Quebec’s War on English: Language Politics Intensify in Canadian Province

A controversial new bill proposed by the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois is stirring up tensions between English and French-speakers in Quebec.

  • Share
  • Read Later
ROGERIO BARBOSA / AFP / Getty Images

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois addresses supporters in Montreal on Sept. 4, 2012. One person was killed and another seriously wounded when a gunman opened fire during her speech.

To live in Quebec is to become accustomed to daily reminders that French in the Canadian province is the most regulated language in the world. Try, as I did recently, to shop at Anthropologie online and you’ll come up empty-handed. The retail chain (which bears a French name) opened its first Montreal boutique in October, but “due to the Charter of the French Language” has had its site shut down: “We hope you’ll visit us in store!” Montreal’s transit authority maintains that under the present language law, its ticket takers must operate in French, which lately has spurred complaints from passengers. Last year, the city of Montreal erected 60 English safety signs nearby Anglophone schools in an effort to slow passing vehicles. The Quebec Board of the French Language and its squad of inspectors ordered that they be taken down; a snowy drive through town revealed that all had been replaced by French notices.

Since the Parti Québécois (PQ), which calls for national sovereignty for Quebec, won a minority government in September, the reminders have become increasingly less subtle. In February, a language inspector cited the swank supper club Buonanotte, which occupies a stretch of St. Laurent Boulevard, Montreal’s cultural and commercial artery, for using Italian words like pasta on its otherwise French menu. The ensuing scandal, which has come to be known as “pastagate,” took social media by storm. “These are problems we had in the 1980s,” says restaurant owner Massimo Lecas. “They were over and done with; we could finally concentrate on the economy and fixing potholes. And then this new government brought them all back. These issues might never go away now, and that is a scary sort of future.”

It’s true: despite the nuisances and controversies generated by Bill 101, Quebec’s 1977 Charter of the French Language, the province had settled in the past years into a kind of linguistic peace. But tensions have mounted considerably since the separatist PQ returned to the fore. In the wake of pastagate, the language board allowed that its requests were maybe overzealous; the head of the organization resigned. And yet the PQ has prepared for the passage of Bill 14, a massive and massively controversial revision to Bill 101. The bill’s 155 proposed amendments go further than any previous measures have to legislate the use of French in Quebec. Most English speakers see the changes as having been designed to run them right out of the province.

“Definitely non-Francophone kids who are graduating are leaving,” says restaurateur Lecas. “If you don’t have a mortgage yet, if you’re not married yet, if you don’t own a business yet, it’s like, ‘I’m so outta here.’ But leaving is not the solution because when you leave, they win.” In a poll conducted by the research company EKOS in January, 42% of the Anglophones surveyed said they’ve considered quitting Quebec since the PQ was elected.

If Bill 14 passes, military families living in Quebec but liable to be relocated at any time will no longer be permitted to send their children to English-language schools. Municipalities whose Anglophone inhabitants make up less than 50% of their populations will lose their bilingual status, meaning, among other things, that residents won’t be able to access government documents in English. For the first time, companies with 25 to 49 workers will be required to conduct all business in French, a process set to cost medium-size businesses $23 million. French speakers interested in attending English-language colleges will take a backseat to Anglophone applicants. The language inspectors will be able to instantly search and seize potentially transgressive records, files, books and accounts, where currently they can only “request” documents that they believe aren’t in accordance with the law. And no longer will they grant a compliance period. As soon as a person or business is suspected of an offense, “appropriate penal proceedings may be instituted.”

Jamie Rosenbluth of JR Bike Rental is among the business owners who’ve had run-ins with the ever more bold language board, which already has the authority to impose fines and, in extreme cases, shut enterprises down. A month ago, an inspector asked him to translate the Spanish novelty posters that paper his shop and increase the size of the French writing on his bilingual pricing list by 30%. Says Rosenbluth: “I told her, ‘You want me to make the French words 30% bigger? O.K., how about I charge French-speaking people 30% more?’ It is so silly. Are they 30% better than me? Are they 30% smarter than me?” Since the encounter, he has covered the offending posters with placards of his own that say, in French, “Warning: Non-French sign below. Read at your own discretion.”

The PQ is trying to reassure its separatist base of its seriousness as a defender of Quebecois identity. To pass Bill 14, it will need the support of at least one of the province’s two primary opposition parties. In other words, if the bill doesn’t succeed, Premier Pauline Marois of the PQ will be able to hold the opposition accountable and remain a hero to the hard-liners. The PQ knows that, in its present incarnation, it will never drastically expand its core of support, but it can galvanize its troops. Some of those supporters rallied together in Montreal last month to protest “institutional bilingualism” and champion the bill. Cheers and applause resounded when journalist Pierre Dubuc called out: “If someone can’t ask for a metro ticket in French, let them walk.”

Public hearings on Bill 14 began in early March at the National Assembly in Quebec City and are ongoing. “I can tell you that if someone came to Côte-St.-Luc to tell us we would lose our bilingual status, you will have chaos, you will have opposition of people you wouldn’t think of who will take to the streets,” testified Anthony Housefather, mayor of the municipality of Côte-St.-Luc, on the first day. “People are scared, people are very scared.” By the time Quebec’s largest Anglophone school board, Lester B. Pearson, came forward on March 19, it had already collected 32,000 signatures on a petition against the bill. “There are many ways of protecting French, and coercion isn’t one of them,” says Simo Kruyt, a member of the board’s central parent committee. “Fourteen of our schools have closed over the past seven years. We are getting fed up. We are getting tired of having to fight to be who we are. English is the language of commerce and we parents believe we are part of a world that’s larger than Quebec.”

It’s hard yet to say if the bill will make it through. The opposition Liberals have flat-out refused to support the legislation. The Coalition Avenir Québec, which holds the balance, has said that it might — if certain of the more controversial measures are “improved.” In fact, the Coalition has only come out against four sections of Bill 14, and these don’t include the provisions that would give the dreaded language inspectors new and extraordinary powers. In the face of such antagonism, it’s no wonder some are leaving. Kruyt’s eldest son, a bilingual 27-year-old engineer, is preparing to relocate to Ottawa, the Canadian capital that sits near Quebec’s western border. Says Kruyt: “There, they’ll appreciate his French and won’t hammer him because of his English.”

In response to this story published April 8, Quebec’s Delegate General to New York submitted a letter to the editor on April 11 that can be read here.

4817 comments
kiki1998
kiki1998

I believe that Québec is enforcing this because we want to protect are language! I'm a french Canadian and believe that 

Québec is doing the right thing for are language and culture! It respect for us francophone's and to show how proud we are to be french! I really don't see any problems with this at all!!

ChristainBenedict
ChristainBenedict

i am Mrs cherry Johnson from CANADA,i want to testify of the good work of DR FRANK in my life,i lost my husband to a prostitute who vow to take him away from me by all means.
i was confused never to know what to do until this faithful day a friend of mine called me that there is a man who can solve my problem immediately,i contacted him and he told me that my husband will come begging on his knees believe it or not on that same day he promise me my husband came to the house after 6months begging me to accept him back,so whatever your situation may look like just email the below address:
BLACKSPIRITSTEMPE@GMAIL.COM



DontWorryAboutIt
DontWorryAboutIt

Oh FFS. All this over a language? I am sure it's possible to keep your history and culture even if you started speaking English. However, this IS Canada. English AND French are our official languages. So how about we get over this silly nonsense and teach BOTH languages in schools as mandatory teachings across the country? Then the next generation will know both and as adults can decide which they would rather speak. That way Quebec can stop feeling threatened that they will lose their language, and the kids of tomorrow will have at least two languages to put on their resume.

Fedup1
Fedup1

Montreal and metropolitan area must be removed from the Quebec jurisdiction to form either a city state or the eleventh province of Canada

beproudandhaveasay
beproudandhaveasay

Nobody cares what the French think. It's Canada, speak English. You can't separate, it's Canadian soil which means if you want out of Canada, then leave. I don't know why we have to put up with that stupid way of thinking. The Canadian government should just tell the separatist people to get the heck out of our Country. Why do we always have to be so nice to everybody that has no interest or love for Canada. I live in Calgary and there is few restaurants now that put the required, as per recipe, bacon bits on the caesar salad. Whatever you do, don't offend the muslims. Pretty soon we won't be able to get pork in a restaurant. I am a proud Canadian who is sick of watching my Country being invaded from letting our enemies in our back door. These people think we are very stupid for letting them get away with everything and their right. Try going to their home muslim country and telling them to change their schools and traditions to suit your needs and wants. All I can say is that if it is a foreign or domestic threat, let's start manning up and save our Country for our future generations. We need people in government that want to protect our Country's people and traditions instead of not offending anybody because they want to get re-elected to get more easy money and a good pension. Come on fellow Canadians, take a stand.

WorldBystander
WorldBystander

P.S. Nevertheless I deeply sympathise with a nation's desire to strengthen the use of its language and protect it from being assimilated in another more dominant language that surrounds it, like French in mostly English-speaking North America.

WorldBystander
WorldBystander

"French in the Canadian province is the most regulated language in the world" Close, but not true. LATVIAN in Latvia would arguably win this nomination. In that country 40 % of the population have Russian as their native/most commonly used language, yet it's considered to be a foreign language like, e.g., Chinese or Swahili. There's a very tough language regulation in place, and the State Language Centre terrorises the Russian-speaking populace or companies with huge fines. The pinnacle of these policies has been the language centre forbidding the govt to distribute cancer prevention info leaflets in Russian.

AKEBTW
AKEBTW

I love Quebec, it does everything in its power to destroy business, welcome non-skilled refugees from French speaking colonies who become a burden to welfare system and bureaucratic corrupt government that fixes nothing in their cities but keep asking for higher taxes every year. One thing they do their upmost is to maintain language demagoguery. I guarantee you in 10 years Quebec will be an economic wasteland to which tax payers fuel language laws and nothing else. Quebec is the Florida of USA, the Belgium of Europe. Hated by everyone for their retarded laws that help no one in the process.


Quebec has no culture like most of Canada, culture was destroyed with wiping out american Indians. What we have left are opportunist Europeans who settled in these lands to MAKE MONEY. Priority in every city should be incentives to bring jobs and employment and efficient infrastructure. If your city isn't doing neither it means they failed the american system.


This whole French nonsense has nothing to do with French identity and all has to do with a few old grumpy French people outside of Montreal who DON'T WANT TO LEARN ENGLISH.


If the youth are leaving this city it's because Quebec doing everything possible to make the process of getting a job futile, This in turn makes matters worse because if universities are subsidised, that subsidy has to be paid with future taxes and if the students after graduating are leaving, it means those taxes need to be increased.


If not for the immigrants who migrated to Quebec in 70s-80s, French Quebecois would be nothing but bunch of pig farmers.


benej
benej

The other thing that i found working in international business is that monolingual anglophones are losing preference to those that are bilingual or trilingual. The five most important languages to learn are arabic, english, french, mandarin and spanish and I hardly come across a north american westerner in my travels. Fortunately I minored in arabic in addition to knowing french and english. 



benej
benej

I graduated from english secondary school in 2004 and very few of my friends that I graduated with are still here because they had difficulties finding employment because the majority of the positions require strong proficiency in both languages. Some are able to fully grasp french better than others.


It's for that reason I send my kids to french school while we speak english at home. I don't want to be another statistic that relocates to Ontario. 

marquse1
marquse1

You hit off your sob story with the fact that a commercial website had to undergo proper translation before operating?

What is the problem with enforcing the majority language when it comes to road signs?

The Office retracted the "pasta" sanctions - get over it and find a real problem to report.

Bill 101 has been in effect for +30 years - get used to it. Geez. Didn't think our laws were simply supposed to be cosmetic additions to the ROC's.

"Hammered because he's English" It sounds SO hard to be English in Quebec. Must be a little like being French in the ROC: rather misunderstood.


kevin99
kevin99

Anglos are 8% of Québec.

They get 30% of universities financing and 50% of hospitals money.
And  much, MUCH more.
That public financing to anglos institutions comes from the FRENCH majority.
Yet, they whine about the "franco nazis".
Is there a shrink in the room?

Cutie003
Cutie003

Any money placed into Montreal is because people are betting that it will separate from Quebec when the next referendum happens.  You will lose much territory when we partition this place and Montreal is just one area that will vote to remain with Canada.  People in Montreal already have a huge movement going to separate from Quebec right now along with the Outaouais, the Pontiac and others that are sick to death of you people dragging the economy into the toilet with your crazy language laws and communist way of life.  Bunch of bums - three degrees from Kindergarten I'll bet because there is no common sense in anything you say and no reputable university would teach the nonsense you spout.  

Cutie003
Cutie003

I sincerely hope that anyone reading separatist "kevin99" comments don't take this kid seriously.  These people are so brainwashed by their crazy politicians that they have no idea what in the world is going on around them.  What we are really in need of here in Quebec is some well trained de-programmers to break up the cult that they have become - lol.   What a pile of crap he publishes.  Must be mice running around in that head of his.  Please don't be silly enough to ever, ever place any money in the future of this province.  You'll lose your shirt.

kevin99
kevin99

Btw: when Québec is independent, the citizens who wish to remain Canadian will have that, as well as Québec citizenship.

jamie.bissonnette
jamie.bissonnette

@kiki1998  Wrong

Many french are a collective bunch of whiners and that is in our culture.  Other nations accept diversity without playing the culture card, but here in the province of Quebec, we essentially shun diversity out of arrogant pride.

kiki1998
kiki1998

@DontWorryAboutIt We as francophone we are losing are language! we are proud to be french and we will do anything to protect are language! Je suis francophone est j'aimerai vous dire que le québec a raison a passer une lois sur notre langue!! Nos some fière est nos enfants aura le choix de parler l'Anglais mais on tien beaucoup a coeur notre langue!! 

kiki1998
kiki1998

@beproudandhaveasay hey im a french canadien that live in ontario i strongly believe that québec is trying to protect the are language! Also use french people theirs alot of people who judge us because we are french! Well as a francophone i believe that Québec is aloud to protect are language!! Also ur saying that canada should tell the separatist people to get the heck out of our country it not right! Like u said it canada we have the right to think what we want! 

j-avery
j-avery

@AKEBTW I agree with everything you said except for "Quebec has no culture like most of Canada". Let me guess, you've never been to Quebec, right? Quebec has more culture than all Canadian provinces put together. Quebec has personality unlike the dull, boring and bland Canadians. English speaking Canada is simply a more boring version of the United States. Canada has no culture.

MarcLévesque
MarcLévesque

Simply because Quebec has the civil code and Canada the common law does not make Quebec a thrid world state. It is the second highest GDP earning province in Canada. The cost of living - despite taxes- is much lower than Ontario and BC. The only provinces with positive immigration within Canada are BC and Alberta - all others are losing people for the past decade (google it). Most of your arguments are drivel the english media serve their population to bash Qc.

bikeguy1998
bikeguy1998

@marquse1 "What is the problem with enforcing the majority language when it comes to road signs?".  If this is fine for you, how about enforcing English in Quebec, given that English is the majority language in Canada? 

sena
sena

@kevin99 


quebec has received a quarter of a trillion dollars since 1958, in transfer payment and granys from ENGLISH CANADA> . They carry carry CANADIAN passporss. may be they should understand they are in a nation CANADA where the MAJORITY  , ( 28 million) are English.

Matchbox10
Matchbox10

@kevin99 how much do you think it costs Canadian consumers to have French printed on EVERY SINGLE THING THEY BUY? Ink isn't free as aren't translators, do you think the company selling just bears the cost? No they hike the prices up maybe a few cents, but that translates into a lot of money over a lifetime of paying a few extra cents for everything bought. So stfu

Cutie003
Cutie003

@kevin99 Yeah because we pay the most taxes you idiot.  And we have more people that donate to our hospitals and universities than you do.  But you think it 's OK to steal all our properties and bitch about everything when your a bunch of bums.  Get out of Canada!

RobertPeterson1
RobertPeterson1

@kevin99 BC has no such "unilingualism" law.  Freedom of expression is respected.  For example, businesses are at liberty to function in the language of their choice, and many do (such as many of the Chinese businesses in Richmond, BC with Chinese-only signage, etc.)  Quebec has never been a unilingual province.  English speakers have lived there for centuries.   The repressive language laws (Bill 101) simply whitewash history.

Cutie003
Cutie003

@kevin99 Stuff "your language" - that's all we've heard about the past 40 years.  Enough of you.  You appreciate nothing and want everything.  Get out of Canada!

Cutie003
Cutie003

Yep they want the documents in both official languages as it should be in EVERY province in Canada INCLUDING QUEBEC - you can't have it both ways although you think you can you little smart ass.  Partition this province and get to hell out of my country!

kevin99
kevin99

@Cutie003 
Go tell that to the giant Ericsson who just "placed" 1,2 billions$ in Montreal.
Don't be such a loser.
Btw, the "kid" has 3 major university degrees and has traveled the world (without having to use much english I might add).

Cutie003
Cutie003

@kevin99 lol - boy you guys just think you can do and promise anything - you're such a joke!

mwilson78
mwilson78

@kevin99 Man you must be deluded to think that 40% or 23.5% of Canada's population will dictate how you plan to separate.

ssmith008
ssmith008

@kiki1998 @DontWorryAboutIt But Kiki1998, you can't even spell the language properly!  Je suis anglophone mais même moi, je connais, c'est "noUs somMeS fierS...ET...AURONT...TIENT..."

kiki1998
kiki1998

@bikeguy1998 @marquse1  As a francophone we believe that we should save are language! i agree that most of canada is English so why not let use French have are enforcement on are language!!!  

TonyFriesen
TonyFriesen

@bikeguy1998 @marquse1 In France, where they actually speak French, not some back woods hillbilly dialect, the stop signs say "STOP".  Nothing confusing there.


MarcLévesque
MarcLévesque

It's called democracy bikeguy: majority in the province gets to make the language laws. Such political systems are found throughout the free world...

MarcLévesque
MarcLévesque

The average canadian cannot comprendhend transfer payments. Sena is one of them.

MarcLévesque
MarcLévesque

If the box would be any other color or black for letters: same cost for ink. The only cost is translation and you can get that on Fiverr.

kiki1998
kiki1998

@Cutie003 @kevin99 i would like to say that we are not idiots! we are not always bitching about everything most of the english population treats us like crap but u need to now that we are trying to save are language! just and exemple u said Get out of Canada wel! that why we are really strong on what we want and that is to keep are language we do not want to leave Canada we want to keep are language and be respected! it not that hard to Respect a diffrent language and culture! 

marquse1
marquse1

@Cutie003 No Kevin, the English are the minority in the province. So they give less money in to their private English schools and hospitals.

Cutie003
Cutie003

@kevin99 @Cutie003 All in the arts no doubt - want to stay home, be supported and smoke pot all day.  Bunch of bums.

KharkhalashMusseveni
KharkhalashMusseveni

@Cutie003 @kevin99 

Are you really so poorly educated and blissfully clueless in your hate that you think anyone would have their Canadian citizenship revoked, or that a sovereign Quebec even has that kind of power?

In such a situation only Ottawa has the right to revoke Canadian citizenship.

KharkhalashMusseveni
KharkhalashMusseveni

@mwilson78 @kevin99 

You must be deluded to think that it's the rest of Canada's decision to make. As per the confederation act of 1867, every singee is guaranteed the right to withdraw from the union, staying or leaving is Quebec's choice and Quebec's choice alone.

The irony is of course, that 23-30% of the Canadian population is sufficient to determine who runs Canada and how, but we're the bad guys for demanding no less than 50%+1.

ssmith008
ssmith008

@kiki1998 @DontWorryAboutIt My point being that if I could take the time to learn French well despite growing up in a non-Francophone environment, you should have the same respect for the English language and learn it well, too...c'est l'égalité.  You're not going to be able to do it, this way...by banning it.

marquse1
marquse1

@Cutie003

Thanks cuttie for this demonstration of English multiculturalism at work.

Cutie003
Cutie003

@KharkhalashMusseveni What the hell are you talking about?  You think that Ottawa would not revoke the citizenship of Quebec residents following a decision to leave Canada?  Of course they would have their citizenship revoked immediately - it is Ottawa's decision - every idiot in the country knows that but Kevin99 thinking that we will automatically have citizenship to both Quebec and Canada.

Cutie003
Cutie003

@KharkhalashMusseveni Stuff it - 28% to 35% of the population of Quebec is not going to be enough to stop partition on this place and you'd better know that.  You can live by yourselves if you like but the areas that wish to remain Canadian will do so.  Take 35% of the land mass excluding all along the St. Lawrence from East to West and be gone - we who reside along the borders of Ontario and the US have no intention of going over the cliff with you and your idiot idealists.

kiki1998
kiki1998

@Cutie003 @kevin99 just another disrespect to francophone! btw it not like we say we want to kick out English people out of canada like come on!