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    Monday, February 9, 1998

    Furor over revue truly misguided

    By AL STRACHAN -- At The Olympics

      Of all the volatile subjects for discussion available to Canadians, the matter of French-English relations is either at the top of the list or very close to it.
      Talking about the subject usually provokes an argument, and writing about it usually prompts charges of racism and bigotry.
      But so be it.
      However, let's make something perfectly clear: In Canada, everybody should have the right to governmental services in both English and French.
      Furthermore, there are two founding cultures in this country and both should be respected equally.
      It goes without saying, therefore, that we should do everything we can to make sure no one is made to feel inferior because he speaks only one of the two official languages.
      It is absolutely idiotic, for example, that a Canadian Olympic athlete should have to seek medical treatment from Olympic staff, as opposed to Canadian staff, because none of the Canadian doctors speak French.
      That didn't happen recently, but it did happen.
      It's similarly idiotic that a francophone Canadian who comes to cover the Olympics doesn't have every facility made available to him that is available to those who speak English.
      But it is not a major Olympic story that some bureaucratic bumblers screwed up a reception.
      Of course, the production was appalling. It appeared to be a feeble attempt at humor. But perhaps it wasn't that at all. As is typical of Canadian revues of this nature, there's always the possibility that the creators were serious, but just incompetent and working on a government grant.
      And certainly the Quebecers have the right to be upset if they were missing out on something. But drivel is drivel in any language. Why would you be upset if you missed it? Really, it's the English who should be upset. The French speakers didn't understand it. The English speakers weren't as fortunate.
      After all, westerners were left out as well. So were most other Canadians - except those unfortunate enough to be confined to Toronto and therefore familiar with what passes for civilization there.
      It was a screwup, no doubt about it. But it certainly is not verging upon a national crisis, as an English-speaking columnist from Montreal suggested at yesterday's news conference.
      Let's face it. The real hockey players aren't here yet. The downhill skiers couldn't race because of the weather. A snowboarder won a gold medal but he wasn't a Quebecer.
      So there has to be some news churned out, and this was it.
      It's one of those stories that provokes a media feeding frenzy and if someone decides to ignore it, he gets calls from editors who want to know when he's going to join the pack.
      It's not unlike the time the Stanley Cup final got hijacked for a few days after one French-language reporter charged Pat Burns, who was then the coach of the Montreal Canadiens, with racism because of his treatment of Claude Lemieux. Hockey coverage was shunted aside.
      Similarly, we should be reporting on the Olympics here, and worrying about what the athletes are doing.
      But instead, we're writing stories about news conferences that are called to deal with the ineptitude of a couple of people who made a mess of what was little more than a glorified high-school pageant.
      And not one of the athletes has complained to the COA about that show.
      Certainly the media have a responsibility to speak out when Canadians can't receive equal treatment in both languages.
      But it would have a lot more impact if these same people, most of whom live in Quebec, spoke out against the fact that it is against the law in that province to erect a sign in English. A principle is a principle, and that doesn't change, no matter which level of government is making the laws.
      Bilingualism is the federal law in Canada and so it should be. So now let's admit that Olympic bureaucrats are not federal politicians and get back to the Olympic Games.