Town Ward City Councillor Diane Therrien was exhausted from a marathon Council session when she got a call from a journalist for Radio-Canada, CBC’s French-language network, asking if she wanted to do an interview about Peterborough’s anti-abortion bus ads.
“I have a francophone name,” Therrien says, “so he thought I would be fluently bilingual.” One can easily understand the error. Picture hearing that someone named Doug MacDonald, living in northern Quebec, doesn’t really speak English. But names aren’t codes; they have complicated histories.
Diane’s grandfather was Franco-Ontarian, from the Penetang region. He married an anglophone and, in deference to the pragmatics and prejudices of the time, they opted to raise their children in English. Her father, who shares her surname, “speaks zero French.”
Therrien grew up in Mississauga and, like a lot of people of her generation, learned French in school; like a lot of people in her generation, she hasn’t used it much since, and now lacks confidence. Speaking French, as it turns, is not like riding a bicycle.
The interview was supposed to be for a video segment, and was done in English, the idea being that it would be dubbed for broadcast. Somewhere along the line the occult process of journalism determined that the piece would be published as an article, with just a couple of translated quotes from the councillor most vocal in her opposition to the ads.
Therrien has mixed feelings about it, because she thinks the anti-feminist trolls behind the campaign are already getting too much free publicity from the controversy. Every time there’s a story, “they’re showing the ads,” and so the graphic images that stigmatize and simplify women’s reproductive choices “are getting disseminated even more widely. They’re delighted.”
The Council meeting that discussed the issue, and the heritage designation for the Morrow Building, was long, but also satisfying in a way—“a testament,” she says, “to how much people were invested in the two main issues.”
I wasn’t there. Like a lot of people, I followed it on Twitter, as I usually do. If there’s something I really need to hear word-for-word, I listen to it on the web later.
These things are good, Therrien says, and essential for engaging people who can’t be in the room. But politically, civically, a visible presence is important.
“It’s different when you have people in the room,” she says. “It’s good to have that so Council knows people are paying attention.”
Cover image courtesy Radio-Canada/Frederic Pepin. Illustration by B. Mroz.