Lawyer Anne-France Goldwater has been taken to task for invoking the word “Gestapo” in her criticism of inspector powers in Bill 96, currently being considered before Quebec’s National Assembly. Criticism has come from Premier LeGault to Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade to the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs.

Yet, by comparison, Goldwater’s choice of words is mild compared to others who, through the years, have used choice expressions while criticizing Quebec’s language laws, proposed legislation, and provincial politicians. This includes a former Prime Minister, federal cabinet members, Premiers, provincial Liberal Party leaders, judges and respected commentators. The following is a sampling.

Former Liberal Ontario Premier David Peterson caused a furore in October, 1993 by drawing a parallel between the Bloc Quebecois and the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. Echoing comments he had made a week earlier in a Montreal area high school, Peterson told Steve Paikin, host of the TV Ontario program The Fourth Reading, that Bloc Quebecois leader Lucien Bouchard is building his whole campaign on the basis of Quebec humiliation. “I’ll tell you another parallel of that,” Peterson elaborated. “Hitler built the Nazi movement on the basis of the humiliation of of Germany after World War I, and built it into a political movement...”.

Former federal Liberal cabinet minister Serge Joyal couldn’t resist the temptation to call the Quebec government “fascist” during a broadcast of the PBS program “The Editors” (Feb. 10,1991) seen throughout the United States and Canada: “I resent a government that would say, listen, we’re going to all make you the same model. It has the sound of fascism in my mind and I don’t like that at all.” Fellow panel member Peter Brimelow, then editor of Forbes magazine, sounding credulous at what he heard, provided Joyal with an opportunity to exculpate himself from the comment, an obvious reference to Quebec’s Bill 178, when he asked moments later: “Serge, do you seriously think that the elected officials of Quebec are fascists?”. Joyal replied: “I think so. I think that ... when you impose the signage in only one language ...that there is something reprehensible.”

Probably the most widely reported and discussed use of an inappropriate comparison was the off the record comment made by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in October 1991 in which he mused before a crowd of over 300 participants at a Young Presidents Organization meeting in Montreal that a future Quebec government could use a distinct society clause to deport anglophone Quebecers. With all the hoopla that followed, no one bothered to mention that it was not the first time Mr. Trudeau had pushed the envelope on the “distinct society” clause. In fact, the “deportation” comment paled in comparison to what Trudeau said on March 30, 1988, when he appeared before the Canadian Senate’s hearings on the Meech Lake Accord:

“ ... I think we are entitled to draw the line when we get into governments whose mandate is to govern particularly for one linguistic community. It would be the same if they were to govern for one religious group or one race ... we have seen examples in history where governments become totalitarian when they think they are governing only for one race, and the others can go to concentration camps.”

During hearings on the second reading of Bill 86, an amendment to the Quebec language law Bill 101, Claude Ryan, the Quebec Government’s Minister responsible for the Charter of the French Language, asked Fernand Daoust, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour, whether he felt at ease knowing there are only two or three jurisdictions in the world which have sign problems, Quebec and South Africa among them. “I personally wouldn’t want to stay in a family of countries like that,” Ryan said.

Warning that Meech Lake’s distinct society clause could be “used to deny basic human rights of all kinds”, the Ottawa based Human Rights Institute of Canada wrote: “Of course it is not likely. Neither was Iran’s sudden return to religious fundamentalism. Nor was the rise of Hitler in a country that had an outstanding reputation for civilization and tolerance.” (August 21, 1987)

Justice Jules Deschenes, in his Quebec Superior Court judgement against the language of education provisions of Bill 101, admonished the legal reasoning of Quebec’s Attorney General thusly: “Quebec’s argument is based on a totalitarian conception of society to which the court does not subscribe.” Enough said?

Tony Kondaks, a former Quebecer, is a retired businessman currently residing in Vancouver, B.C.

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