Remember a couple of weeks ago, just after the opening ceremony to your great Olympic Winter Games, when there were complaints from around here that there wasn’t enough space given to Canada’s other official language?
I defended you back then, downplaying the seriousness of your transgression, deflecting some attention to the media, and criticizing those who criticized you. I said there should have been more French, but I wasn’t going to make a federal case out of it.
After watching the closing ceremony, I’m reconsidering that.
Outside of a few “bonjour”s and “merci”s, introductions and a speech by Jacques Rogge, the ceremonies seemed devoid of French. In the concert that came after, I kept waiting for some good French Canadian artists, but was disappointed when among the dozen or so English acts, all there was in French was a song by Marie-Mai (or as the Globe and Mail called her, “Marie-Maiv”*).
I’m not the kind of person who will sit with a stopwatch and complain when something’s not exactly 50-50. Even 75-25, reflecting the approximate ratio of English to French speakers in Canada, would have been fine by me. But it wasn’t even that.
When combined with the opening ceremonies, which included a single performance by Garou, it’s really hard not to see this as tokenism of one of Canada’s founding peoples.
But unlike some of the newspaper columnists you’ll no doubt be hearing from over the next couple of days, I’m not mad.
It’s not like you weren’t aware of the problem. You knew about it months ago. Both the federal and Quebec governments made sure you knew about it. You made efforts elsewhere in the organization of these Games to ensure bilingualism (which apparently took a lot of work), and I commend you for that.
And even if you didn’t realize before these complaints how little attention you gave to the French language, you made plenty of changes to the closing ceremonies after the opening ones were over (including adding a very cute bit about relighting a defective column for the Olympic flame). You could have added some more French Canadian artists, maybe even a speech or two in French.
Those who want to justify this slight can come up with all sorts of reasons why. It’s Vancouver’s games, not Quebec’s. These ceremonies are for the world, which for the most part speaks English as either a first or second language. Some might even argue that you just don’t care about French, that Canada should let Quebec separate and become an English-speaking country.
None of those explanations work for me. The ceremony was all about Canada, not Vancouver or British Columbia. Hell, French Canadians didn’t even represent the majority of the acts you brought in from Montreal (William Shatner and Simple Plan were the others). And though the world speaks English, I’d like to think they’d want to be exposed to different cultures, even if they don’t understand the language. Some Americans appreciated Marie-Mai even if they had no idea what she was singing about. And not knowing Russian didn’t take away from enjoying the Russian national anthem as performed live.
The third explanation, that you just don’t care, is something I have no rebuttal for. It’s just something I’d like not to believe. Because even though I’m an anglophone, I live in Quebec, I have friends and relatives who are part of this culture, who speak this language as their mother tongue, and who hoped that maybe, just maybe, they could spend a couple of hours believing that the Vancouver Olympics were their Olympics too, not just those of English Canada. The opening ceremony brought on doubts that this could be achieved, and the closing ceremony confirmed them.
I love this country, but I love Quebec too, and Montreal. I’m a federalist, and even facing what some might think are overwhelming practical arguments against it, I believe that a Canada that has two languages makes us all better. It’s not something I have a rational reasons for, or scientific data to support, it’s just something I feel.
What you’ve done has made justifying this belief more difficult. A few people on Twitter half-joked that you’d done more for the cause of Quebec sovereignty than the PQ has in decades. It’s easy to dismiss that as the close-minded ravings of a die-hard separatist, but I’m understanding where they’re coming from. You’ve made these people seem like a minor part of your country, confined to a single province out of 10. You’ve made them feel excluded from their own Olympics.
A people, I’ll remind you, that contributed greatly to the Vancouver Games as athletes, including the one who gave Canada its first Olympic gold medal at home, the one who stole your hearts this week with a spectacular performance, and three of Canada’s four double medallists. (I’m not usually one of those people who will separate Quebec athletes from Canadian ones for the sake of argument, but this point needs to be made.)
And yet, all of these athletes were proud to contribute to Canada’s historic medal count, proud to drape the Canadian flag around their shoulders as they celebrated their Olympic medals, proud to look up as the Canadian flag was raised and the crowd sang their anthem in English, proud to have the word “Canada” across their chests and backs during the two memorable weeks they spent in Vancouver.
Those athletes have too much class to complain about the closing ceremony. Most of the rest of us don’t care enough to make a case out of it. Even some of those in the media who calculate how many of Canada’s medals came from Quebecers will take away good memories of these Olympics. Which leaves people like Réjean Tremblay, whose words can be so easily dismissed because they’ve been heard so often before.
So I’m speaking up. As a Canadian, as an anglophone, as someone who’s not a separatist or hyper-sensitive to every perceived slight against French Canada. As someone who believes that francophones, whether they’re in Quebec or elsewhere, are part of Canada too. Not just an interest group, but an equal partner in the creation of this great country. One that has as much right to speak and hear their language and live their lives in French as we do in English.
I speak as someone who believes that the French language is as much a part of Canada as the beavers, Mounties, self-deprecating humour and endearing politeness that you so proudly showcased during these ceremonies.
You may think this is minor, and in the grand scheme of things it probably is, but in what is supposed to be an event that brings the entire country together and serves as a shining moment of national pride, even a slight movement in another direction makes a big difference.
VANOC, you disappointed many Canadians. And even if every French speaker in this country comes on this blog and says it didn’t matter, what’s important is that you disappointed me.
And now that the Games are over, you’ve lost your chance to make up for it.
*UPDATE: A Globe and Mail insider tells me this wasn’t actually a spelling mistake but a coding error. The “v”, which also appears after other names in the piece, is actually an internal-use checkmark used by Globe editors – ironically to verify the spelling of a name – and was improperly translated into a printable character on the CTV Olympics website.