Quebec media personalities

Dany Turcotte & Mathieu Bock-Côté

Some white Quebec media personalities love playing the victim

“Les wokes” are cast as the villains when they’re mostly just people demanding accountability and empathy.

I’m an avid viewer of Tout le Monde en Parle so when Dany Turcotte made that questionable attempt at humour during Mamadi Fara Camara’s appearance, I was watching. I immediately cringed. I could tell it was Turcotte’s attempt at lightening the mood — he was, after all, the court jester — but, considering what Camara had just been through and how recent the trauma for him and his family was (the poor man still had that “deer in the headlights” look while being interviewed), the joke not only fell flat, but came off as inconsiderate and lacking in empathy. The social media response was immediate. To his credit, Turcotte quickly apologized and reached out to Camara to make sure there were no hard feelings. 

I like Dany Turcotte. Always have. His jokes don’t always land (whose do?) but he always came off as good-natured and kind, if sometimes unaware of certain arguing points. I was saddened when he announced he was leaving the show. But, as he explained, the show’s live format had left him questioning his place in it and the recent criticism was simply the final push he needed to walk away. It’s a decision that TLMEP host Guy Lepage confirmed Turcotte made willingly, on his own. 

What I immediately feared would happen, did. Every politician and pundit who has a personal disdain for what they refer to as “cancel culture” and “woke-ism” used Turcotte’s departure as a convenient launching pad to rail against the “evils of censorship” — or what the rest of us simply refer to as increasing demands for accountability and empathy. It was a predictable pile-on, with certain party leaders feeling justified in the middle of a deadly pandemic to issue public statements against the departure of a popular show’s side-kick, like it was a matter of national security. This, a week after Premier Legault issued his own battle cry against “radicals” attacking academic freedom. 

Welcome to the club!

Much has been said of what Turcotte wrote in his public statement, but one line stuck with me. When explaining how his confidence started eroding after a few social media storms over the years, he admitted that he “became paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake.” When I read that, the first thing that came out of my mouth was: “Welcome to the club!”

This feeling he describes is routine for many minority groups who live their lives constantly weighing the benefits of speaking up against the negatives of a public backlash, and who are rarely free to throw caution to the wind. Whether that’s women breaking the glass ceiling, Black professionals in boardrooms or members of ethnic communities anchoring a national TV news show, all eyes are on them, and their missteps immediately reflect on members of their group. That weighs heavily on them. The majority isn’t aware of this added burden because, by its very definition, it’s hard to measure or notice what is absent by choice. 

The silence of absence 

Choosing to abstain from speaking out won’t get noticed the way speaking out does. Choosing not to call out racism or discrimination in a company meeting when you’re the only minority present won’t be noticed, but a majority member comfortably complaining about “political correctness” will. Choosing not to report sexual harassment because a woman fears being ostracized or not seen as a “team player” won’t be noticed but the boss joking about “not being able to say anything anymore” will. 

Choosing not to write that column because you know the level of vitriol and hate mail it will generate won’t be noticed, but the 10 columns in a row about “les wokes” written by members of the majority will. Choosing not to go to the university administration to file a complaint won’t get noticed, but the few preposterous in-class anecdotes reported on by the media as if they’re a daily reality will. The most visible outrage and exasperation always comes from the ones with the power and the platforms to keep railing against cancel culture, week after week, while never, ever being cancelled. On the contrary, they’re rewarded for it — both financially and with media visibility. 

I can’t tell you the number of women I know who have left the public space because they could no longer tolerate the attacks and vile messages they received. Social activists, particularly BIPOC activists, have been forced out of many public debates simply because the price is often just too high on their peace of mind, safety and precious time. I know many journalists of colour or belonging to a religious minority who would never vent publicly about their realities and the discrimination they have been exposed to because it would be perceived as personal bias. Don’t pretend it’s a level playing field because it’s not. 

These non-actions, this self-censorship, this suppression of speech is rarely, if ever, noticed by the majority and therefore not seen as problematic. What is seen as problematic are exceptions paraded around to discredit legitimate demands made on public figures used to opining and taking up space, to practise empathy. So, some folks are suddenly being forced to question what they say before they say it? So what? Some of us have been doing it for a very long time.

Accountability is not censorship

A demand for some basic introspection and a willingness to understand a minority point of view is neither censorship nor an imposition. It’s simply a desire for better social cohesion where everyone gets to belong. No one asked anyone to stop talking! In fact, no one has stopped talking, and everyone is still free to use whatever platform they possess to state their case. 

I would never complain about being censored or cancelled because I’m not. It’s silly to have a public platform, the privilege of writing a weekly column and pretend that I’m being silenced, like some pundits are doing right now. When British far-right pundit Kate Hopkins slapped a bullseye sticker on her forehead and stated: “This is what it feels like to be a white conservative woman” on Twitter, someone immediately responded: “I love this metaphor because it’s a fake target and you’ve put it there yourself.” 

This is exactly how I feel every time I see certain columnists complaining about anti-white racism. That’s not a thing! No minority group has ever had the power or the system in place to broadly discriminate against a majority. The fact that their voices are now being amplified troubles some of you because you’ve simply never had to listen to them before. 

Pundits are now feeling offended on Denise Bombardier’s behalf because Innu poet Joséphine Bacon declined to be interviewed at the Salon du Livre by a woman who has publicly maligned Indigenous communities. Bombardier’s columns reveal a deep lack of knowledge of medical colonialism and an ignorance of how Indigenous communities have been systemically discriminated by both Quebec and Canadian governments. Declining to be interviewed by her isn’t “cancel culture” or “censorship,” it’s just a choice an author had the right to make.

Bacon has every right to decline discussing her book with someone who doesn’t respect Indigenous culture. Would a Black activist want to be interviewed by KKK leader David Duke? Would Simon Boulerice want to be interviewed by someone who was openly homophobic and writing hateful columns about the gay community? Would a Quebec novelist want to be interviewed about their book by Washington Post freelance columnist JJ McCullough, whose every column is Quebec bashing? 

I don’t know. I can’t speak for them. Maybe they would. But neither is it radical nor shocking if they didn’t. Choosing to abstain from something is often done in self-preservation. But sometimes it’s just taking a stand. ■

Read more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.