MONTREAL – English-rights activists in Quebec are raising concerns about a proposed new language law they say infringes on their rights.
The new law is intended to build on Quebec’s landmark language legislation, Bill 101, to strengthen French language in the province.
But protesters, who gathered outside Premier Pauline Marois’ office on Sunday, say they feel under attack by the Parti Quebecois government. The group is worried about new rules designed to encourage French in small businesses, municipalities and post-secondary education.
Many waved Canadian flags and wore toques featuring the Maple Leaf as they stood on a frigid downtown street corner. As the demonstration wound down, the protesters broke into a rendition of O Canada.
“We still belong to the country of Canada and we still have our rights,” said Christopher Rose, a 27-year-old Montrealer.
“There shouldn’t be any quarrels here in Quebec… There’s nothing wrong with being bilingual, there’s nothing wrong with English, and there’s nothing wrong with French either.”
Language tensions bubbled to the surface during last summer’s provincial election campaign when the PQ vowed to make major changes to Quebec language laws.
The unrest reached a twisted climax in a shooting at the PQ election victory party in September that left one person dead. A man arrested at the scene declared that anglophones were waking up as he was led away.
The language law that eventually got tabled is considerably milder than the measures the PQ campaigned on. It will be subject to a public consultation in March.
Still, some of the stricter rules have English-language defenders worried.
Bill 14 would make it more difficult for municipalities with an English population under 50 per cent to maintain bilingual status.
The PQ’s law would also extend rules for French in the workplace to small businesses with between 26 and 49 employees, and make it harder for students from the French education system to attend English junior-colleges.
Antoinette Mercurio, who runs a Montreal travel agency, said the rules will make it harder to run her business and hurt her bottom line.
“Everything will have to be in French now, and it’ll be very costly for small businesses here in Quebec,” she said.
One native French speaker, Steve Theberge of Quebec City, said he made the trip to the Montreal protest to show his support. He said the government should be encouraging bilingualism, not just French.
“I think it’s very important to know that this law will go against all Quebecers,” said Theberge, 50.
Colin Standish, a 26-year-old law student from Quebec’s Eastern Townships, said the rules for municipalities would be especially harmful in his home region, which has pockets of English-speakers that have lived there for generations.
Standish said there’s growing resistance from young, anglophone Quebecers upset about developments under the PQ.
“We want to be involved in the civil society,” he said.
“We’re not going to leave Quebec. We’re not going to be like our parents’ generation that might have moved to Toronto or the United States.”