You might think there are more important things to discuss, but to Quebec media, there’s nothing more important than condemning the Vancouver Olympic Committee for having banned the French language from the opening ceremonies.
Sure, they had Garou (unless you were watching on NBC – they cut to commercial when the francophone singer came on stage), and every announcement was in both languages (French first)*, and referee Michel Verrault read the officials’ oath in French, and IOC president Jacques Rogge read part of his statement in French, and Nikki Yanofsky performed the national anthem in both languages. But only one of the half-dozen songs of the ceremony were sung in French, narration by Donald Sutherland and slam poetry by Shane Koyczan weren’t translated into the langue de Molière, and VANOC chair John Furlong spoke with a thick anglo accent in the few words he spoke in French.
Réjean Tremblay, Jean-Guy Fugère, Caroline Touzin, Rino Morin Rossignol, even Jean Charest and the Conservative government complained that there wasn’t enough French (though Michel David suggests the government didn’t complain enough). Jean-François Bégin wonders why Wayne Gretzky was picked over Gaetan Boucher to be the one to light the flame. Patrick Lagacé sighs that we should have expected this insult to Quebec’s position in Canada’s heritage. Touzin says most of the volunteers there don’t speak French (many of the ones who do come from Quebec). Radio-Canada has a whole dossier on the topic.
The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste expressed condemnation, according to a story that Associated Press decided was worth writing.
The Globe and Mail also editorialized in favour of more French, The Gazette devoted an editorial and two columns to the subject, and Paul Wells also chimed in, proving it’s not just francophones that noticed. (Though the National Post was lukewarm in its endorsement of the outrage, and the Vancouver Sun calls it “tedious regional whining” that is “best ignored for now”.) André Pratte and Guillaume Bourgault-Côté took notice of this.
Hell, even Richard Therrien complained about how commentators in France were pronouncing the city’s name in the anglo way. And Chantal Hébert complains about ignorant comments posted to news stories online (while asking for comment from her own ignorant online commentators).
You know it’s gotten bad when even the Angry French Guy comes to the anglos’ defence.
Insufficient, but not insultingly so
My first reaction was to think, as Francis Vachon did, that we should give them a bit of a break because this was in Vancouver, not Quebec City. But I’m not going to defend the organizers – these are Canada’s games, not those of British Columbia, and French should have been more prominent. Hopefully they’ll improve things a bit for the closing ceremonies, if only by including an extra song in Canada’s other official language.
But the reaction from Quebec media – particularly Tremblay’s bitter sarcasm (he suggests it was insulting to Quebecers that First Nations were given such a large role) – is over the top. There was plenty of French at the ceremony (especially when you consider that most of it didn’t involve anyone talking at all), and the fact there wasn’t enough to satisfy some people doesn’t negate the effort made.
To me, the biggest language failure came not from VANOC or the IOC, but from the television media covering the ceremony. None of the Canadian networks provided any translation for those few parts that were only in one language. RDS and V (which basically just took the RDS feed and slapped its logo on it) didn’t translate speeches and narration into French. CTV, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet didn’t return the favour for speeches in French (and when those speeches came up, the closed captioning read the very helpful “[SPEAKING FRENCH]”). This despite the fact that speech text and translation were provided on giant screens at BC Place.
The closest thing to translation was NBC, which summarized the officials’ oath with a “basically what he’s saying here is…”
Meanwhile, during competitions, official on-screen graphics (provided by VANOC) are English-only, which astonishes me not only for the sake of Canadian bilingualism, but for every other country in the world that doesn’t speak English. Having English graphics on RDS and V is insulting, moreso to me than Garou singing off-key of Furlong’s pronunciation of “bienvenue”.
Suddenly, we care
What got to me most about this media overhyping was that suddenly Quebec seems to care about French outside of Quebec. Tremblay lamented the plight of the Acadian people, without mentioning that Quebec and its nationalist zealots are as responsible as the rest of the country for throwing them under the bus.
I’ve been of the view for a long time that the battle for the survival of the French language shouldn’t be fought in Quebec – where it is already dominant – but in the rest of Canada, where it is truly endangered. But Quebec sovereignists don’t care about the rest of Canada because they know Quebec will eventually separate and there will be no reason to protect the language outside its borders.
At least we can hope that this so-called controversy will help people understand that this country has a serious problem with language, and that nobody seems serious about fixing it.
UPDATE: Patrick Lagacé responds to this post, saying that the battle for French outside Quebec has already been lost. Even though he says I’m “dans le champ”, I actually agree with most of what he writes.
*It’s been pointed out that French is an official language of the Olympics and that official announcements are always in French. I know this. I’d like to think the announcements would be in both English and French regardless. But the fact remains that French was there. It’s not like they’re going to give the announcement in French twice (or once in French and once in Québécois joual).