Je Suis Charlie a world away: How the Charlie Hebdo attacks touched St. Pierre and Miquelon

Almost three weeks after the bloody Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, you can still see shows of support in St. Pierre.
CBC's Adam Walsh visited St-Pierre-Miquelon last week to see the response there to the attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris 2:27

Almost three weeks after the bloody Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, you can still see shows of support in St. Pierre. 

Shop windows throughout the French town off Newfoundland's south coast have signs reading "Je Suis Charlie", the public library has a full display of old Charlie Hebdo issues. The latest addition, the first copy of the satirical newspaper since the attacks.

Je Suis Charlie sign in a shop window on St. Pierre. (Adam Walsh/CBC)
The library cancelled its subscription almost three years ago, but in light of the recent events renewed its subscription and received its first copies just last week. 

The islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon are 4,277 kilometres from Paris but all you need to do is ask around to know that the distance doesn't make them feel any less French. 

"We're French here, it's in our blood," said Maïté Légasse, organizer of a unity rally days after attacks. 

"Our patriotism is strong."

Légasse's Facebook event saw half the islands' 6,000 citizens come out and march in the streets. The rally ended with everyone singing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

One of the marchers was Claude L'Espagnol. The islands' notary public, accordion player and also a former satirist.

From 1991-1995, L'Espagnol and five other friends started a satirical newspaper called the "Icebreaker" in protest of the government of the day.

"Because it is le rire. Laughing … is the best weapon against those people," said L'Espagnol.

So it is with humour and the pen that they waged battle. 

Claude L'Espagnol shows a copy of his former satirical paper "The Icebreaker." (Adam Walsh/CBC)
And in the end, "We destroyed the target at the elections of 1995," said L'Espagnol laughing and thinking back.

But when he speaks about the assassinations of the satirists at Charlie Hebdo, his laughter stops.

"It was enormously sad," he said. "I'm not shy to say, I cried." 

L'Espagnol didn't think such an atrocity was possible in his country. 

What is important for him now is life after Charlie. 

The shows of unity in France and at home in St. Pierre made him proud. He says he knows the values associated with freedom of speech and expression will not be dented in France. 

"I know that there will be other people, more crazy than those that were executed by the Islamists. That we'll fight again, again, again," said L'Espagnol.

Copies of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo since the attacks will go on sale in St. Pierre this week. There was a slight delay in their delivery. 

L'Espagnol couldn't wait to buy the issue, he paid for an online copy and downloaded it. 

About the Author

Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a reporter for the St. John's Morning Show, currently working in Tokyo on a partnership with the Japanese public broadcaster NHK.