It speaks volumes of a society when a mere 500-word piece requires people to come to the defense of its identity. I was shocked to see the number of apologies being rendered (to whom may I ask?), explanations being supplied by defenders of the decision which resulted in Andrew Potter quitting his job at McGill University. Freedom of speech…anyone?
I don’t need to assert the inviolable right to freedom of speech. I refuse to condone racist, bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic voices; however, I don’t need to censor anyone. My sole manner of protest against anything that I don’t believe in or agree with, is to show disagreement. This right to disagree flows from my fundamental right to free speech. This is obviously a no-brainer, but let’s come to the merits of Potter’s article. I’m not even going to venture into an empirical evaluation of what he wrote. It was a journalistic opinion in a magazine, not a scientific journal claiming data-supported accuracy. What was he saying and can we please, by a show of hands, ask how many people disagree with him?
With the public discourse (the political parties in Quebec spoke in unison) calling the article solely “based on prejudice/misinformation/sloppy”, can I self-identify that I agree with a lot of what he said. While his whole link between the crumbling social structure of Quebec as represented by the chaos on a major highway, was a bit of a stretch, but outside of that I actually eat at enough places where I am not handed a receipt, or offered a handwritten one. And for us regular middle class people, it’s more a norm than an exception. The idea of social cohesion is never critically addressed. There is an underlying lack of acceptance of the other, lack of social cohesion to care for the socially and physically vulnerable and just this fear of people who look different, speak a different language, or pray differently. The only thing I disagree with is Potter’s dig at the police. While I don’t support it as an organization, as I have been the personal recipient of their racial prejudices, I don’t have any problems with their form of protest. That’s again their right in a free society.
I would actually add to Potter’s list of ills that are plaguing our society. Can we please talk about the infrastructural catastrophe that this province is becoming? Can we debate budget overruns, high taxation, crumbling health care services, endemic corruption, businesses shutting down because of a lack of a competitive business climate, one of the most indebted provinces in the country, linguistic imperialists worried about how I spell “Cupcake”… Should I go on?
Before writing this, I wondered what I wanted to achieve by stating my opinion and placing it in the public domain. It wasn’t a difficult discussion: I simply wanted to voice my opinion, in support of the freedom of speech and expression. I know it comes with risks. I know I am often told that as a gay person of color I should be thankful that I was allowed to live in Canada. It’s not a rarity to be reminded to be careful, lest be told that I should go back where I came from. And no matter my earnest efforts to adapt (not assimilate), la langue française est la quatrième langue que je parle, there is this lurking reminder of being the other.
No society, neither Quebec nor Canada, is a homogenous whole, where a singular opinion applies to all and sundry. We live in a complex society, in a country of immigrants, with people who are both a product of colonization and victims thereof. There are gaps in wealth distribution, employment opportunity, discrimination, like any other society. Can I just have the freedom to say that and not be told to shut up?
To all the people who refused to defend Mr. Potter’s right to his opinion and the right to express it, I am not alone and barring one, everyone in my entourage actually agrees with some/most of the points he made. Quebec isn’t just suffering from a social malaise, it also suffers from amnesia of its treatment of First Nations people, a complete denial of its imposition of cultural imperialism on people from all over the world who seek better opportunities in a land built by IMMIGRANTS, and by what happened to Potter, its new found social reprimand of free speech.
Having lived in this province for over a decade, I am just as Quebecois (law abiding and respectful of others) as the next-door neighbor, and if I see a problem with my society, I will call it out without any fear of reprisal.