Letter to National Geographic Magazine

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Letter to National Geographic Magazine
October 21, 1997

Mr. Wm. T. Allen, Editor
National Geographic Magazine
1145, 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-4688

Dear Editor,

I have just received the November issue of the National Geographic Magazine[1], and was flabbergasted by the biased approach to the very complex Quebec question, as it was treated by one of your authors, Ian Darragh[2]. The age-old inability of many in the anglophone minority (some 10 %) to understand the legitimate aspirations of a large francophone majority (80-85 % of the population) is at the root of the problem. For more than two centuries the clearly expressed intention of British imperialism to suppress the specifically francophone culture of Quebec (see the Durham Report to the British Government in the 1840's and Charles Darwin's racist reference to English-French differences in expounding his version of social evolutionism in one of his major works The Descent of Man, p. 157) has failed. To present Quebec resistance as largely folklorish, rural and religious misses the point entirely, to the detriment of your readers who deserve more from your generally well-informed magazine.

Many of Darragh's allegations, implicit or otherwise, would need to be questioned, such as the quality of Quebec's relations with its aboriginal populations, or the more or less implicit supposition of Quebec's inability to survive and prosper as a sovereign state. I have travelled quite extensively and worked for long periods outside Canada and I can vouch for Quebec's remarkable openness towards other cultures and peoples. Simply compare the fates of the francophone population of Ontario and the anglophone minority of Quebec, of approximately comparable size. The Quebec anglophones enjoy three universities, two very large including McGill, and one smaller institution, a complete school system from kindergarten to college run by anglophone administrators, a complete health system with a number of large hospitals, all of which funded essentially by the Quebec Government. In Ontario on the other hand, where I was born, the one larger francophone university (in Ottawa) has become largely anglophone over the years and the one hospital administered by francophones has been merged by Ontario provincial government fiat with anglophone institutions in an anglophone conglomerate. Far from affording the Ontario francophone population the possibility of maintaining itself, the rate of assimilation there is staggering as it is practically everywhere else in Canada.

Quebec cannot afford to place its survival in the hands of anglophone Canada as a whole. The rest of Canada (ROC) expresses steadfast opposition even to recognizing Quebec as a "distinct society" in spite of Quebec having its own francophone literature, history, language, code of civil laws, etc., and being at the forefront of much economic and social innovation.

The drive for sovereignty which has marked Quebec politics for the last 35 years has been conducted according to rigorously democratic principles. The words separation and independence are never used by sovereignists to designate their objectives, since in today's world states are not primarily separate or independent, but interdependent and bound together by treaties and alliances striving for ideals which each embraces as a sovereign entity. That is why Quebec sovereignty affirms the need of the Quebecois (and this word has never excluded anglophones or allophones) to continue to engage as a sovereign state in intense economic exchanges with Ontario and the rest of Canada. Any rational appraisal of the situation dictates that such economic relations should continue after sovereignty has been achieved since hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake both in Ontario and in Quebec. The so-called rejection of such relations by English Canada and the threat of Quebec partition seem to me a throwback to an age of heartless, racist imperialism, of sabre rattling and fearmongering which everyone should try to do without as we enter the third millennium.

I was particularly incensed by Darragh's charges of fraud in favor of Quebec sovereignty in the 1995 referendum. Many immigrants to Canada were offered quasi-immediate citizenship to vote for the "no" side. A doctoral student of mine, from a former communist European country came to visit Canada a few weeks before the referendum and was offered (and received) Canadian citizenship and a Canadian passport presumably on the assumption that he would vote against Quebec sovereignty. A few days later he returned to his country to resume his post as a junior member of his country's Academy of sciences.

Such attacks on the integrity of the voting system are invidious indeed given the fact, generally recognized by those who do not speak out of ignorance, that the Quebec electoral laws are without doubt among the most progressive and equitable in the world in terms of affording each side in an election or referendum equal opportunity for making its case known to the population.

I am sorry to say that the performance of the National Geographic Magazine on such a delicate human question has deeply disappointed me. Your large readership has received from Ian Darragh a biased account of a political controversy which certainly deserves a more straightforward and fairer presentation.

Sincerely Yours,

Venant Cauchy
professor emeritus of Philosophy
Université de Montréal

Editor's Notes

  1. Quebec's Quandary, from the issue for November 1997 (also avail. through archive.org)
  2. Ian Darragh was a former editor of the Canadian Geographic.