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NORTHERNPRESS ONLINE    |      Other news   |    NPU Archives   |    NPU 25th season   |    News Links   |    Partnenaires   |    A.P. Partnership   |    NPU-AP 2003-5   |    NPU-AP 2006-7   |    20 years of photos   |    2006 Wedding Separatists' fervor subsides in Quebec Secure in its Frenchness, province more inclined to stay part of Canada By Phil Couvrette / Associated Press MONTREAL -- There was a time in the 1990s when Quebec's language war got so nasty that the anthem couldn't be sung at ball games, so loudly would the Fr wybkpuqa. canada géna montebello parkaench-speaking fans boo the English-language version. Nowadays, the fans just wait good-naturedly for the game to start. The relaxed atmosphere is just one manifestation of what looks like a different Quebec, secure in its Frenchness and less anxious to break free of the Canadian embrace. The long struggle that at one point descended into terrorism, threatened to tear Canada apart and dragged Quebec through two divisive referendums on sovereignty, seems to have been put on the backburner. One piece of evidence is the skyrocketing fortunes of a 32-year-old legislator named Mario Dumont. Preaching lower taxes, spending cuts and private health care, he is the very model of a modern mold-breaker. Most significant, however, is his insistence that Quebec sovereignty, while not a dead issue, is not a priority. His party, Action Democratique du Quebec, started the year with one seat in the 125-member provincial legislature, and now has five, having unseated representatives of the ruling -- and separatist -- Parti Quebecois, in one special election after another. Dumont's party leads the opinion polls, and some analysts can imagine it being strong enough to take power by the time provincial elections roll around next year. Sovereignty issue not dead The reasons behind the truce over separatism are many: a feeling that the language battle has been largely won; the autonomous powers that give Quebec significant control of taxes, education and immigration policies; the sense that in a wired and globalizing world, issues of sovereignty suddenly seem narrower. Indeed, some now worry that in a world that increasingly relies on English, Quebecois who don't speak the language will be at a disadvantage. Premier Bernard Landry has insisted the next election will also be about sovereignty, that his Parti Quebecois will stick to its goal even if it loses votes, and that "there's no question of deviating from this objective for any short-term political rationale." The Parti Quebecois has been in power for two terms, and that confronts it with another challenge: No party has won a Quebec provincial election three times in a row since the 1950s. Another newly elected legislator for Action Democratique du Quebec is Francois Corriveau, who is the same age as Dumont. He voted for Quebec sovereignty in the last referendum, in 1995, but now calls for new thinking. "People in their 30s have lived through all the disappointments of the last 20 years," he says. "We want an end to the quarrels with the federal government." As a child, Louis Balthazar felt alienated as a French speaker. Store clerks served him in English, movies were in English, people on the streets spoke English. Now, strolling down Boulevard Rene-Levesque (formerly Dorchester Street) one feels the changes of the past decades: people chatting mostly in French, ordering meals from French menus, renting the latest French movies from video stores. The French language, cuisine and fashion feel as organic to Montreal as they do to Paris. The bars stay open later and the corner groceries sell wine, much to the delight of visiting teens from the more buttoned-up neighboring province, Ontario. To Balthazar, a semi-retired political science professor at Laval University, the triumph of French has made the Parti Quebecois "a spent force." The 7.4 million people of Quebec "have a very strong identity and want to be respected," he said in an interview. "But they also want to be part of Canada." Quebec always contentious Quebec, well over twice the size of Texas with one-third of the population, has always been a contentious subject: in the 1760s, when the British completed their takeover of what was then called New France; in 1867, when the country of Canada was formed as a dominion under Queen Victoria, and a century later, when French President Charles de Gaulle visited Montreal and electrified the Quebecois with his cry of "Vive le Quebec libre!" -- long live free Quebec. But try as they might, the separatists have failed in two referendums to muster a majority for independence, even though they have couched their goal in terms of remaining in some form of association with Canada's other nine provinces and three territories. Quebec's separateness is reflected in many critical ways: Its legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code, while the rest of Canada follows English common law. It raises its own income tax. It sets its own immigration rules, geared to attract French-speakers. And it has a law favoring French over English. Yet it remains sufficiently embedded in Canada to have produced the three dominant national figures of the past 30 years -- Prime Ministers Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, and the present one, Jean Chretien. Levesque's reign The struggle over Quebec's future began to sharpen in the late 1960s, when the Parti Quebecois was formed under the leadership of a TV commentator-turned-politician named Rene Levesque, who would go on to rule the province for nine years. Things reached their low point in 1970 when a shadowy militant group called the Quebec Liberation Front, demanding "total independence," kidnapped and killed Quebec's labor minister, and separately abducted but freed a British diplomat. In 1977 came the Charter of the French Language, banning the display of signs in English, with language police to enforce the new rules. An exodus of English-speakers followed. The English-speaking population of Quebec, which had been 13.1 percent in 1971, would dwindle to 8.8 percent over the next 25 years. In 1980, Levesque held the referendum he had promised, but didn't get what he hoped for; Quebec voted 3-2 to stay in Canada. Fifteen years later, another referendum dealt the separatists a hair's-breadth defeat. Today, sensing that voters are tired of the subject, the up-and-coming Dumont scores points by promising no more referendums for at least five years. Legal challenges to the constitutionality of the language laws have resulted in compromises whereby bilingual signs are permitted, as long as the French lettering is larger. James Berlyn is a teacher of children with disabilities and a fourth-generation Scottish-Quebecois-Canadian. He says a half-dozen of his friends moved out in the early 1980s, but nowadays he feels no pressure. "I know just a little French, and it hasn't kept me from working here," he says. Eardley Dowling is an English-speaking real estate agent living among French-speakers. He also sees a decline in separatist fervor, but still considers the subject too touchy to raise with his neighbors. "That would be explosive," he says. "That would mean the end of the friendship." Language question persists Indeed, the sovereignty issue may be on ice, but the language question still flares up regularly. Three Montreal outlets of "Second Cup," a Canadian coffee shop chain, were fire-bombed in October 2000. A group calling itself the French Self-Defense Brigade claimed responsibility. But as Lucien Bouchard, Quebec's premier at the time, explained, the law exempts trademarks. A company can't be forced to change its name in order to operate in Quebec, he said. "Wal-Marts exist, Toys R Us exist, and that has not provoked an outcry." Still, the government remains vigilant. A new law is being enacted to impose more French in the workplace, and lately Quebec Web sites with insufficient French content have been getting warnings. But the number of complaints overall is falling, according to the government's French language office -- 1,686 complaints of non-compliance in 1998-99, but only 992 the following year. The office says this is mainly because companies have learned the signboarding rules. Language spats still can quickly become causes celebres, as Formula One racer Jacques Villeneuve, a Quebec man, discovered last year when he opened a Montreal nightclub called Newtown, the English translation of his name. Although the name is legally trademarked, it provoked a dozen complaints to the language office. "You have to see further than your nose," Villeneuve protested at a news conference. "It's a big world. I grew up a lot of the time in Switzerland, where people speak three or four languages and no one gets angry at each other." Benoit Gignac, son of the beloved Quebec singer Fernand Gignac, told the Montreal Gazette last month that he no longer fears for the French language. "I think the battles we led in the 1960s and 1970s for the French language were extremely salutary," he said. "What has been accomplished is pretty irreversible in the end. The confidence we have gained, we will never lose." But one campaigner for sovereignty says the battle isn't over. She fears Quebec's low birth rate threatens its culture. Young Quebecois are spoiled, she says; they have never known the humiliation of shopping at an English-owned department store and being snapped at by a sales clerk for speaking French. In her 60s and doing charity work, she blames past referendum defeats on scare tactics by the federal government. She remembers being warned that if Quebec went independent, the Canadian dollar would weaken to 75 cents to the U.S. dollar. Quebec is still in Canada but the dollar today is down to 66 cents. Balthazar, the political scientist, cautions against writing off the sovereignty issue. Dumont, he says, is in tune with the current mood of putting the issue aside but not writing it off. "He keeps sovereignty in his pocket just in case. That's how we have accomplished things and won battles -- by keeping the threat of separation as an option." Major events in Quebec history 1763: Britain completes its conquest of the French territories of Canada. 1867: British North America Act establishes Canada as a British dominion, gives French and English languages equal status in federal and Quebec parliaments. 1960: Jean Lesage is elected premier of Quebec and adopts a policy called "the Quiet Revolution," seeking cultural and social reform, and autonomy for the province. 1967: Quebec nationalists get a historic boost -- and federal government is infuriated -- when French President Charles de Gaulle, visiting Canada, declares to a crowd in Montreal: "Vive le Quebec libre!" -- long live free Quebec. 1968: Creation of the Parti Quebecois, which absorbs the small independence movements, setting the stage for concerted drive for sovereignty and Canada's prolonged constitutional crisis. 1969: French is made Canada's other official language. 1970: The militant Quebec Liberation Front kidnaps British diplomat James Cross and then Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte, demanding independence. Laporte is found dead; Cross is freed. 1976: Parti Quebecois led by Rene Levesque wins Quebec provincial election, promises to hold a referendum on a plan whereby Quebec would have sovereignty but remain associated with Canada. 1977: Bill 101, Charter of the French Language, becomes Quebec law, with sweeping bans on the use of English. The move triggers an exodus of English-speakers, mostly to neighboring Ontario. 1980: Separatists lose a referendum, with 60 percent voting to stay in Canada. 1990: The Meech Lake Accord, designed to regulate the relationship among the provinces and perhaps settle the Quebec issue for good, collapses after Manitoba and Newfoundland legislatures vote it down. 1995: Federalists again defeat separatists in a Quebec referendum, taking 51 percent of vote. 2001: Lucien Bouchard resigns as Quebec premier, acknowledging failure to rekindle Quebec people's passion for sovereignty. Filed Sunday, July 21, 2002 This feature story has appeared in major newspapers world-wide including: Houston Chronicle Detroit Free Press Detroit News The Miami Herald The Seattle Times Buffalo News Turkish Daily News Washington Times ARCHIVES -------------- Long trial predicted for "Mafiaboy' hacker By Phil Couvrette The Associated Press Dec. 8, 2000 MONTREAL (AP) _ The trial of a 16-year-old computer hacker accused of paralyzing major Web sites of CNN, Yahoo! and Amazon.com in February could last six months because of the technical evidence, his lawyer said Friday. At a court hearing for the suspect, who cannot be named under Canadian law but is known by his computer nickname Mafiaboy, Judge Gilles Ouellette scheduled another hearing for Dec. 13 on whether a pre-conference meeting should take place to speed up the process. The youth stood with his hands cuffed behind his back throughout Friday's 15-minute court appearance. He wore a black T-shirt adorned with a dragon draped in a U.S. flag and said nothing. Police rearrested the youth on Dec. 1 for violating conditions of his release from custody after being charged in April with more than 60 counts of computer hacking and mischief. He has pleaded innocent to the charges, which involve the temporary disabling of Web sites by bombarding them with messages. If convicted, he could spend up to two years in a juvenile detention center. An adult convicted of the same charges would face up to 10 years in prison. After his initial arrest, the youth was allowed to live at home under strict conditions that included staying away from computers, attending school and keeping out of trouble. He was taken back into custody for being suspended from school, cutting classes, arguing with teachers and other disciplinary problems. His lawyer, Yan Romanowski, said Friday the stress of the criminal case was a factor in the youth's problems at school. He said he would file an appeal to the youth's continued detention next week. The trial would last from three to six months, Romanowski said, because "it will be very technical, there will be many witnesses in a field which is very technical." The hacking case in February raised concern worldwide about the vulnerability of major Web sites as dependence on the Internet for communication and commerce increases. Police say Mafiaboy crippled the Web sites by bombarding them with thousands of simultaneous messages. Prosecutors also allege he broke into several computers, mostly at U.S. universities, and used them to launch the attack against the Web sites. ------------------------------------------------------- Proposed Montreal Merger Unites City By Phil Couvrette The Associated Press Dec. 12, 2000 MONTREAL (AP) _ In the heart of an often uneasy bilingual city, French and English speakers are fighting fiercely for their turf - but not against each other They are united against a plan to merge their 26 communities - which are in the middle of the city on Montreal Island but have their own governments - with the rest of Montreal. An estimated 70,000 sign-waving, chanting people _ some bused in from other parts of Quebec and even Ontario _ clogged downtown streets on Sunday in a show of force against a proposed provincial law that would permit such municipal amalgamation. ``Hands off our city" read signs, in French and English in the world's second-largest French-speaking city, as whistles screeched and parka-clad protesters marched. Some carried upside down Quebec flags, a dig at the separatist provincial government that is pushing the plan.   Demonstrators expressed a range of reasons for braving the freezing temperatures, all based on the same basic concern _ a loss of autonomy. Municipalities dating back more than a century would disappear administratively, making beloved town crests and flags obsolete, while local services such as trash collection would come under the bigger and presumably less efficient Montreal administration. "I've never demonstrated about anything in my life, but I have a personal attachment to my city," said Annie Drolet of Outremont, considered the home of much of Montreal's French-speaking intelligentsia. "My parents have always lived here, and I know that if I want something done I can just walk up to town hall and be heard." Other cited what they called a heavy-handed approach by the provincial government. ``I'm not here against forced mergers but in favor of democracy," said Jean-Francois Laforge of Sainte Foy, who accused authorities of acting without consulting the people. ``I would have preferred to have stayed at home playing with my kids than to come freeze myself here. But after awhile we have to stand up and say society exists for individuals and not vice versa." It was the largest demonstration since a 1995 anti-separatist rally a few days before the last referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Jean Charest, who heads the Liberal Party in Quebec's provincial politics, organized the 1995 federalist rally and also was present on Sunday. He hopes the issue can help his Liberals topple the Parti Quebecois in the next provincial election, expected in 2002 or 2003. "The government has no mandate to do this," Charest said. ``Why didn't they mention this during the last election?" The mega-merger issue was considered one of several reasons that the separatist cause fared poorly in last month's national election won by the federal Liberal Party. The province's separatist party at the national level, the Bloc Quebecois, lost the popular vote in Quebec to Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Liberal Party and barely managed to match the Liberals' 38 Parliament seats.   Under the plan, the 26 boroughs on Montreal Island, the heart of the city, would be merged into one administration. A final decision by the provincial legislature on the law enabling the consolidation was expected next week. Similar plans also have begun for Quebec City and Hull, across the Ottawa River from the federal capital in neighboring Ontario. The reasons are the same for any municipal merger _ streamlining levels of government to reduce costs and consolidate power. In Montreal, the amalgamation would increase the city's population by 500,000 to 1.8 million. Mayor Pierre Bourque, who spent Sunday collecting signatures at town hall for a pro-merger petition, said the public feared change. "They have privileges they're afraid to lose," he said of the protesters. "People always resist change. This is good in a way, it is democracy. People have to express themselves in the debate, but the government is right to do what it is doing." Mary Deros, a member of the Montreal city government, recalled the bureaucratic walls she faced when she lived in Outremont on a street that forms the border with Montreal proper. ``An invisible barrier was set up where I could go to the swimming pools in Outremont but could not bring somebody who lived on the other side of the street," Deros said. "It's the best thing that could happen to Montreal, to unify everybody." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Split Among Quebec Separatists By Phil Couvrette Associated Press Writer Dec. 21, 2000 MONTREAL (AP) _ A hardline separatist's comments criticizing Jews has revealed a political split in Quebec's governing Parti Quebecois, which wants sovereignty for the province. Yves Michaud, 70, who wants to run as the party's candidate in a by-election next year in a francophone district of Montreal, was condemned by the provincial legislature last week for his statement on a radio show perceived as trivializing the Holocaust. Michaud said on the program that Jews seemed to believe they were "the only people in the world to have suffered in the history of humankind." He also described a major Jewish organization as "anti-Quebecois." His comments rekindled a sensitive issue in Quebec _ alleged intolerance by Quebec separatists for minority populations that tend to oppose sovereignty. After the last failed sovereignty referendum in 1995, former premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the loss on ``money and the ethnic vote," a statement considered a major reason for his failure to retain his position. Michaud's comments drew a quick condemnation from Premier Lucien Bouchard, the Parti Quebecois leader, who engineered the condemnation by the legislature and also said he would oppose having Michaud run as a party candidate. "I don't believe you can make these remarks in any democracy, when we know what a genocide was," Bouchard said. Allies of Michaud responded that a legislative rebuke was improper, as Michaud lacked membership in the chamber. Parizeau and other prominent sovereigntists took out a full-page newspaper ad to support Michaud, calling the assembly's motion ``a serious attack on the rights and liberties of citizens." The dispute follows a poor showing by separatists in last month's federal election. The Bloc Quebecois, the national party representing the interests of Quebec separatists, lost six seats in the federal Parliament and finished second to the governing Liberal Party in the popular vote. Bouchard has said he intended to hold another referendum before his term as Quebec premier expires in 2003, but the decision against pushing for a vote next year angered hardline separatists in the Parti Quebecois. Another measure opposed by some separatists _ allowing for separate boroughs or municipalities in Montreal, Quebec City and Hull to be amalgamated into a single city administration _ was pushed through the legislature on Wednesday by Bouchard, who cut off debate. Now what is being called the "Michaud affair" has hardline separatists questioning if Bouchard is too soft on the separation issue. "I am asking myself serious questions right now about (Bouchard's) leadership," said Andre Reny, president of the Parti Quebecois association in the district where Michaud wants to represent the party. Bouchard remains unmoved about any threat to his leadership by the dispute. "Actually, I think I'm now fulfilling my duty as leader of this party," he said Wednesday. "What would we tell the world if a political party that carries the torch of Quebec sovereignty - that wants to build a democratic nation
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