Affair.
The political storm stokes the smouldering sympathies for the Vichy regime.
On one side, the intelligentsia and the clerical and nationalist newspapers such as Le Devoir and L’Action catholique paint the man as a hero, a loyal follower of Marshal Pétain, a political refugee, a great Catholic of noble origin, and a Frenchman persecuted by the anglo-Canadian authorities.
Pro-Vichy and opposed to conscription during the war, pro-Bernonville groups do not want to hear about his crimes.
The issue is twisted into a controversy over French immigration to Canada.
Among the prominent nationalists who try to block Bernonville’s deportation, was a 28-year-old psychiatrist, Camille Laurin, the father of contemporary Quebec language laws. His name appeared on a petition in defence of Bernonville.
In the U.S., some are amazed. Camillien Houde and Bernonville: it’s the perfect match, suggests Time magazine. Houde’s hero, says Time, “could be made to seem a martyr to Ottawa’s ‘implacable hatred’ for Frenchmen and Roman Catholics.”
Newsweek shared the same point of view.
Those who want Bernonville to go back home are bit players. They include the rare liberal press organs in Quebec, former members of the Resistance and some English-Canadian newspapers.
By the spring of 1951, the political saga had dragged on for nearly three years. Having decided to put an end to an affair that was dividing the country, prime minister Louis St. Laurent wrote to Bernonville on March 19, 1951, advising him to leave quietly but not necessarily for France. On Aug. 17, the fugitive followed the prime minister’s advice. and took a for Brazil, where he spent his days in peace until his assassination at age 74 at his home in Rio de Janeiro on April 27, 1972.
Sixty years later, there has been no meaningful re-examination of this scandal. The subject continues to be kept out of public debate and schoolbooks.
Camille Laurin never had to give a strong explanation for his support of Bernonville.
Sol Littman of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Toronto gave, however, the best analysis on that matter: “If people are taking the responsibility for signing a petition or a letter,” he said in 1994, “they should take responsibility for knowing the facts. I don’t think they wanted to know the facts.”
The Bernonville Affair raises many disturbing questions about politics, media and intellectuals in Quebec. It shows, for instance, how a dramatic issue can be easily twisted into a local battle.
There is an easy explanation for the silence about the Bernonville Affair: This shameful story doesn’t fit with the nationalist memory of Quebec. The time when Quebec was a safe haven for French collaborators still represents a tortured memory.
Yves Lavertu
is a Montreal journalist and historian. He is the author of The Bernonville Affair – A French War Criminal in Quebec After World War II. His latest book is La Découverte – Les déboires d’un chercheur dans le dossier d’un criminel de guerre.


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Yves Lavertu est l’auteur du "Combattant" (Boréal, 2000), une biographie de Jean-Charles Harvey, qui avait créé, en 1937 à Montréal, l’hebdomadaire "Le Jour". Ce journal fut, au cours de la seconde guerre mondiale, le principal organe de presse de la Résistance française en Amérique du Nord.

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