Barbara Kay: Silence from Marois adds to flag insult
On December 1 at an organized rally for Quebec independence, the Canadian flag was desecrated. In the video of the incident, taken by the editor of putbacktheflag.com, an anglo rights website, you see a Canadian flag lying on a road. You see a car (inadvertently) driving slowly over it. You hear jeers and cheers from the crowd. Then one person stomps on the flag. More cheers. The flag is carefully replaced on the road in the path of oncoming traffic.
The video is attracting a great deal of attention, with more than 11,000 likes on its Facebook page.
Desecrating flags is the cheapest and easiest route to arousing irrational collective anger. Political activists indulge themselves in the instinct all the time, without considering that their action opens the door to a parallel response they themselves will find deeply insulting.
In 1990, as part of the tension surrounding the Meech Lake Accord, some Brockville, Ontario residents stomped on the flag of Quebec to show their contempt for Quebec’s English-suppressive language laws. The incident received great attention in the Quebec media, being replayed dozens of times on Radio-Canada, stoking anti-Canada emotion then, and again when it was reprised a few years later in the second referendum campaign. It was a highly effective tool in escalating separatist fervour.
In the December 1 case the presenting reason for the separatist rally was the controversy and approaching vote about whether or not the Canadian flag should remain or be removed from the red room in the National Assembly. The flag controversy began when the PQ first came to power. At a swearing-in ceremony in the red room for its MNAs, the Canadian flag was conspicuously absent; a rash of publicity and political commentary ensued.
A spokesman for the rally denied knowledge of the flag desecration incident. But whether the action was authorized or not, its effects have the potential to create tensions that punch far above its weight, just as the Brockville incident did. And in any tally of flag-desecration irresponsibility, Quebec extremists have far more to answer for than other Canadians.
As columnist and Canadian rights activist William Johnson wrote in a May, 1994 Montreal Gazette column, “Those few losers who put on a scene in Brockville admitted openly that they did it to get attention, and that they followed the example of Quebec separatists who drew the media by burning a Canadian flag…Burning a Canadian flag in Montreal was so commonplace it barely rated a mention.”
When Pauline Marois was asked by a Global TV reporter about the December 1 incident, she threw up her hands, palms out, in symbolic recoil, and said, “I don’t give any answer to this kind of question.” That wasn’t smart. Sovereignty is her baby. These extremists are part of her constituency, and helped her get out the vote that made her the premier.
Ms. Marois knows very well that if the Brockville scene had been re-acted today, she would have jumped all over it as political capital for her cause. By simply distancing herself rather than condemning the calculated hatred implied in the incident, she trivializes the political impact such events generate. By refusing to excommunicate the perpetrators to a political pale, she leaves the door open to further hate-mongering.
It shouldn’t matter to a real leader whose flag is on the flagpole and whose is being run over by a car. All flag desecration is unethical and politically inadmissible. Ms. Marois should respond to any such incidents promptly and unequivocally, making it clear that sovereignty is a condition to be achieved through civilized means, not emotional barbarism.