If you checked social media over the weekend, you’ve probably seen the video. If you haven’t— you’ll probably hear about it.

The ire prompted by a bizarre video taken at Saturday’s St. Jean parade may have been premature, parade organizers told CTV Montreal.

The video has been shared over 6,000 times, and has a running thread of nearly 500 comments—many of them livid.

In it, singer Annie Villeneuve makes her way down St. Denis on a float pushed by what appears to be only people of colour. Surrounding the float are droves of singing parade goers, dressed head-to-toe in white.

It didn’t take long for social media to erupt in a furor, critiquing the parade’s lack of representation and diversity, and quickly dubbing the subsequent dialogue between Montrealers “Villeneuve-gate.”

People were quick to compare the images of the parade to historical depictions of slavery.

However, representatives at the committee for La Fete Nationale say that the incident is being misinterpreted and blown out of proportion, and that organizers put in a lot of effort to ensure that these events are inclusive and diverse.

The video is just a “coincidence”— a fragmented perspective of the overall event, said Maxime Laporte, president of the committee for the Fete Nationale.

“What’s important to say is that [regarding] the entirety of the parade—we have never put in as much effort as we did to represent Quebec’s diversity in the context of la Fete Nationale,” Laporte explained over the phone. 

In fact, the teens spotted in the video are students from Louis-Joseph-Papineau High School in St. Michel – many of them are members of athletic teams, and represent “all ethnic backgrounds.”

Parade organizers reached out to the high school for volunteers, as part of an initiative implemented four years ago, when the parade went “green” and relied solely on volunteer manpower to maneuver the floats.

Laporte says that the committee did not select volunteers based on their ethnicity.

“The youth at this high school generously and proudly gave their time to this exercise, and participated as volunteers in the parade,” he added. 

Sterve Lubin, coach of the football team at Louis-Joseph-Papineau, said that he believed the parade would present a “good physical challenge” for his students.

“[people] are talking because they saw an image—but they saw an image of three teens out of 60,” Lubin told CTV Montreal. “I had 60 [students] with me.”

However, that didn’t stop community groups from raising their concerns and posting photos from the parade to support their arguments.

“The people pushing the floats are practically all black. All the people on them are white. What kind of message is the city sending to the population of Montreal in organizing this parade? What are we saying to the black child who is just happy to go celebrate the Fete Nationale?” wrote one Muslim community group on Facebook. 

Some users prompted additional outrage by adding photos of other floats, also seemingly propelled only by black men.

The theme of this year's parade was "Once upon a time," and floats were meant to reflect segments of Quebec history. 

As of Saturday evening, the video was #1 on Reddit's "hot" list, boasting over 15,000 views-- and counting. 


"We are all extremely troubled by this," Laporte said. "We are fundamentally anti-racist-- it's the opposite that we're trying to represent in our activites. We want to represent Quebec's diversity, and honour it."

Artist and activist Ricardo L’Amour said having black youth dressed in garb like slaves is not the way to do that.

"In the times of slavery things were green as well. People were picking cotton for free but people's lives were being destroyed and dignity destroyed and people were witnessing that,” he said.

The video has now prompted a petition calling for an inquiry into systemic racial and ethnic profiling in Quebec.

“Nobody that took part in the organization saw what everybody else on the web saw, what we saw,” said Will Prosper, spokesperson for Montreal Noir.

One player on the team told CTV in a message he thought the whole matter had been exaggerated.

L'Amour said that's part of the problem – that black people in Quebec will accept whatever is given to them, and to see this image in the first portrayal of that parade is very insulting.

The St. Jean parade video comes on the heels of two other incidences of alleged institutional racism in Quebec:

A video for Montreal's 375th and for the city itself, both lacking diversity.

With a report from CTV Montreal's Caroline Van Vlaardingen