Friday, February 20, 2009

Reversal of Fortunes on the Plains of Abraham

A planned re-enactment of the Seven Years War battle between the English and French at the Plains of Abraham in 1759 at Quebec City was canceled. Amid threats of disruptions and even violence by separatist groups such as the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (The Quebec Resistance Network) lead by Patrick Bourgeois the National Battlefields Commission of Canada decided that it was too much of a security risk to host the event which was to consist mostly of re-enactors from the United States, but also from Quebec and other parts of Canada. Separatists viewed this cancellation of an event they considered to be a humiliating reminder of a military defeat to be a victory and the likes of Bourgeois feel it is a first step towards ridding Quebec City of "all monuments dedicated to the memory of Wolfe [the English commander killed in combat at the battle.]"

The cancellation of this event sets a dangerous precedent. Instead of guaranteeing the over 2,000 re-enactors and their families who were to come to Quebec City increased security at their event (which was to include a solemn memorial for all the soldiers involved in that battle) our government capitulated to a vocal extremist minority. Instead of responding to threats of violence with police investigations and legal sanctions, the government has let threats of and physical assault with a weapon, slide (some threatened to bring paint ball guns to disrupt the event).

It is upsetting to think that anyone in modern Quebec, which prides itself on a distinctness based on its unique history in North America, would seek to ban historical re-enactments and monuments to important figures in Canadian and Quebec history who they found distasteful. The extremists of the separatist movement have shown their true colours with their intimidation tactics and their desire to erase from the pages of history historical facts about the country they live in. They want to erase from history all that they see as a humiliation forgetting that the true humiliation came at the hands of the French and not the English. Even French media in Quebec points out how the British did away with cruel French criminal laws while protecting the settler's rights to their own civil laws, religion and language. Little mention is made, however, of how when the Seven Years War ended the French, defeated by the English, when given the choice, chose to abandon Quebec to the English. In exchange for the costly colony of Quebec, by the 1763 treaty of Paris, the French were entitled to keep their sugar, rum and slave producing colonies in the Caribbean as well as some fishing rights and tiny, rocky islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was the French who chose to abandon Quebec, that perhaps, is a humiliation greater than military defeat. Nobody wants to be a second choice.

This episode is also troubling because of what appears to be a lack of any efforts to compromise, to enter into a dialogue which would allow the re-enactors to bring history to life, and as a spin off, pump millions into Quebec's economy while assuring separatists that this is to be a solemn remembrance of history, not a glorification of English victory. There was no effort to reassure opponents of the re-enactment that they were not the target of some sort of attempt at humiliation and that if they wished, they would be allowed to protest peacefully, without disrupting the re-enactment.

Indeed, this whole episode is a sad day for democracy. Even the Federalist Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest had criticized the re-enactment and indicated that he would have no part of it. Quebec is in trouble when a legally authorized event can be canceled by a group of separatist "hotheads" threatening violence. When is enough, enough?! It is time for strong leadership to say 'no! This is Quebec history, these re-enactors have as much right to freedom of peaceful assembly as protesters have a right to free speech. In our democracy, these values must co-exist and be protected. Threats of violence are unacceptable, illegal, undemocratic and will be punished. We will not sacrifice benefits for the many to the threats of the few.' Sadly, no such leadership seems to exist.

Indeed, separatist extremists have won the day. No doubt they are celebrating with the shop owners, restaurateurs and innkeepers who have lost-out on a potential financial windfall. Instead, Quebec can rejoice in having joined the likes of the Spanish conquistadors who burned 'unchristian' Mayan texts of immense historical value; the Popes who caused massive damage to the 'pagan' Coliseum of Rome by stripping it of its stone and iron to build churches; and the Taliban who destroyed centuries old statues of Buddha, including what was believed to be the worlds largest standing Buddha. Quebec has joined the ranks of those who will bow to threats of violence by those who seek to erase history they find distasteful, and in doing so, driving a deeper wedge between them, and the rest of Canada.

8 comments:

PSim said...

Well said, but did anyone really believe that this was going to ever really happen? Given Quebec democracy is different from that experienced everywhere else.

I guess the motto on the license plate "Je me souviens" is exactly that... I remember, so don't bother reminding me!

Sandra said...

Anonymous,
I'm shocked you would find this planned and thankfully aborted re-enactment anything BUT a humiliating reminder of a conquest. You are looking at this clearly fromt he perspective of the conqueror and not the conquered. What you're advocating and what the organizers ofthis event were staging was tantamount to Iraqis re-enacting the invasion of their country by a foreign power every where in celebration, or Kuweitis re-enacting the ivnasion of theirs by Iraq. How could one think that re-enacting an imperialist victory over a people that had an identity, culture, language an religion different from the conqueror, and which has managed to retain this distinct identity 300 years later, would be interpreted as anything other than a cruel reminder of the past? In a province where as PSIM points out, even the license plates voice the memory of past defeats?
I find it very politically incorrect if not culturally condescending.

This brings me to another comment re your statement that even the francophone Quebec press lauds the replacement of "cruel" French criminal laws with "civilized" English ones. Need I remind you that over half the world uses a civilian French-derived criminal legal system, which although different from anglo-law, has its own merits and advantages. To assume authoritatively that they are "cruel" borders on imperialist anglocentrism.
As a proud Quebecker and a proud Canadian, I am relieved and happy that there was enough of an outcry to warrant the cancellation of the event. And I only wish those segments of the population who do not closely identify with the francophone heritage of Canada and Quebec, would be sensitive enough to the historical humiliations of the French-Canadian population not to rub it in their face.

PSim said...

Sandra, I think you miss the point here.
I agree with you that this was probably a bad idea from the inception. Not sure what someone was thinking knowing the highly sensitive issue the outcome of that battle is.
However, once the plans were made, the decision to cancel was made based on threats of violence. It was terrorist threats, pure and simple, that caused the event to be cancelled. At this point we all know that giving in to terrorist demands is never a good idea. It just promotes more of the same behavior.
Further, your statement about "enough of an outcry" is not accurate. In fact I believe the outcry was from a very small, but vocal minority, which is as anti-democratic as you could ask. Since when does a democracy act on the wishes of the minority?

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Sandra,

As you may have expected, I disagree. Undoubtedly there are sensitivities to this, now canceled, event but I don't think these sensitivities are insurmountable. One of the points I made was that there out to have been some dialogue over this issue. Something that would allow those who wished to re-enact to carry on in a respectful way and for those opposed to peacefully protest the event. My argument is that properly conceived or not, the government yielded to threats of violence in what seems to be an absence of dialogue (though I would be interested in evidence to the contrary). That, is undemocratic.

To PSim, I am glad you agree with me, but I would not go as far as you. I would not call Patrick Bourgeois a terrorist. He and his supporters have used the threat of violence to achieve their political aims, but I would disagree that this is the same as terrorism. At the same time, however, I concede that terrorism is a difficult thing to define.

Sandra said...

Charlie and PSim,

I don't know the details of the outcry and reasons of cancellation, I fully concede that. My shock comes more from the fact that people would have even conceived of this idea without expecting some kind of reaction. I'm sorry but I'm just fixated on the fact that people WOULDN'T think this was a terribly insensitive idea! I mean, I'm repeating myself here, but it's the re-enactment of a battle that caused a defeat and conquest that are the underlying causes of a secession and nationalist movement over 300 years later. It's like Israel re-enacting the Roman conquest of Judea/Galilee/Palestine every year for its "civilizing" effect, or the Palestinians re-enacting the 1967 war. It's just unthinkable!

Charlie, I fully agree with you on the difficulties, if not impossibility, in defining "terrorism". Who is a terrorist for one, might be a hero to another. But I don't think use of threat of violence makes a terrorist. But it's not a label that should be thrown aroud offhandedly.

DonnaBrigante said...

I am starting a petition to revoke the Quebec Act. Frankly I am fed up and just want Quebecers to GROW UP. A hideous ice sculpture of a Jewish moneylender produced by the Ukranians for the Carnaval got no sympathy from Quebecers who ridiculed complaints from a Jewish visitor but WOW the outrage when Conan O`Brian DARED make light of Quebec`s narcisstic (and frankly provincial) obsessions a few years back. The police refuse to stop the street theatre put on by the pathetic group Tadamon recreating - in our metro - using mock - but sufficiently lifelike weapons the murder of palestinians by 'criminal' Israeli soldiers because it fits the self-portrait of Quebecers as underdogs and victims - legitimate protest it is said - OH GROW UP! I challenge my ' pure laine' dear Quebecers to tell me what redeeming 'values' that new immigrants and immigrants up to the nth generation should adhere to...single parenthood? Highest suicide rate? Highest school dropout rate? An aversion to any Francophone who rises above the provincialism of this spit of a land and actually succeeds beyond its borders? An affinity for greasy spoons? Lasagna eaten with bread and loaded with pepperoni? GASP - poutine? Let`s all just stop intellectualizing and apologizing for Quebec`s collective case of insecurity manifested as superiority and get on with it. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was a historically significant event which, as far as I am concerned - ultimately guaranteed Quebec`s survival - to compare this event to 1967 is hubris. It is also an insult to Palestinians.

DonnaBrigante said...

Those who think I am less than generous is my views of Quebec`s French heritage did not get forced into English schools because only the French could enter French public schools only to be later harangued to this day that they do not have perfect mastery of the French language and are thus unqualified for many higher level public service positions - je me souviens too.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

DonnaBrigante,

If nothing else, you're to be commended for your obvious passion. I'm happy to see that on this, my tiny space on the internet, people are expressing what they think freely.

I had heard about the snow sculpture and was uncomfortable that a hurtful anti-Semitic caricature would have been accepted because it was "traditional." Something racist is not made acceptable because it's "traditional." Our traditions need to keep up with the times.

I also vaguely remember the Conan incident but am not at all informed about Tadamon, though I would be interested in hearing more.

The problems with Quebec society you allude to are real, but I would not agree that this is the entirety of Quebec values. Wouldn't you agree that Quebec has more to offer than the social problems you list? Though I agree at times this is gone-about in, at best, a misguided way, the Quebec value of cultural preservation has merit. This reverence for ones roots is commendable, and part of what makes the cancellation of this re-enactment so shocking to me.

As for the comparison of this proposed re-enactment to the 1967 war in the Middle East...well, one major difference I can think of is that there is still violent, unresolved fall-out from the 1967 war. This is not the case for the Plains of Abraham.