Two years in jail for preventing someone from displaying a Canadian flag? This is too silly for words. "A wacky solution to a non-existent problem," wrote La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert.
As if there weren't more pressing issues to deal with, the Harper government is going to war against apartment buildings that forbid residents from flying small Canadian flags on their windows or balconies. I live in a condo where we're not allowed to encumber our windows with posters, commercial signs, banners or flags of any kind, whether it's a Maple Leaf, a fleur-de-lys or the emblem of Saudi Arabia. If this bill is passed, the amiable manager and elected administrators of my building would be liable to a fine or even risk a jail sentence.
Forget the earnest English-Canadian tourists who affix Maple Leaves to their backpack to avoid being taken for Americans. Showing off your country's flag when you're safely at home has a political meaning. It is often a sign of intense nationalism, which usually appeals to extreme-right parties in most developed countries (an exception is the United States, where many homeowners flaunt the Stars and Stripes on their lawn). Even in France, where the famous tricolore is cherished, the national flag is not displayed on private residences, even on July 14, the national holiday.
In Quebec, it is quite unusual to see flags exhibited on a balcony or a lawn outside election or referendum campaigns, and then they are political statements: a fleur-de-lys means that the resident is a sovereigntist; a Maple Leaf means he's a die-hard federalist. But most people, especially in the cities, are discreet about their political allegiances.
The monarchist bent of the Harper government is even more intolerable than its overzealous veneration of the national flag. From now on, all Canadian embassies will be forced to welcome the visitors with a huge portrait of the Queen – a misrepresentation of modern Canada, where the British monarchy is nothing but a mere symbol.
Worse, two brightly coloured landscapes of Alfred Pellan, one of Quebec's foremost 20th-century artists (ironically, he was a committed federalist), were removed from the Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa and replaced by a picture of the Queen.
One painting was called Canada West and the other Canada East. Weren't they a more appropriate representation of Canada than the stuffy old British lady? Isn't it enough that the Queen appears on each of our $20 bills?
Seen from Quebec, the "royalization" of Canada so actively pursued by the Harper government looks like something from Mars. According to Le Devoir, the British crown might eventually be inscribed in the inside pages of our future electronic passports. Foreign Affairs and Passport Canada officials have refused to confirm the information but if this happens, it would be an intolerable insult to all citizens who are not of British origin (and they now form the majority in Canada).
Has the Harper government decided to make francophone citizens feel like strangers in their own country? French Canadians are not actively hostile to the Crown. They are indifferent. Rare are those who call for an alternative formula for choosing a head of state, for the simple reason that people have more important problems to deal with and that the transition to another system would be even more divisive than the painful constitutional squabbles of the 1980s and 1990s. But what French Canadians don't want is to see more symbols of a history they don't share forced on them.