Night of the Dull Knives

How the ADQ / Liberal government is emboldening skinheads and disembowling democracy

Untitled-5.jpg Illustration by: Eric Hanson

By Lorenzo Fiorito

It’s disturbing to see your neighbourhood go to the dogs. I live in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, a Montreal neighbourhood known for its widespread poverty and unemployment. It’s also becoming a centre for neo-nazi activity.

About a year ago, swastikas started reappearing near the Metro stop. I say reappearing, because while the Hell’s Angels and the Rock Machine were battling it out in the area during the mid-nineties, Bar Davidson on Ontario St. was a neo-nazi hangout. It was also then that some fine citizens saw fit to burn down an immigrant tenement. So a little spray-paint means a lot here.

Two or three months ago, some skinheads felt brave enough to break a bottle over a Chinese depanneur owner’s head. That was just across the street from me – the latest in a few such incidents on my block.

As if that weren’t interesting enough, two blocks from my backdoor, just past the new social housing project that is home to several new immigrants, is a poster sheathed in packing tape, affixed to a lamppost. It decries the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “imposed by English Canada on the night of the long knives,” for “only giving rights to ‘minorities,’” and giving power to “lobbies and a government of judges.”

The poster is entitled “Je me souviens.”

Nothing, of course, can be separated from its social context. In society, as in nature, the law of cause and effect applies. As bottle-wielding skinheads attacked my neighbour in his store, Mario Dumont’s Action Démocratique du Québec was campaigning for votes on the basis of the “accommodation debate” — the media tempest regarding what rights should be extended to ethnic minorities.

And lo and behold, the April 18 issue of Métro carries the question: “If the Charter […] has contributed to the rights of minorities, its usage remains controversial. Does it contribute to the drift that we see toward reasonable accommodations; does it establish a government of judges?”

On the same page as the question in the Métro appears an article describing the provincial Liberals’ initiative to create a constitution for Quebec. Now, it’s true: Quebec never did sign on to Trudeau’s 1982 Constitution, including the Charter. It has its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms dating back to 1975. It doesn’t allay fears any, however, to read Michel David’s column in Le Devoir of April 12 called “Les Deux Chartes.” It recounts how the Quebec Liberals supported the 1981 Levesque government’s reaction to the Trudeau Charter, calling it the “night of the long knives” and refusing to sign on. David further points out that the Liberals’ idea for a Quebec constitution came from the ADQ’s platform.

Putting the pieces together, it all comes out like this: to Anglophones and ethnic minorities – don’t worry, Quebec already has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms of its own to protect you. For Liberals and PQ supporters : no worries, either: you both opposed the Canadian Constitution, and you had your own Charter six years previously. To hard-line Quebec nationalists and social conservatives: the Charter is weakening Quebec by strengthening minorities. The result? At last we can all agree on something: who needs the Charter?

The “debate” around allowing Muslim women to wear veils at polling stations demonstrated that an issue can be tried out in Quebec and exported federally (the ban is now being considered at the federal level). So if the Charter is questioned in Quebec, expect to see the same debate in Ottawa a few months from now, framed in terms of gay marriage, judicial activism, and the like. Think it can’t happen here? Look at the US: The Bush Administration reversed eight centuries of habeas corpus and legalized torture in the same breath. At the very least, this attempt to weaken the Charter is a definite signal to those whom Stephen Harper once described as a “Liberal-appointed judiciary.”

Another night of the long knives is being prepared for Quebec – and possibly Canada as well. This time, though, it’s democracy and pluralism that are at stake. These knives are by no means the sharpest in the drawer. But I guess a beer bottle does the job just as efficiently.