Tragedy brings us together

Anglos were among the loudest to denounce anti-Bill 101 ravings

Affaire Jan Wong et The Globe and Mail

There were about 280 safe landings at Trudeau airport yesterday. And this is the only place in the newspaper where you will read about them. Because good news is no news.
But even in the Dawson tragedy and its aftermath, there was some good news that shouldn't be overlooked.
Many people were impressed that even in the minutes after the shooting, under the greatest stress, so many students at an English-language college were able to speak fluent French in radio and television interviews.
Some could have been francophones, and others allophone "children of Bill 101" required by the language law to attend French primary and secondary school. But many were anglophones, products of the English-language school system.
To francophones used to being told of anglophones who still can't or won't speak French in Quebec in 2006, it might have come as a revelation that so many could speak it fluently.
That's only normal, some would say. But there's nothing normal anywhere else in the world about an English-speaking community as large as the one in Montreal, speakers of the world's dominant language, adopting a second language in such numbers.
And some would say it's the result of Bill 101. But more than a decade before the adoption of the French Language Charter in 1977, Quebec anglophones had already started sending their children to French-immersion schools, out of idealism as well as pragmatism.
Maybe hearing the Dawson students speaking French made it easier for francophones to identify as well as sympathize with them. How could anyone not applaud in parental pride at the determination of the young Dawson students to take back their school this week? And by the time Anastasia De Sousa was laid to rest, she had been accorded the highest honour in Quebec, one rarely bestowed upon non-francophones: she was referred to in French-language headlines simply by her first name. For that's how you call a member of your family.
And that was not the only embrace between the two solitudes in recent days.
The most effective rebuttal to an article in the Globe and Mail absurdly blaming the Dawson shooting on the exclusion of allophones by pure-laine francophones came on the newspaper's website from English-speaking Montrealers, present or former.
(Here, let us pause briefly to appreciate the irony of the Globe writer in Dodge City North blaming gun violence in much safer Montreal on the alienation of minorities.)
The response to the article came spontaneously and immediately after its publication on Saturday. This was at least a day before the French-language media first noticed the article.
By the time Premier Jean Charest, having solved all of our other problems, found time to demand an apology from the paper, more like the mayor of a slighted hick town than the head of a self-confident nation, his letter was superfluous. (The letter, which defended Bill 101, also contained at least one error in French that I caught.)
Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper imitated Charest's pre-election grandstand play by dashing off a letter of his own to the Globe. He, however, stopped short of demanding an apology.
Not to be outdone by a Toronto newspaper writer in wild generalizations, the nationalist Societe St. Jean Baptiste de Montreal blamed Montreal's English-language school system, because the writer, Jan Wong, is an expatriate Montrealer.
By the standards of Wong's article, one could just as easily blame the Polytechnique, Concordia and Dawson shootings on federalism, since all three happened to occur while the Quebec Liberals were in power.
And the article managed to get it exactly wrong about Bill 101. Rather than excluding allophones, as the article claimed, the language law has had the effect of including them in the French-speaking majority. As a result, the expression "pure laine" is no longer applied to an increasingly multiethnic French-speaking community.
It is anglophones, not allophones, who still have a claim to being excluded in Quebec, by their own choice to live in English, separate from the French-language community, as well as by discrimination.
Yet, in a rare public expression of anglophone identification with Quebec, English-speaking Quebecers stepped up to defend their province's reputation. And they easily outnumbered a lone Globe writer.
Tragedy has brought the solitudes together, if only briefly. Let's appreciate the moment before it's forgotten.
You can read Jan Wong's article on the Globe and Mail web site by following this link:
And you can read Globe reader comments on the article on the paper's site by following this link:

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