Did the “slanted eyes” comment defeat Boisclair in Quebec election or was it because of other judgments and gaffes?

Did the “slanted eyes” comment defeat Boisclair in Quebec election or was it because of other judgments and gaffes?

Andre Boisclair has led the Parti Quebecois to one of it's most stunning defeats.  Boisclair recently won the anger of Asian-Quebeccers for refusing to apologize for “slanting eyes” comment aimed at Asians.

Did it make a difference in exposing the poor judgements of a man who wanted to become the next separatist leader of Quebec?  Did it demonstrate the problems of misunderstanding multiculturalism when the man wanted to create a sovereigntist monoculture?

Prior to the election, a coalition of Asian Canadians in Quebec sent out the following letter on Saturday afternoon, March 24, 2007, in both English and French.  The strategy was to focus on the voices
of Asian Quebecers. The signatories were those who responded before today's media release.

It's a well written letter and exposes the problem that there are leaders in Canada who still stereotype and generalize all Asians because they look the same re: “slanting eyes.”  It is a pity that many Candians cannot recognize or do not know the long and valid multigenerational history of Asian-Canadians in Canada.


March 21, 2007

The undersigned deeply regrets that Mr. André Boisclair used derogatory and deplorable references to describe persons of Asian and Indian origin during a speech to students at the Université du Québec in Trois-RIvières.

Our objection concerns not only his use of the French expression “yeux bridés” to describe Asians in general.  This common expression in the French language dating from the 19th century, during a period of expanding colonization of Asia by European countries, is essentially a western invention to label peoples of the Orient.  It may appear to be acceptable for persons who do not care, including Asians.

However, Asians do not form a homogeneous group:  the reactions vary according to their respective history, social experiences and national  cultures.  In North America, the simplistic expression “yeux bridés” has been largely rejected by many Asians because of its derogatory and condescending meaning, in whatever possible language.

We find the comments of Mr. Boisclair, a former minister of immigration and who is looking to become the Premier of Quebec, unacceptable since they reinforce stereotypes when he says he was surprised to see that one-third of the students in Boston in an undergraduate program had “les yeux  bridés”.

Firstly, why the surprise?  If he admires the spirit of entrepreneurship and the other qualities of these persons, why be surprised that there are so many Asians at Harvard where he spent one year.  Also, was he talking about Americans of Asian origin or foreign students from Asia?  If he is unable to make this distinction, it speaks volumes about his awareness.

Lastly, his reaction after protests about his use of these terms  surprises us since it is inappropriate and disrespectful towards a group in society who felt directly insulted by his words.    Mr. Boisclair should have shown a sensitivity and maturity by withdrawing those comments and the matter would have been closed.  Having been personally targeted by some people’s unacceptable remarks about him, Mr. Boisclair should readily understand
that words can be harmful, whatever the intention of the person saying them.

In refusing to apologize for the use of this expression in a statement that is just as insensitive towards Asians around the world, Mr. Boisclair has lost a golden opportunity to show his openness of spirit and sensitivity towards these persons.  It is this obstinate refusal which unfortunately leaves a poor impression in the minds of many.  

Mr. Boisclair still has time to show a greater spirit  We would be prepared to publicly  welcome him only if he makes this magnanimous gesture of a retraction of the expression as well as his reference to being “surprised”, and which would be a confirmation of his undertaking for a Quebec free from bias.

And we offer him our hand in friendship and honour for a better understanding and mutual acceptance – in all languages of humanity. 

Alan Wong, co- président- Gais et Lesbiennes Asiatiques de Montréal
Howard Tan,  président- Fédération de Professionnels Chinois Canadiens-Québec
Martin Liu, président- Association des Jeunes Professionnels Chinois
Savan Thach, président- Association Cambodgien Khmere Kampuchea-krom du Québec 
James de la Paz, président- Fédération des Associations Canada- Philippines du Québec
Evelyn Caluguay- présidente- Association des Femmes Philippines du Québec-Pinay
Jocelyn Toy, président- Association Chinoise de la Ville de Québec
Napoleon Woo, Société de Bienfaisance Chinoise de la Ville de Québec
Jeanne To-Thanh-Hien, Communauté Vietnamienne Gatineau-Ottawa
Walter Chi-yan Tom, avocat
Dr. Alice Chan-Yip, médecin pédiatre
Virginia Lam, avocate
Lily Luangphakdy, avocate
Millie Lum, pharmacienne

Raymond Liew, enseignant collegial
Lynette Lim, comptable agrée
Raymond Tsim, agent en immobilier
Esme Lo, femme d’affaire
Wah-Keung Chan, éditeur & rédacteur
Ting-Ming Chen, ingénieur
Warren Lee, planificateur financier
Wallie Seto, éditeur & rédacteur
Tess Augustin, femme d’affaire
Sylvia Ho, analyste en marketing
Douglas Yip, avocat
Delia So
Zhimin Hu

Walter Chi-Yan TOM, L.L.B. lawyer/avocat
5898 Clanranald, Montreal, Quebec Province, Canada, H3X 2T1
Telephone : 514- 341-3929  Fax : 514- 733-6670
E-mail: walter@tomlex.ca

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