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Toronto Star 25 Juin 1998

Top anglo "Pit Bill' attacked at march

CREAMED: Anglo rights lobbyist
William Johnston took a pie in the
face during the Fête Nationale march
in Montreal. He defended the ambush
as free expression.

MONTREAL - Police forced anglophone rights crusader Bill Johnson to leave the annual Fête Nationale march yesterday after his presence was deemed a threat to public safety.

The move came after Johnson, head of the anglophone lobby group Alliance Quebec, was pelted with cream pies, spit at, shoved, and jeered as a ``racist'' by a small group of francophones.


"You'll never get partition,'' shouted one demonstrator, referring to Johnson's view that an independent Quebec would lose chunks of its territory.

Others took aim at his attempt to launch legal challenges to gut Quebec's French-language charter, known as Bill 101.

"It's 101 or the 401,'' another protester shouted, urging Johnson to take the highway out of Quebec.

"You just came here to provoke us, you son-of-a-bitch,'' another said.

Johnson was taking part in the march that immediately follows the parade celebrating Quebec's provincial holiday.

A syndicated columnist, he has become well known in the province since recently winning the leadership of federally funded Alliance Quebec. His relentless battle against all that smacks of Quebec nationalism has earned him the nickname ``Pit Bill.''

He was widely quoted in the francophone media throughout the week complaining that sovereignists have hijacked the Fête Nationale, an event that should be open to all Quebecers.

Organizers of the fête, the sovereignist St. Jean Baptiste Society, had refused Johnson's request to allow him to walk with the invited guests at the head of the march, which included Premier Lucien Bouchard, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and the sovereignist leaders of Quebec's major unions.

So Johnson joined the thousands of Quebecers who every year walk behind them eastbound on Sherbrooke St. He said he wanted to make the point that the event also belongs to federalists and anglophone Quebecers.

He had just finished telling reporters that his presence in the march hadn't provoked any problems when three cream pies were crushed in his face and the jeers began. About a dozen protesters then surrounded him shouting, "Québec français! Québec français!''

"If he was a moderate federalist, he would be welcomed. But not an extremist who spits on Quebec - this is not his place,'' said Michel Coté, one of the people who jeered Johnson.

"It's as if I went to the Canada Day parade and spat on the Canadian flag.''

Johnson wiped the cream off his face with a towel and smiled.

"I don't mind it at all. This is freedom of speech,'' he told reporters. "There was no assault there. This is clearly a way of expressing disapproval of my ideas and my views and I don't mind it at all. If anyone else wants to throw a pie, they're most welcome.''

A smiling anglo crusader William Johnston wipes pie from his face

After Johnson had walked about 500 metres, the protesters decided to block his way. Johnson swung around them, undaunted, and moved ahead.

"Why should I be intimidated by those who want to use force?'' he said.

As one protester threw Johnson's cap off his head and others called him names, Quebecers who were there to take part in
the parade expressed their disgust at the scene.

"You're doing exactly what he wants,'' Bernard Rouleau, 53, shouted at the protesters.

"All the journalists are going to write about this, and by tomorrow it's Quebecers that are going to look like racists, not him,'' Rouleau told a reporter.

By the time Johnson had walked a kilometre, police officers who had stayed away from the scene decided it was time to act. About a dozen of them surrounded Johnson and told him he had to leave.

"We did it for reasons of public safety,'' said police commander Eric Godin. ``We saw there was a lot of controversy and the health - that of Mr. Johnson and those near him - could have been compromised. So at that time we decided to take Mr. Johnson out of the parade.''

Johnson was whisked away in a police van and released shortly after.

In an interview after his release, Johnston said the incident is proof that organization of the event must be taken away from the St. Jean Baptiste Society and given to a group that will open the march to all Quebecers.

The incident marred what otherwise was a sweltering and joyful day of celebration as Quebecers of all political stripes and colours lined the parade route down St. Laurent Blvd. - the traditional meeting ground for francophones from the city's east side and anglophones from the west end.

The route south of St. Laurent Blvd. - also known as The Main - was an attempt by parade organizers to get more non-francophones to participate.

Toronto Star Montreal Bureau


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