“Pur laine” all over again

October 25, 2007 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Politics | 5 Comments

If you have not been living in Quebec for the past thirty years, but in particular the 90’s, you might be wondering what the big deal is with all this talk about Pauline Marois–the current PQ chef–talking about citizenship requirements and voting restrictions for new immigrants and possibly the older established anglophone communities as well. You might also be wondering why there should be any fuss over the Gerard Bouchard/ Charles Taylor commission on multiculturalism and integration in Quebec society. The reason why there is concern among minority communities in Quebec is simple–these and other behaviours by both the PQ party and the current Liberal government harken back to the 1990’s–particularly the hot year of 1995–when Quebec nationalism was at its highest and the pequistes nearly succeeded in removing Quebec from the Canadian federation and creating an independent state through a combination of stolen votes and an obscenely misleading referendum question. After a narrow loss for the Yes side with a 50.4% opting to stay in Canada, then premier Jacques Parizeau launched into his infamous tirade blaming the loss because of “money and the ethnic vote.” His speech drew thunderous applause, and that, combined with then vice-premier Bernard Landry drunkly heckling two Hispanic hotel maids the night of the loss for voting “No”, confirmed what many had already strongly suspected–a great many pur laine Quebeckers are profoundly xenophobic, having an intense dislike and deep mistrust of anglophones and allophones. Pur laine, literally translated as “pure wool,” is a term certain Quebeckers have used in the past describing their heritage as “pure-blooded Quebecois“–white, Catholic at birth, with French as a mother tounge dating back to the first French settlers and fur-traders of Lower-Canada. It’s an idealised term that is often seen as a racist pejorative to all those who do not meet this definition.

Twelve years later, Quebeckers of all stripes were supposed to have moved on from that bitterness that seeped over well past a decade ago. In fact, after the tragic and very rare Dawson College shootings from last year, controversial Globe & Mail columnist Jan Wong caused a mild uproar by suggesting that because the gunman was of Indian origin, at its core the incident was a reaction to the ways many Quebeckers still see themselves, as pur laine. Even I scoffed at her apparent misjudgment at the time. But after a host of recent incidents, I realise that on a fundamental level she was right. The attitudes of old-stock, “traditional” Quebecois have not fundamentally changed at all–they just regressed somewhat. The evidence comes from these recent incidents:

Near the beginning of the year, the Quebec town of Hérouxville unveiled their mocking caricature of Islam (and to a lesser extent Sikhism) vis-a-vis their charter which, among other things, prohibits the “stoning or burning [of women] alive in public places, burning them with acid, excising them, infibulating them or treating them as slaves.” I think you get the idea of the spirit this document was written in. The great majority of the town’s residents defended the charter with characteristically uneducated responses to the Bouchard/Taylor commission, some of which can be viewed at the hyperlink.

The leader of Quebec’s PQ party Pauline Marois unleashed the new party charter that would mandate all immigrants to the province–or even Canadians moving to Quebec from another province–to pass a test to ensure that they would be conversant in French and would have to declare an oath to the province itself, in order to submit grievances to the National Assembly, run for a school board, or even to vote. Nothing is likely to come of it, but it’s chilling that there is such sentiment in the province regardless, and it’s not the first time politicians have expressed such beliefs by any stretch of the imagination. Such rhetoric was common during and after the 1995 referendum, with one PQ minister even going as far to state that in another referendum anglophones and allophones should only get 0.5 of a vote (He was summarily dismissed by then-PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard who took over after Parizeau’s resignation following his bitter diatribe. He’s also the older brother of the commission’s Gerard Bouchard).

The findings of the Bouchard/Taylor commission won’t be released until early next year but they have already revealed a deep undercurrent of xenophobia in many parts of Quebec society, a xenophobia that refuses to die. If it’s been true in the U.S. then it is also true here–it’s like the 1990’s all over again!

Xenophobia’s humble roots



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  1. adam radwanski wrote a very good article. How do you find these things?
    Good history lesson on Quebec politics! Bravo Eric!

  2. This is very disturbing. I remember the 90’s all too well in Quebec and now that I’m living in the United States, it’s become so easy to vilify the American political players currently in power and forget about the discrimination and xenophobia of the pequists back home. I’m not sure if this is so much a case of history repeating itself or simply people acting out until they finish what they started. So hateful and sad…

  3. WOW ERIC!!!
    This was a very riveting blog
    Keep up the great work

  4. Hey Eric…thanks for a great read! Down here in New Orleans, the post-Katrina influx of Latino immigrants working to rebuild the city has led to an upswing in xenophobia and racism (not to mention the racial injustice of the Jena 6 situation), so these topics are a big topic on conversation. Hope you’ll write about the report when it comes out. Take care…Julie

  5. Intéressante l’analyse Eric! Specifically this conclusion: “The attitudes of old-stock, “traditional” Quebecois have not fundamentally changed at all”. I COULDN’T AGREE MORE! Where your analysis fails though in my opinion is in regard to the likeliness of 1995 and 2007 events:

    Firstly, 1995 had to do only with Canada-Québec relations. At the time, many immigrants had helped and participated in the cause with the PQ. Although what was said by J. Parizeau that night after we* lost the referendum was damageable to Québec’s reputation** and made it look racist, the lost of the referendum could not be explained solely by immigration.

    Second, 2007 has to do with immigration and is not unique to Québec. See the tidal wave coming? France, Germany, UK, Québec, etc. ROC is next in the row — there has been incidents like damage to damage to property of muslims and jews in the ROC before, racist justified murders, hate crimes and the like… SO YOU’RE RIGHT, the attitudes of old-stock have not changed, and I suggest you have the same attitudes in the ROC, far from Hérouville. So, 2007 IS ABOUT immigration.

    When 1995 and 2007 tie together, it’s post facto: P. Marois’ (PQ) move is political, it’s merely bringing the debate on grounds where M. Dumont (ADQ) had not dared venture when he “lancé la patate chaude” to J. Charest (PLQ) before the 2007 elections. PLQ made a move after the BTC was set-up, then PQ had to move also and they tied, conceptually, 1995 and 2007 together. But they are different. PLEASE PROVE ME WRONG.

    * I may use the word which has been tagged with a capital “W” by ROC press, although French and Anglos alike use the first person plural every once in a while.
    ** In a way we have not fully understood yet; this is what I would explain as the multi-clutural / republican divide.

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