The Quebec National Assembly soundly condemned political commentator J. J. McCullough Wednesday in a unanimous vote, after he wrote an op-ed asking why so many mass shootings occur in progressive Quebec.
Following the shooting at a Quebec City mosque earlier in January by Alexandre Bissonnette which left five dead, McCullough wrote an op-ed Feb. 1 in The Washington Post noting that “the province seems to produce an awful lot of lunatics prone to public massacres, who often explicitly justify their violence with arguments of dissatisfaction towards Quebec’s unique culture.”
His piece enraged the Quebec legislature and other commentators, earning a response from Carl Vallée, who served as the press secretary for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Quebec government intends to file a formal complaint with The Washington Post about McCullough’s article, in order to defend the Canadian province’s international reputation, according to International Affairs Minister Christine St-Pierre.
J. J. McCullough, meanwhile, is unperturbed about the Quebec government’s motion and spoke to The Daily Caller News Foundation about the debacle.
The Daily Caller News Foundation: Obviously, this isn’t the first time that Quebec has attacked a writer for besmirching its reputation on the international stage. But were you actually expecting to draw the rebuke of the Quebec legislature?
J.J. McCullough: I guess it would be naive if I said it was surprising. The column itself mentioned how common this is. But it’s still kind of jarring when it happens to you. The idea that these big-shot politicians hundreds of miles away are furrowing their brows in anger at you and passing motions denouncing you while you sit at home just quietly going about your own life; it’s a surreal thing to experience.
The Daily Caller News Foundation: Why does Quebec seem to be so thin-skinned when it comes to public criticism?
J.J. McCullough: There’s obviously a deep insecurity, a feeling that their place in Canada is very tenuous. A lot of Quebecers, and particularly Quebec politicians, are deeply ambivalent about their relationship with English Canada and seize upon any evidence reenforcing preexisting suspicions that they are a persecuted people. This narrative of victimization has been very useful for a lot of powerful people in Quebec, though they’re obviously not exceptional in that regard.
The Daily Caller News Foundation: Your piece seems to have earned the ire of Carl Vallée, who served as the press secretary for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He argued in The Washington Post that you’re letting mosque shooter Bissonnette “off the hook” by placing the blame on Quebec nationalism. Is that an accurate characterization?
J.J. McCullough: I didn’t quite follow his argument. He suggested it was somehow un-conservative to be interested in sociological or cultural explanations for terrorism. I would counter that conservatives do this all the time. The Middle East produces a lot of terrorists. Do conservatives generally consider each Middle Eastern terrorist in perfect isolation? Or do they wonder if there’s something bigger going on in the region? My piece was more about observing Quebec’s history of public violence than ascribing any particular motives to Bissonnette.
The Daily Caller News Foundation: In your op-ed, you pointed to six examples of high-profile mass shootings in Quebec, but it seems unclear that all of them are linked to Quebec nationalism, either for or against. Marc Lépine, for example, killed 13 female students due to misogyny. And in 2006, Kimveer Gill shot 7 students at Dawson College. Are these two cases (and others) a product of Quebec nationalism, or due some other factor(s), such as a culture of more permissive radicalism?
J.J. McCullough: The myth of my column is that I offered some grand unifying theory of Quebec violence. I didn’t. Some of the violence was explicitly presented as a violent solution to some aspect of Quebec society the killer hated; other times observers have merely inferred such motives. The main purpose of the piece was to point out that a lot of acts of public violence are coming out of a very proudly progressive society, and that we should not be afraid to observe that fact and formulate theories about why that may be. This isn’t a radical idea, people do this all the time when thinking about violence in America.
The Daily Caller News Foundation: The Quebec legislature is calling for the comments you made to be “rectified.” Do you plan on issuing any kind of retraction or apology? What do you think The Washington Post’s response will be?
J.J. McCullough: The Washington Post will stand by me, I’m confident. It was an opinion piece, and all the factual assertions I made I can easily support. I have no intention of apologizing for expressing an opinion simply because some found it offensive.
The Daily Caller News Foundation: Can you give us a quick rundown on what in Quebec’s history has predisposed the province to “anti-Semitism, religious bigotry and pro-fascist sentiment”?
J.J. McCullough: Well, that particular line was a reference to Quebec’s history, which did feature a lot of those things, though it’s considered somewhat taboo to talk about, even now, when it’s very fashionable to document all the sins and bigotries of Canada’s past. Quebec was, historically, a very aggressively monocultural, insular place. It was a province for French-Canadian Catholics, and the firmness of that identity made its citizens easily suspicious of those of other religions and ethnicities. I think most Canadians would agree the province is still working through those issues.
The Daily Caller News Foundation: There are a lot of people complaining your piece amounts to little more than “Quebec bashing.” Do you have any particular dislike for Quebec’s ideological program of nationalism and cultural hegemony?
J.J. McCullough: I think, like many English Canadians, I often find Quebec’s persecution complex tiring and their nationalism weird and small-minded. But what bothers me more is the idea that the province deserves this great exaggerated deference as a uniquely special and important part of the country. I think Canada is a country of 10 equal provinces, each with their own unique flaws and dysfunctions. I resent the idea that Quebec should be subject to special protocols dictating the terms of allowable criticism.
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