Saturday, September 23, 2006

L'Affaire Wong.

I received an e-mail the other day asking what I thought of Jan Wong's article last Saturday about the Dawson College shooting. Here is the controversial part so you can judge yourself whether it is worth the furour:
What many outsiders don't realize is how alienating the decades-long linguistic struggle has been in the once-cosmopolitan city. It hasn't just taken a toll on long-time anglophones, it's affected immigrants, too. To be sure, the shootings in all three cases were carried out by mentally disturbed individuals. But what is also true is that in all three cases, the perpetrator was not pure laine, the argot for a “pure” francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial “purity” is repugnant. Not in Quebec.


It isn't known when [Kimveer] Gill's family arrived in Canada. But he attended English elementary and high schools in Montreal. That means he wasn't a first-generation Canadian. Under the restrictions of Bill 101, the province's infamous language law, that means at least one of his parents must have been educated in English elementary or high schools in Canada. To be sure, Mr. Lepine hated women, Mr. Fabrikant hated his engineering colleagues and Mr. Gill hated everyone. But all of them had been marginalized, in a society that valued pure laine.
As an anglophone who grew up in Montreal, I can personally attest to occasionally having felt alienated by the decades-long linguistic struggle in that still-cosmopolitan city. But the idea that Montreal's language politics are somehow connected with the Dawson College shooting is, well, tenuous at best. Paul Wells does a fine job of skewering the argument, if you can call it an argument.

But Wong is just one of a series of people who have posited theories about the shooting without any proof during the past week and a half. Take Rick Salutin, also in the Globe, for example. Last week, he wrote: "In fact, who knows what part 9/11 and its long, bloody aftermath played at Dawson College." At least, Salutin was clear that he was only pontificating. I wish more people had phrased their concerns about Goth culture, violent video games and Marilyn Manson in a similar way...

Personally, I was most offended by Susan Cole's blinkered article in NOW on Thursday, helpfully headlined "Why do we keep asking why?" Cole's argument -- and again, I hesitate to validate it by calling it an argument -- is that Gill is male and there is an epidemic of male violence and that's why. Duh! "It's called male violence," Cole writes. "Name it. Use the term. That's the beginning of change." Cole, like many other crusaders, is using the Dawson tragedy to advance her agenda, but at least she identifies right away in the headline that she's not truly interested in asking why. She knows why without looking.

Now, why has Wong's spurious theory become an "affaire" in Quebec, while Cole's or Salutin's hasn't? To be honest, when I read Wong's piece last week, I got to the controversial paragraphs, thought them over for a second, shrugged and moved on. I spent more time trying to figure out if one of the students Wong names in the piece was the younger sister of my ex-girlfriend.

The fiery reaction to Wong's article says more about Quebec society than her accusation does. They're really, really touchy about the language laws and charges of racism in Quebec, particularly the nationalists, particularly when the accusations come from outside the province. Personally, I think it's ridiculous that Jean Charest and Stephen Harper have written letters to editor of the Globe complaining or demanding apologies. Sloppy punditry is not worth all this fuss.

The debate over the validity of Quebec's cultural protection laws and its society's inclusiveness or lack thereof will continue ad nauseum. But what a damn shame that this eternal, infernal issue has to overshadow the more solemn contemplation of the sad, nihilistic act that took place at Dawson, and what a damn shame it has to erupt while we're still mourning.

Thanks to Jan Wong for starting up this distracting argument, and more sarcastic thanks to the many Quebec commentators and Charest and Harper for turning it into a completely distracting "affaire."

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