It was a simple Q&A as a sidebar to a Saturday feature about Montreal actor Jay Baruchel, but the recounting of Baruchel’s reasons for leaving Montreal for Toronto has prompted a lot of debate in Quebec, particularly among the francophone media. We’re barely back at work on Monday and already five francophone pundits have written to condemn Baruchel’s statements, at least one of whom is demanding apologies, and another is diagnosing a mental disorder.
Nevermind that his reasons for moving are clearly more about economics (English movies are made in Toronto, not Montreal) than about politics, or that he’s hardly the first person in history to find Quebec identity politics to be tiresome and annoying. Jay Baruchel has attacked Quebec, and his personal feelings about his life here are apparently incorrect.
It’s notable that none of these reaction pieces actually interviews Baruchel to expand on his 300 words of commentary about Quebec politics. And perhaps for that reason, a lot of the stories about his comments exaggerate his comments, make inferences about his thoughts that are not supported by evidence, or just plain shove so many words into his mouth I’m worried he’s going to choke.
Here’s the pundit count so far:
- Mathieu Bock-Côté (Journal de Montréal, June 1)
- Sophie Durocher (Journal de Montréal, June 1)
- Tania Longpré (Journal de Montréal, May 31)
- Nathalie Petrowski (La Presse, June 1)
- Lise Ravary (Journal de Montréal, June 1)
And here are seven opinions these pundits are outraged over Baruchel having that the story doesn’t say he actually has.
What he’s accused of saying: Quebec is like Syria (Bock-Côté, Durocher, Longpré, Petrowski, Ravary)
What he actually said: N.D.G. “happens to be located in a pretty difficult part of the world.”
It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize Baruchel for lacking some perspective, to point out that there are far more difficult parts of the world than Quebec. But Baruchel never compares Quebec to a third-world country or to war zones like Syria. He merely says it’s difficult.
What he’s accused of saying: Quebec sovereignists are stupid (Durocher, Ravary)
What he actually said: (In referring to the referendum debate) “Aside from that silly stuff, which I wish would just go away but it won’t…”
I guess French doesn’t have the proper translation for “silly”, but there’s a difference between calling an issue silly and saying the people talking about it are stupid.
I disagree with Baruchel. I think the Quebec sovereignty debate is an important one. But I can also sympathize with the argument that we’ve had two referendums already and there’s no serious move to have another one because it’s clear the province doesn’t want it.
What he’s accused of saying: Francophones celebrating their culture and defending their language gives him a headache (Bock-Côté, Durocher)
What he actually said: It’s the “kind of poisonous ethnic dialogue, which really, really left a sour taste in my mouth. It didn’t feel like the place that Mom wanted me to live in.”
Baruchel makes it clear he likes the diversity of language in Montreal. But it’s the “editorial subject matter in Quebec” and the political debate over language that is making his head hurt. He also wants to be able to go outside and speak in English without it becoming “a loaded or political deed of any kind.”
What he’s accused of saying: Montreal has been taken hostage by sovereignists who refuse to die (Bock-Côté)
What he actually said: Nothing that under even the most ridiculous of interpretations could come close to saying this.
What he’s accused of saying: He’s afraid the Charter of Values will return (Bock-Côté, Durocher)
What he actually said: It’s the “poisonous ethnic dialogue”, not the law, that was the problem.
The Charter isn’t coming back, at least not in the form presented by the PQ. But the people who defended it are still here. The debate hasn’t disappeared.
What he’s accused of saying: French should not be the language of power in Quebec (Bock-Côté)
What he actually said: (In Toronto) “when I go outside and speak English, it’s not a loaded or political deed of any kind.”
There’s a difference between what language someone speaks on the street and what language is spoken in the National Assembly.
What he’s accused of saying: He was traumatized by the 2012 election because the PQ won it (Longpré)
What he actually said: “The last election was very traumatic in a way.”
Longpré assumes Baruchel is either wrong or being misquoted, and provides no evidence for why her interpretation, based on a translation of an article, is more correct than the original article it’s based on.
Baruchel’s comments are controversial even if anglos quitting Quebec for both political and economic reasons has been a cliché for decades. And let’s have a difference of opinion with him over those reasons. But let’s not be outraged about things that were not said.
UPDATE (June 4): Unsurprisingly, some of the columnists mentioned here (Durocher in particular) challenge my assertion that they’re putting words into Baruchel’s mouth by saying they’re not quoting him saying these things.
To be clear, I’m not accusing anyone of making up direct quotes. But it’s clear from the texts they write that they’re attributing opinions to Baruchel that he doesn’t actually express. When Durocher writes “Indépendance = idiot” in a headline, one reasonably infers not that this is her opinion, but that she thinks this is Baruchel’s. When Bock-Côté writes “la défense du français, c’est super vilain”, it’s clear he’s sarcastically mocking what he believes is Baruchel’s opinion. And when just about everyone mentions Syria, it’s clear they’re challenging a comparison they don’t believe is fair.
We can play semantic battles over what precisely was quoted or alleged here, but the implications of these columns and blog posts are clear, and what matters is what conclusions a reasonable reader would come to after reading them.
I’ve added the words “or imply” to the title of this post for added clarity, but I still believe these columnists are challenging opinions they have projected onto Baruchel that he didn’t express.