How are Canadians different from Americans? Here’s one aspect.
The city of Toronto has suffered from a lack of tourism because of the SARS outbreak there last year. In an attempt to show tourists around the world that they are really nice people, and that folks are coughing because of a cold and not SARS, the national, provincial and city governments ponied up $1 million Canadian dollars of taxpayer money to bring late-night comedian and talk-show host Conan O’Brien to their city.
For those of you who don’t watch Conan’s show, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is a recurring character–a cigar-chomping puppet that, well, insults people. One of his key phrases is to say that something is “for me to poop on!” Toilet humor, to be sure. You can go Amazon to buy a DVD of his acts. The episode of “Triumph Visits the ‘Star Wars’ Nerds” had me crying with laughter at times. Maybe it is because I’m such a nerd myself.
So anyway, Conan visits Canada, and Triumph runs riot with the natives, with comments like, “So you’re French and Canadian, yes? So you’re obnoxious and dull.” Or when confronting some French-speaking Canadians, “You’re in North America! Learn the language!” After learning that a couple supported Quebec leaving Canada, he said, “Listen closely. Hear that? It’s the sound of no one giving a [BEEP]!” And finally, “You’re French, you’re obnoxious and you no speekay English!” See the trend? And speaking of seeing, you can see a video of Triumph at YouTube until it’s gone.
This skit has stirred up a firestorm of anger from Canadian politicians. They are up in arms about having funded this program in the first place. The president of the Quebec nationalist Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, Jean Dorion, said, “It’s wrong to spread the worst possible ethnic prejudices about Quebecers, which already exist in Canada.” Personally, I think “Quebecers” sounds so much better than “Quebecois.” Not to be outdone, the leftist New Democrats legislator Alexa McDonough had several things to say about Triumph: “There may be those who would say, ‘Isn’t this interfering with freedom of expression?’ It’s not interfering to say we will not publicly fund this kind of vile, vicious hatemongering.” McDonough added, “The whole point of trying to help deal with the devastation of the SARS crisis on the city of Toronto was to attract tourists. How it got morphed into this kind of garbage I don’t know.”
If the Canadian politicians had a clue, they would have realized that Conan O’Brien is a comedian with a specific target audience: drunken frat boys. Expecting anything other that what they got shows their political stupidity, or at least a serious lack of research on their part. I must agree with the people up in arms about the Canadian government funding this show. If the U.S. had publicly funded such a show, I would be just as upset as they are. I’ve read our Constitution, and I don’t see anything in there about funding television programs. This is one reason why I feel PBS should be cut off from the American government’s purse strings.
But I digress.
Quebec has long been a sensitive spot for Canadians. Several times now French-speaking Quebec has tried to secede from Canada, and nearly succeeded in a 1995 referendum on the matter. However, French-speaking Quebec has long forced its ways on the rest of Canada. Canada is both an English- and French-speaking country because of the Quebecers. Everything must be posted in both languages, which leads to Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese Dinners with two front covers: one in French, one in English. But this mandated government use of two languages doesn’t apply in French-dominated Quebec. A reader named Mori, in a reaction post to Triumph, sums it up this way:
I am an English Quebecer WITHOUT the same rights as French Quebecers though we’re all Canadian and pay the same amount of taxes. We English Quebecers have experienced many insults in our life from Quebecers — including public service workers and government agencies — based on our mother tongue. Many have … expressed … their disdain of English speakers. If people can dish out insults or not speak up as loudly against the lack of equal rights and respect of English Quebecers, then surely an eight-minute sketch comedy featuring a puppet dog, geared towards adults, should not cause such great emotional bruising.
Stephen Harper of Quebec City said, “We can all make jokes about each other but you don’t start telling people in Quebec they have to speak another language. That’s completely unacceptable.” But Stephen, that’s what the French-speaking Quebecers have been saying all along!
Here in the good old U.S. of A., we have something called the First Amendment that protects our freedom of speech, and it has long protected humorous expression. This is why we don’t arrest Jay Leno for saying something that isn’t true, but sure is funny. Likewise, Triumph’s speech–or rather the speech of the puppeteer–is protected here in America. In addition to this protection, there is another tried-and-true defense of potentially offensive and insulting speech: you are free to say it if it is true. So I could stand up and call a prominent politician a sheep pimp, and if said politician were to take me to court for defamation of character, I would only have to produce evidence proving that the politician is, in fact, a pimper of sheep.
But this defense is no longer valid in Canada. You could make a factual statement that someone is a sheep pimp and wave the documents and photos to prove it, but that wouldn’t matter. If the other person were insulted or embarrassed by your comments, he or she could sue you for defamation of character, even though what you said was true, and win. The truth is not a defense in Canada any more.
The sad thing is the way many liberals want to make the U.S. more like Canada. I prefer to have us stay different from the Canadians in at least this way. I prefer my Constitutionally-protected freedom of speech over the now-vanished “freedom” of Canadians.