I feel like I've become a character in a Kafka novel (The Gazette May 31,2007)

*This post was from "THE GAZETTE"

I feel like I've become a character in a Kafka novel
Tribunal's real purpose is to shame critics of Quebec "Conseil de Presse Decision"

BARBARA KAY, Freelance
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2007

With apologies to Franz Kafka: "Someone must have traduced Barbara K., for without having done anything wrong, she was arrested one fine morning."

Well, of course nobody actually arrested me, as they did Joseph K. in The Trial - it certainly isn't my intention to suggest I identify with the terrible fate of Kafka's hapless victims - yet like Joseph K. I did nothing wrong, and was denounced to an impenetrable "high court" by "someone" entirely unknown to me. And when the "Quebecistan affair" drew me into the orbit of the Quebec Press Council, the word "Kafkaesque" did, indeed, take on new depth of personal meaning.

Because "one fine morning" - Feb. 19, 2007, to be precise - notice was served of the council's condemnation of two of my columns published last August in the National Post during the Israel-Lebanon war. It upheld complaints by officials of the Societe-Saint-John-Baptiste and others against the columns in which I castigated four Quebec career politicians, the only ones in Canada to lend their names and credibility to a demonstration organized by supporters of the officially classified terrorist group Hezbollah.

Judging from their see-no-evil behaviour before and during a "peace" march fairly humming with anti-Semitism, I predicted a soft-on-Islamism political culture in a putatively independent Quebec. Edgy, but business as usual in the lively comment section of my newspaper.

According to the QPC, however, I was guilty of serious ethical lapses: "undue provocation" (define "undue"), "a lack of rigour" in my writing and - mentioned more than once in the decision - the especially grave journalistic sin of "altering the facts" upon which my opinions rested.

Nobody from the QPC has ever publicly identified these allegedly altered facts. There isn't a single point of information in my columns that will not stand up to scrutiny, or any I couldn't have substantiated, or that the National Post (also censured) did not substantiate in its response, but the insalubrious facts around the Aug. 6 "peace march," although essential to an understanding of my opinion, seem to be, in today's parlance, a place the "court" doesn't want to go.

Of course the QPC does not call itself a court, but from the visuals of their judgment, so intimidatingly juridical in appearance and design, you might conclude, as I did, that this is an organization conceived by paper surveillance tigers who regret they can only snarl. On the evidence of my experience with them, and at the risk of earning another QPC spanking, I predict an independent Quebec would give the QPC the teeth and claws it covets, a frightening prospect for freedom of speech here.

Who did the QPC actually represent in my case beyond a few grievance-collectors motivated by wounded hyper-nationalist amour-propre? Search me.

Quebecers? In that case the QPC's judgment was superfluous. For I have already been judged directly by the people of Quebec. I was denounced on TV, the radio, the Internet, in numerous editorials and opeds. I answered 200 irate emails, and accepted all interview requests, both in French and English. I gave as good as I got, because I believed then in the viability of my observations, and I still do today. If the spotlight made me uncomfortable, well, that's the price one pays for free speech in a free market. At least the playing field was level.

Does the QPC represent Quebec's journalists? No, and here's proof. The last stop on my "defence" tour was a panel discussion arranged for its November congress by the Federation Professionelle des Journalistes du Quebec, titled: Does Free Speech Have its Limits? In attendance were, at a conservative estimate, 100 Quebecois journalists. Alongside me sat Raymond Corriveau, president of the QPC, and Andre Pratte, chief editoralist at La Presse, who had written a feisty counterpoint column to mine in the National Post.

In my speech, I proactively addressed the Quebecistan affair, and defended the integrity of my column. During the Q-and-A, Pratte was asked for his opinion. He declared himself vigorously opposed to my conclusions, but firmly stated I had not manipulated the facts, and that I had not violated journalistic ethics. Not a single journalist in the room took issue with his statement, a resounding validation of my "innocence" by a jury of my peers, so to speak, which Corriveau witnessed, but chose to ignore.

Kafka's The Trial ends with Joseph K.'s dying thought: "It was as if the shame of it must outlive him." This is no doubt how the QPC would like this narrative to end. For the council's real purpose is to publicly shame critics of Quebec in perpetuity to chill any similar impulse in others. But the shame is on them.

Barbara Kay is a columnist for the National Post.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007