An Anglo truce

Is the era of fighting over Quebec language laws officially over?

An Anglo truce

Photograph by Clement Allard/Canadian Press

Quebec, so the cliché goes, is home to poutine, smoky bars and maddening language debates, and indulging in all three is something of a rite of passage. Alas, a recent government health initiative means the combination of fries, cheese and gravy will effectively be outlawed from the cafeterias of many government institutions by 2012, while lighting up in any public space has been illegal for nearly five years. Language issues, meanwhile, are far less the stuff of spittle and hot blood than they once were. Battles between English and French used to occupy the headlines and even spill out onto the street. Now most English Quebecers apparently choose to stay quiet.

Fighting language laws seems especially passé. Twenty years ago, the right to have English on exterior commercial signs spawned an English rights movement that saw the birth of the Equality Party, and renewed linguistic tension across the province. Now, as Premier Jean Charest’s Liberals prepare to clamp down on English education rights, the old guard of that movement is lamenting the distinct lack of rage in its ranks. “Anglos don’t want to stick their necks out anymore,” says Robert Libman, former leader of the Equality Party. “There’s a sense of ‘What’s the point?’ The white flag has been waved, and it’s now lying encrusted on the ground.”

The current fuss—or lack thereof—is over an amendment to the current language law. In 2002, alarmed by a trend of parents exploiting what it called a legal loophole, the governing Parti Québécois outlawed a somewhat obscure practice that allowed certain students, otherwise ineligible under the province’s language law, to attend English school: if they attended a private English school for a year, they and their siblings could receive public education in English forevermore. (Under Quebec law, only those with a grandfathered right can attend English school.) The PQ’s Bill 104 closed the loophole—but lawyer Brent Tyler challenged the law all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled it unconstitutional last October.

The court gave the Quebec government a year to “fix” Bill 104, which it will do in the coming weeks. It has already shown its cards: Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre declared herself “disappointed and angered” by the Supreme Court ruling, and Justice Minister Kathleen Weil—a former Anglo-rights lawyer, ironically enough—is expected to clamp down on English education as much as is constitutionally feasible. (One advisory group has suggested changing the law to restrict all private English schools to grandfathered students.)

And yet, in the Quebec anglophone community, the silence has been deafening. Reaction in the Montreal Gazette and on radio call-in shows has been muted. No one has taken to the streets in protest. “The angst that existed before no longer exists,” says Dermod Travis, a moderate English-rights advocate. “I don’t see the emotion where you’re going to get thousands of people on the street.”

Part of the reason may be numbers. Roughly 300 students took advantage of the loophole each year—“relatively small stakes,” says Liberal MNA Geoff Kelley. Anglo angst has also lost its fiercest champions: Alliance Quebec, the militant English advocacy group, imploded in 2005 after the feds cut its funding. Moreover, the Anglos are older; health care and retirement worries trump matters of the tongue. And thanks in part to the language laws they once derided, they have sufficiently acclimatized to Quebec’s French fact. Nearly 70 per cent of Quebec’s 918,000 or so Anglos are bilingual, an increase of roughly 12 per cent since 1991. Even the English Montreal School Board now trumpets the quality and extent of its French-language instruction. It is doing something right; the dropout rate among Montreal’s English schools is 23 percentage points lower than the French equivalents.

“Bill 101 worked,” says Thomas Mulcair, an NDP MP and former cabinet minister in Charest’s government, referring to Quebec’s original language law, enacted in 1977. “The only way Quebec has been able to flourish and to remove a lot of linguistic insecurities that brought it to the brink of leaving Canada has been thanks to the fact that Quebec has been made a more French place.”

There’s still the odd gripe. Quebec’s Anglo community overwhelmingly supports the Liberal party, the province’s only outright federalist party. In return, critics say, Charest’s Liberals have taken the community for granted. “We’re captives of the Liberal party,” sighs Heather Keith, a long-time Anglo-rights activist in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

As for Tyler, he expects the Charest government to water down the Supreme Court judgment; when it does, he says, he’ll be off to the United Nations, where he hopes to challenge Quebec in the court of international law. “The Liberals are the PQ in slow motion,” Tyler said recently. “Both are based on fundamentally ethnocentric principles.” It’s a throwback sentiment from Quebec’s language battles of yore: pithy, baiting and, these days at least, increasingly rare.


An Anglo truce

  1. Vive le Québec libre !

  2. It's interesting really. The absolute, unweavering support granted to the provincial Liberals by the anglophone community has all but neutered their political leverage.

    So the actual elections, as we discussed in a earlier post, is won in the french electorate. The last Léger Marketing poll stated that the PQ was now at 38% and the PLQ at 32%. In french Québec, the PQ is at 45%, the Liberals at 25%, the ADQ and QS at 10% and the greens at 7%. There isn't much PLQ dropouts amongst the QS and Greens, and there isn't much sympathy for the anglophones amongst the ADQ. And yet, Charest has to scrape votes from these guys and the PQ to get back in the race.

    Then there is the fact that the PLQ's ability to always stay near the PQ's score in a general election, even to actually outscore the PQ while being defeated (see 1998) is an important symbolic link to the strength of federalism in Québec. That ability is heavily set upon the anglos relentless support. Voting for interests movements such as Alliance Québec and whatnot wouldn't help much, they'd simply lower the PLQ's vote and thus boost the PQ's score relative to the PLQ. So when it comes to provincial elections, it seems anglophones are confronted (amongst other things) to a symbolic choice: Language, or country? Looking at the actual trends, the choice seems clear.

  3. There's not 918,000 Anglos in Québec.
    It's more around 650,000 (english as mother tongue)

    The real scandal is that Anglos just make 8% of Québec's population but 11% of pupils study in English, 33 years after Bill 101. But the Anglos never talk about that.

    • I'm sorry, but you're wrong. There are 918 000 Anglos in Quebec. The 650 000 is just the island of Montreal – over 300 000 live in the regions.

      • The official stats are this: Mother tongue Anglo's make up approx 650,000. Anglo's + Allo's who use English as their preferred official language number 920,000.

        • I believe that these numbers are not that accurate. I found a website which gives me different results too.

  4. “In the Quebec anglophone community, the silence has been deafening”, it is the calm before the storm. Closing of the legal loophole is effectively putting the last nail in the English coffin of the Bill 101's systematic ethnic cleansing on paper. The fact that Quebec has gotten away with violating our rights for all these years is mind-blowing, how a democracy is able to justify taking away our children's right to a quality bilingual education, which hinders their future opportunities in an era of a knowledge driven global community network. Let us not forget the native born Francophone Canadian children's right to choose the language of schooling is also denied, which enslaves them and their unborn children to the insolvent province of Quebec for generations. This is blatant bigotry, racism and discrimination. It is Canada's moral bankruptcy to safeguard all their Canadian children from the language zealots of an outdated mentality. “What's the point?” Our Children's future in a so called democracy! Let's boycott Quebec. North America, spend your money outside of Quebec. Don't buy anything made in Quebec. Your English dollars are not welcome. Don't give the Quebec province a dollar, until they start showing others a little respect and tolerance, which they so distinctly demand.

  5. It would be fair to say most English Canadians choose to stay quiet as so many of thier friends and neighbours have left the province. It would also be fair to demand that if the federal government continues to spend billions and billions of tax dollars promoting the French language in English Canada they should at the very least spend an equally proportionate amount of money on promoting the English language in French Canada because bilingualism for one and unilingualism with language police for the other is a criminal waste of money. Can we afford to be fair or would it be much less expensive to be sensible and just scrap bilingualism?

    • 8 million french speaking people in North America in a sea of 300+ million of english speaking people. What is it that you don’t understand about this statistic and everything it implies? Promote English in French Canada, why? TO ENSURE THAT FRENCH DISAPPEARS EVEN MORE QUICKLY? You sir, are a joke.

  6. Truce, what truce? As a Anglo Quebec er, I too am FED UP with the Oppression of Non-Francophone's. As a member of a committee ( Central Parent Committee of the EMSB ) fighting Bill104, which was recently found by the supreme court of CANADA to be unconstitutional; as it infringes on our right of freedom of choice as to language of educational instruction, and as a symbol of Quebec's intolerance of anything Non-francophone, I urge you the readers whom believe in our fundamental rights & freedoms as Canadian citizens ( of Quebec ) to help us fight these separatists and their Federal colleagues in Ottawa by sighing our petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/emsb/ , and together we will sand up against their tyranny as CANADIANS. To maintain our freedoms we must be prepared to fight for them!

    Kurtis Law
    Montreal, Quebec

    • Kurtis

      I see the idea, I understand the rationale of presenting this whole episode as a fight against Québec's intolerance to anyhting non-francophone and a defense of rights of freedom of choice as to language of educational instruction.

      But this is Jean Charest's governement we are talking about. And the justice minister is, er, Kathleen Weil.

      Don't you think saying that's also a fight against, er, "separatists"… Well, I find that a bit rich, you see? Charest has to govern the province, and I mean the whole province. He has to strike a balance, find a point where every side of the debate see as acceptable. It's a tough job (and obviously it's not your job).

      But seeing the guy (and I insist: this is Charest and Weil we are talking about here) called a separatist by militants of the EMSB on those grounds, I mean jesus christ man… You really sure about that? Because this is a question Charest has gone publicly on about, as recently as last week, and has pegged as a priority for his government, it's not like he doesn't want any part of it and is letting some un-elected separatist activist group run amok inside the justice minister, see?

      • Oliver,

        The liberal party of Quebec's only concern is to maintain their voter support base of so called soft nationalists so they can be re-elected and not arose the PQ and it's hardliners. I'm not alone in feeling that Charest and the Quebec Liberals are a party of soft Quebec nationalists as their constant betrayal of the non-francophone citizens of Quebec clearly shows.

        Many of our community have left the province and still successive Quebec governments have done all they can to disembowel and vilify the English. They have been removing our rights little by little for more than 30 years. This has to stop, and it's not only an affront to non-francophone s, these governments have made prisoners of the francophone community as well. Their policies prevent many francophone s from having the freedom of choice to learn english, isolating the population in Quebec. All Quebec citizens deserve the right to choose and No government has the right to decide what school or in what Language the instruction is to be received in. That is the choice of the parents of the child alone. Any government that passes or supports laws that restrict fundamental freedoms is wrong and not democratic. And for these reasons they are no better that the separatists because they will support restrictions to our freedom of choice via the notwithstanding clause.

        Thank you for your comment,
        Kurtis Law

  7. A very interesting point you make, Kurtis.

    I'll add my two cents (again):

    – I don't see it as a given that Charest will go the nothwitstanding way. I think they'll try and find a way of centering the whole process around the fact that very few students are actually going trough this. By that I mean they will try as much as possible to make the numbers look small. What can I say, I have trouble believing Weil can get behind a notwithstanding-based solution. She is one of a few promising recruits in the current government, and Charest can't afford to burn her up on that question, he needs her to take bigger responsibilities in the next cabinet shuffle (who seems to be due for this summer).

    – As for actual rights being removed, including to francophones: I wont go into an argument about this, but I'll simply note that it is my understanding that a large part of the francophone's annoyance at the impossibility of sending their kids in english schools is directly related to the perceived inability of the french schools to actually teach english to said kids. The very well documented skyrocketing of english literacy amongst french quebeckers actually kinda put a dent in that theory. That doesn't mean the job done by the french school is any good, mind you. But the actual will to teach the language displayed over the last 30 or so years, coupled to the very large exposure of francophones to a plethora of english contents (and the Internet is a pretty powerful agent) seems to have actually produced some results. It's perfectly sensible, from a politician's point of view, to see a middle ground in the ongoing enforcement of barriers between the two systems on one hand and the continuing commitment to bettering the way english (and other languages!) are actually taughts in french schools.

    Not that it does any good to the natural right of individuals to make choices about their life free of the government's intervetion and/or constraint, of course.

  8. Dear Megool,
    You have your opinion, I have mine. I agree with some aspects you have pointed out and there are other points, where I disagree. The fact of the matter is we as individuals don't always agree and never will. We should have a choice and the government should not be dictating where my child should go to school. It is just wrong! The government does not care about my child's future. They are thinking about future tax payers, shackled to the province to pay for their billions of dollars of debt. Our children forced to be a statistic for the collective Français to be controlled by the government of Quebec. What happens to all the 40% dropouts in the French school system? 60-65% students actually graduate French school. That is a huge sign that the Bill 101 is a failure. To have such a high percentage of students dropping out is a shame and shows the system is broken. These are our children's lives and futures that are being shattered due the ongoing dysfunctional politics for way too many years. We are in the province Quebec, which still remains within Canada that has the Canadian Charter of Rights that should protect the rights of all its citizens and not just those outside of Quebec. Canada is either a democracy or it is not. The French language is far from being extinguished and there are many other ways to encourage people to speak French without coercion. We're not just playing politics, we are playing with individuals lives and their ability to survive in a changing world and global economy.

    • I don't get it. The 6 million Francophones in Quebec are surrounded by 330 million Anglophones, and the principle of "individual freedom" trumps all considerations of cultural protection. I simply cannot sympathize with Anglo-Canadians who get in such a huff about "their rights" being trampled in Quebec, when they turn right around and support all kinds of restrictions on the importation of American culture into Canada (quotas on radio, tv, publishing content). What happened to the right for private broadcasters and individual citizens to have easy, unfettered access to, and distribution of, information? Surely, Anglo Canada cannot be arguing it is a "distinct society" from the U.S., that must be protected, when there is more in cultural and linguistic commonality between the two than between Quebec and Alberta.

      • So I am a citizen of the US AND Canada AND an Anglo Quebecer born in Montreal. I think what you have to understand is that this would be like California forcing children to be educated in Spanish and telling the rest of the US that they should receive more money than anyone else because they deserve special treatment and the rights of the Spanish-speaking Americans should trump those of all the other Americans. You also have to remember here that while the anglo-franco fight is the most public, Bill 101 makes it legally impossible for any other language to flourish. You cannot own a business if you don't speak french because technically, your employees could get you shut down for not being able to speak to them in french. I'd like to see that fly in the states. And you cannot compare restrictions BETWEEN countries to restrictions WITHIN countries. It is OK, for example, for the US to ban certain things from China, but not OK for Alabama to ban things just because they were made in Rhode Island.

        • How can you EVEN compare the 2?! Wow, talk about being fucking clueless, much like about every other anglo who don’t understand that FRENCH IS THREATENED. What is it that you don’t understand in 8 million French speaking people in a sea of 300+ million of English speaking people in North America? English isn’t about to disappear dumbasses.
          I’d have the same stance if native communities wanted to force their kids to go to school in their own native language. They SHOULD do it. Death of a culture is fucking dramatic. But it’s not like ANY anglophone would understand that. Or maybe they do, but only if it happens to them. Others don’t fucking matter. <= Isn't it funny that this has been the narrative of the anglo-saxons through all history?

  9. Nice propaganda whitewash from Macleans.
    Obviously there is fear that the people in Montreal will finally stand up for their rights.
    It is clear that the federal government and eggheads from Ontario have decided
    to eliminate the english canadian community in Quebec. This was clear from day 1.
    Bill 101 did not save Canada it segregated Canada, creating an area where French Canadians can discriminate at will,
    and Canadian citizens cannot go to the school of their choice and have their freedom of expression violated.
    The majority of French Canadians voted Yes in the last referendum, what saved Canada were those who stayed here and voted No.
    As the Fraser Institute stated in a recent report,
    the only accomplishment of Bill 101 was chasing out English Speakers and creating a French Canadian Bloatocracy of government contracts.
    Interesting how all the immigrants forced into French h schools for over 30 years are not getting anywhere beyond tokenism in the French h Canadain job market.
    Still can't get a job in the government, city-hall you name it.
    As the Pq language critic Curzi stated on CBC radio:
    'it's not about language it's about people"
    He even went further saying montreal should be two thirds French.
    Of course, we mean French Canadian when we say French mes amis.

    The Supreme Court was crystal clear on waht should be done with Bill 104:
    case by case. Take it or leave it and if you leave it you will suffer the fallout and consequences.

    • Of course, it was much better when Quebec was an area where the English could discriminate the French at will right?
      How things are different when you’re in the winning party and how convenient is it to “forget” parts of history that don’t support you.

  10. Using the notwithstanding clause in this instance is unconstitutional.
    Charest will attempt to do an end run around the constitutional protection accorded education by taking away the right to assemble or associate.
    Won't fly. This is not what the framers of the constitution intended.
    The Supreme Court should immediatdely intervene and toss it out.

  11. God you need to stay in school "Megool". French needs promotion outside of Quebec, but within the province more English tolerance is clearly needed.

  12. There's not 918,000 Anglos in Québec.
    It's more around 650,000 (english as mother tongue)

    The real scandal is that Anglos just make 8% of Québec's population but 11% of pupils study in English, 33 years after Bill 101. But the Anglos never talk about that.

    Rod, I very much agree with you.Thanks for sharing.

    • You know what Chicago Mover..? Your racism and discrimination against the English speaking population of Quebeck – reeks with the very distinct – odor – that emanates only from – disciples of ' the Superior Race' – insanity that does nothing other than destroy!

      • Let’s talk about the odor that only emanates from the disciples of the Superior English race.

  13. People, I am begging you, vote for SEPARATION !!! I would love to see that day. SADLY , IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN . I am totaly voting for separatists nex time around . I want to see , how long it will take for the whole thing to colapse if the milking cow is not there .LOL

    • You are a huge idiot. The sad thing is that you don’t even know why, but I’ll give you a clue :
      By your retarded comment, one would SWEAR that you DON’T want them to leave. Idiot.

  14. Quebec is a joke, I'm so glad to have moved to America where people fight for their rights. English speaking Canadians should be ashamed of themselves for being so passive. English speaking Quebecers are second class citezens in Quebec.

    French speaking Quebecers should learn to share their culture instead of forcing it down peoples throats. Cultures are preserved by traditions not politics. How can people in Canada accept not having a choice to be English!!!

  15. "French speaking Quebecers should learn to share their culture instead of forcing it down peoples throats. Cultures are preserved by traditions not politics. How can people in Canada accept not having a choice to be English!!! "


    Quebec is a police state now.

    Why you would want to trap your children in menial jobs in a single province is beyond me. You can't even work in a company that does business in ontario for god's sake. No wonder the graduation rate is so low and welfare so high. The french system is so biased against english that a child educated in the french system in quebec can't work in a mcdonalds in any other part of north america. (Of course, the wealthy french all make sure their kids get a good bilingual education.) It is short-sighted and unconstitutional.

    And since when do two wrongs make a right? Oppressing the english in retaliation for french oppression a hundred years ago shows an appalling lack of humanity on the part of politicians. They should be ashamed. This province could be something truly unique and incredible if the two language groups could co-exist and build a community together. But the intolerance (on both sides, to be fair, everyone is bitter thanks to the Bloc's endless propaganda) makes that impossible and so Quebec will remain hated and so much less than it could be.

    And I think that analogy to Mexico is a bit ridiculous because we live in Canada and we want our children to be able to work anywhere in Canada. Quebec is one small part of Canada. Just looking at the job market in quebec is an incredibly insular view and is exactly the problem here in quebec. Nobody can look beyond the province. When my company was looking to expand, the quebec govt agency called anything outside of quebec "international". I mean, really. Ontario is international to us? Everyone in every other country I have told this too laughed their heads off. Is that what quebec aspires too? Carry on then, by all means.

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