Dec. 18, 2011: North Korean state television announces the death of its dear leader, Kim Jong-Il. On a Sunday evening past 10pm, LCN anchor Melissa François announces the news on air, but (probably in part because of how much a lowercase L looks like an uppercase I) she pronounces his name as “Kim Jong Deux”. A clip of this is posted online and spreads around the French-speaking world, much to LCN’s ridicule.
François was pulled off the air and reassigned to a desk job. Her union defended her and asked TVA to put her back on the job, which in turn caused the president of the union to be suspended. She eventually left and got another job at Radio-Canada.
Oct. 3, 2017: On the LCN politics show La Joute, the three hosts are discussing a less serious story than most: Petitions to the National Assembly about the hunting of squirrels. One petition calls for it to be banned, the other for it to be protected.
Luc Lavoie tries to add a joke about legalizing such hunting (with firearms) in urban areas, because they’re a nuisance. He adds:
In fact, I would have liked to be able to hunt separatists, but it seems it’s not possible.
His cohosts, Paul Laroque and Bernard Drainville, immediately tell him he shouldn’t joke about that, as Lavoie lets out a laugh, apparently amused by his own joke.
It’s too late. A few of the people watching hit rewind on their PVRs, record the exchange and post it to social media, where it goes viral.
Lavoie later posts an apology on Facebook (saying he did so without being asked), and the 11pm rebroadcast of the show is spiked, replaced by a rebroadcast of the 10pm newscast.
The next day, the statement becomes even bigger news. La Presse reports the SQ is investigating. Politicians issue statements condemning the remarks.
Groupe TVA issues a statement that says the comments are unacceptable and Lavoie has apologized. But it mentions no sanction, despite calls from various directions that Lavoie be fired. Three hours later, it issues another statement, saying Lavoie is being removed from the air because of the SQ investigation. The existence of a complaint to the SQ seems like less of a triggering factor than TVA perhaps realizing that people are reacting negatively to their earlier non-firing of him.
Deux poids, deux mesures
So what’s the difference between these two cases? Well, a lot. One was an honest mistake that resulted in mockery. The other was a bad joke that resulted in condemnation. Both were mistakes made by people who should have known better.
But the difference in reaction doesn’t have to do as much with what happened or the amount of reaction to it. Rather, it’s who they are. François was a junior anchor, hired only the previous year, doing a weekend shift. Lavoie is one of the faces of LCN, a former executive vice-president of Quebecor, a deputy chief of staff to Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister, and a friend and sometimes spokesperson for Pierre Karl Péladeau.
One is an expendable employee (who couldn’t be dismissed outright because she was in a union). The other is one of the boys-will-be-boys boys, who gets the benefit of the doubt when he jokingly suggests shooting separatists two days after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
(And, as has been pointed out, this isn’t the first time Lavoie has had to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth on the air. Or the first time he’s said something stupid.)
So it’s entirely understandable in this context to expect that Lavoie’s suspension will be temporary. Maybe he’ll need to find another job, lay low for a while and do something less in the public eye, but his friend PKP won’t abandon him unless he has no other choice.
I generally don’t believe in firing people for single mistakes like this. I find the punishment over-the-top, and ineffective as a deterrent. I’d rather people be required to make some form of restitution and learn from the experience.
So I don’t necessarily want Lavoie to lose his job. But he owes people a more serious explanation than what he posted on his (since-deleted) Facebook page. He needs to explain what he could have been thinking that would lead him to believe that hunting separatists with guns was funny.
And maybe the producers of La Joute can consider that having three well-paid middle-age-or-older white guys hosting a political discussion show comes with an inherent lack of perspective that leads to people being comfortable with speaking before they think.