The top-ranking political dignitary in Quebec resigned Tuesday after provoking a furor with his admission that he wore a swastika while a student in Montreal during World War II.
Jean-Louis Roux, a well-known actor who was appointed Quebec’s lieutenant-governor in September, also admitted in a magazine interview that he participated in a 1942 military draft protest that degenerated into vandalism against Jewish shops.
Roux’s comments outraged Jewish groups and provided ammunition for Quebec’s separatist leaders, who had bitterly opposed his appointment as lieutenant governor by Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Roux, like Chretien, is a staunch federalist who wants Quebec to remain in Canada.
Roux, 73, said Monday that his actions were youthful bravado and not an indication of support for the Nazis. He expressed regret for any offense caused to the Jewish community, but some Jewish leaders were not satisfied.
“He couldn’t simply forgive those acts as the acts of innocent youth,” said Rubin Friedman of B’nai Brith Canada. “He had to firmly say they were wrong. He never quite did,”
Chretien, challenged by opposition parties to repudiate Roux, said Tuesday in Parliament that he was unaware of Roux’s student activities when making the appointment. He said a police security check turned up nothing negative.
“The whole life of Jean-Louis Roux was, in my view, an impeccable record, except for one mistake,” Chretien said. “He made a mistake when he was 19 years old. … Nobody can take away his great career and his great service to the Canadian people, and the people of Quebec in particular.”
Roux said Monday he drew a swastika on the sleeve of his lab coat as a pre-medical student.
“This display, which unfortunately testifies to the attitude of a large portion of the youth in Quebec at the time, was inspired only by a medical student’s mischievous desire to show off and be provocative, and in no way corresponded to any political conviction or ideology on my part,” he said.
Roux said that while he participated in the anti-draft demonstration, he was not among those who smashed windows of Jewish shops.
He said these “anecdotes” of his past were being blown out of proportion. Fascist and anti-Semitic sentiment was not uncommon in Quebec and in 1930s and early 1940s.
Separatists had opposed his appointment as lieutenant governor, the largely ceremonial job of being the official representative of Canada’s head of state - currently Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Lieutenant governors are supposed to remain non-partisan, but Roux is an outspoken federalist.