Quebec's popular pariah

Manifestation pour la paix au Liban

MONTREAL - Pierre Falardeau wears several hats. He is a noted filmmaker, a radio host, an author and a professional crank whose loud, frequent diatribes against anyone who isn't a Quebec nationalist can actually be quite entertaining, provided you have a sense of humour. He revels in his self-appointed rogue status, delivering his virtual sermons in his gravel-voice, joual-inflected French to just about anyone who comes a-calling -- particularly Radio-Canada, which he loudly denounces as federalist propaganda whenever he isn't on its airwaves.

Falardeau once again took to Radio-Canada last week, this time to defend walking arm in arm with his actor friend Julien Poulin, two Hezbollah sympathizers and a giant Hezbollah flag for part of the Aug. 6 peace rally in downtown Montreal. The pro-Hezbollah faction was limited to several scattered placards, flags and T-shirts. Despite this, Falardeau and Poulin managed to find two of these supporters, complete with Sheik Hassan Nasrallah shirts. Mr. Poulin exchanged a Quebec fleur-de-lys for Hezbollah's raised fist and machine gun.
The ensuing photo caused uproar in the French press, with columnists wondering what Quebec's favourite bete noire was doing in the midst of all this. Several members of pro-sovereigntist Web sites, who often regard Falardeau as some sort of deity, treated the stunt with open contempt. "Shame on Falardeau, shame on Poulin," wrote "Red Saber" on a popular site, a typical response. "My dear Poulin, the flag you took while smiling ear to ear is a symbol of a Shiite militia, Hezbollah, which represents one of the most detestable aspects of Islam," wrote Journal de Montreal columnist Patrick Lagace. To his credit, Poulin quickly apologized, saying the exchange was regrettable and ill-conceived. Falardeau? Not so much.

"No one will make me spit on the people of Hezbollah. Is that clear?" Falardeau barked, humouring host Franco Nuovo with his usual affected outrage. "Hezbollah is a political party, with democratically elected MPs, and they were the only ones who fought for the Shiites, that is to say the Lebanese working class, the poorest of the poor. Nobody's going to piss me off with these stupidities, and it's not because the police and the CIA decide they are terrorists that I'm going to get on board."

OK, then.

Anointing Hezbollah with a certain Robin Hood je ne sais quoi is typical Falardeau. Though hardly proletarian himself -- "He's the middle-class son of a Chateauguay caisse-populaire manager," Gazette columnist Don Macpherson once wrote -- the filmmaker has made a living sticking up for the working class, the proverbial little guy, those who would otherwise live and die without a voice. Falardeau's world is a Dickensian nightmare where English overlords rule over the fiefdom of Quebec, a foot placed squarely on the throat of the French working class.

He believes this scenario to this very day. As recently as this month, he said Quebecers have a "colonized mentality" thanks to years of English subjugation. In Falardeau's mind, Hezbollah fighters aren't well-armed, violent militiamen who answer to no government. They are bulwarks against oppression, Lebanon's brave protectors. Freedom fighters, in other words.

Despite his self-appointed pariah status, Falardeau is very much part of the Quebec nationalist establishment. He was a regular at Bernard Landry-era Parti Quebecois functions, where he was inevitably greeted with a giddiness usually reserved for movie stars and boy bands.

For one reason or another, his openly xenophobic rants -- he is perhaps the province's best personification of the phrase "English go home" -- are pooh-poohed, and he is instead lauded for the bravery of his films and his rough hewn coureur-de-bois persona. "I am a man from an older time," he has written. "I heat with wood. I don't have a computer." (He does, however, have a Web site.) His popularity among us Quebecers remains one of the worst examples of collective denial in the province, and we are worse off because of it.
How fitting, then, that Falardeau has engaged in a bit of denial himself. When practically every Quebec politician, sovereigntist and federalist alike, has denounced Hezbollah, Falardeau instead has chosen to embrace the group -- effectively making the terrorist group part of his shtick. Thankfully, though, few people were fooled. This time around, Falardeau was just another chump taken in by Hezbollah's dangerous rhetoric.
_ - Martin Patriquin is a Montreal writer.

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