Soul on Ice
Mark Wegierski recalls a rare victory over “political correctness”
In April 2007, the Canadian media were convulsed by the allegation that Shane Doan, the captain of the Canadian team at the World Ice Hockey Championships, had uttered an anti-French slur years before – and was therefore unfit to lead the team. In the event, massive public resistance nullified the efforts of various Quebec Liberal and Bloc Quebecois politicians to destroy him.
A number of issues were raised by this cause célèbre. Firstly, the dredging up of a “politically-incorrect” incident from years before, to try to deny a highly talented person some official position or honour, smacked of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Secondly, even if Doan had shouted something egregiously offensive, it would have been unfair to punish him for it. In physical, contact sports, all kinds of things are said in the heat of the moment. A realistic view of human nature would regard such verbalisations as simply part of an often brutal, competitive struggle. It is absurd in itself to try to introduce a blanket ban on so-called “offensive speech” in the context of such often ferocious, competitive sports.
As regards the alleged insult to French-Canadians, the best riposte to Shane Doan – had he actually said something offensive, which in this case is questionable — would have been for a Montreal Canadiens player to shout out some quick counter-jibe. By the end of the game, everything would be happily forgotten. But the Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe treated the incident (or pretended to treat it) it as a matter of utmost seriousness – indeed, as a real threat to Quebec. He thereby demonstrated the incoherence and lack of authenticity of Quebecois nationalism. The latter, especially as represented by the Parti Quebecois led by Andre Boisclair, was morphing into an “anti-nationalist nationalism”. To the extent that the spokespersons of Quebecois nationalism avoided serious discussion of real issues and the authentic continuation and flourishing of their nation, they had to latch on to pseudo-issues that served as surrogates for real debate and national affirmation.
In the Shane Doan case, Gilles Duceppe’s thinking on the issue was informed by the conviction that — because of the ever-greater attention being paid to visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples in Canada — Quebec was not getting enough “respect” and “air-time” in the current-day Canadian system. So he had to throw a fit over something.
As far as inappropriate language goes, insults among groups of various ethnicities occur in almost any society. Certainly, the Quebecois themselves are not especially friendly towards les anglais, either in their language or their methods. The English of Montreal were made to feel so uncomfortable after the 1960s that many of them left the city where their families had lived for generations.
One of the justifications for various Western “codes against hate-speech” today is the supposedly clear and present danger posed to multifarious minorities if members of the so-called majority too freely express themselves. This Left-liberal preoccupation with the dangers of recrudescent fascism is generally overblown. There is a tendency to consider all varieties of traditionalism, conservatism, and nationalism, as something akin to Nazism. Indeed, Western societies are too easily distracted from actual, present dangers, notably those posed by anti-traditional, polymorphous, “hyper-modern” ideologies – as well as the challenge of Islamic extremism – which curiously interlocks with Western “hyper-modernism.”
For a truly confident, robust nationalist, an insult such as that allegedly made by Shane Doan, in the context of an inflamed sports contest, would have had absolutely zero register. Moreover, a person who made a big issue over it would be seen as peevish and petulant. Western “codes against hate-speech” – which are usually applied “asymmetrically” — are of no interest to a serious nationalist.
The irony today is that in many Western nations various infrastructures have been“captured” by ideologies that range from indifference to outright hostility to the nation . This was far more the case in English-speaking Canada than in Quebec, where Quebecois nationalism was able to build up considerable infrastructural strength that – despite certain elements of social liberalism — was permeated to a lesser extent by “hyper modernism” and self-hatred.
The current-day Canadian “official” culture, as far as the putatively Canadian element in it goes, is a failed culture. It has cut itself off from its traditional roots, and can only exist with massive government subsidies. It has almost no influence outside of a few hyper-urban “arts cliques”. Ice hockey in Canada is one of the last, truly unifying elements of the country. This rough-and-tumble sport is arguably a cultural and psychological substitute for the Canadian military, so heavily gutted in the last five decades. Indeed, hockey is one of the last places of refuge of traditional Canada.
Certain elements of Shane Doan’s biography, such as his earnest Christian faith, made him an inviting target for certain politicians. It was certainly cheering to see most of the Canadian public rallying to his side. Yet unfortunately, when it comes to such issues, it generally stays silent.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher