The woman they love to hate

Sovereignists despise Michaëlle Jean, perhaps because she is so good at her job


L'affaire de la "reine-nègre" - VLB

There have been two surefire ways recently for somebody in Quebec to get his name in the papers.
One is to be named in an interview by Julie Couillard, giving the papers an excuse to run one of those photos of her arriving at Rideau Hall with Maxime Bernier for his swearing-in one more time.
When Liberal Michael Ignatieff staked his claim for political quote of the year by declaring, "I don't care about her cleavage," he was not speaking for the media, here or abroad.

Yesterday, the Montreal-based media-monitoring firm Influence Communication reported that the Couillard-Bernier affair had received more coverage in Quebec this year than any other story except the Roy family hockey brawl, and was the story of the year in English Canada.
The firm also reported that the photos of Couillard and Bernier at his swearing-in were being "widely used" in the foreign press, which must have assumed that any connection between Canadian politics and sex ended forever when Pierre Trudeau retired.
The other way to get one's name in the Quebec papers, at least, was either to attack Bernier's and Couillard's hostess at Rideau Hall that day or to defend Governor-General Michaëlle Jean against attack.
Maybe it's because sovereignists thought Jean was once one of them, or maybe it's because she's so good at her job of selling Canada, or maybe it's both. Whatever the reason, no previous governor-general in modern times has received the amount of public abuse that Jean has.
Sovereignists have attacked her so often since her appointment was announced three years ago that they've made the position of queen's representative in Canada seem politically relevant.
The latest salvo was fired by author Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, who seems to be vying to replace apparently-retired filmmaker Pierre Falardeau as the sovereignty movement's leading insult artist, its answer to radio shock jock Jeff Fillion.
Already this year, Beaulieu has called for a "war without mercy" against Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois "by all means possible" for saying all Quebecers should be bilingual. And he has burned a copy of his new book to protest against Marois's supposed betrayal of the sovereignist cause.
Last week, in an article published in the sovereignist monthly L'Aut'Journal, Beaulieu criticized Jean for her successful recent official visit to France and called her a sellout to federalism.
But it was his repeated reference to Jean, who is black, as "la reine-nègre" - literally, the Negro Queen, a variation on "negro kings," a term once used to describe African puppet rulers chosen by European colonial powers - that offended many.
For as a French-language author must surely know, the word "nègre" now is generally considered a racial slur. Beaulieu's use of it was at least a deliberately provocative play on words.
Falardeau was slower off the mark. He also called Jean a "feminine negro king," among other allusions to Jean's colour, but his article, in the sovereignist bimonthly Le Québécois, didn't appear until three days later.
And Beaulieu wasn't done. Keeping the controversy alive with a letter of "clarification" published in the major French-language dailies on Thursday, Beaulieu said Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, who was among those who had criticized him, "increasingly resembles Marshal Pétain." The latter was head of the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazis during their occupation of France.
But sovereignists weren't the only ones using the governor-general to draw attention to themselves.
Among Jean's defenders was one Emmanuel Dubourg, a Liberal member of the National Assembly of Haitian descent who had attracted so little notice in the year since his election that he could be called the invisible minority.

Dubourg made his mark by telling reporters that freedom of expression should be restricted by law to forbid remarks as "hurtful" as Beaulieu's.
But if, as Dubourg said, Beaulieu is like someone who enters a school armed with a rifle, the only person shot in this case was Beaulieu himself, in the foot.
As for Jean herself, she was able to maintain a dignified silence, declining to comment. She wasn't the one harmed by the attack, and she wasn't among those who needed to use it to draw attention to themselves.

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