This is a revision from the original text with a more accurate description of the St Leonard Riots and their cause, courtesy of Neil Cameron: historian, CEGEP history teacher, former MNA for the Equality Party and eye witness to the riots.
Now that Quebec’s minority has finally won a little respect and importance. More than ever, now is the time to guarantee that the voices of the minority communities are going to continue to be heard.
Simply by silence, did the Quebec minority communities; especially the English speaking minority lose their rights to be equal citizens within Canada.
The St Leonard Riots. The battle lines were initially drawn in St Leonard, where the large Italian population reeled at the demand that their children be educated only in the French language.
According to Neil Cameron; the crowds were massive; numbering perhaps in the tens of thousands. Armed and dangerous. But; nonetheless well controlled by Mayor Jean Drapeau’s police. It could have been a lot worse.
The Italians went toe to toe with Québécois Nationalists all by themselves, while the English watched from a comfortable distance on television as the blows were traded.
Where was the English community? Nowhere! Why? Because this first racist Québécois law affected immigrant children. English children were untouched. So we let the Italians fight it out alone.
These exchanges led to the Union Nationale, under the leadership of Jean Jacques Bertrand to pass Bill 63, a law that would have allowed the school boards to decide in which language they would teach.
In 1970, the FLQ was at their peak. There was the Laporte murder, the Cross kidnaping and the bombs exploding in mailboxes. How did the English respond? I don’t remember because no one in a position of real leadership from the English speaking community said anything important.
When the Ethnocentric Nationalist Liberal Party of Quebec, under the leadership of Robert Bourassa passed Bill 22 in 1974, there was indignation from the once equal English community. But no demonstrations of any significance. After-all; once again, it wasn’t the English who were directly touched.
In 1977, the Separatist Party Québécois, passed the infamous Bill 101. I don’t remember the English community taking to the streets in protest to the fact that their language, jobs and equality were just obliterated. What I do remember are English words expunged on signs by being taped over.
When Bourassa came back to power promising equality in signage and then reneged in 1988 with Bill 178, a law that abrogated the Canadian Charter of Rights by use of Trudeau’s Notwithstanding Clause, the English community finally got the message.
The message was clear. Get a voice!
So, in 1989, a rag tag band of political virgins under the banner EQUALITY PARTY, led by a “kid”, Robert Libman, campaigned to win seats in Quebec City at the Provincial Assembly.
And lo and behold, 4 of the neophytes won seats. One was a pathetic lawyer who just wanted to be part of something and make a buck. One was a decorated Canadian War vet well past his age of retirement, but not passed the age to stand up for rights. One was a CEGEP (college) history teacher who clearly understood the historical consequences of moral silence. And then there was Robert Libman, the young architect.
The Equality Party didn’t move mountains. But they were there. And they were there to represent the interests of minority communities which had taken it on the chin for far too long. Finally. The minorities had a voice.
But after one term in office, the Equality Party fell out of favor with the English speaking community. The English media with their ties to the Quebec Liberal Party offered them little support and a great deal of derision. And people soon began to forget Bill 178.
But Bill 178 and all the other racist Québécois language laws didn’t forget them.
Since the political problems of the Equality Party, a great deal has changed. We’ve fought another referendum. We’ve taken to the streets, and a great many English and Ethnic groups said enough is enough. We too want to be equal and visible.
As a result, some rights were won back and the ethnocentric Québécois nationalists can no longer con their own and treat the minorities like dirt, with impunity. So; more than ever, now is “not” the time to let the clock roll back.
Jean Charest, the man who wanted to be Prime Minister might very likely become Quebec’s Premier by default in the next election. The default is that he will probably be running against an idiot.
Here is a guy (Charest) who purportedly worked for the Separatist Louise Beaudoin election campaign, voted Oui in the 1980 Referendum to separate Quebec from Canada, and was hand picked by Lucien Bouchard to spearhead the Meech Lake Accord.
He hasn’t won anything yet, but he’s now talking about rewriting the Canadian Constitution to include a Distinct Society Status in the guise of “Specificity”. This guy is a real piece of work. And not to be trusted.
The time to organize and show support for your right to be an EQUAL citizen is not the day before an election. But years before the vote. Now that there is a strong English and Ethnic presence on Montreal’s City Council and Executive Committee, it is the time to get a voice in Quebec City as well. And that voice has to be there to speak for you and your rights.
On Sunday, December 16, 2001, the Equality Party is having a fund/raiser, membership drive and oath of allegiance to the Canadian Flag. I will be there speaking. So will others who have something to say and who have made a difference in the battle for equal rights.
The cost is just $40 per person and $60 per couple; including a Chinese luncheon buffet at Bill Wong’s on Decarie and Ferrier.
If I can drive in, all the way from South Eastern Ontario to say a few words and visit many wonderful people who have walked with QPAC and others in the past. I hope you can make it as well.
I will post the time and the contact phone number to reserve seats at the table, in a few days. In the meantime think about this.
If you are not willing to speak for yourself and support those who are willing to speak and fight for you? What then, would make you think that you have any rights worth defending at all?