Last week, self-proclaimed conservative columnist J.J. McCullough wrote an opinion piece in which he let terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette off the hook for his barbaric attack on a Quebec City mosque because – he implies – Quebec nationalism and the province’s historic efforts to preserve the French language are the real culprits.
Just like the ideological left, J.J. McCullough commits sociology to explain and exonerate a criminal from responsibility. He puts the blame of the atrocious actions of a lone gunman on a group of people. This is not unlike law-abiding gun owners being made liable for mass shootings or suggesting societal “root causes” were responsible for the actions of the Boston Marathon bombers – an absurd allegation made by Canada’s current prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
The columnist’s disdain and misunderstanding of Canada’s francophone province seemingly trumps a cornerstone of the conservative ideology that he claims to purport: Criminal actions should be attributed to those who commit them, not to the societies to which they belong. Alexandre Bissonnette is solely responsible for his actions and he should face the full force of the law.
It should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said: Quebecers do not remotely share the views of the shooter. Since the tragic event, there has been an outpouring of public sympathy and support to Quebec’s Muslim community, with thousands peacefully taking to the streets in the province’s major cities to mourn the victims and condemn the actions. This outpouring has come from people of all political stripes, languages and backgrounds, most of whom are Quebec natives.
Some in English Canada fail to understand that Quebec’s nationalism has been, for the most part, a positive driving force in its 400-year history and in Canada’s journey as a country. It has helped shape laws to protect the French language within a continent dominated by Anglophones. In practice, this has prevented the assimilation of 8 million Quebecers and counting – no easy feat. Quebec nationalism has also helped produce internationally acclaimed cinema and musicians that all Canadians take pride in, not to mention the global businesses that have emanated from the province, such as Cirque du Soleil, Frank & Oak and Power Corporation. And while this may seem trivial to mention in light of the lives lost at the Quebec City mosque, it is unfortunately necessary to point out the net goodness of Quebec nationalism when the entire Quebec population is being blamed for the actions of terrorists.
ne could argue that Quebec’s will to preserve its language and protect its culture is a conservative trait in and of itself. After all, it was a Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, who officially recognized Quebec as a nation within Canada. So it is all the more surprising to see a self-described conservative joining the left in using inappropriate and apocalyptic labels like “fascists” and “supremacists” to describe a society’s attempt to preserve its heritage.
While it’s true that Quebec nationalism sometimes collides with official Canadian multiculturalism policy, Quebec welcomes tens of thousands of immigrants every year. It is objectively welcoming, providing its newcomers with free language classes and a suite of generous programs to ensure a smooth transition to la belle province. In return, the province asks its immigrants to participate in the preservation of Quebec’s unique language and culture in North America. To blame a terrorist’s actions on Quebec’s legitimate efforts to protect its language, culture and heritage is despicable.
Those attempting to understand what transpired in Quebec City last week would be wise to spend more time analyzing the lone gunman who carried out the appalling attack, and less time pointing fingers at the imaginary boogeyman that is Quebec nationalism.
Carl Vallée was the press secretary to former prime minister Stephen Harper from 2010 to 2015. He currently works as a senior consultant at HATLEY Strategy Advisors, a public affairs firm in Montreal.