Toula Drimonis: Some don't identify as Québécois? I wonder why

In what universe would a steady diet of marginalization and suspicion produce an attachment to those doing the marginalizing?

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There’s a pattern that’s often repeated in Quebec’s media landscape. A single anecdote is taken as concrete proof the French language and culture are threatened. That anecdote, in turn, generates a slew of anxiety-provoking opinion columns and social-media tirades that feed off this unease, creating even more division.

It happened again this week. Former Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée — author of such hits as “AK-47s may be hiding under burqas” and “Only French-speaking immigrants should be allowed to immigrate to Quebec” — wrote a column citing a tweet by someone (who in turn was anonymously citing someone else) who shared that he quit teaching at his “multi-ethnic” elementary school because his students were openly mocking and refusing a “Quebec identity.”

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Lisée couldn’t find the damning statement online, but that didn’t stop him from writing an entire column based on it anyway. He then cited other teachers, again anonymous, who claimed students from ethnic backgrounds harbour anti-Quebec sentiments. One of the few named sources in his column — a school principal — disputed his assertion, but no matter. The seed was planted.

Predictably, Lisée’s commentary generated a barrage of columns by pundits who routinely jump at any opportunity to lament Canada’s multiculturalism and present Quebec sovereignty as the only viable solution to any possible problem. Those columns, in turn, generated an additional news cycle of anxiety, resentment, anger and confident assertions (but no proof beyond anecdotes) that Quebec’s younger generations either have no interest in French culture and language, or actively rail against it.

The manufacturing of panic by some is, of course, deliberate. And as Quebec’s demographics change, we can expect more of it.

It’s not surprising that Quebec’s increasing pluralism and multilingualism are seen as threats by those insisting that a Quebec identity must comply with parameters they get to define and impose. The Coalition Avenir Québec government’s increasingly insular and parochial politics have contributed to an uptick in scapegoating of minorities, othering, and anti-immigrant rhetoric. And cultural and linguistic insecurity are buttons that many routinely push in the hope of increasing support for Quebec independence. Such reactionary politics create a combative climate that’s divisive and noxious, pitting Quebecers against each other instead of searching for common ground.

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These challenges are not insurmountable or even new. As immigrants and children of immigrants — who now thoroughly and proudly identify as Quebecers — have demonstrated for decades, all that’s required for successful integration and sense of belonging is time, patience and mutual respect.

Are isolated anecdotes shared by anonymous sources about some students from minority communities disparaging French-speaking Quebecers really indicative of a wider phenomenon? Or do they simply distract attention from the majority’s social and political power to inflict harm on minorities and its responsibility to properly integrate newcomers?

Also, if some young Quebecers are indeed not identifying as Québécois, why are these same pundits now shocked? In what universe would a steady diet of marginalization and suspicion produce attachment to and identification with the group doing the marginalizing?

The CAQ’s Bill 21, the PQ’s Charter of Values, columnists agonizing daily over their “demographic drowning” — is it so strange that some Quebecers from cultural, religious or linguistic groups might grow up not identifying as Quebecers? Or even feeling like they’re not allowed to? After repeated exposure to rhetoric that blames them, or their parents, for everything that ails Quebec right now?

Is it that surprising that people (including many French-speaking Quebecers) ordered to squeeze into the narrow confines of an increasingly limited definition of what it means to be a Quebecer may reject — or possibly even resent — that imposition?

At one point do the people now claiming to be so distraught by these anecdotes take ownership of their part in helping produce them in the first place?

Toula Drimonis is a Montreal journalist and the author of We, the Others: Allophones, Immigrants, and Belonging in Canada. She can be reached on X @toulastake

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