The Métropolitain

Ella Bergeron and the empowerment of intolerance

Par Beryl Wajsman le 24 octobre 2012

And now the youngest victim of the nationalist rhetoric of the recent election campaign. The tragedy of two-year old Ella Bergeron this past weekend in Hudson. We say this not to exploit a child. But if the “little children shall lead them,” then the story of little Ella leads us to a hard and bitter truth.

The linguistic peace in our communities was shattered this past summer. The “Guns of August” of 1914, were replaced by the messages of nullification and metaphors of segregation that were spewed by the sovereignist camp during the election.

Leaders must take responsibility. When political leaders bark about the politics of identity and issue screeds about “the other,” they unleash the lowest common denominators among us. The forces of darkness. And the government that this province elected, led by cosmopolitan and sophisticated men and women, knew exactly what it was doing when it indulged in the politics of division and discord for electoral advantage.

When you demonize and marginalize minorities – whether because of language, or religion, or creed, or ethnicity – you validate prejudice. When you blame others for problems of your own making, you justify revenge. When you narcotize a majority into neurotic fear, you spark retribution. And when you codify these low limitations of narrow circumstance, you empower intolerance.

Little Ella was the victim of just that. Intolerance. An intolerance seeping into the crevices of our society by the demagoguery of those who would stop at little for the power drawn from the politics of divide and conquer.

The vision of little Ella writhing in seizure should come to Pauline Marois, and Jean-François Lisée in their sleep. As a nightmare inducing rivulets of sweat on their brows. For they are directly responsible. Responsible for a civil society that has seen an incident every several days of brash intolerance openly revealed. From the ticket vendor at the Villa Marie metro to the thugs beating up a young teen for speaking English to the para-medic who refused to speak English when Ella`s father was trying to explain her condition. Intolerance empowered.

This past election had a dark shadow hanging it..The shadow of prejudice. We used the title "A Matter of Prejudice" once before. In a column in October 2007. The prejudice then was the push by the PQ for a Quebec Identity Act. That proposition would have put egregious and draconian limits on citizenship, rights to stand for election and even communication with elected officials. All those who did not speak French would have those rights compromised.

In the vote that brought her to power, Pauline Marois raised that spectre again. And more. She made it clear that her government would pass a law that would not allow anyone to run for public office, not even for a city council seat, if they were not fluent in French. She wants to re-introduce 2007`s infamous Bill 95 that Don Martin, then of the National Post, termed “Racism – in any language.” She wants to limit access to English CEGEPs. Deny information from government agencies in any language other than French, and on and on and on. 

The PQ campaign, and subsequent actions, have provided a perverted rationale for intolerance.  The PQ government has empowered discrimination. And the PQ leaders must accept the responsibility for the guilt that lies squarely at their feet. 

In his historic speech made upon his departure from office Lucien Bouchard sounded a clarion call for freedom. He said, “When issues are matters of principle, there is no room for negotiation. We touch here clearly at the heart of what is essential. I wish to affirm with absolutely no qualifications, that citizens of Quebec can exercise their rights, in whichever way they want..” The heart of what is essential indeed. Marois and today's PQ, in a desperate bid to pander to Quebec's hard-line exclusivists, are ready to jettison those noble sentiments to the dustbin of Quebec history.