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It was 27 years ago, almost at this exact time of the year, that I went with my family to see what would be the first installment in the Back to the Future trilogy. A 10 year-old boy, I was so excited; the hype was intense, and I just couldn’t wait. I wasn’t too disappointed in the end, and the unrepentant auf Biff Tannon certainly made me laugh!
Fast-forward to 2012, and a new installment of Back to the Future has just been released. This time, it stars Pauline Marois, who, just like Marty McFly, finds herself alongside the mad scientist “Doc.” The time machine accidentally transports her back in time, but rather, to the year 1977, just after the election of Premier Renee Levesque and the Parti Quebecois. Now that she can rewrite history, Madame Marois enacts a controversial language law stipulating that the hit series Three’s Company is only available to Anglophone audiences if it is dubbed in French; even subtitles won’t suffice.
Though there is no chance at all that Madame Marois can revisit the past as the scenario above eludes, the spirit and direction in which the PQ wants to steer Quebec is just as ridiculous, but more offensive.
When the PQ was first elected in 1976, it could be argued that a series of laws to protect the French language were necessary for its preservation in a larger, Anglophone North America, and to show that Canada would affirm Quebec’s preservation as a Francophone society.
This time around, realizing that Quebecers are not in the mood for another referendum, Madame Marois understands she must flex her nationalist muscle to ensure that the core separatist constituency in the PQ is behind her, and comes out to vote. What Marois has neglected is that not only are these bogus measures unnecessary to preserve the French language and culture now largely intact, but that they abrogate basic human rights and are unconstitutional.
One of the controversial measures propounded is that small business with between 11 and 50 employees must now be bound by Bill 101. Marois cites statistics by Office Quebecois de la Langue Francais showing that, “Between 2010 and 2012, the proportion of merchants in Montreal who welcome their customers in French dropped from 89 per cent to 74 per cent.” Read Globe and Mail Story
This statistic is of negligible value for two reasons; first, it is so utterly vague, and provides no comparison of the number of merchants in each sample, demographic factors and methods by which data are collected.
Second, and not unrelated to the first point, Montreal is a multi-ethnic city with a sizeable and Allophone presence. It is an entirely reasonable expectation that all Quebecers be able to speak, communicate and work functionally in French. Monitoring how merchants greet their customers sounds a little like big brother, or shall I say, “Grand frère” is watching you.
Pauline Marois makes no illusions about the need for an unrepentant heavy-handed state to enforce the French language. Citing this drop of merchants greeting their customers in French, she states, “The message has to be clear: In Quebec we live in French, we work in French, we communicate in French.” I suppose a logical inference is that in Quebec, we may not say, “hello” to our customers in English, lest this one word undermine the bedrock fabric of a durable francophone society; one which has sustained its distinctiveness and integrated Allophones within its culture.
The most appalling proposed amendment put forth by the Parti Quebecois is the one mandating Allophones, whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, must go the CEGEP in French. As it stands now, Bill 101 requires that Allophones must attend primary and secondary school in French, the rationale that these measures are necessary in furtherance of preserving Quebec’s French culture and character.
Though these measures are controversial, as per the Charter of Rights, there is a rational connection between sending Allophone children to French school and the preservation of French. Language acquisition and cultural identity are formed during the childhood years, and had many Allophone children not been required to attend school in French, the durability of the French culture in Quebec ostensibly could have been undermined.
The proposed change that Allophones must attend CEGEP in French undermines basic Charter rights and cannot be justified as reasonable limit in a free and democratic society. Citing the need for these revisions, Pauline Marois provides an elusive response, citing that, “Currently half of the English-language colleges are students whose mother tongue is one other than English. Of all the students whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, half choose English language colleges. This situation has to be remedied.”
So let me try to understand the logic here; if now post-secondary students who have been integrated in the French culture make the personal choice to attend an English CEGEP, and if Pauline Marois happens to disagree with this choice, then the situation has to be remedied. This flawed pattern of reasoning can be used a logical reasoning question of any future Law School Admissions Test.
Joking aside, those remarks portend a very disturbing signal of what is to come if Quebecers elect the PQ. Once Allophones are of post-secondary age, and integrated in the French culture, no rational argument can be made for why they must attend CEGEP in French and be deprived their personal choice.
Such Draconian measures arguably violate at least the following sections of the Charter; Freedom of conscience and religion (2a) to the extent that young adults are being deprived their personal wishes to attend a CEGEP in English; the inviolable and all encompassing section 7, touching on the “life, liberty and security of the person,” with deprivations to the liberty individual in making personal choices obvious.
Finally, equality rights as enshrined in s. 15 are abrogated, as this misguided legislation makes a distinction between Allophones and other groups in Quebec society, withholds their right or benefit from attending English CEGEP by means which are disrespectful, and without any compelling reason to deny this sacrosanct benefit. As these measures are so utterly egregious, it is highly doubtful that they would be considered reasonable limits in a free and democratic society and muster Charter scrutiny.
Governments, despite their electoral mandates, must govern in the interest of all citizens, not just those that voted for it. Most important, though, any legislation propounded by a government must comply with the Charter, the supreme law in Canada.
The approval for the Charter among Quebecers is extremely high; Former PM Chretien cites 90 per cent of Quebecers for the patriation thirty years ago, and have strongly supported seminal decisions such as the ruling on same-sex marriage; this despite the fact that Quebec never signed the Constitution. Read Globe and Mail Story
Pauline Marois shows no inclination of adhering to either core responsibility, by sending hostile overtones to the non-francophone population in Quebec, and promises to enact legislation that abrogates basic human and Charter-protected rights.
When I see what is potentially in store with a PQ government, I only wish the most egregious sin Madame Marois could commit would be to enact measures mandating that the hit series Three’s Company is only available dubbed in French, without subtitles.
Jeremy Richler has completed an MA in Political Science and an LL.B. He is a member in good standing with the Law Society of Upper Canada.