Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Discrimination in Quebec... and Canada!

It's not hard to find anglophones in Quebec who feel that they are the victims of discrimination. The more hysterical ones will even make comparisons with Nazi Germany or Apartheid South-Africa. The source of this discrimination, they say, is the Charter of the French Language, also known as Bill 101. Quebec, of course, does have language laws but do they really constitute discrimination? Why do francophones in Quebec feel that they need these laws? In order to achieve a rational understanding of something, we need to understand the context, the bigger picture. Let's take a look.

I know It may come as a shock to people raised on a Heritage Minute, sanitized pablum version of Canadian history but Canada's history is not a Disney movie. In fact, to some, it is more of a Stephen King novel. When I come across one of these hysterical Quebec Anglos with their shrill accusations of "racism" and "oppression", I like to remind them of the following laws that were passed by English Canadians and the British before them:

1916 - Province of Manitoba: The Thornton Act, by abolishing bilingual schools, completely ends the teaching of French in the province

1912 - Province of Ontario: Circular of Instructions Regulation No. 17 and No. 18. Forbids the teaching of French above the first two grades of elementary school.

1890 - Province of Manitoba: Official Language Act banning French, formerly an official language in the province. Premier Greenway diminishes the rights to French school, abolishes its use in the Parliament and in the Courts of the province. The act was declared unconstitutional 90 years later!

1877 - Province of Prince-Edward-Island: The Public School Act puts an end to the teaching of French in schools.

1871 - Province of New Brunswick: The Common School Act imposes double taxation measures against French Catholic schools.

1864 - Province of Nova Scotia: The act on public schools suppresses all subsidies to Catholic and French language schools.

1840 - Great Britain: The Parliament of Great Britain adopts An Act to reunite the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and form the Government of Canada which places the former Franco-Catholic majority of Lower Canada in an artificially-created position of minority in a new Parliament inside which they were purposely under-represented. The French language is banned in the Parliament, Courts and all other governmental bodies of the new united province. French is explicitly banned in a constitutional text of law.

Confronted with these facts, the hysterical Anglo will generally shrug and say that that was the past. It's not like that now. This is true but the Anglo will rarely reflect on the meaning or consequences of these laws. He will see them as some aberration in Canada's otherwise glorious history of wonderfulness. I think a more honest reading of Canadian history shows that these laws were not an anomaly but were a central part of English Canada's policy of containment and assimilation with regards to French. 

Most people have heard of Lord Durham's report, you know the one where he recommends the assimilation of francophones through massive immigration, but don't seem to make the link with subsequent events, like the laws mentioned earlier. The objective of all this was clearly to stop French from spreading. No second French-speaking province was to be allowed to take root... and it worked. Millions of Quebecer are today Americans because of these polices. A truly bi-national, bilingual Canada could have existed but it was intentionally prevented for coming into being.

The situation in Quebec was not much better for francophones. Prior to the 1960s, we find a typical colonial setup. If you were Francophone you were generally relegated to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. In some companies, even the position of foreman was exclusively held by Anglophones. Many parts of Montreal were as English as Toronto and your chances of being served in French were about the same as in Toronto. Before Bill 101, Montreal was basically an English city where the majority spoke French. Also, about 90% of immigrants to Quebec ended up as Anglophones. francophones had basically accepted their subordinate position to Anglophones for decades until the 1960s.

Many things changed in Quebec in the 1960s. One of which was the economic prospects of francophones. This was largely due to people like Jacques Parizeau who created organizations like la Société générale de financement and la Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec which made capital generally available to francophones for the first time. This completely changed the economic landscape in Quebec. Quebec was no longer the fiefdom of a small group of wealthy Anglo oligarchs.

Many anglophones like to attribute the impoverished state of francophones before the 1960s to the influence of the Catholic Church. While it is true that the Church was certainly guilty of leading Quebecers up the garden path for a long time, I believe their importance in Quebec society was directly proportional to their usefulness to the Anglo oligarchs of Quebec. In any case, once Quebecers had a way of improving their lot, they completely abandon the Church so it's not likely that it was the Church that was really holding them back.

So, as we can see, politics have always dictated language policy in Canada, usually against francophones. For a long time, Anglophones had a lot of power over francophones in Quebec and the result was English mansions in Westmount and French slums in St-Henri. Then, francophones in Quebec used democratic institutions to regain control of their destiny which lead to a lot of positive changes for francophones AND the dreaded language laws.

Are Quebec's language laws justice or revenge?

First, let's consider a few facts:

  1. The sign legislation does not violate the freedom of expression which is destined to protect the pluralism of political, ideological and artistic expression and is only remotely related to commercial signs.
  2. Anglophones in Quebec continue to do business in English. The sign legislation does not prevent anglophone merchants from advertising in English on radio and television and in newspapers, weeklies, neighbourhood publications and mailings.
  3. Bill 101 does not threaten the continued existence of the historical institutions of the anglophone community, the schools, universities, hospitals, social welfare centres and community organizations.
  4. If at least one of your parents went to English school, you can go from day-care to University entirely in English in publicly funded institutions. If neither of your parents went to English schools, you can still do the all-English education but your primary and secondary school education will be done in private schools.

Conclusion: The integrity of the Quebec anglophone community is not endangered.

Quebec's language laws may be a nuisance to Anglos in Quebec but they are not discrimination. Like Affirmative Action in The US, they are designed to correct an historical injustice. The problem here, of course, is that most white Americans do acknowledge the injustice done to Black people in the US, whereas most English Canadians refuse to accept that they are responsible for any injustices done to anyone, francophone, native or anyone.

Quebec is the only place left in North America where it is still possible to live and work in French. We have laws to make sure that this will continue into the future. Personally, I think independence is a better option than laws. The demands of Anglo-Quebecers seems to be that Quebec should stay a province of an English-speaking country and abandon all protection of its language. I fail to see how anyone can see that as anything other than a demand for cultural genocide for the last viable community of French-speaking people in North America. A people who have inhabited this continent for over 400 years. 


  1. "I fail to see how anyone can see that as anything other than a demand for cultural genocide for the last viable community of French-speaking people in North America."

    Bravo! I couldn't have said it better or more succinctly myself. This is the unwittingly neo-colonialist mentality of the average Anglo. It is the attitude conveyed by the English-Canadian media and especially by the Montreal Gazette and the National Post. Their hostility and intolerance for the existence of any national identity parallel to their own within the borders of this federation is nothing more than chauvinism and bigotry.

  2. I agree completely. I'm never sure if their chauvinism and bigotry is from an inability or unwillingness to see the other side of the issue or if they consciously see themselves as the heirs of Lord Durham here to finish the job.

    1. Ho is the exact feeling I felt! It's good to find some right persons, thanks!

  3. I am SO relieved when I read that. I'd like this to spead everywhere. Native americans are not the only ones that are misunderstood and hated every time they try to protect their culture, it's true for Quebeckers too, and I am incredibly astonished when I see there is racism aimed at natives from Quebeckers. We should all understand them instinctively. Quebec's sovereignism is not based upon the hatred of Anglos or any other nation, and I consider this is extraordinary considering what we endured in the past, that we are able to forgive so quickly from a recent past. I'd like sovereignists Anglo to express themselves more ofter on the public tribunes, towards others, etc. because it is hard for us not to be seen as "racists", and simply because better skilled anglophones explain better.

  4. History proves that anglo-canada is built on hatred and racism. the Guild of Orange and its KKK branch lead to more than one century of anti-Canadien apartheid.

    Today, with the help of their elites and medias, all anglos are in a deep state of denial.

    If it wasn't for that, not even half of Canada would be english now. Just take the descendants of the real Canadiens of were forced into permanent exile to USA in order to survive and that makes twice as much French speaking population than there is today.

  5. Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Your ignorance is a state of mind that cannot be cured.

  6. I have watched my 80 yr. old mother unable to get instructions for her meds in English, except for the few French traitors who took pity on my Irish mum and broke YOUR law to help her. In your effort to make the past out to be only about language is to ignore the influence of the Catholic Church in Quebec and the struggle with protestantism, New France was the most Catholic place in the world and ruled with an iron fist. Hence all the swear words that are catholic specific and if not for the terrible English you would have the terrible Catholic Pope. When England was in her lowest state of moral decay the Wesley brothers started a movement that changed the nation and ended up with the abolition of slavery. England became no saint but a little God went a long way. The new god is the Quebec Government it seems. Don't hate your brother without reason because history is full of tyrants that call themselves patriots.

    1. "I have watched my 80 yr. old mother unable to get instructions for her meds in English, except for the few French traitors who took pity on my Irish mum and broke YOUR law to help her."

      What law are you talking about?

      Bill 101 made it a right to get service in French in Quebec. It did not ban English services. And in 1986 Quebec passed Bill 142 which guarantees social and health services in English to the anglophone community in Quebec. Because of this bill, 254 health and social centers must provide service in English in Quebec.

      My grandmother (a Franco-Ontarian) rarely got any services in French. In the Greater Sudbury region of Ontario where francophones make up 28% of the population there is only one partially bilingual hospital where, in the words of Denis Constantineau, director of the Sudbury Community Health Center, you can be admitted to the hospital in French, but you will likely die in English because the more you progress in the system, fewer French services are offered.

      A study conducted by the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada concluded that: "…access to health care services in French for Franco-Ontarians is severely lacking in hospital services, community health centers, medical clinics, and home care: these four sectors cover most health care services available in Ontario. Hospital emergency services are often the key entry point to the health care system, yet three quarters of Franco-Ontarians are denied such access in their language. 74% of Franco-Ontarians said they have either no access at all or rarely access to hospital services in French. In fact, only 12% claimed that they could access hospital services in French at all times."

      But when a francophone in English Canada can't get service in French, it's just normal. If a similar thing happens to an anglophone in Quebec, everyone screams oppression.

      As for your rant about religion, it is completely irrelevant and utter nonsense. I don't need a guy who can barely understand the laws he lives under today explaining the past to me. I bring up the past for historical context and to point out present-day hypocrisy. You present a distorted view of our past in order to imply that we should be grateful that we were conquered by the English! You also imply that I hate English-Canadians, which I don't. Disagreeing with people and pointing out their hypocrisy does not equal hate.