By Andrew Hanon - Memo to all those anglophiles outraged over the cancellation of plans to re-enact the Battle of the Plains of Abraham: Get over it, for crying out loud. Your guys won the war. Do you really need to do an end-zone dance 250 years later? Yes, yes, everybody understands that the British sneak-attack on French fortifications in Quebec City on Sept. 13, 1759 was a turning point in our history.
The battle was part of the Seven Years War. It involved an estimated 4,500 professional British soldiers, led by Major-General James Wolfe, and an equal number of French, mostly-volunteer militiamen, led by French Lt.-General, the Marquis de Montcalm. Both leaders died in the fighting.
Ex-pat Brit commentator Michael Coren likes to characterize it as one of the few interesting interludes in Canada's mostly drab history. The English victory eventually led to the end of French rule throughout North America and laid the groundwork for Canada to become a free dominion in the British Empire. Britain won. France lost. We get it already.
So the brain trust at the National Battlefields Commission (really? We have one of those?) thought celebrating the moment of Quebec nationalism's conception would be a super way to promote tourism in La Belle Province. To be fair, there have been re-enactments of the battle in the past, most recently in 2004. But they were not specifically meant to mark the anniversary of the subjugation of a people -- a people who, it should be noted, have a significant portion of their population who are still bitter about it, two-and-a-half centuries down the road.
Well, big surprise, some Quebec sovereigntists were outraged and threatened to protest the re-enactment. Some even went so far as to hint at potential violence. When commission president Andre Juneau cancelled the event, he said they couldn't ensure public safety. "Given the excessive language and threats we have heard in recent days, we can't as responsible managers risk compromising the safety of families and children who might attend the event," he said.
The response to Juneau's decision was predictable. Some pundits went so far as to accuse the commission of being cowardly and giving in to terrorist tactics. So I guess that means they wanted the commission to stand tall and forge ahead with a fake war on terror.
Others pointed to the weird subculture of Civil War re-enactors, who like to play war games on battlefields throughout the U.S. South. After all, they argue, the Confederacy lost, but Southerners gladly watch, and even participate in, those re-enactments. But there's a big difference. As far as I'm aware, these Civil War re-enactments aren't conducted with the active endorsement of the federal government.
A better comparison might be the annual Orange marches in Northern Ireland, where Protestants commemorate the 1690 victory over Catholics in the Battle of the Boyne. For years the marchers made a point of travelling through Catholic neighbourhoods, a provocative gesture intended to remind the conquered of their place in society.
A lot of the fallout over the Plains of Abraham decision has been about whether an offended minority should be able to cancel the event. Critics boil it down to a question of freedom of expression. They're asking, can we re-enact a defeat of the French, when the more important question is, should we?
The answer is no.