Marlene Jennings: Three cheers for our Als and Marc-Antoine Dequoy

Player’s outburst against the disrespect for the French language during Grey Cup Week was right on the mark.

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I am not a football fan and never have been. So I didn’t watch the Grey Cup. In fact I have never watched a full game of football, amateur or professional, CFL or NFL. But I cheered wildly, along with many fellow Montrealers and Quebecers, when our Alouettes triumphed on Sunday.

Why would someone who doesn’t like or watch football — and reads about it only when Jack Todd writes about it — suddenly feel like celebrating a Grey Cup win?

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Well, as a Quebecer, I feel proud of our accomplishments, and there have been many. It was Quebec that in 1990 established the first ever independent civilian oversight of law enforcement — not just in Canada or North America, but in the world. I know because I was part of this sea change.

It was also Quebec that in 1997 became the first province to establish a universal public daycare system at $5 per day when the going rate in the province was around $25. Today, thanks to the federal government’s national $10 per day childcare initiative, some other provinces now have their own universal programs subsidized in part with federal dollars.

We had Les Cowboys Fringants; the rest of Canada had The Tragically Hip.

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And as an anglophone Quebecer, I applauded the heat-of-the-moment comments by Als player Marc-Antoine Dequoy after the game. I suspect many other anglos did, too. It’s unacceptable that there was a lack of French signage at the Grey Cup in Hamilton. Or that O Canada was sung in English only at the East Division final against the Argonauts in Toronto. Or that TSN’s TV schedule listed Toronto versus Winnipeg as the final. I laughed and applauded when Dequoy, who is from Île-Bizard, screamed in French into the camera: “You know what, man? Keep your English!”

As he later explained, his frustration was not directed at English-speaking Canadians, but rather at the lack of respect shown for the French language during Grey Cup Week in the lead-up to the big game. “The CFL is bilingual. The CFL is French and English as Canada as a country is,” he said, and rightly so.  

I travel to British Columbia fairly often as I have siblings who live there. This past Thanksgiving I spent a week visiting with family out there. When I travel outside Quebec, I often feel like a fish out of water — so accustomed am I to hearing French virtually everywhere in the public space and, yes, even in the private space: My daughter and I speak to each other mostly in English, but we often switch to French if the subject matter lends itself better to that language.

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So during my visits out of province, it is quite jarring to hear only English (along with many other languages) but no French. On the streets, in the shopping centres, most everywhere I go, the signs are in English. I even find myself doing mental translations — a sign that says “Sale, 50% discount” becomes “Vente, rabais 50%” in my mind — without realizing it.

I long for French when I am outside Quebec, being accustomed to hearing it and seeing it everywhere when I am at home. Simply put, I miss it when I go without it. And the “English reality” of the rest of Canada brings home to me — and many other anglophone Quebecers, I suspect — just how different we are.

More and more, I feel, we are or have become Quebecers first and Canadians second. That sentiment struck me when I applauded Dequoy’s passionate outburst. Yes, I am a Quebecer first and a Canadian second. And, again, I suspect that is also the case for many other anglos here, whether they realize it or not.

Marlene Jennings is a former president of the Quebec Community Groups Network and a former Liberal MP. She sits on the boards of several community organizations.

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