« Mieux vaut prendre le changement par la main avant qu'il ne vous prenne à la gorge. »
Winston Churchill

Attending an English-rights meeting can require real courage

Young sovereignists were determined to disrupt weekend meeting

No, Quebec is not Kosovo, as sovereignists suddenly realized when violence predictably broke out in Serbia in response to the unilateral declaration of independence of its predominantly ethnic-Albanian province. By comparison, our own civil war has been remarkably, well, civil.

Still, we are not entirely immune from occasional outbreaks of political violence, usually instigated by individuals or small groups on the extreme fringes of the sovereignty movement.

On Sunday, there was a scuffle in Montreal between a few members each of the nationalist Jeunes Patriotes du Québec and the English-rights party Affiliation Quebec.

That came as no surprise to someone aware of statements made on both sides in the days preceding AQ’s "rights rally" at the west-end Ruby Foo hotel.

Last Wednesday, the JPQ issued a communiqué announcing it would demonstrate at the meeting to protest against the presence of "racist" guest speaker Howard Galganov and said AQ had shown "contempt and hostility" toward Quebecers by inviting him.

Galganov was an English-rights "activist" in Quebec in the years following the sovereignists’ near-victory in the 1995 referendum. In 2000 he moved just across the Ontario border, from where he rails on his website against his old "ethnocentric Québécois nationalist" enemies.

And on the JPQ’s web site, it said its demonstration at the AQ meeting would take the form of a "tintamarre," or noise-making, and invited supporters to bring "old pots and pans" as well as their flags. So its intent to disrupt the meeting was apparent.

Previously, the JPQ had offered to identify on its website businesses that violate the language law, which would expose them to possible reprisals by vandals. It had also held a contest to choose "the greatest traitor to the nation of all time," and posted on its website a "wanted" poster offering a bounty of $101,000 for Premier Jean Charest and his minister responsible for language, Christine St-Pierre.

Despite such tactics, the JPQ boasts of its association with mainstream sovereignists. Last month, it announced that Martin Lemay, a Parti Québécois member of the National Assembly, and Jean Dorion, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, would join it in a commemoration of the original Patriotes.

The latter were hanged by the British after the rebellions of 1837-38 in Lower Canada, as Quebec was then called. But where the original Patriotes defied the British army, their modern-day namesakes resort to intimidating law-abiding anglophone citizens twice their age attending a political meeting.

The JPQ’s intent was sufficiently clear that yesterday, AQ founder Allen Nutik told me he sought and obtained police protection for the meeting. But some on Nutik’s side did little to defuse the situation.

Galganov, in an editorial on his website dated four days before the meeting, seemed to dare the JPQ to try to stop him from speaking. "If I have to speak in the parking lot in the midst of these thugs, that what I will do," he wrote. "I WILL NOT BE SILENCED !"

And a Canadian Press video report appeared to show Nutik defiantly standing amid the JPQ protesters outside the hotel where the meeting took place, holding up a small sign, as if he was enjoying the attention.

Still, it was the JPQ members who showed up at the AQ meeting with the apparent intention of disrupting it, not the other way around. Nutik and his supporters were attempting to exercise the fundamental freedoms of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association promised them by the charter of rights - the Quebec one, adopted freely by the National Assembly.

The JPQ was trying to prevent them from doing so, and to discourage them from attempting to do so again in the future.

Eight years ago, the site of an English-rights meeting in Montreal had to be changed after the church where the meeting was to have been held was firebombed.

Sometimes, it seems that merely attending an English-rights meeting in Montreal can require physical courage.


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