MONTREAL – Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve said he received threats after blasting Quebec's student movement.
The Canadian driver said Friday he received "dangerous" emails in reaction to his comments Thursday night after protesters tried to disrupt a cocktail party kicking off Canadian Grand Prix festivities.
Villeneuve was instantly catapulted into a starring role in a four-month dispute that has made international news. With Quebec celebrities mainly remaining silent or lining up behind the protesters, the driver was suddenly the movement's most famous, most virulent critic.
"We received a pack of injurious and insulting emails, even some that were dangerous," Villeneuve said. "For people who say they stand for freedom of expression, I find it a bit ridiculous that we're not allowed to say what we're thinking."
He also said that if protesters make good on a plan to jam the subway system on Sunday — the day of the race at the track named after Villeneuve's late father, Gilles Villeneuve — it will amount to domestic terrorism.
"It's time for people to wake up and stop loafing about. It's lasted long enough," Villeneuve told reporters Thursday at the cocktail benefit. "We heard them. We listened. They should stop. It's costing the city a fortune. It makes no sense."
As for their parents, Villeneuve said: "I think these people grew up without ever hearing their parents ever tell them, 'No.' So that's what you see in the streets now. People spending their time complaining. It's becoming a little bit ridiculous. They spoke, we heard, and now it's time to go back to school."
Villeneuve said in a democracy, people can vote, and speak their mind between elections to make themselves heard — but they have to know when to give it a rest.
"That's what democracy is. We vote for people — and if you're not happy, then you vote for other people the next time around. And if you're not happy you complain, they listen, and that's it," he said. "Same with your parents: 'Daddy, mommy, I don't like this.' Well, go back to bed now."
Villeneuve said he was raised to believe in hard work, and not imagine money will fall from the sky.
He also compared the students to the London rioters last year and said they were "rebels without a cause."
In the end, he said, the students are hurting themselves because they're pushing for things that aren't fiscally sustainable — and they'll end up paying one day. Unfortunately, he said, if they keep it up there will be fewer taxpayers around to help foot the bill.
"And where does the government get the money? From taxes, from selling stuff. The next thing they will say is, 'Well, take it from the rich,'" he said. "And that's when you have the rich moving to another country."
Quebec's student protesters have cast their movement as a defense of democratic principles, given that the ongoing strikes have been ratified after votes at student assemblies.
They say that the elected provincial government is undemocratic because it has ignored the votes and passed a special law setting limits on street protests. About a third of students are on strike.
The protesters are using the four-day Grand Prix festivities to raise awareness for their fight against tuition hikes. Close to 40 people were arrested Thursday night as protesters scuffled with police.