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Opening Remarks by QAHN President Simon Jacobs at the 2017 Arts, Culture and Heritage Working Group Meeting, Montreal (February 1, 2017)

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Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank our colleagues at Canadian Heritage, ELAN, and also, Rod MacLeod who has been working for QAHN, for having organized this 7th annual Arts, Culture and Heritage working Group. Luckily there is no snow storm to prevent us meeting as there was last year.

For those of you who are here for the first time, I am sure you will find it an invigorating, thought provoking discussion on various topics, all with the aim to work together to answer common problems. You will find that the process does not end here though. You will be invited to join on-going discussion groups known as the leadership round table that are carried on throughout the year, giving you a chance to discuss, develop and share ideas with other organizations.

As you are well aware, in the last couple of days a tragic shooting took place in my home town, Quebec City, leaving 6 people dead and an entire community walking around in shock. French and English news channels have kept up 24-hour coverage and leaders from around the world have sent in their condolences. After many false starts and rumours, it turns out to have been a young home grown Quebecois who was responsible, probably nurtured on the milk of radio poubelle, or trash radio, heated up by the rhetoric of the far right in Europe and now with our neighbours to the south.

The premier, Mr. Couillard said, “Every society has to deal with demons. Our society is not perfect; none is. These demons are named xenophobia, racism, exclusion. They are present here. We need to recognize that an act together to show the direction we want our society to evolve. Words can hurt. Words can be knives slashing it people’s consciousness.”

So why am I talking about the subject at a meeting that is supposed be dedicated to arts culture and heritage of the English-speaking community in Québec. What is this got to do with us? My answer is it has everything to do with us! The Ministry of education is proposing a new history curriculum that doesn’t even mention immigrants, and English-speaking Quebecers, with indigenous peoples left as a footnote in history. It does not mention the contribution of the different English communities that are scattered across this great province. QAHN is involved in a committee of parents and teachers that is trying to rectify this problem, asking for a more evenly balanced history that allows for a comprehension and understanding of the Québec that is not uni-cultural. Here is an example: a few years ago I went to a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Ministry of culture. The first round table talk was a discussion about the education system in Québec with five learned professors each giving their opinion. Much to my surprise no mention at all was made of the English /Protestant school system and just like, that over a third of the population was ignored. Not one person in the room noticed or batted an eyelid. I am afraid that anything that is not French becomes ‘the other’, stuck outside of the central narrative. My daughter, who was deeply affected by the events, came home the night of the vigil shaking her head in despair. She told us that many of her classmates, her so-called friends at University, were ambivalent to the loss of life, possibly because they didn’t identify it having anything to do with them ‘directly’. Their lack of empathy was astounding.

This is why the work we do is vitally important. The English-speaking community in Québec is not homogeneous but is made up of many different groups and cultures who have been living and contributing to this great nation for generations. It is through our art, through our stories, and through our history that we can illuminate and add to the narrative that is taught and consumed by the majority and by our newest citizens. This is, after all, our collective history and belongs to us all. Maybe, once our children understand this, and learn to live and play and accept people from different cultures, it will be less likely for someone to even consider committing such a heinous crime.

George Santayana is quoted as having said “those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. In the days ahead it will be necessary to remember our past, both good and bad, to celebrate it in music, dance, and song, to come to terms with it, question it, discuss it, and realize that culture is not a stable thing but is in constant flux and truth is more delicate than we realize, easily trodden afoot.

Simon Jacobs,
President, Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN)

Montreal, February 1, 2017