Junk Social Science, Junk History, and the Quebec Mosque Shooting

5 02 2017


Image of Quebec City by Martin St-Amant.

Canadians were stunned by the news that a gunman with far-right sympathies had gone into a Quebec City mosque and murdered six worshipers. Ever since then, pundits have been trying to make sense of the tragedy. In a few cases, they have blamed Quebec nationalism, which is represented as ethno-nationalist and chauvinist. Overlooking the fact that Quebec nationalism comes in both a narrow ethnic variant and a more inclusive “civic nationalist” one, they have created a narrative arc that links the killer to the recently proposedCharte des valeurs québécoises, to Parizeau’s “money and the ethnic vote”, and all the way back to the right-wing clerico-nationalism popular with Lionel Groulx and certain other Quebec intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s. English-speaking Canadians love talking about that dark moment in Quebec history, which is one of the reasons they were so receptive to Esther Delisle’s controversial 1992 book The Traitor and the Jew.

J.J. McCullough of Vancouver presented this line of reasoning in a piece about the shooting in the Washington Post, where he spoke of Quebec’s dark history of anti-Semitism, religious bigotry and pro-fascist sentiment, facts which are rarely included in otherwise self-flagellating official narratives of Canadian history. They complain about the exaggerated deference the province gets from Ottawa as a “distinct society” and “nation-within-a-nation,” and its various French-supremacist language and assimilation laws, which they blame for creating a place that’s inhospitable, arrogant and, yes, noticeably more racist than the Canadian norm. Writing for a domestic Canadian audience on the CBC website, Amina Moustaqim-Barrette declared that Québécois nationalism has always been an ethnic, as opposed to civic, nationalism — based in an ethno-cultural identity exclusive to descendants of French colonial settlers.



Alexie Labelle and Florence Vallée-Dubois have published, in English, a very useful corrective to this view in Policy Options. I am glad that these two PhD students have challenged the junk social science that has surfaced during this dark time. Their piece is well worth reading and in congruent with the mounting evidence that the shooter was inspired by a foreign leader rather than by any Quebec or Canadian political leader. His classmates say that he adored Trump and Marine Le Pen.  Radio-Canada reports that on the eve of the attack, the killer was discussing Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban on Facebook. He wasn’t discussing Pauline Marois or the Charter of Quebec Values or Lionel Groulx or any other French Canadian individual or institution.




2 responses

5 02 2017

I will read both — the WP piece and the “correction” as you put it, but I think your dismissal of the characterization of Quebec as a nation within a nation et cetera as junk social science is a little quick. Just because the shooter was discussing Trump and whatever else he was discussing doesn’t mean he was uninfluenced in his lifetime by any particular ideas floating around in Quebec. In fact, he probably was influenced by his environment. How could one not be. There is plenty of study about Quebec’s particular “way of being” over its long history and it’s kind of lazy to just jump on the bandwagon of correctness and ignore what is in fact a bit of a checkered history. I don’t know how you could say that it’s not.

5 02 2017

Of course he was influenced by his contexts, Quebec, continental, and global. Part of the Quebec context may include Marine Le Pen’s visit to Quebec. I just think it is a huge mistake to blame Quebec nationalism. At one point, QS, which is one of the two nationalist parties in Quebec, had a Muslim party leader.

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