Bill 101 is detrimental

Much has been written on the Charter of the French Language (a.k.a. Bill 101). Few believe it's some sort of discriminating conspiracy to eradicate Anglophones from the province. They forget that English-speaking Québécois have daily newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, hospitals, elementary schools, high schools, CEGEP, universities... in fact, they forget that Anglophones in Québec have nothing to envy Francophones in other provinces.

For example, English universities in Québec receive approximately 25% of provincial subsidies and approximately 35% of federal subsidies while the Anglophone population accounts for less than 10% of the province's residents. Far from me the idea that McGill, Concordia and Bishop's should receive less than what they currently get, but please spare me Bill 101's conspiracy theory.

The preamble of the Charter of the French Language sheds some light on the spirit of the law. Specifically, it states that the National Assembly:
  • Is resolved to make of French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business;
  • Intends to pursue this objective in a spirit of fairness and open-mindedness, respectful of the institutions of the English-speaking community of Québec, and respectful of the ethnic minorities, whose valuable contribution to the development of Québec it readily acknowledges; and
  • Recognizes the right of the Amerinds and the Inuit of Québec, the first inhabitants of this land, to preserve and develop their original language and culture.
Canada has not one, but two official languages with international influence, two formidable cultural vehicles. Rightly so, most Canadians are sensitive to the USA's cultural hegemony. And they generally welcome initiatives intended to bolster opportunities to appreciate the country's cultural production, such as Canadian Content Regulations (see Canadian content, Part 2 and Part 3). With its different language, Québec has an added advantage. And that's the perspective one should take when questioning the Charter of the French Language.

In simple words, the Charter of the French Language is a framework devised to counterbalance the hegemony of the English language, spoken by almost 332 million people in North America. Without it, a proportion of immigrants would not embrace Québec's lingua franca, thus depriving the population's majority of their contribution (yeah... I know... some of you think I'm preaching... that's OK).

Of course, the parallel between Canadian Content Regulations and the Charter of the French Language has its limits. Becoming Canadian to comply with CanCon demands some sacrifices. Learning a new language to be part of the majority doesn't prevent anyone from speaking her/his mother tongue.

"Go fuck yourself?" - Part 2

As almost everyone knows by now, the individual who lacked judgment at Theatre Ste. Catherine is the manager himself. Mr. Amber finally did his mea culpa on July 22nd. Here's the English excerpt of his bilingual apology:
To whom it concerns,

There has been much media activity in recent days that began with an email that I sent to the theatre's mailing list. Les Sages Fous were upset after receiving an all-english message regarding Zoofest programming as part of the Just For Laughs festival.

I reacted inappropriately to their request to receive emails only in French and for this I would like to apologize. However, I would like to explain that I did so not simply due to this one response, but rather because I often receive a disproportionate amount of negative feedback whenever I promote English events that are hosted at Theatre Ste Catherine.

Although it is true that I lost my temper, it must be said that it was in no way an attack on Quebec or French-speaking Canadians as was implied by some of the media covering this story. As I myself am French Canadian and a francophone from La Beauce region of southern Quebec, to hate French culture would be to hate myself.

I truly regret offending any of my French brothers and sisters, however I do not believe this would have become an issue if certain media had not sought to create discontent. As such, this situation has been blown out of proportion to the point where it now stands. Unfortunately, not only has this resulted in negative publicity for both Theatre Ste-Catherine, Zoofest and the Just For Laughs Festival, but as my personal information has since been released, I have received hundreds of hate letters including several death threats.

Due to the actions of certain individuals who fanned the flames of hate within a community of extremists, a great hurt was inflicted upon me personally that I fear could threaten the harmony of Montreal. I am upset with the intolerance that I receive on a daily basis as displayed by the many hateful emails that have been written. I also believe that the French language and culture is alive and strong, and need not be afraid of others.

When I first opened the theatre five years ago, which I myself built in what was a very troubled neighbourhood, my intention was to create a venue for people of every culture to come together for the celebration of art and unity. It would be regretful to have to shut the doors to those who have come to make Theatre Ste-Catherine their home and meeting place.

Again, I would like to sincerely apologize to Les Sages Fous, The Just For Laughs Festival, Zoofest, all of Theatre Ste Catherine’s company members as well as anyone who has been affected by this situation.

I wish I had addressed this issue sooner because of the hurt it has caused.


Eric Amber
Theatre Ste. Catherine
The following day, justifying the delay in a French interview on Radio-Canada radio, Mr. Amber explained he was very busy and was overwhelmed by the turmoil. He sounded hesitant; I initially thought that perhaps his French wasn't as solid as his English. In the hours that followed the interview, he sent this email to Les Sages Fous:
You guys were the best thing to ever happen to me. The publicity has been great. Keep up the good work.One has to wonder if he still intends to protest and shut down his operations permanently on December 21st.


"Go fuck yourself?"

There's been a little language controversy stirring up Québec's blogosphere this week. It's nothing really dramatic, simply one of these sterile situations that betray the lack of judgment of a few individuals. The controversy involves Les Sages Fous, an unusual theater company, and Theatre Ste. Catherine, an English only theater in downtown Montréal.

Theatre Ste. Catherine has been distributing exclusively English information through its mailing list. All is fine. The theater is within its right to do so; the Charter of the French language doesn't prevent exclusive English advertisement for services available in English only. Other English language institutions like CHOM, CFCF or The Gazette are doing it for obvious reasons.

Still, when you're in Montréal's entertainment business, you're bound to stumble on some Francophones who might be interested in the program. One might think that simple courtesy calls for bilingual correspondence; I think it's sound business practice. As a Bishop's University Alumni, I get all my correspondence in English only. It's easy to understand why and I'm not complaining, but when I get solicited for fund raising, my initial impression is invariably: "Are they talking to me?".

Anyhow... Les Sages Fous was receiving Theatre Ste. Catherine's English only correspondence and asked for French information. According to the Journal de Montréal [Google translation], here's how it went:
  • Les Sages Fous: Bonjour, Merci de nous envoyer vos messages en français ou de nous retirer de votre liste d'envoi.

  • Theatre Ste. Catherine: The shows listed were in English and therefore so is the message. You obviously can't read in English because you are an uneducated bigot. Est-ce que vous comprenez l'expression anglophone: Go Fuck Yourself?

  • Les Sages Fous: Hello, [...] Your response is an incredibly inappropriate, ugly and aggressive message. [...] It seems that it is you the bigot. We, at Les Sages Fous all speak at least three languages, have traveled the world and are obviously more educated and open minded than you. I myself am one of the few Anglophones who proudly speaks French in a continent that insists on being monolingual. [...] [...] Ever thought of moving to Georgia Back woods Texas? They like people like you down there. [...]

  • Theatre Ste. Catherine: Just delete the message and move on with your life. ps: fuck you
Again, it's nothing really dramatic, just an example of how some individuals lack judgment, something that the manager at Theatre Ste. Catherine would normally swiftly denounce and apologize for. La Presse's Patrick Lagacé [Google translation] tried to get the story straight, but nobody returned his calls to clear things out. Instead, they decided to stop operating the venue and are now replying with these words:Due to the overwhelming racism and bigotry in French society toward minorities and non-French cultures, Theatre Ste. Catherine will be closing in protest. Effective immediately TSC will no longer be accepting bookings and will closed permanently Dec. 21, 2009.One has to wonder what they are protesting against.


Building bridges

The recent controversy surrounding the contribution by Anglo musicians to an alternative Saint-Jean concert in Montréal gave added meaning to a fairly recent word, "blueneck". Much like rednecks for anything but WASP, bluenecks are obtuse individuals who display intolerance to all things but French, English in particular.

Pierre Curzi, PQ critic for culture, communications and language, took a stance in favor of the musicians. He denounced the situation stating that an inclusive Québec must welcome Anglophones wishing to participate in the celebrations. I agree with him, but the Parti Québécois could've taken a stronger stance by making an official statement. How could it be any other way? Can a nation really be built while alienating one of its important communities?

The sovereigntists lost the 1980 referendum. In response, Canada patriated the constitution without Québec's consent in 1982. Canadian politics have been plagued by this mishap ever since. Even if the numbers are there, even if it's mathematically possible for Francophones to achieve sovereignty alone, like Parizeau suggested in 1995, is that the kind of mess the province wants to get into? Slice it anyway you want. Québec's sovereignty is out of reach without a significant contribution from Anglos and cultural communities.

In the meantime, federalism is soul searching. A recent Globe and Mail report, titled "Flexing his muscles", about Jean Charest's latest international escapade stated that Québec's Premier praised our country as the most decentralized federation in the world. "That is so true that Quebec has more powers than some sovereign or supposedly sovereign countries," he told reporters in Munich. One has to wonder what federalists are telling the Québécois. Is that the sole advantage of remaining in Canada?... more autonomy? Our country has a chronic inability to passionately promote itself (see Celebrating Canada).

Add the fact that national media have a limited understanding of the sovereignty movement (see National media suffice) and you get fertile ground for demagoguery. Intentionally or not, a demonstration of intolerance by individuals will often be projected onto the whole movement. Federalism hasn't much substance passion wise and federalists are exploiting this void using anecdotes (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism - Part 2).

If the sovereignty movement wants to go anywhere, it has to distance itself from bluenecks. It has to occupy more space with its English communications. It can't rely on English media for even impartial publicity.

Anglophones who decided to remain in the province since 1976 are making a statement; they live in a distinct society that they willingly chose. I remember being impressed by the reaction of an Anglo crowd to a speech by André Boisclair at the end of which he reached out his hand. The fruit is ripe for building bridges.

Sovereigntists will argue that such a move would costs support within their own ranks. I submit that inclusive actions consistent with inclusive words would more than compensate by attracting additional support from both Francophones and non-Francophones.


A day in the life

I've been working in downtown Montréal for the past 15 years. I like it. I often go there during the weekend for errands. It's more agreeable than the shopping mall frenzy of the suburbs. Driving is also much more relaxed.

Most Suburbanites are under the impression that the Montréalais driver is nuts. They believe you'd have to be crazy to live in the city. I don't agree. Most of the Montréalais I know take the bus and the Métro. I think most Montréalais drivers aren't from Montréal.

Anyway!... the Festival international de jazz de Montréal has just kicked off the season. Tourists are in town. I haven't traveled all that much in my life, but I know what I like when I'm traveling. Some of the fondest memories I have of my foreign escapades are impromptu encounters with local residents. So... when I see someone walking slowly with her/his nose up in the air or trying to figure out a map, I always offer my help.

Yesterday, I was at Bonaventure Métro station with my son. Two ladies were trying to figure out their way to Chinatown. That's where we were heading and they accepted my offer to accompany them.

They were on a cruise from Boston up the St. Lawrence Seaway. "It must be nice to see Québec city from the Seaway?" I asked. They loved it.

We got off at Square-Victoria (one station West of Chinatown). I showed them the original Parisian Métropolitain entrance. It's an amazing Art Nouveau piece by Hector Guimard. It was donated by the Parisian transit authority to commemorate the collaboration between French and Québécois engineers when building the original lines in the 60s.

We then moved on to Chinatown through the undergrounds; that's a pretty slick part of town. Once arrived, I had them try some Dragon's beard candy, nuts wrapped in fluffy sugar filaments. My kids love it and always get a kick from watching it made.

All along the way, my son was very quiet. Both ladies noticed and were puzzled when I informed them that he didn't speak English. I often get the feeling that Americans underestimate the veracity of our French speaking society. I always get a kick out of demonstrating it.