How the West was Frenched


Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Liberals. (Image courtesy cbc.ca)

Good golly and heavens to Betsy. Nearly 40 years after it was enshrined, it seems official bilingualism is being dragged kicking and screaming through the western hinterland of this fine country. La Presse’s Martin Croteau lets us know today that thanks to a $54 traffic ticket, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories may actually have to recognize the constitutional status of French.

In 2003, Gilles Caron made an illegal left turn in Edmonton. His ticket was entirely in English, as was his court appearance. Caron, a native of Quebec, said he should be allowed to face justice in his langue maternelle. After five years (justice is slow in both languages, it seems) the Provincial Court of Alberta agreed. This, as Croteau notes, “could force the governments [of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and NWT] to translate all their laws and allow its citizens the right to a trial in French.”

I can practically smell the mouth breathers across the country choking back the foam in rage. To paraphrase their favourite boogeyman, all I can say is, go on and choke. History, as much as Trudeau, tells us this country is as French as it is English.

Though staged in an Alberta court, the case has such far reaching implications in part because of Caron’s lawyer, Rupert Baudais. He noted that in 1870, the British Crown handed over the rather immense territory that encompasses modern-day Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and NWT. The Brits did so with one caveat: that the local Métis could continue speaking their language. What, pray tell, was that language? French. Yadda, yadda, yadda, Caron makes an illegal left in Edmonton. This should be very interesting, especially since Caron is willing to go to the Supreme Court should the Government of Alberta appeal.

(Incidentally, one half of Deux Maudits Anglais wrote about the sizable influx of Quebecers going to Alberta last fall.)


How the West was Frenched

  1. Erk. Yet another reason for me to get back to that introductory French course I bought on DVD a couple years ago and haven’t yet managed to finish.

  2. And when will the Courts be reconsidering their decisions in cases like MacDonald v. City of Montreal ([1986] 1 S.C.R. 460) and others that Anglos in Quebec don’t need to be accommodated in these same areas? (Insert comments about mouth breathers, dragging the province into the 21st century, etc. here.)

  3. Does anybody have a link to the ruling? I’m curious how a traffic ticket, which is provincial, can be subject to bilingualism when the constitution says Alberta can be just be English-speaking. I think this will be a good thing for bilingualism in general, but it still strikes me as… weird.

  4. Oh, come on. If you can’t see how the Manitoba Act applies to an Edmonton traffic summons (even when it has been found not to require this in Manitoba: Bilodeau v Manitoba), you are nothing but a bigot.

  5. Funny how only one province has laws about French v. English on public signs. Maybe someone should cross the Ottawa R. and let them know that “History, as much as Trudeau, tells us this country is as French as it is English”. However, I can accept this as a reasonable accomodation to Quebec

    In Manitoba, Sask. Alberta and BC, there are a combined 175,000 French speakers. Out of 9.35 Million people total. So, that is about 2% of the total population of the west. I think the question should be asked as to what is a reasonable accomodation for the Western provinces. Should the provinces have to put their laws in French? I don’t think so – it is a needless expense.

    And this has nothing to do with being bigoted or a mouth breather or any other pejorative.

  6. Should be interesting to see if there is an appeal. I suspect there will be, but you never know.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if this did go to the Supreme Court.. would Alberta be able to use the Notwithstanding Clause if they lost? Would they want to?

  7. Am I correct in understanding the legal rationale at play here is, essentially, the below:

    (1) the NWT–under its 1870 borders–had French-language rights enshrined as part of its admission to Canada, and

    (2) Those same French-language rights were thus “inherited” by those new jurisdictions that were formed out of its territory over the years?

    If that’s the case, then the Yukon ought to fall into the “surprise, you’ve had French language requirements all these years and didn’t know it” club, too–it got chopped out of the NWT in 1898. No mention of that in the French article–is it possible that some Yukon Act or another sometime in the past somehow specifically “unFrenched” it? I know Nunavut’s been co-officially francophone from the outset.

    And here’s an even more fun head-scratcher: what is now Northern Quebec would theoretically also be bound by those same 1870 language requirements, what with being a part of the NWT from 1870 to 1912. So shouldn’t the NWT’s English-language rights, therefore, apply on that territory, too? Gooses and ganders and all that?

  8. I doubt Quebec would have any problems as I am pretty sure all their laws are tranlated and access to most government appareatus is available in English.

  9. @J Smith: In Quebec, you can get a traffic ticket in English, if you so choose. You can have your trial in English, if you so choose. You can raise bloody hell at the municipal and provincial levels in English, if you so choose. You can get your provincial tax bill in English, if you so choose. The Government of Quebec website is available almost in its entirety in English — as is that of La Ville de Montréal, which according to its charter is a French city.
    Is any of this true for French in Alberta? Je ne pense pas.

  10. MP: The case I referred to above seems to indicate that you do not have a right to an English language traffic ticket in Quebec. If you know of a more recent decision that disagrees, I hope you will post it.

    And of course you can debate in the legislature in English. Section 133 of the Constitution Act says it is so. Can you point me to a section of the CA that says the same thing about the French language in Alberta?

    And yes, of course you can have your trial in French in Alberta.

    It is great that the officially French city of Montreal has an English language website. Considering how opposed many of these Anglos were to the Province’s decision to force them into a French-only city through alamgamation, it is a wonderful gesture.

    (And no, that is one thing that is not true about any part of Alberta: you will not see any muncipality declaring it’s residents ‘officially anything.’)

    But considering that there are 100 times the number of unilingual anglophones in just the city of Montreal than there are Francophones in the entire province of Alberta, it is hardly a fair comparison anyway.

  11. AC on Parizeau for the OC: You know, these things start out as jokes, but [then they turn into the news]…

    And now, for this thread: You know, these things start out as news, but…

  12. @ Martin Patriquin – They give traffic tickets in Quebec? Not in Montreal, surely? Parking tickets, sure. But for an illegal left-hand turn, say? Gimme a break.

  13. @Jack: You’d be surprised. I got one turning onto Berri from the wrong lane two years ago. 330 smackers. I fought it in court — in English! — and lost. Surely, a French conspiracy.

  14. Schmenglish, Schrench.

    Being a Saskatchewanian of Eastern European descent who speaks both English & French but not the birth language of my grandparents, (which once totally outnumbered French in this region) this is all very amusing.

    Traditionally, our biggest language concern is the people who speak neither French nor English. Getting our laws translated into Cree and Dene at the minimum, French is king of a distraction. We already have one colonial language; now we need a second.

  15. “could force the governments [of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and NWT] to translate all their laws and allow its citizens the right to a trial in French.”

    This statement does not make any sense as it is already an obligation that all law in Manitoba be published in French and English. Trials can had in French and parking tickets have to be bilingual in selected parts in Manitoba. The Government of Manitoba has its web site on both languages. Deux Maudits Anglais should go out more often. You could start commenting on the antics the French speaking Canadians that are outside Québec. We do exist, 1 million times!

  16. Bon Dieu, I go on vacation to the USA and come back and find that someone’s finally realized that the rights of francophones and Métis in the West have never gone away. If you read the La Presse article, it quotes former Alberta premier Don Getty as saying that Albertans chose bilingualism by choice, not by law. Good on them. Too many people assume Albertans are all redneck Francophobes. Guess now they’ve been told they’re not generous enough in their choices.

Sign in to comment.