Racist, Inflammatory, or Just a Bit of Harmless Fun?

Racist, Inflammatory, or Just a Bit of Harmless Fun?

This opinion piece was written by Jacquelyn Smith, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, and who now resides in Quebec City.

What is written below is aimed squarely at residents of Hamilton, Ontario, and McMaster University.

The views expressed below are the author’s, and are not necessarily shared by staff and owners of LifeinQuebec.com.

I woke up today with an image that shocked me. A picture taken of Université Laval’s Rouge et Or football team taking the field during the Vanier Cup played on the 23rd of November 2012 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

In the corner of the photo, a huge banner that states “French Second Language… Laval Second Place”.

Is the Rogers Centre not in the most multicultural city on the planet? Is racism not frowned upon and tolerance encouraged? How is it possible that fans from McMaster, I am assuming, a university that is renowned internationally for its academic excellence and scientific research, not to mention its ethnic diversity, could cook up such a racist sign?

I am from Hamilton, born and raised. I moved to Quebec City six years ago after attending a French programme and I am now a Law Student at Université Laval. Being an Anglophone (and an Ontarian at that) is not the terrible experience I assumed it would be.

When I moved to this province of “scary separatists” in 2006 I was waiting for a fight. I was waiting for people to tell me that if I don’t speak French I should get the heck out. I was waiting for people to tell me that there was no place for an English girl in the capital of Québec.

That has never happened.

In fact my experience has been quite the opposite. People have shown incredible patience and tolerance as I struggled learning the language of Molière, butchering it along the way.

When I first arrived every francophone I met was ready to speak English, so they could practice, but equally enthusiastic that I was an English Canadian who wanted to learn French. In this group of wonderfully tolerant people I must include Me André Joli-coeur, (the attorney whom was appointed amicus curae by the court to defend the Province of Québec at the Supreme Court in the Reference concerning questions relative to the unilateral secession of Québec after the last referendum).

At a Parti québécois event, organised by one of my friends at the faculty, Me Joli-coeur complimented me on my French and offered to speak in English if it would make me feel more comfortable.

After he asked me if I intended on returning to Ontario after my studies and I said no he replied «Bienvenu chez nous» which translates to “Welcome home”. To put this in context: at the alma mater of Lucien Bouchard, during a wine and cheese organised by the Parti québécois by a man who defended sovereignty to the Supreme Court, I was welcomed with open arms and congratulated for wanting to stay in Quebec City because “there are not enough people who can read and write English very well in Québec and English is important” as I have been told time and time again.

Would we be so tolerant of Quebeckers in Hamilton? Would we be thrilled that they are moving to our province, to our city to learn our language? Or would we just staunchly ask them “So why do you want to separate?” or “Why are you protesting, don’t you know you have the cheapest tuition in the country?” And followed by a comment I am all too tired of hearing: “Quebeckers are just a group of complainers”.

Quebec City has the same population as Hamilton, which means that it doesn’t have the capacity to have professional sports teams like Montreal or Toronto. So university football is a big deal here, the Rouge et Or are like the Ti-Cats are, or at least were, to Hamiltonians.

A few years ago I met a man who had gone to Hamilton to support Laval when they were playing in Ivor Wynne against the Marauders. The man was thrilled that I was from Hamilton! As he told me about his trip, I realised that his zeal from Hamilton came from the excitement of a road trip with his buddies and the misadventures he had in Steel Town, not necessarily from the hospitality he received.  Nevertheless, the gentleman said that he was really thrilled to meet someone from Hamilton in Quebec, even though his welcome from our city was as warm as a November afternoon, but he was still willing to be my friend.

If we have learned anything about Quebec since 1867, it is that the French language is an essential element to their culture that they work hard to protect. There is legislation protecting it, there are programmes to encourage it, there are many faculties at many universities to research it. Language debates come up in every provincial and federal election. The French language, more importantly the Quebec French language, with all of its history, its nuance, its complexity, is sacred to Quebeckers. That sign, in six words, sums up why the Quiet Revolution took place.

On an institutional level, Université Laval requires that everybody graduates with a certain proficiency in English and in French.

However, with permission from the professor, Anglophone students can write their tests and assignments in English.

I wonder if McMaster would be so tolerant as to allow francophone students to write in French at the permission of the professor?

I wonder if McMaster is worldly enough to have a language requirement?

I wonder if McMaster students would be so willing to try to speak their second language to their non-Anglophone colleagues?

I wonder if this world-class institution would have so much class to exercise tolerance towards difference?

Judging from the banner flying at the Rogers Centre, I really wonder.

Laval won the cup, McMaster is second place.

Jacquelyn Smith was born and raised in Hamilton.
She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Developement from the University of Guelph and is currently studying Law at Université Laval.

Jacquelyn Smith lives in Quebec City.

Categories: News, Opinion, Sports

About Author

Jacquelyn Smith

Jacquelyn Smith was born and raised in Hamilton. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Developement from the University of Guelph and is currently studying Law at Université Laval. Jacquelyn Smith lives in Quebec City.


  1. adamqc
    adamqc 27 November, 2012, 22:35

    I am also I Hamilton native living in Quebec City. I have been here 5 years and found the city so warm and welcoming. My French language journey has been slow but steady due to finding a small bubble of English language life in this great city. I have never felt unwelcome here, at least no more so than any of the other places I have lived in Canada.

    When I was in Ontario I never remember feeling animosity towards Quebec. I do remember feeling sad around the time of the separation crisis. I was sad that we as nation could not see the mutual value of our mix of language, culture, and values as a whole.

    My analysis of the football situation is, unfortunately, sometimes the smallest minds have the loudest voices.

  2. jobp
    jobp 28 November, 2012, 07:53

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading your article. You’re saying that it’s not OK to put up a sign at a sporting event that may or may not have political or racial connotations? Is this sign upsetting because it’s directed towards a University Football team, or because it’s directed to a team that represents a francophone (primarily) University in Quebec; obviously the later.
    Discriminatory signs, language and even suggestive costumes are prevalent throughout the sporting world, but suddenly because it’s directed to some Québecois, and it mentions the French language, it is distasteful. Let’s analyze your article.
    1) This was a football game, not an election campaign.
    2) This was between two Universities who have played against each other for years.
    3) You say McMaster should have shown some respect.
    4) You say that there is legislation to protect French in Quebec.
    5) You say that sign is partly the reason the Quiet Revolution took place.

    Firstly, pretty much anything is allowed in a sporting event, some people have even been killed because of racial slurs against particular players or teams.
    Secondly, I don’t think these two Universities have any particular grudge against each other except that sometimes one loses the Vanier cup, which is what sport is all about; win some, lose some.
    For the last three points it all comes down to one argument. If McMaster, which is a highly respected University, (you should know that being from Hamilton) should show some respect to some football players, maybe Quebec could show some respect to the rest of Canada and to the non-francophone citizens living in its own borders, which brings me to point number four; legislation. You realize that that specific legislation discriminates against your mother tongue, against freedom of speech and against free choice for schooling your children. It is one thing to protect a language, it is another to blatantly discourage and prohibit the culture of someone else’s language. Respect?
    As for point no five, I suggest you read up on the “Quiet Revolution”. It was basically les “Quebecois” rejecting the church and turning to the Government and capitalistic institutions to manage their province rather than having “God” telling them what to do. Language was not an issue at the time, I know, I was there and indeed it was a good thing.
    I am glad you are comfortable living here enjoying University life and it’s attributes, and yes the young Quebecois like to practice their English, but they should have thought about that 30 years ago when they so profoundly adopted the famous Bill 101, sending most Anglophones out of the province and restricting their own access to English schools. Would you be happy if Ontario decided to ban French or Chinese on all outdoor signs, or to make it 1/3 the size of English anywhere else? Would you be happy if you were not allowed to send your child to French school because your parents didn’t attend French school when they were young? Would you be happy to ban Canadian flags from your classrooms and pretend Canada doesn’t even exist.
    So what you’re really saying is it’s OK to criticize everybody, everywhere except Quebec and its language. These slogans at sporting events are going to be more and more common, because sports fans always go after a nation’s pride or reputation to joust them, and since the only thing that appears to be important to les “Quebecois” is their language, the door is wide open for antagonism on the subject. Thank goodness Laval won. God only knows what your article would have said if they had actually come in second, or maybe there wouldn’t have been reason for an article at all.
    Job Patstone, Hamilton born, Québec City resident

    • amari
      amari 28 November, 2012, 10:59

      my comment is for Job Patstone.

      You are an Anglophone in Québec. You know what it’s like to be the minority in a town, in a province. Do you know what it’s like to be a minority in a country? on a continent? surely not. In Canada, only one of the provinces and territories is billingual and it’s New-Brunswick. That’s why a Québécois out of Québec feels bad and why ROCanadians feel bad in Québec.

      In the West, it’s impossible to get services in french. French communities are not protected by laws. When we voted for the Loi 101, it was there for protection, because now, if you walk in Montréal, it’s sometimes really hard to get services in french.

      Now my questions:hypothetically speaking, what would Ontarians do if Toronto was becoming unilingual French? If, in all little towns and villages, every stores are named in french? And if it happens in Saskatoon and Vancouver?

      You are an Anglophone in Québec since the révolution tranquille, that means you have seen 2 referendums. You still speak english. My very last question is did you voted “yes”?

      I’m a 24 year old french Québécoise and my English is not perfect, i don’t want you to be insulted by my comment. I just want some answers, because this country is so weird to understand…

      Bravo for Glenn Constantin’s Rouge et Or, I’m always proud to be a ex-Laval student, le campus des Champions! ^^

      • jobp
        jobp 28 November, 2012, 13:02

        Bravo pour votre Anglais Amari. I don’t think there are any real answers for Canada and it’s different ethnic groups. Ontario is being taken over by the Chinese, Alberta by the Indians and Pakistanians, and biligualism in New Brunswick is a joke. In New brunswick you can refuse to speak either language if and when you are stoped by police, when you go to court or even dealing with a bank. The Acadians in the north refuse to speak English and the Anglos in the south refuse to speak French. This article was about a Football fan’s sign, maybe he or she should have written it in both languages, which would have had it lose it’s impact. I’m sure you are glad you speak both languages and so am I which is why I disapprove of language laws discriminating against another language. No I did not vote “yes” in either referendum, I love this country (Canada) just the way it is. Merci pour vos questions.

    • jfpicard
      jfpicard 28 November, 2012, 21:25

      @Job Patstone

      Est-ce que cette réplique est sérieuse?

  3. getoveritplease
    getoveritplease 5 December, 2012, 20:56

    it was a joke, a funny one at that. if you really took THIS sign as racist, you need to see signs from civil rights movements in the past. french is the second language of canada, no matter what anyone says. there’s no way ontario will ever be “uni-lingual” in french, most people speak english here. thats just the way it is. GET OVER IT.

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