Pauline Marois' Parti Quebecois won a narrow victory in yesterday's election, but not enough to form a majority government. At the victory celebration at Montreal's Metropolis theater, a gunman came in through the back after setting a fire and fired a rifle, killing one man and critically wounding another. The gunman was subdued by police and taken away, during which he shouted in French at the TV cameras: "The anglophones are waking up!"
Those are the facts as we know them right now. Quebec and Canada being what they are - i.e., not America -- few in the media are speculating or laying blame; the police and the media have acted with responsibility, restraint, and professionalism. No one knows exactly what the gunman meant, because we don't yet know who he was. However, it seems most likely that he was an anglophone extremist who didn't like what Pauline Marois stands for and has been saying.
What we can say for certain is that the past six months in the province have been the most tense in many years. As I wrote yesterday, I was upset by Pauline Marois' rhetoric and platform calling for strengthening the language laws and imposing restrictions on religious dress. I'm not upset that she, or other people, have strong feelings about their own culture; that is her right and furthermore, I understand historically why she feels that way. But I am opposed to rhetoric that can be perceived as racist in any form, and particularly to public officials inflaming tensions along any societal divides: cultural, sexual, ethnic, religious. When political leaders, or celebrities, or talk show hosts -- anyone with a public voice -- does this, it runs the risk of inciting people to violence and hate crimes, as well as lesser but very damaging incidents where self-control would normally prevail.
Yesterday a YouTube video went viral on the social networks. It showed a drunken couple on a late-night Montreal street verbally attacking some Asian men for speaking English instead of French in public. Of course, there is no law in Quebec saying that anyone has to speak French in public! But like the video of a London woman berating an immigrant on a bus earlier this year, this couple were out of control, repeatedly demanding of the men if they had been born in Quebec, calling them "fucking British," and screaming at them to speak French.
Today, anyone can turn into a public figure, with an audience. 80,000 people have watched that video so far.
The election concerns all of Quebec, but we also have our own city to consider. The most unique and precious thing about Montreal is not merely its French ambience and European flavor, but its vibrant and peaceful multiculturalism. That is what we all should be trying to recognize and protect.
A society can be full of people who have reasonable, rational, balanced attitudes about difficult issues -- frankly, this election demonstrated that, and in general our daily culture does too. A shooting incident like this is very unusual for Montreal, and shocks us -- it is only the 22nd homicide of the entire year, in a city of over 3 million people, but every senseless human death is a tragedy. It should wake us all up to the fact that there is no room for inflammatory rhetoric in our society. I've lived with so much of this in the United States, and seen where it leads. Surely we can do better here, and demand better from our leaders as well as ourselves.