I came to Montreal at age 17 for my first year as an undergraduate at McGill University. A mentor of mine once described this city as the most fascinating in Canada, the only major urban centre in the country where the two solitudes come together. Nowhere else outside of New Brunswick is bilingualism so common. Everyday I hear as much English as I do French, giving Montreal a flavour all its own.
One evening I was walking home after a midterm. I had only lived in the city for a few weeks. As I stopped at a red light a car pulled up next to me. A woman in the passenger seat asked a question of me in French. I responded in the honest way: I told her I did not speak French. The light then turned green and she spat on me as the car pulled away.
This incident was a little jarring for a 17-year old. It never changed my affection for the Montreal francophone community, but it was my first experience with language discrimination.
I am an Ontarian by birth from a province where English is everywhere. I knew there were sensitivities surrounding French which were to be respected in Québec but I never thought I would be spat on for speaking my native tongue.
The era of the FLQ is well and done but tensions between Québec’s anglophones and francophones are once again bubbling to the fore. PQ Premier Pauline Marois spent the last provincial election securing her nationalist base by attacking this province’s anglophone minority. She said it was unacceptable for Montreal businesses to address their customers in English. As Premier she promised to “deplore and denounce” this mythical injustice. She ranted and raved about the threat of an imagined and presumably corrupting tidal wave of English being spoken in the streets of Montreal.
The Premier, it would seem, does not like anglophones or their language. Her ability to mythologize a threat to the Québecois nation from so small and so passive a minority is shocking.
Sadly, the Premier does not stand alone in her anti-anglo attitudes. A video posted on February 14th shows a woman screaming at Montreal subway passengers for daring to speak to her in English. An ambulance technician in Hudson refused to offer care in English. Last year a young woman was denied entry onto a bus for speaking English. The list of anti-anglo incidents (some official, some personal) has become long. Though they are isolated incidents which do not reflect Québec as a whole they represent a disconcerting trend of language bigotry which needs to be addressed.
Québec’s anglophones are not interested in anglicizing Québec. We are not language evangelizers. What we are interested in is living quietly alongside the francophone majority. We do not want to experience official or unofficial abuse for demographic trends outside of our control.
Yet to nationalists, demography makes us a growing threat: English-speaking immigrants are pouring into Montreal while French-speaking residents are moving to suburbs off the island. Montreal is slated to become a much more English city within the next several years, a reality which is unacceptable to a not insignificant number of Québecois.
In the midst of this anti-anglo fervour comes Bill 14, Premier Marois’ expansion of the province’s infamous Bill 101 language law. Bill 14 will remove bilingual status from townships with an English population of less than 50%, threatening bilingual services in several Eastern Townships with sizeable minority English populations. Small businesses with over 26 employees will now be required to conduct their day-to-day operations in French where once that number was 50. The Bill will further restrict access to English language schools. All of this points to an aggressive nationalist ideology that hangs like the sword of Damocles over anglophones.
Bill 14 represents a return to divisive language politics that no English-speaking Québec resident wants. Protection of the French language should be paramount, but Premier Marois has gone further: she is demonizing an innocent minority whose only crimes were being born into English families under a government which is adamantly opposed to the use of the English language.
Premier Marois needs to see that Québec anglophones want to collaborate with their francophone counterparts and participate in government equally. We want to see the French language flourish while the government respects our right to use our own language.
The demonization needs to stop. There is simply no need for it.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.
This article was originally published by the National Citizens Coalition.
Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press