After two years, my campaign to rid the nation of its “human rights” commissions doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So, in a spirit of rapprochement, let me try a new tack. Given that there seems to be insufficient actionable racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia to justify the budgets of the “human rights” regime, how about a new ground for complaint?
As we know, every job that matters in Canada is bilingual, from her viceregal eminence in Rideau Hall down to the village postmistress in Pakenham, Ont. The House of Commons has just passed, all but unnoticed, a bill requiring that henceforth all Supreme Court justices should be able to hear cases in English and French without the aid of an interpreter. That’s to say, it’s not enough to be a distinguished jurist capable of a little light banter with a francophone colleague or a discussion of Denys Arcand’s oeuvre at a Canada Council cocktail party: you have to be able to understand highly technical legalisms in a language other than your own, unaided. As things stand, three of the nine judges have to come from Quebec. If the new bill takes effect, it’s hard to imagine any jurist west of Ontario ever meeting the qualifications.
As the Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner recently pointed out (full disclosure: he thinks I’m an alarmist buffoon, so he’s obviously a reliable source), a rip-roaring total of 9.4 per cent of Canadian anglophones are bilingual. This was, of course, M. Trudeau’s great insight when he presided over the expansion of official bilingualism from the very modest provisions of the British North America Act: as the minority, francophones would have the greater incentive to learn the other language, and thus, being overrepresented among the bilingual labour pool, would increase their presence at the highest levels of Canadian life. Yet, even among francophones, only 42 per cent are bilingual.
By the way, these aren’t ready-for-my-Supreme-Court-oral-argument-now bilinguals. These are self-identified polyglots, the overwhelming majority of whom rest their claims to bilingualism on their ability to go into a restaurant in Trois-Rivières and order a café au lait and a croissant. And, if the waiter returns with a Dr Pepper and poutine à l’italienne, hey, close enough.
But, putting that aside, what those numbers mean in practice is that about 83 per cent of Canadians are ineligible for Canada’s most prominent jobs. In America, anyone can grow up to be president. In Canada, only eligible members of the House of Windsor can grow up to be queen. But, given those restrictive entry requirements, it seems perverse that over four-fifths of Canadians can never grow up even to be governor general.
Ah, well, you say, that’s the highest office in the land: is it unreasonable to require that those who reach for such heights do so with a foot on both rungs of the linguistic ladder?
Okay, but go back to that village post office in Pakenham, Ont. Pakenham is in the municipality of Mississippi Mills, but for Canada Post purposes it falls within the “National Capital Region” and therefore has to have bilingual postmasters, even though it’s a unilingual English village. Mississippi Mills has about 11,000 anglophones and 500 francophones, and, given that the sub-jurisdiction has around 500 folks and operating on the assumption of a population distribution not significantly different from the municipality as a whole, Pakenham would have approx 478 anglos and 22 francophones. The acting postmistress, Jeanne Barr, said the only people who ever came in to buy stamps in French were undercover agents from the linguistic division of Canada Post. “They always do the same thing. They want two stamps,” she told the Ottawa Citizen. Nevertheless, in December Ms. Barr was replaced as postmistress because of insufficient French, and offered a choice as a “rover” filling in for sick time and holidays at post offices within a 50-km radius or transferring to Kinburn and taking a 20-hour-a-week job as a rural-route mail deliverer. Ms. Barr went to the media, kicked up a fuss, and got her termination put on hold—for now. At nearby Almonte, another unilingual postmistress kept her head down and found herself, in the Ottawa Sun’s words, “relegated to a backroom assignment.” In a 96 per cent anglophone community, an anglophone postal worker cannot be permitted to interact with the public.
Try this thought experiment. Let’s say you’re black or gay or Muslim and you apply for a job with a private company—Maclean’s, say, or Mark Steyn Global Megacorp Inc. And I say, “Okay, we’ll put you on the payroll, but you’ll have to work in the backroom. Nothing personal, but I’d rather you weren’t seen by the customers.” I might have compelling commercial reasons for so doing: frankly, you’re a bit of a limp-wristed queen, and I’m in the macho sporting-goods business. But you’d reject that argument with a toss of your curls and flounce off to the “human rights” commission. And they’d reject it, too, and nail my homophobic ass to the wall.
And that’s not even the right analogy: what’s happening in Pakenham is like me owning a store in Montreal’s Gay Village and still relegating you to the backroom. In Almonte, the downgraded postmistress is the non-visible majority. In the Racism Awareness classes, you’re taught to keep an eye out for signs that the boss prefers to keep you at the back of the store. Yet what’s Racism 101 in the ethnic grievance business is government policy at Canada Post.
Why? If the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission recognized unilinguaphobia as a ground for complaint, Canada Post would have to demonstrate some kind of compelling rationale for why a unilingual village could not have a unilingual postmistress. They can’t make that case. But they don’t have to because they’re a government bureaucracy. Despite the best efforts of the CHRC and self-appointed Hatefinder-General Richard Warman, there is very little systemic discrimination in Canada. Except by the Canadian state against 83 per cent of Canadians.
After 40 years of coercive bilingualism, Canada is no more a bilingual society than it was before: it remains, overwhelmingly, two unilingual societies with a bilingual governing regime. If you take the reductive view of most statists, then being able to get service in two languages after standing in line for three hours at the Department of Regulatory Paperwork is a tremendous accomplishment. But out in the real world life goes on: I was dining with a friend, une chanteuse québécoise, in Montreal the other evening, and a couple of fans from adjoining tables came up and expressed their admiration for her, very graciously, but nevertheless leading me to ask sotto voce whether she didn’t find it all a bit of a pain. “Oh, you know the old joke, Mark,” she said. “If a francophone celebrity wants to live in total anonymity, all she has to do is move to Westmount.” As true (truer?) now than ever.
Still, if federal bilingualism has done nothing to bring Canadians together, it’s done a grand job of separating them from their governing class. Lots of developed nations have Big Government, alas, but only Canada has Big Government from which most of the governed are excluded. You’re a brilliant jurist from Alberta, but you’ll never be on the Supreme Court now because at 58 your French doesn’t extend beyond “Bonjour, monsewer. Où est la toilette, s’il vous plaît?” You’re an incisive military strategist who made tough decisions in Kandahar, but you’re ineligible for the Chiefs of Staff. So who gets the job instead?
In theory, anyone can learn a language. But, if you’re in Buckinghorse River or Lac St-Jean and had no reason to and were growing your business, it’s hard to start in late middle age. So Canada’s plum public-sector gigs go to members of the bilingual permanent administrative elite. Do they represent the full (oh, what’s the word?) diversity of this great land? Or is their government bilingualism perhaps reflective of a broader acquiescence to certain pieties? To be sure, it’s not a formally closed class; it allows for social mobility and entry into its ranks. But then so did the House of Lords. And, as the working and mercantile classes did with the 19th-century aristocracy, Canada’s unilingual masses seem to have accepted rule by their bilingual betters. This is not healthy. It is an affront to basic precepts of self-government, and, like so many other statist initiatives, cruel and capricious—as those postmistresses in unilingual villages well know.
So fight unilinguaphobia. And, if you lose at the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission, take it to the Supreme Court. But make sure you get there before the enforced bilingual bench takes over?.?.?.