Monday, December 30, 2013

Why Québec has a language policy

The precariousness of the French fact in Canada and North America

The main reason Québec governments have taken steps to protect the French language in Québec is their observation that the French language, a minority language in North America and Canada, is too precarious to develop without state support. Although francophones are the majority in Québec, their language's power of attraction is weak. English, the continent's usual and predominant language, the language of both commerce and culture, vies constantly with French to be the language of business and communications. The French fact in North America is precarious for several reasons: (1) the Conquest of 1760, which put an end to French colonization in North America; (2) the progressive assimilation of francophones outside Québec and the inadequacy of language rights; and (3) the delicate balance of the French fact in Québec because of the lower birthrate and the contribution that immigration continues to make to Québec's demography.

Unforeseen consequences of the Conquest of 1760

It was decisive for the future of French in North America and probably for the French language in general when the colony of New France fell into the hands of the English in 1760. The final ceding of New France to the British crown in 1763 put an end to a century and a half of French settlement in North America. Sixty thousand French colonists suddenly found themselves a conquered people, subject to a foreign language, religion and legal system. After the Seven Years' War, it could have been expected that New France would suffer the same fate as the former Dutch and Swedish colonies on the American east coast. As historian Michel Brunet noted:

The evolution of this new British colony, it was felt, would be similar to that of New York, first settled by Dutch colonists, and of New Jersey, which had been founded by Swedes. In less than a century, these two distinctive collectivities had melted away. The British conquerors of the St. Lawrence Valley sincerely believed that a similar fate awaited the Canadiens.

England quickly exercised its rights as a conqueror. British subjects came by the thousands to settle in the new colony called the Province of Quebec. In 1791, London divided the colony in two, reserving one part, Upper Canada, for some 10 000 of its colonists, and the other, Lower Canada, for the 150 000 Canadiens living in the St. Lawrence Valley. Although they were granted a legislative assembly with limited powers, the Canadiens were still in a position of economic and social inferiority. The predictions of foreign observers on their chances for cultural survival were not very optimistic. Benjamin Franklin predicted:

In less than a half century, because of the mass of Englishmen who are settling around and among them, they are destined to mix with and become part of our people in both language and mores…

Alexis de Tocqueville, the acclaimed author of Democracy in America, visited Lower Canada in 1831. He wrote:
But it is easy to see that the French are a conquered people. The rich classes belong for the most part to the English race. While French is spoken almost universally, most newspapers, signs and even French merchants' signs are in English. Commercial enterprises are nearly all in (English) hands.

In 1837-1838, ideas about democracy and a republican government stirred Lower Canada. The Patriote party of Louis-Joseph Papineau headed a protest movement against the hold London had on its colony's affairs. London's refusal to bring in a truly constitutional and responsible government gave rise to an insurrection in the colony that was quickly put down. London concluded from this popular uprising that it should force the assimilation of Canadiens of French extraction by uniting the two colonies. In 1840, it decreed this union and imposed equality of representation for the former Upper Canada and the former Lower Canada in the single parliament, even though the Canadiens, who numbered 650 000, were the majority, Upper Canada's population being 450 000. Because of massive immigration by colonists from the British Isles, the population of British extraction grew larger than that of the French Canadians. When the Dominion of Canada was created in 1867, French Canadians comprised only one-third of the population of the new quasi federation.

By obtaining a legislative assembly, a province and local autonomy in 1867, French Canadians recovered the little collective freedom they had had before 1840. A minority condemned to assimilation, they thought they had acceded to the status of a founding people, equal as of right to English Canada. With the confederative pact, this minority people hoped to preserve their language, their culture and their civil institutions.

Thanks to a birthrate unparalleled in the West, the population of French extraction managed to increase in the 19th century. History belied Franklin's and de Tocqueville's pessimistic predictions. Between 1881 and 1961, the population of French origin maintained its weight - about 30% - in the country's total population, despite the creation and addition of new provinces and the colonization of new territories by immigrants from around the world.

The proportion was maintained, but at a price. The federal government pursued a policy of massive immigration at the turn of the century in order to develop the country's economy and settle its vast territories. Between 1896 and 1914, Canada welcomed more than three million British, American and Eastern European immigrants. A large number settled in Western Canada. Many poor and unschooled French Canadians may have wanted to emigrate there, too. But with little encouragement to locate in the West, about 450 000 crossed south over the Canadian-American border between 1890 and 1920.

The progressive assimilation of francophones outside Québec and deficiencies in language rights

French seems destined for marginal status outside Québec. It took a long time for francophone minorities to get recognition for their situation as imperilled minorities and to get the rather lukewarm support of governments. Having long been deprived of public services in French, they had to integrate into milieus where French met with indifference, even hostility.

Figures on the rapid assimilation of these minorities speak for themselves. In 1931, 7.2% of the population of Canada outside Québec had French as a mother-tongue. This proportion dropped to less than 5.0% in 1991. If you look at language of use rather than mother-tongue, the proportion of francophones outside Québec declined from 4.4% to 3.2% between 1971 and 1991. Rapid assimilation seems to be running unabated in some provinces. The proportion of Ontarians for whom French is the usual language fell from 4.6% to 3.2% between 1971 and 1991. In Manitoba, it slipped from 4.0% to 2.4% in the same period, and in Saskatchewan, from 1.7% to 0.7%. Only the Acadians of New Brunswick seem to be resisting assimilation, their share in the province's population having stabilized at about 31%.

This assimilation reveals the inadequacy of the legal and constitutional provisions introduced to protect francophone minorities since 1867. Manitoba declared itself a unilingual English province in 1890, even though its constituent law had prescribed bilingualism for legislation and the courts and guaranteed Franco-Catholic schools provincial government support. In 1896, the Manitoba government had to concede to its francophone minority the right to instruction in French; this was withdrawn in 1916, however, and French disappeared from Manitoba schools. In 1897, Ontario made English the only language of the justice system. In 1913, it severely reduced the teaching of French in Catholic confessional schools (Regulation 17), to the great displeasure of Franco-Ontarians who saw this as the sign of a deliberate policy of assimilation.

Manitoba and Ontario have since restored some of their minorities' rights, but only several decades after the introduction of linguistic unification measures. It may have been too late. As William Tetley, former Liberal minister in the Bourassa government and McGill University law professor, observed in 1982, the Constitution of Canada and the courts have done little to protect the language and culture of francophone minorities:

It is clear that the Canadian Constitution has done very little to promote or protect Canada's two great languages which should have been - and should be today - a great national asset. The British North America Act, 1867, failed to protect the French language and culture which were violated in such judgements as Ottawa's Separate Schools Trustees v. MacKell or such legislative action as Manitoba's Official Language Act, 1890, and Regulation 17 of Ontario. The Constitution as interpreted by the courts should have provided a high standard of conduct, a spirit of natural justice, and a tradition of fair play. Instead, there was often harshness and no apparent legal recourse. It was only in the 1960's that political action in Quebec, beginning with the Quiet Revolution, brought about change.

The realization that francophone minorities in Canada are slowly but perhaps inexorably being assimilated has contributed to making the need to support the French language in Québec more acute.

How the French language has fared in Québec

Threatened, losing momentum outside Québec, the French language seems to have had more stability in Québec. The percentage of Quebecers with French as their mother-tongue remained constant from 1951 to 1991, decreasing from 82.5% to 80.7% from 1951 to 1971 and increasing to 82.1% in 1991. In the same period, the percentage of anglophones decreased from 13.8% to 9.6% and the percentage of allophones - those whose mother-tongue is neither French nor English - increased from 3.7% to 8.3%. French as the language of everyday use stayed at the level of 83% of the population.

If these statistics speak to the vitality of the French language in Québec, they should not let us forget the immediate reasons for its precariousness. Québec's demographic weight within Canada has declined progressively since 1931, from 27.7% to 25.8% in 1986 and to 25% today. Between 1875 and 1965, Québec's fertility rate was higher than those of other North American regions. Beginning in the 1960s, however, Quebecers, setting aside the Catholic Church's support for a high birth rate and espousing more modern mores, began to produce fewer offspring. The outcome was that their birth rate became one of the lowest in the Western world. From 1956 to 1961, French-speaking Québec women had a fertility rate of 4.2 (4.2 births per woman of childbearing age). The rate dropped to 2.3 for 1966-1971 and then to 1.5 for 1981-1986 before rising to 1.6 in 1990, which is barely enough to replace the population, the rate of 2.1 being required to ensure replacement. Québec anglophones also experienced a less dramatic decline in their fertility rate which is now about on a par with that of francophones. The low fertility rate worries many Quebecers who fear that Québec's demographic weight is continuing to decline and that the proportion of francophones in Québec is being eroded.

On top of this is the fear that immigrants who have settled in Québec in large numbers since the turn of the century prefer English to French as the language of communication and culture. The proportion of Quebecers of other than French or British extraction was 1.6% in 1871 and 8.6% in 1961. As long as their exceptional fertility compensated for the arrival of immigrants, the francophone majority did not feel threatened. When their fertility began to decline, however, Québec's linguistic balance became shaky. This realization was heightened in the 1960s, a time when immigrants were free to choose their schools and laissez-faire was the practise for commercial signs. Over 85% of immigrants opted for English-language schools in the late 1960s. Statistics show that more and more ethnic minorities adopted English at the expense of French. While 48% of these minorities in Québec were drawn to English in 1931, the proportion had risen to 69.6% by 1961.

The will the majority of Quebecers have affirmed since the 1960s to take control of their social, economic and cultural life and to make French the common and usual language of Quebec

The precariousness of French in North America does not explain everything. The assimilation of francophones in Canada must cease being a hidden reality and governments must find a remedy for it. Although Québec had every reason to be concerned about the future of French culture and language, Québec governments did not choose to legislate between 1867 and 1964. Laissez-faire took the place of policy. What changed in the early 1960s was the perception Quebecers had of themselves and what they could achieve through their political institutions. Since the Conquest of 1760, French-speaking Quebecers had grown accustomed to living under the authoritative power of the Catholic Church which attended to preserving the language and the religion of the faithful. Quebecers saw themselves as belonging to a French-Canadian, minority and agrarian people, with religion and tradition serving as a bulwark against assimilation. Beginning in the nineteenth century, however, they experienced the industrialization of the economy, and in the early twentieth century, they asserted themselves as an urban people who, after World War Two, discovered the consumer society and modernism.

From the 1960s on, Québec society was swept by the winds of change that transformed it profoundly. Many of the ideas that had been talked about in Québec for decades were translated into political reforms. Quebecers urged their provincial government to raise the general level of education and to provide the population with public services worthy of a modern society. Many also discovered that although francophones were the majority in Québec and in Montréal, English was the language of prestige, business and public signs and that many company doors were closed to them. This was noted by two government commissions of enquiry on the status of French. In Montréal, immigrants' enthusiasm for English-language schools aroused fears among francophones and fueled heated debates. Francophones saw this tendency as a sign that if nothing was done, French would continue to decline in Montréal, as Marc V. Levine, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee specialist in urban issues, wrote:

By the 1960s, the Anglicization of the city's school clientele seemed to portend a Montreal in which the children of immigrants would become Anglophones and French-speakers would ultimately become a demographic minority. Thus, for important segments of the Francophone community, the individual right of parents to choose their children's language of schooling, historically respected in Quebec, now clashed with the 'collective right' of Francophones to survive and prosper as Francophones. In the eyes of Montreal's rising Francophone elite, the new middle class of teachers, journalists and policy professionals who had displaced traditional church elites as the leading force in French-Canadian society, Francophone minorisation in Montreal would spell ultimate doom for a living French language and culture throughout Quebec.

The slogan Maîtres chez nous (masters in our own house) used by the Liberals of Jean Lesage during the 1964 electoral campaign captures the spirit of the times, enamoured of change and progress. Opening careers in the public service and in companies to francophones, expanding the means of the Québec State, giving it the stature and structure of a modern government, separating Church and State more appropriately, reforming education, nationalizing electricity, providing Québec with a universal pension plan and more - that was the program and the ambition of the governments of the time, driven by the people's impatience and expectations. Quebecers then discovered a springboard for their economic and social progress in their democratic institutions, as Premier René Lévesque wrote in 1979:

The central fact of language makes Quebec the one Canadian province out of ten which is radically (in the root sense of the word) different from the rest of Canada. It makes Québec the home base, the homeland, of a compact, very deeply rooted, and rapidly evolving cultural group - there should be no mistake - which sees itself as a national group. Democratic control of provincial institutions in Quebec supplies the Quebec people with a powerful springboard for self-affirmation and self-determination.

This was also a time when francophones, having long defined themselves by their religious affiliation and their French origin, began to identify themselves in terms of language and the Québec territory. Quebecers stopped seeing themselves as a linguistic minority and learned to think of themselves as a political majority. They also began to demand protective measures for the French language from Québec and federal legislators.

Two commissions of enquiry blazed the trail for the language legislation we now have. In 1963, the federal government of Lester B. Pearson created a royal commission of enquiry - the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission - whose mandate was to review the existing "state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada" and to "recommend what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding races." After holding hearings across the country, the commissioners concluded in their preliminary report in 1965 that Canada "without being full conscious of the fact, is passing through the greatest crisis in its history." The Commission noted how deeply dissatisfied francophones were, convinced they were victims of unacceptable inequalities. The Commission's work demonstrated that francophones were not playing a role in the economy that was proportional to their real weight. It was shown that Anglo-Canadians of British origin dominated the economy; they held the most influential and best paid positions. In Québec, the French Canadian had an income 35% lower than the Anglo-Quebecer. And even bilingual Quebecers earned less than unilingual Anglo-Quebecers. The commission consequently recommended that "in the private sector in Québec, governments and industry adopt the objective that French become the principal language of work at all levels."

Seeing Québec as a model of an officially bilingual society, the Commission recommended that French and English become the official languages of Canada and that New Brunswick and Ontario make them so at the provincial level. Finally, it proposed the creation of "bilingual districts" where French and English would be used currently in educational and municipal institutions when the minority reached ten percent of the population. In the opinion of Jean-Claude Corbeil, former linguist at the Office de la langue française: can say that the Commission made it obvious to Quebecers that the rules of the game on the use of French and English in Québec, especially in the work world, had to change and gave rise to the idea of setting by law the conditions for using one or the other language in order to guarantee a better status for the French language in all areas and more favourable conditions for its development, its growth and its advancement.

The provincial Gendron Commission was created in December 1968 to "enquire into and report on the status of French as a language of use in Québec." Its report was tabled in 1972. Like the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, the Gendron Commission noted the domination of the English language in Québec's work world. Numerous inequalities separated francophones from anglophones: francophones earned less in general, held less important positions, benefited little from their bilingualism and often worked in English, in a proportion that did not reflect the high number of francophone workers. The Commission recommended that a series of measures be adopted to make French the common language of Quebecers. The commissioners summarized the reasons as follows:

In America, French is a fringe language. As such, its use is restricted even in areas where it is spoken by a majority of the population. This situation requires a clear policy: French can survive and flourish on the North American continent only with a maximum of opportunity and protection throughout Québec; and this can be accomplished only by making it a useful communication instrument for all the people of this area.(...) In the vast economic areas made up of Canada and the United States, French is defenceless in the struggle to impose its utility. This situation is not about to change. Thus in Québec, the vigour and dynamism of French can be ensured only through government support. Failing this, the odds in the match between French and English will remain too one-sided. This government action should aim at establishing French as the common language of Quebecers by making it useful and necessary for everyone in work communication.

The Commission recommended that the National Assembly declare French the official language of Québec, and English and French the national languages; that the government take steps to make French the language of internal communications in Québec in the work place and the language of communications in the government, professional corporations and parastatal institutions; that the right of the francophone consumer to be served in his language be recognized and that commercial signs be regulated in order to make the use of French mandatory.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bilingual Montreal - Montréal Bilingue

Montreal is the most bilingual city in North America... OK, I didn't actually look that up but it's probably true. The statistics are pretty impressive. Over half of the population can have a conversation in French or English and quite often a third language as well. In fact, Quebec is the most bilingual province of Canada with 42% of the population comfortable in two or more languages. Visitors to Montreal are often amazed at how people seem to be able to switch from one language to another or have conversations where one person is speaking French and the other is speaking English. Bilingualism is great! Everyone loves it! OK, maybe not Howard Galganov... but everyone else agrees that bilingualism is great so we can all hold hands on this issue and walk into the sunset together, right? Not quite. You see, there is a difference of opinion as to what exactly is keeping the precarious balancing act between French and English going and what is threatening it. Some say that the threat comes from francophone language zealots who want to eradicate all English from Quebec. In fact, you'll often hear that Quebec's language laws (Bill 101) are unnecessary now since so many Montrealers are bilingual. They feel that Montreal should be officially recognized as a bilingual city and that English should be recognized as an official language.

But what exactly made Montreal so bilingual and what effect did Bill 101 really have on the city and its inhabitants?

Montreal before Bill 101

Ste-Catherine Street in the 1960's

Before bill 101 there was no bilingual Montreal. It was as Jane Jacobs and many others observed: “An English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants”. 

Before bill 101 there was virtually no French in the workplace, there was no French in the boardrooms and there was little or no French in the shops downtown. Before Bill 101 the Canadian National Railway and the big banks could have their headquarters in Montreal and not have to hire a single French-speaking person above the second floor.

Before Bill 101, the median income of English-speaking households was between 20 and 30 per cent above the provincial average. That's changed today, wealth is spread more evenly among all established cultural groups. Head offices still operate mostly in English, of course, but as often as not, it's a francophone speaking English in the corner office. 

Before Bill 101, the rich and powerful English-speaking minority was the dominant group; bilingualism was a one-sided burden for Francophones who needed to understand what their bosses were saying, and immigrants were assimilating massively into English. Imposing French as the common public language has eliminated the old linguistic and cultural ghettos in Montreal.

Before Bill 101, 90% of all immigrants' children registered into an English-language school board. Now, 90% study in French. They have become a new breed: the children of Bill 101 - a multi-ethnic, French-speaking melting pot. That's the most striking consequence of the law, and the new cultural mix that has resulted is often considered its greatest achievement. 

And finally, Bill 101 has spawned another new breed, very rare elsewhere: the bilingual Anglo. Sixty-six per cent of those who stayed in Quebec after the election of the PQ in 1976, or have migrated there since, can speak French. More than half of all those whose mother tongue was neither French nor English can now converse in these two languages; 73 % are able to sustain a conversation in French.

Conclusion: Bill 101 made Bilingual Montreal

Bill 101 greatly increased bilingualism in Montreal. Not only did it increase bilingualism but it helped put an end to the old social inequalities between francophones and anglophones that had existed in Quebec since the conquest. Let's face it, English and French are not equals in the North American context. By protecting and promoting French, Bill 101 levels the playing field and makes a truly bilingual city possible. Pretending that this is killing bilingualism is simply denying reality. There was a lot of hysteria and gnashing of teeth by anglophones when Bill 101 was introduced in 1977 but many have come to realize that, in the end, it was a good thing. Bill 101 offers real solutions to realities on the ground which puts it in stark contrast to the Trudeauist, Canadian approach to bilingualism which has utterly failed. 

Trudeau's Political bilingualism 

Must kill French!
As noted in the 1960's by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, a country is bilingual not because its inhabitants speak both languages, but because different languages ​​are spoken in different regions of the country. That's how Switzerland and Belgium understand their linguistic diversity. Without completely embracing this territorial model, the two commissioners, Laurendeau and Dunton, made it a cornerstone of the reforms they proposed. The important thing was to consider the status and strength of English and French on a territorial basis while taking into account the minority population. In this model, there is no need for everyone to be bilingual. Rather, it is to ensure the sustainability of languages ​​on a regional basis.

This concept of bilingualism did not go over well with Trudeau. He had made hostility to Quebec nationalism his trademark. Bilingualism for Trudeau was to be used as way for him to counter the claims of Quebec nationalists. The territorial approach to bilingualism would implicitly recognize the existence of two nations within Canada. So Trudeau decided to make language entirely a matter of individual choice. Canadians should be able to live in the language of their choice from coast to coast (wherever numbers warrant).

This vision had the advantage of denying any kind of special status for Quebec. Having French too linked to Quebec might encourage independence. It was therefore important to establish this model of bilingualism across the country and to ensure that all provinces are equal. It was hoped that in the end, francophones would cease to feel an attachment to Quebec because they could choose to live in French in Calgary just as well as in Saguenay.

To ensure that this feat of social engineering would succeed, it was essential to make services bilingual, both at federal and provincial levels, hence the importance of enshrining in the Constitution the so-called human right to attend public school in English or French even if education is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. Trudeau also wanted millions of Canadians proficient in both languages. It simply required that they make the effort and that the federal government spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

Linguistic failure but political success

This project failed for obvious reasons. First, there is no practical use for almost everyone to speak two languages. It's just easier and more convenient to operate in a single language. One may even wonder to what extent it is the responsibility of the state to spend huge sums of money to bilingualize its population. Furthermore, francophones are a tiny minority in most of English Canada. This reality means that anglophones have neither the need nor the opportunity to speak French. Learning a language that you will never use is basically a waste of time for most people.

Even in Ottawa, Trudeau's bilingualism project is not working. Even though there are far more francophones working in government than ever before, they mainly use English at work. To overcome this situation, the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission had proposed the establishment of unilingual administrative units. Like army regiments, some divisions of the public service would work in English and others in French. But this approach was the antithesis of the bilingual civilization Trudeau had imagined. He quickly put aside this proposal.

In the face of such a failure, why is this policy never questioned? Well, almost never... The answer lies in its political usefulness. It denies Quebec's distinctiveness. In this model, Quebec is just a province. A bilingual province in a bilingual country like all the other provinces. This is the vision of Canada that inspired the 1982 constitution and it's the vision that caused the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. The premise underlying Canada's approach to bilingualism is based on political considerations to the detriment of the historical and sociological realities. 

In fact it's worse than that. Trudeau's Constitution and Charter are based on the historical fraud and conceit that the situation of French Canadians outside Quebec – underprivileged in education and income, suffering rampant language attrition, lacking public institutions which function in their language and thus the means to maintain their culture, etc – is somehow “analogous” to the situation of English Canadians in Quebec, where none of these historical indices of oppression were present. The rights of French Canadians to their language was supposed to be protected under the preceding constitution, the BNA, so Trudeau’s “innovation” in this area wasn't as novel as advertised, and came about a century too late, decades after the horse of cultural genocide directed at French Canadians had left the barn and run its mission.

Language policy in Canada has always been a contentious matter; there are no simple solutions. However, in a truly honest approach to bilingualism, Ottawa would conduct a dispassionate discourse on language that admits the demographic realities and the genuine threats to the survival of French. Such a discourse would require that Ottawa acknowledge that as a first language, French is on the ropes outside Quebec and – most importantly – in the Montreal metropolitan area, and cease pretending that the situation of English-speaking Quebec is comparable to that of the French-speaking minorities in the rest of Canada. More specifically, it would require that Ottawa legitimize and promote application of the “territorial principle” within Quebec, and actively support the francization of allophones in the key Montreal area.

Such an unpoliticized and practical approach to bilingualism from the federal government does not seem likely. Ottawa continues, for example, to subsidize English-language pressure group like Alliance Quebec or its successor the QCGN on the grounds that they are formally equivalent to organizations representing francophone minorities elsewhere. Thereby, Ottawa in effect finances a Trojan horse. The goal of these groups is straightforward enough: wall-to-wall application of the “personality principle”. From this point of view, the Quebec government should treat English and French identically; it should not “discriminate” on behalf of either. Such a policy condemns Quebec francophones to a demographic fate similar to that which has befallen francophones elsewhere.

Many Quebecers have come to the conclusion that the current Canadian language regime is inherently assimilationist. In fact, if it were to endure in its present form, Ottawa’s language policy could well turn out, in the long run, to be no more than a subtle manner of securing the slow but sure anglicization of French Canada so firmly recommended by Lord Durham.

The perverse effect

The federal government, since Trudeau, has convinced Canadians that its expensive and largely useless approach to bilingualism is what Quebecers want. In reality, it isn't what we want and never has been. But poor old Billy, who works for Canada post in Saskatoon and had to learn French in order to be ready if one day a francophone wants to buy stamps in French, believes that he did this to please Quebecers. He doesn't understand why we aren't grateful. He also finds it hypocritical that Quebec insists on Canada being bilingual but at the same time only promotes French in Quebec. When the National Post rails against Quebec for whatever reason, Billy tends to nod his head in agreement because he's had enough of those darn Quebecers!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Quebec's approach to language has produced a more bilingual society. The rates of bilingualism in Quebec have increased since Bill 101 and continue to increase whereas they have stagnated and declined in the rest of Canada. English dominates this continent and Bill 101 does nothing to reduce its importance. It's only by making French present and necessary in people's lives that we get a bilingual population. Institutionalized bilingualism for Quebec in general and Montreal specifically, would simply make French optional and for a minority society like ours that accepts a lot of immigrants, that means making French basically irrelevant. Learning two languages is difficult and few people will do it just for fun. They do it because it's necessary.

I can understand why someone like Howard Galganov hates Bill 101. He's not interested in French or bilingualism. He believes that it is his right as a Canadian to never have to speak any other language than English anywhere in Canada. But for someone who ostensibly advocates bilingualism to portray Bill 101 and Quebec's approach to language as the enemy of bilingualism is a sign of either being utterly clueless on the matter or intentionally deceitful. Quebecers routinely get lectured about the benefits of bilingualism by people like this as if we were the ones holding it back... It's a bit like if whites in the US were to lecture blacks about the value of racial equality while depicting Affirmative Action as an unacceptable form of discrimination against white people...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Québec’s Right to Secessionist Self-Determination

Quebec's National Assembly

The Colliding Paths of Canada’s Clarity Act and Québec’s Fundamental Rights Act

The political and constitutional future of Québec has been hotly debated from the time of the "Quiet Revolution" - circa 1960 - right up to 1995, with unflagging intensity.  A democratic intensity, I should perhaps add, because these debates have taken place within the context of referendums, general elections, hearing of parliamentary commissions and in the many other places where both the options for Canada’s federal unity or Québec’s national sovereignty were brought forward. During those three and a half decades, the issue of Québec’s right of self-determination and secession was debated in academic - and to a less extent - political circles, yet the discussion of the legal aspects of Québec’s claim for independence law remained limited.

But, suddenly, just before the October 30th, 1995 referendum, the right of Québec to become a country was challenged before the court.  A first judgment on this issue was delivered a few weeks before the referendum and alluded to the fact that a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) might contravene the Constitution of Canada and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The Court refused however to grant an injunction to prevent the holding of a referendum related to the question of Québec’s accession to sovereignty as well as its offer of partnership to Canada.

The referendum having almost been won by the sovereigntists (50,48% NO- 49,52%- a mere 54,288 votes of the 4,671,008 ballots cast making the difference), the issue of Québec’s right to achieve sovereignty and to secede from Canada took a very legal bend . This slim victory of the NO camp caused a significant shift in attitude among certain federalists, especially those governing in Ottawa. A plan which came to be known as plan B- intended to hobble the sovereignist movement in Quebec and to muzzle the Quebec nation.  Devised by the new minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and president of the Privy Council of Canada, my colleague at the Université de Montréal, Mr. Stéphane Dion, this plan is comprehensive and has several components, i.e a propaganda component where Canadian flags and subsidies to celebrate Canada Day are distributed very generously in Québec, a territorial aspect through the threat of partition of a sovereign Québec’s territory and a diplomatic nature illustrated by a catechism to be applied by Canada’s foreign agents when sovereigntists like myself promote Québec sovereignty abroad.

In its legal dimension, this plan B first found expression in the request for an advisory opinion by the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of Quebec's secession.  This request rendered moot the case that had been filed just before the 1995 referendum and which had been continued.  It had given rise to a judgement on preliminary exceptions which were rejected by the Québec Superior Court.  This Court formulated however a number of questions that in its view required an answer when the merits of the case would be debated.

Claiming the need that such answers should be given quickly by the highest court of the land, the government of Canada submitted in September 1996 a request for an advisory opinion to the Supreme Court of Canada on the position of Canadian constitutional law and international law and on the issue of secession.  The Government of Canada put three questions on Quebec's right to unilateral secession to Canada's final court of appeal, one of which referred to the right of peoples to self-determination.  The questions read as follows:

Question 1Under the Constitution of Canada, can the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

Question 2Does international law give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?  In this regard, is there a right to selfdetermination under international law that would give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

Question 3:  In the event of a conflict between domestic and international law on the right of the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally, which would take precedence in Canada?

These questions were severely criticized by the former head of the International Law Commission of the United Nations in a legal opinion sought by the amicus curiae of the Court.  The renowned international French scholar Alain Pellet stated:

I am profoundly distressed and upset by the partisan manner in which the questions are put and I take the liberty of suggesting that a court of justice has the duty to react to what appears to be a blatant attempt at political manipulation.”

Yet, contrary to all expectations and as constitutional experts have pointed out, the Court refused, in its August 28th 1998 Reference re Secession of Quebec to answer YES or NO to the questions put to it.  And, rather than simply denying Quebec's right to declare independence unilaterally and state that international law on the self-determination of peoples did not recognize the right to unilateral secession, it noted that the federal and provincial governments had a constitutional and mandatory duty to negotiate should Quebec vote in favor of sovereignty.  It also considered the question of the international community's recognition of Quebec's sovereignty, linking the two questions.  It said:

“The corollary of a legitimate attempt by one participant in Confederation to seek an amendment to the Constitution is an obligation on all parties to come to the negotiating table. The clear repudiation by the people of Quebec of the existing constitutional order would confer legitimacy on demands for secession, and place an obligation on the other provinces and the federal government to acknowledge and respect that expression of democratic will by entering into negotiations and conducting them in accordance with the underlying constitutional principles already discussed. “

The advisory opinion of the Supreme Court hurt the federalists especially because it recognized that Quebec could turn to the international community if Canadian governments failed in their obligation to negotiate in good faith.  The Court said:

“To the extent that a breach of the constitutional duty to negotiate in accordance with the principles described above undermines the legitimacy of a party's actions, it may have important ramifications at the international level. Thus, a failure of the duty to undertake negotiations and pursue them according to constitutional principles may undermine that government's claim to legitimacy which is generally a precondition for recognition by the international community. Conversely, violations of those principles by the federal or other provincial governments responding to the request for secession may undermine their legitimacy. Thus, a Quebec that had negotiated in conformity with constitutional principles and values in the face of unreasonable intransigence on the part of other participants at the federal or provincial level would be more likely to be recognized than a Quebec which did not itself act according to constitutional principles in the negotiation process. Both the legality of the acts of the parties to the negotiation process under Canadian law, and the perceived legitimacy of such action, would be important considerations in the recognition process. In this way, the adherence of the parties to the obligation to negotiate would be evaluated in an indirect manner on the international plane.”

In order to neutralize, indeed circumvent, the obligation to negotiate set out in the advisory opinion by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Parliament of Canada tabled on December 10th, 1999 (International Human Rights Day!) an Act to Give Effect to the Requirement for Clarity as Set Out in the Opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference (Bill C-20).  This federal initiative, which I fought with vigour during several months as the critic for Intergovernmental Affairs for the Bloc Québécois, led to the passing of the Clarity Act on June 29, 2000 which purports to impose conditions on Québec before the federal government fulfills its obligation to negotiate with Québec.

The adoption of such a law casted a pall on Canadian democracy and struck a chord with the Government of Quebec, which considered it necessary to reply with a bill entitled An Act Respecting the Fundamental Rights and Prerogatives of the Québec People and of the Québec State.  This piece of legislation was adopted by Québec’s National Assembly on December 7th 2000 and reaffirms Québec’s right of self-determination and its right to choose freely its political status.

With these two pieces of legislation, Canada and Quebec are more than ever before on colliding paths, a course where not only ideas but interests have and will continue to collide.

The Clarity Act and Quebec: Ideas in collision

After its tabling in the House of Commons of Canada, the so-called Clarity Act was debated in conditions unworthy of a parliamentary democracy in which the government repeatedly invoked closure in order to ensure quick passage of this bill, through the legislative committee struck for the purposes of the bill and through the House of Commons itself.  It was passed on March 15, by a vote of 208 to 55, including 47 nay votes from among the 73 Quebec members present at the time of the vote (64% of Quebec's MP’s).  The bill was subsequently examined by the Senate of Canada and passed on June 29, despite strong opposition, especially by senators from Quebec.  It received royal assent from the Governor General the same day.

The Clarity Act attempts essentially to define the wording of the question in a future referendum on Quebec's sovereignty and to determine the majority threshold that would allow the Canadian government to shirk its obligation to negotiate.  By doing so, it collides headlong with ideas that have prevailed for decades and guaranteed the Quebec nation a freedom the government is now trying to take away.

It had long ago been agreed that Quebecers could organize referendums on their future through their National Assembly.  In the organization of these referendums, Quebec's elected representatives would decide the wording of the referendum question.  This notion was destroyed by the Clarity Act, which will give the House of Commons the power to determine the clarity of the question.  This House of Commons - where only 25% of the members are from Quebec (75 of 301) - is to be given, in the name of clarity, the right to reject a question formulated by a democratic institution in Quebec, the National Assembly of Quebec.  And yet this Quebec institution is the seat of the sovereignty of the people of Quebec, and their elected representatives exercise this sovereignty on their behalf.

The idea that a referendum is won with a majority of 50 per cent plus one of the valid votes cast seemed also to have prevailed in all referendums organized with respect to the political and constitutional future in Quebec and Canada.  Here too, ideas are in collision, since the intent of the Clarity Act is to give the House of Commons the power to decide that a majority of 50 per cent plus one of valid votes cast is not enough to oblige the federal government to assume its constitutional and mandatory duty to negotiate.  On this point, the collision is all the more real and the undemocratic nature of the bill all the more obvious in the light of Canadian practice on the subject of majority rule.  All referendums in Canada have been held on the basis of majority rule.  Newfoundland joined Confederation with 52% of the valid votes cast.  All referendums on Quebec's and Canada's political and constitutional future -- on sovereignty-association of 1980, on the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 or on sovereignty and partnership in 1995 -- were all governed by majority rule of 50% of the valid votes cast.

To cast doubt on the rule of 50 per cent plus one is also to contravene the fundamental principle of the equality of voters.  The vote of some must have the same value as the vote of others.  This is a matter of equity and justice the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in its 1991 decision on electoral boundaries in Saskatchewan: "...dilution of one citizen's vote as compared with another's should not be countenanced."

The three parties represented in the Quebec National Assembly, the Parti Québécois, the Quebec Liberal Party and the Action démocratique du Québec, all rejected the Clarity Act, as did a very clear majority of the federal members for Quebec, as mentioned earlier.  Hence, nearly two thirds of the Quebec members of Parliament in attendance during the vote at third reading on March 15, 2000 voted against Bill C-20, including the 44 members of the Bloc Quebecois.  Civil society, through the voices of trade unions, student associations, women's groups and community groups is also nearly unanimous in its rejection of this law.  Very few groups in Quebec supported this federal initiative.

The Clarity Act breaks the democratic tradition in Canada that, up to now, had taken into account Quebec's desire to freely decide its future.  It cannot be ignored.  It is no credit to a country that boasts of itself in international circles as a model of democracy and the best country in the world.  Canada's aboriginal nations know this not to be true as do its poor children, whose defence the UN has taken up.
Quebec appears today to be the victim of a country described as unique by its ability to recognize its own divisibility, when, in actual fact, its Clarity Act is intended to confront what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Stéphane Dion, calls "any threat of separation" and "to guarantee the unity of Canada", according to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

This sort of attitude is not going to deny Quebec its right to self-determination.  Every ten years or so, it seems that Quebec has to reaffirm its freedom to determine its political status.  In 1980, the Prime Minister of Quebec, René Lévesque, noted in the days after the May 20 referendum that "the recognition of this right to self-determination was the most important outcome of the Quebec referendum".  Another Prime Minister of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, said on June 22, 1990 that "no matter what is said or done, Quebec is now and will always be a distinct society, free and the master of its destiny and its development."  In 2000, the Government of Quebec took a solemn stand on the Clarity Act by tabling in turn An Act Respecting the Fundamental Rights and Prerogatives of the Québec People and of the Québec State, setting a collision course with the interests of Canada.

The Fundamental Rights Act and Canada: Interests in collision

In reaction to such a serious threat to the freedom of the people of Quebec to determine their future, the Government of Quebec tabled, on December 15, 1999, two days after the tabling of the Clarity Bill, a bill entitled An Act respecting the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and of the Québec State (Bill 99).  With this bill, the government called on the National Assembly of Quebec to reaffirm Quebec's freedom to determine its future and to adopt measures to establish this freedom on solid legal grounds.

The Quebec Fundamental Rights Bill was debated at length in the National Assembly and in its Committee on Institutions.  A number of amendments were made to it as the result of proposals by individuals and groups that testified before the parliamentary committee. Adopted on December 7th 2000, the bill received the support of the members of the Parti Québécois and the Action démocratique du Québec.  Despite an attempt to achieve a consensus, the members of the Liberal Party of Quebec refused to support the bill and would have preferred to see the National Assembly pass a solemn declaration on this matter.

The Fundamental Rights Act has a much broader scope than the Clarity Act and was described by the Prime Minister of Quebec as a charter of collective rights for Quebec.  As such, it is in collision not only with the Clarity Act but with the vision of Canada held by its leaders and the interests they appear to promote.

One of the dominant features of the Fundamental Rights Act is its unreserved affirmation of the existence of the Quebec people and its establishment in law of this affirmation.  Thus the first chapter of the act affirms, as no Quebec legislation has ever done, the concept of a Quebec people.  This affirmation was necessitated by Canada's inability to recognize the existence of the people of Quebec.  After consistently refusing to consider that Quebeckers constituted a people, albeit a nation, the attempt to affirm the existence of a "distinct society" in Quebec was also challenged by the rest of Canada and its representatives.

The affirmation of the existence of the people of Quebec is therefore necessary in this context and permits the bill to enshrine the right to self-determination and the right to choose a political system and a legal status for Quebec.  Thus, section 4 of the Fundamental Rights Act provides clearly that "when the Québec people is consulted by way of a referendum under the Referendum Act, the winning option is the option that obtains a majority of the valid votes cast, namely fifty percent of the valid votes cast plus one."

Section 5 of the Fundamental Rights Act rightly provides that the Quebec state derives its legitimacy from the will of the people inhabiting its territory and contains an affirmation fully consistent with the third paragraph of article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government".  The subsequent reference to the fact that the will of the people is expressed through the election of members to the National Assembly by universal suffrage, by secret ballot, under the one person, one vote system, pursuant to the Election Act and through referendums held pursuant to the Referendum Act is also consistent with the requirements of this international instrument and sets out the two Quebec laws whose democratic nature is incontrovertible.

The objective of protecting Quebec's internal and international jurisdictions is apparent in the other sections of chapter II of the Act and is set to collide with the interests of the federal government, which has tried to progressively expand its jurisdiction.  Accordingly, section 6 of the Fundamental Rights Act states that "the Québec State is sovereign in the areas assigned to its jurisdiction by laws and constitutional conventions."  There are recent examples to support the argument that Quebec's jurisdiction has been infringed by federal authorities, whether it be in the case of the millennium scholarship institution or of the passage, without Quebec's approval, of a framework agreement on Canada's social union.

This sort of attitude reflects an increasingly obvious desire on the part of these authorities to assume a determinant role in all spheres of activity and to use their spending power to this end.  Quebec has consistently disputed the exercise of this power, but its pleas have been ignored.  Accordingly, the government decided to remind Parliament and the Government of Canada of Quebec's profound commitment to its areas of jurisdiction and to their integrity and of its intention to resist any attempt to further usurp these areas that were given to Quebec by law and constitutional convention.

In addition, Quebec's exercise of international jurisdiction has consistently been disputed by the federal government of Canada, and here again the differing interests of Canada and Quebec collide.  Arguing that only the federal government had international jurisdiction as granted by royal prerogative, successive Canadian governments have rejected the doctrine formulated in 1965 by Minister Paul Gérin-Lajoie to the effect that Quebec could extend its internal jurisdiction internationally.  Under these conditions, the principle enshrined in the first paragraph of section 7 of the Fundamental Rights Act whereby "the Québec State is free to adhere to any treaty, convention or international agreement in matters under its constitutional jurisdiction" and "the Québec State is not bound by any treaty, convention, agreement or Act in the areas under its jurisdiction unless it has formally adhered to it by a decision of the National Assembly or the Government, subject to the applicable legislative provisions."

In its application as well to the question of international representation, the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine was also rejected by the Government of Canada and has been the source of considerable conflict between Canadian and Quebec government officials.  Whether it concerned participation in international forums on cultural diversity or in meetings between representatives of Quebec with heads of state or foreign governments (e.g. Bouchard-Zedillo) or the refusal to give Quebec its proper place in the context of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the doctrine of the federal government's monopoly over foreign policy has caused considerable and ongoing conflict.  Accordingly, the Government of Quebec wanted to affirm in the third paragraph of section 7 that Quebec "may, in areas under its jurisdiction, transact with foreign states and ensure its representation outside Quebec."  In this era of globalization, such an affirmation seems all the more compelling in the light of what the Quebec Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Joseph Facal, called a "Canadian federal deficit", which aims to prevent Quebec from reaching out as it will onto the international scene.

Added following the hearings of the National Assembly's Committee on Institutions, section 8 of the Fundamental Rights Act reiterates Quebec's jurisdiction over issues of language and reiterates that French is the official language of Quebec. It also emphasizes the fact that the "Québec State must promote the quality and influence of the French language" and that it "shall pursue those objectives in a spirit of fairness and open-mindedness, respectful of the long-established rights of Québec's English-speaking community". This desire to preserve and promote Quebec's French language also conflicts with another desire, that of the federal government to promote two official languages in Canada.

In the chapter on the territory of Quebec, the National Assembly of Quebec reaffirmed that "the territory of Québec and its boundaries cannot be altered except with the consent of the National Assembly."  This provision is intended to ensure that the existing boundaries of Quebec are respected and maintained and to counter the partitionist reveries in subsection 3(2) of the Clarity Act.  This provision is intended primarily to temper and limit the right of the Quebec people to choose their political future and status freely. Quebec's territorial integrity, the intangibility of its borders and the rule of law form the cornerstone of a very broad consensus emerging in Quebec.

The Fundamental Rights Act assures the Abenaki, Algonquin, Attikamek, Cree, Huron, Innu, Malecite, Micmac, Mohawk, Naskapi and Inuit Nations of a rightful place and sets forth, in the fifth clause of the preamble, the principles associated with the recognition of the aboriginal nations including their right to autonomy within Quebec.  In addition, in sections 11 and 12 of the act, the National Assembly recognizes, in exercising its constitutional jurisdiction, the existing rights -- aboriginal and treaty -- of the aboriginal nations of Quebec, and the government undertakes to promote the establishment and maintenance of harmonious relations with these nations and to foster their development and improvement of their economic, social and cultural conditions.

On all these matters, the Fundamental Rights Act and the Clarity Act differ in their concepts of the future.  However, with the final provision of the Fundamental Rights Act, the collision becomes headlong.  Section 13 of this act provides that "no other parliament or government may reduce the powers, authority, sovereignty or legitimacy of the National Assembly, or impose constraint on the democratic will of the Québec people to determine its own future."

This provision is fundamental and is designed to nullify any effect of the Clarity Act on Quebec.  It must also be seen as a stand taken against any power this law might give the House of Commons to decide on the clarity of a measure of the National Assembly and specifically the clarity of a question selected by a motion of the National Assembly.  It also nullifies the effect of any measure by the House of Commons to determine the clarity of the result of a referendum and the votes cast by Quebec electors.


In this pivotal year 2001, the right of peoples and nations to self-determination remains as relevant as ever.  It underlies claims to autonomy and independence and the calls for freedom heard on every continent.  This right rests on the guarantee of rights to national and ethnic, cultural or religious minorities and on the recognition of the right of peoples and nations to self-determination.  It should notably evolve towards the recognition that political independence is a means to implement such a right in a democratic context, such as the context of Québec’s claim for independence.

So long as governments and international institutions continue to question the right to self-determination and refuse to give it effect, they exacerbate conflicts and promote neither political harmony nor cultural diversity.  However, their democratization is essential and cannot be achieved at a cost to the minorities, peoples and nations that fashion this international system and give meaning to the concept of international community.  This democratization must, however, be based on principles that neither threaten freedom nor impose trusteeship regimes on minorities, peoples or nations.  It must never be based on the principles that gave rise to the Clarity Act recently enacted by the House of Commons of Canada, which represents the antithesis of the process of democratization that springs from true recognition of the right to self-determination.  This democratization must be based on a real desire to recognize minorities, peoples and nations and an absence of meddling in the process of determining their political and constitutional future.

This conference, as well as the other conferences organized under the auspices of the Consortium on International Disputes Resolution, may help give the right to self-determination the letters patent it deserves and permit it to be linked with the principle of democracy which was given a key role by the Supreme Court of Canada Advisory Opinion on Québec’s Secession. I will continue to argue, as do Puerto Ricans and Hawaiians, Scots and Palestinians, to give but a few examples, in favour of the application of democratic right of self-determination.  A right that should be the key foundation for peoples who desire to take charge of their economic, social and cultural development and intend contribute in their own way to the enrichment of humanity's common heritage.

By Daniel Turp,  February 2, 2001 at Santa Clara University School of Law, Santa Clara, California 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Real Canadian propaganda
There was once an open, welcoming and tolerant land called Canada. This land was filled with people from all over the world living together in harmony. Each group brought something unique from their homeland and contributed an interesting ethnic tile to this wonderful mosaic of ethnic identities. This paradise of multicolored tiles spread from the Pacific to the Arctic to the Atlantic with one exception: the Province of Quebec. In Quebec, people were against the wonderful mosaic. They did not want to be a tile in the mosaic. They did not embrace diversity. They forced their language and culture on everyone. Basically, they were racist xenophobes… This is the image of Canada and Quebec that is routinely presented in the Canadian media and is believed by many Canadians. Canadian multiculturalism is seen as the greatest of all virtues and the rejection of this idea can only be because of racism and small-mindedness. It is true that Quebecers tend to see multiculturalism and immigration differently than Canadians do but could there be other reasons than simple xenophobia?

Quebec and immigration

Let’s face it; Quebec has a very different history from the rest of Canada. Quebec was conquered by a foreign army and saw foreigners arrive to take up positions of power in its society. After the American Revolution, thousands of British Empire Loyalists settled in Quebec. They obviously did not come to integrate into our society, this was now their country and we were the ones who would have to assimilate. In 1837, Quebecers rose up in arms against their occupiers but failed. The result was Lord Durham’s report. Lord Durham made three recommendations:

  •        The union of Upper Canada ( Ontario) and Lower Canada ( Québec) into a single colony
  •        The assimilation of the French Canadians
  •        The granting of ministerial responsibility, or responsible government

It’s the second one that had people in Quebec a bit worried. The idea was to drown Quebecers in a sea of Anglos through massive immigration from the British Isles. Durham believed that the political union of Upper and Lower Canada was crucial to establish a loyal, English majority which would anglicise French Canadians and then make it possible to grant ministerial responsibility.  

Immigration was no longer going to be left to such unpredictable things as American revolutions or Irish famines. It was now going to be an organized effort at social engineering to bring about the disappearance of the Francophone population which was still the majority in 1840. By 1850, Francophones had become a minority in the Province of Canada and in 1871 they made up only 31% of the population. Today we represent 23% of the population of Canada and this is in spite of a rather prodigious birth rate that only began to decline in the 1960s. However, we still haven’t completely drowned to the dismay of many in English Canada.

After the initial wave of British immigrants, people from other parts of the world began arriving. In Quebec, where money and power were firmly in English hands, immigrants had little interest in us. Some immigrants did join our ranks, mainly other Catholics like the Irish or Italians but even in those communities the majority could see that it was better to join the English than a poor, powerless minority. It’s only after Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, when we regained control of our society, that we attempted to control the nature of immigration to Quebec. The Charter of the French Language probably had the biggest impact by requiring that the children of immigrants attend French schools. Today, roughly half of all immigrants to Quebec end up as Francophones. It’s still not enough but this will always be a struggle for us as a minority in Canada. It’s true that Quebecers are always ready to go to the barricades to defend their identity but considering our history is it really so surprising? 

Canadian Multiculturalism

Most Canadians see themselves as forming a single nation composed of all Canadian citizens. Their nation is Canada as a whole. Canada is seen by them as a single nation-state and not as a multinational state. There is a Canadian nation but there is no Quebec nation. This was the view of the late Pierre Trudeau who saw Canada as composed of one nation, two linguistic communities, five economic regions, ten provinces, two territories and a multicultural mosaic. Nowadays, most Canadians endorse that view, and so most of them reject the existence of a Quebec nation. Harper's Machiavellian "Québécois Nation" motion in 2006 actually confirms this view.

The demand for recognition of the binational and bicultural character of Canada had initially been made by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the 1960s, presided by André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton. And this demand has been made by all successive Quebec governments since then. Canada, however, adopted a policy of multiculturalism. “Isn't this a way of accommodating the needs of Quebecers?”... No, it isn't. Instead of accepting the binational and bicultural character of Canada, Trudeau responded by adopting a policy of multiculturalism that celebrates the cultural diversity of immigration so it cannot be interpreted as a recognition of the existence of a Quebec people.

Trudeau’s fiction of a Canada made up of one nation with two linguistic communities, divorced of national culture and territory, pretends that there is some kind of equality between these two linguistic communities and it tells immigrants that they can chose which ever language they want from sea to shining sea, it doesn't matter. We’re all one nation... Gee, I wonder which they’ll choose, the language spoken by 2 % of people on this continent or that other one. Tough choice! Quebec is then depicted as the bad guy because of its language laws which only allow immigrants to send their kids to French schools. They claim that their objections are based on the principle of “freedom of choice”. It's easy to be for freedom of choice when you know that the odds are stacked in you favor.

Another thing about Multiculturalism is that it doesn't seem to work so well in other countries like, for example, Sweden. Immigrants tend to become ghettoized and alienated from their host nation. This situation has sometimes even lead to violence and rioting. There’s just something different about the Canadian situation which makes assimilating immigrants almost effortless.

The reality is that Canadians can be so laid-back about immigration because they know that with very little effort on their part, their immigrants, in the long run, will end up as North-American Anglos thanks to the cultural and linguistic hegemony of the giant neighbor down south. After that, you just need a few Tim Hortons commercials to make them into Canadian North-American Anglos. Canadian multiculturalism depends on the dominance of American culture on this continent.

Of course, these forces work against us in Quebec. We know from experience that without any effort on our part, without setting rules and insisting, the same thing will happen here. That is, our immigrants will end up as North-American Anglos, too. So we can't have the same attitude as Canadians. But the Canadian media ignores all context and simply portrays us as bigots any time we try to assert ourselves on these matters.

Is this not xenophobia?

If Canadians feel secure today, that certainly was not the case in the past. There was a time when English Canadians had a palpable fear of the "other" with its monstrous birth rate. It was a fear of this "other" spreading, taking over and destroying what was good and British in Canada. And it needed to be stopped! The British author Hilaire Belloc probably summed up the feeling best when he wrote the following while visiting Canada in 1923:

Hilaire Belloc
"The French are everywhere pressing on the the Orange civilization which has the official machine in its power. They go West and establish islands in the empty spaces.The counter-proposition is to call in immigrants at any price from anywhere and drill them in Orange schools. It is a system now pitted against the grotesque fertility of the French-speakers. The whole thing is a battle between something deeply rooted, indigenous and prodigiously expansive against something imported and with shallow roots"

The answer came with a whole string of anti-French laws that appeared in virtually every Canadian province outside of Quebec. Ontario, for example, began imposing English tests on all teachers in 1885. In 1890, a law was passed stating that English must be the language of education except when children cannot understand it. In 1891, French school books were banned. However, things got worse at the beginning of 20th century which saw a rather important influx of francophones from Quebec looking for work. A census at the time showed that Franco-Ontarians accounted for 10% of the population of Ontario. This was explosive news. The future Premier, Howard Ferguson, spoke of the "French evil" and said that if nothing were done to stop this invasion of fancophones, it would shake the Dominion to its very foundations.  According to Mr Ferguson, Ontario needed to encourage British traditions in order to have a more "virile race".

Regulation 17 became law in 1912 and basically outlawed French education in Ontario beyond the first two years. It gave the Minister of education the power to fire any teacher that did not comply and the power to suspend entire school boards. The law was modified in 1927 to allow bilingual primary education and some secondary education could also be in French. It wasn't until 1944 that this law was simple not renewed. However, there was no real public money spent on French education in Ontario until 1968. There were no French school boards until the 1980s and Franco-Ontarians did not really regain control of them until 1997 (something they had lost in 1912).

This history is, of course, simply swept under the rug by most Canadians. Isn't this a classic example of xenophobia or racism? Isn't this an example of intolerance against a group of people which literally kept them disadvantaged until recent times? Doesn't this history ever enter into the minds of Canadians when they get up on their high-horses to lecture us about tolerance and inclusiveness?

Obviously not...