Images © Ted Wright
The Language Laws
In 1989 the premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, boasted that the Quebec government had "suspended fundamental liberties" by outlawing the use of English and other languages except French in most commercial advertising throughout Quebec, and by restricting entry to the English-language public school system in Quebec. CIT-CAN's "Welcome to Quebec" billboards advertised Bourassa's boast that Quebec was deliberately repressing the language rights of Canadians living in Quebec.
You can't put up an English billboard in Quebec (or a Polish billboard, for that matter). If you're an English-speaking immigrant family living in Quebec, you can't send your children to the English public schools. You can't even put up an English-French bilingual billboard (or a Polish-French bilingual billboard): everything except unilingual French is verboten on billboards and in public transit vehicles and stations. Smaller signs, including shop or business names, must have French twice as big as all other languages combined (Except trademarks like McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, which are regulated by the Canadian government). The law is used to keep English off plumbers' and electricians' trucks. The law is enforced more strictly against English than against Arabic or Greek or Chinese. Any exceptions you might see are the successful result of court fights, usually supported by CIT-CAN, by small merchants and tradespeople against specific instances of the imposition of the law.
About six million French-speakers and about one million other people, including many native English-speakers, live in Quebec. Canada recognizes both French and English as official languages. But Quebec discriminates openly against the one million people who speak any language other than French. All immigrant children, whether or not they speak English at home, are forced to go to French public elementary and high schools, and no French-speaking children are allowed into English public elementary or high schools. Not even road safety signs are bilingual. How many Americans or Canadians, even with high-school French, know what "virage protégé sur feu vert clingotant" means? It's an important traffic safety sign*, but it keeps Quebec traffic safe only in French.
The Quebec government's language police (officers of the Commission de protection de la langue française) harass small business owners about the size of their signs and the quality of their spoken French. They act on anonymous tips, they have search powers, and they impose fines and penalties through administrative tribunals. Small businessmen, many of them immigrants, often just give up and leave the province. Or they give in, put up French-only signs, and hire French-Quebecers as help, which means the harassment works.
Starting in 1971, Quebec governments passed a series of restrictive laws limiting access to the English-language schools and restricting the use of English at work. Although details of the "Charter of the French Language" - the main language law - have changed since it was first introduced in 1977, its goal remains the same. Camille Laurin, the secessionist cabinet minister who wrote the law, said that it was intended to reduce Quebec's English-speaking community and to give Quebec, at whatever cost in language rights, a "French face." In his own words it would "put the English community on a reducing diet." Since 1976 the language law, together with the threat that Quebec might secede from Canada, has driven hundreds of thousands of mostly English-speaking people out of the province and into the rest of Canada, in the largest internal migration in Canada's history. The law was described by Gretta Chambers, a former Chancellor of McGill University, as a "delayed but deliberate death sentence" for the English-language school system, and so for the whole native English-speaking community in Quebec. The graph below speaks for itself.
Most people don't know the facts about language discrimination in the Canadian province of Quebec, and if someone tells them about the Quebec language law, they don't believe what they hear. And it is incredible that Quebec is allowed to discriminate against its linguistic minority of English-speakers with laws that are unknown in any other civilized country. It is incredible that Quebec's language law violates international treaties signed by Canada but which are useless because the Canadian and Quebec governments won't enforce them. It is incredible that this legislated discrimination has been endorsed by the Canadian courts and by almost all of Canada's and Quebec's political establishment, whether in government or in opposition. It is true that most Canadians living outside of Quebec don't care about language rights inside Quebec, and that the active supporters of language rights in Quebec (including the sponsors of this website) are a politically powerless language minority that the majority in Quebec has decided to suppress as a scapegoat for its own cultural inferiority complex.
Political leaders in Canada and in Quebec think that the ethnic pride of French Quebec has to be satisfied to keep Canada united, and that the price Canada has to pay to satisfy this pride is the Charter of the French Language. What kind of ethnic pride is satisfied by discriminating against a linguistic minority? If French Quebec's leaders think that French culture can survive only by driving the English-language competition out of the province through laws that no other civilized state finds acceptable, then there is something wrong with their motivation and their world-view. It isolates and insulates French Quebec's youth, and therefore French Quebec's future, from the modern world. If Canada's leaders think that they can ignore language discrimination in Quebec without weakening the Canadian confederation, they are wrong. A country is bound by its common civic principles and virtues. Language rights are violated in Quebec, but not in the rest of Canada and the rest of the civilized modern world. This immoral political gulf between Quebec and the rest of Canada has generated a stress that, unless corrected, will in time lead to the separation of Quebec from Canada.
In 2008 Quebec celebrates its 400th birthday as a French settlement in North America. From its early beginning as a weak and neglected colony of France, Quebec has become a prosperous province in a modern, bilingual federalist state. French-speaking Quebecers experience no restraints on the use and enjoyment of their mother tongue in Quebec or throughout Canada. It is time that they forget the ethnocentric and linguistic hostility left over from their own not always fortunate past, and accept bilingualism -- in particular, the rights of their own linguistic minority -- as a part of the reality of Canada, and of the Western world, at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is time for Quebec to give up its two-hundred year old collective neurosis about the English language, and repeal the collective evil they have done to their English-speaking fellow-citizens.
Our goal on this website is to tell you about the language problem in Quebec and to tell you what we think should be done about it. The topics we cover are listed on the left. Please click to read more.
Source: Harrison, B. & Marmen, L (1994) Languages in Canada. Ottawa, Government of Canada, Minister of Industry, Science and Technology and 2001 Census: Mother tongue, 2001 counts for both sexes, for Canada, Provinces and Territories - 20% Sample Data: http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census01/home/index.cfm
* It means "protected turn on flashing green light"
1 William Pitt the younger, British Prime minister 1783 -- 1801, 1804 - 1806.
fondation CIT-CAN foundation
P.O. Box 101, Notre Dame de Grace, Montreal, QC H4A 3P4, Canada