Montreal

Wolfe descendant defends controversial Quebec event

A descendant of the British general who fought the Battle of the Plains of Abraham is dismissing claims that an event marking the 250th anniversary of the battle has become a partisan affair.

Moulin à paroles will include reading of FLQ manifesto

A descendant of the British general who fought the Battle of the Plains of Abraham is dismissing claims that an event marking the 250th anniversary of the battle has become a partisan affair.

Andrew Wolfe Burroughs is a freelance journalist from London, England, and a distant relative of General James Wolfe, who was killed in the pivotal 1759 battle in which the English defeated the French.

Burroughs is in Quebec to take part in an event dubbed Moulin à paroles, which translates roughly as "chatterbox." The two-day event this weekend in Quebec City will feature readings from 140 texts relating to the province's history from the battle in 1759 to the present.

Quebec entertainers, artists and politicians are expected to take part in the event, including ex-premier Bernard Landry and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe.

Controversial reading

The readings will include a selection from the nine-page manifesto written by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), the terrorist group behind a string of bombings and hostage-takings in support of Quebec independence in 1970, a period known as the October Crisis.

The manifesto was first read on the CBC French-language service as a condition for the release of British trade official James Cross. The other high-profile hostage, Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, was killed.

The decision to include the manifesto has stirred up controversy. Several federalist politicians, including members of the provincial and federal governments, as well as Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, have said they will boycott the event — accusing organizers of holding a partisan event and of being apologists for terrorism.

But Burroughs is dismissing criticism of the event, which he says was intended to be an "open platform of conflicting voices."

"The neutral or balancing people who were invited in good faith to take part have — some of them — withdrawn," Burroughs said. "And, then they've said, 'Oh, that is a partisan event.' Now, that is a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Burroughs says those who have withdrawn from the event are "responsible for [their] withdrawal and cannot blame the others for participating."

Organizers defend plans

One of the organizers of Moulin à paroles, singer Sébastien Ricard, says it was never intended to be a partisan event. Ricard says the readings are intended to allow people from "all horizons of Quebec society ... to show [their] love of Quebec and show [their] love of the French fact in North America."

The event was organized after the federal agency responsible for the management of the Plains of Abraham, the National Battlefields Commission, decided to cancel a re-enactment of the battle. The decision was made because of threats of violence from some sovereigntists.

Supporters note that Moulin à paroles will feature a wide range of texts — from the Canadian national anthem to works by Leonard Cohen and prominent Quebec poets.

Burroughs will read a letter written by Gen. Wolfe during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Baron Georges Savarin de Marestan, a distant relative of French General Marquis de Montcalm, is also taking part in the event.