Bill 101 hinders bilingualism

Comedian Sugar Sammy was on Tout le monde en parle a few weeks back. The popular French-language talk show regularly draws almost 2 million viewers across the country.

Sugar Sammy is enjoying a brilliant international career, but isn't well known in his home province. He decided to change this and, much to his credit, is now reaching out to French-speaking Québec.

Son of immigrants, the comedian talked about the realities of growing up in one of Canada's most multiethnic neighborhood in the 90s, Côte-des-Neiges. He was raised in Punjabi and Hindi at home, learned English on the streets with his friends and tackled French in school. In terms of linguistic abilities, the result is astonishing. As far as I can tell, Sugar Sammy speaks perfect French and perfect English. This didn't come without its share of downsides.

"There was an underlying tension between students, children of people who chose Canada to better their life, and Québécois teachers, who were predominantly sovereigntists." He stressed. "Although we didn't think too much of mandatory French schooling at the time, I must admit I can now appreciate all its benefits. The only thing I don't like is how linguistic laws hinder bilingualism in the province... how the Québécois don't have access to the rich English-language heritage." He added. The crowd in the studio reacted with a "deafening" silence.

I often read or hear that argument and can't help wonder how it continues to prevail in some circles. I was born from French-speaking parents who had no particular need or interest in English. I was raised in a French-speaking neighborhood. I went to school within the realm of Québec's linguistic laws. Yet, here I am, fluently bilingual, writing in Shakespeare's mother tongue. I look around me and can't think of a single friend or relative who doesn't, at least, get by in English.

My province is the only one whose sole official language is French, yet it's at the top of the Canadian list when it comes to bilingualism. In fact, bilingualism rate increased from 1991 (35.4%) to 1996 (37.8%) and again in 2001 (40.8%). With 34.2% in 2001, New-Brunswick is the runner-up, the only officially bilingual province.

Of course, learning English is important. And I personally go through great lengths to ensure my children become proficient. But the Charter of the French Language has never represented a significant obstacle in me providing them sufficient exposure to their second language. Books, magazines, music, the Internet, television, Summer camps... there's plenty to choose from. English schooling is simply not an option; the trade-off is too costly.


Raman said...

You've probably heard Sugar Sammy say his favourite joke before:
«Half of Quebeckers are very tolerant and open-minded; the other half voted "Yes" in 1995».

Anybody with an ounce of honesty understands that Bill 101 aims to integrate linguistic minorities into Quebec's French majority. And they understand that this aim is very consistent with what every democratic nation on the planet does: -One language for all; the democratic majority's.

For that reason, people who militate in favour of English's old over-privileged status don't have very solid arguments.
So, when they attempt to delegitimize Bill 101, there are only 2 possible tactics available to them :

-Either they focus exclusively on individual rights and paint language legislation into "repressive laws" that hinder individual's god-given rights to have publicly-funded schooling in the language of their choice (as if that existed anywhere...).

-Or they portray Bill 101 as a chauvinistic law which aims to make English completely disappear from Quebec.

The latter explains Sammy's comment on TLMEP.

Not that he was being dishonest. Let's say that, though he may speak French fluently, he obviously only ever reads The Gazette.

bruchu said...

The reason why Sugar Sammy isn't popular in Québec is because he makes fun of Quebeckers even though Quebeckers don't consider him one of their own.

That's the difference between Sugar Sammy and Russell Peters. RP is from Toronto and is popular in the 2-thirds of Canada (Toronto and Vancouver) with large asian immigrant populations, and therefore they consider RP one of them.

As for official bilingualism in Canada, the Vancouver Olympics in Feb are a case in point that 40 years later, its still nowhere to be found.

adski said...

"My province is the only one whose sole official language is French, yet it's at the top of the Canadian list when it comes to bilingualism."

Yes, but not with 101's blessing, but despite 101's objectives.

So if anything, the fact that a large part of Quebec's population is bilingual illustrates the failure of 101. It is very important that you understand that you (we, actually, I am an immigrant so I also fell under 101's jurisdiction prior to Cegep) learned English despite Bill 101 in our way.

The rate of bilingualism in Quebec proves nothing about the "decency" of 101. It only proves its inefficiency and failure.

Michel Bolduc said...


Bill 101's objective is not to promote unilingualism, its objective is to ensure a common language for all the Québécois. Without it, there would be a gulf between Allos and Francos. Our linguistic laws are key to the province's social cohesion.

adski said...

"Bill 101's objective is not to promote unilingualism"

Yes, it is.

Michel Bolduc said...


My kids are getting better English instruction than I did when I was their age. I've got nephews who attended English immersion schools in Montréal. My provincial government even gave me a scholarship to help me tackle my second language when I decided to carry out my undergraduate studies in an English-language institution.

What are you talking about? You can't just say "not so" without substantiating your thoughts. You're being a bit ridiculous here.

bruchu said...

The fact that many Montrealers are able to "pick up" English and become bilingual by accident despite not having all the formal training in place represents the threat that the English language has in the province of Québec. Without 101, Montréal would be tous anglais astheure.

If you want to talk about failure, B.C. is a prime example of the fact that despite good intentions, plenty of federal funding, and excellent francophone programs, nobody speaks français ici.

adski said...

Nope, I'm not a bit ridiculous here. And let me "substantiate" my thoughts.

There is nothing in 101 that spells out it is for unilingualism. Why would there be? But its policies are clear - to keep immigrants and Francophones away from English schools for as long as possible. The goal of this is to limit people's access to English and now there is even a talk of extending its reach (Cegep, daycares). Why would you want to prevent immigrants from going to an English Cegep if they need no further French instruction?

You and I, we managed to pull through, as many people do on the island. And it is not so hard to bypass the laws in Montreal - after all, English is spoken even in the schoolyards of French high schools (again, against the teachers' wishes, and without their approval)

To see the real victims of this law, you have to go to the regions. No bilingualism up there, courtesy of 101.

Just because you, me, or Jacques from the depanneur turned out bilingual doesn't say anything about 101. Because the law was in our way all the way, and we beat it. And we could beat it only because we live on the island. People in the regions do not have it that easy.

So just because there is bilinugalism in Quebec (Montreal, rather) doesn’t mean that 101 is not against it. It only means that 101 can’t do jack about it. That’s it, that’s all.

Michel Bolduc said...

If our government was against bilingualism, it wouldn't provide for richer English as a second language programs in elementary and high school than those available prior to Bill 101. My nephews wouldn't have had access to English immersion schooling. I wouldn't have received a scholarship to support me while attending English university.

Of course, Bill 101 was designed to channel immigrants in the French schooling system, there's no mystery to this. Some people prefer to see it as a way to channel them away from English schooling, but (again) the idea is for immigrants to become proficient in the language of the majority and contribute to social cohesion. In that respect, mandatory French daycare is in order. Mandatory French CEGEP on the other hand, is superfluous and simply aims at gathering more votes.

Now... we obviously won't agree on this, but dropping Bill 101 would contribute less to bilingualism among Francophones than it would hinder French proficiency among Allos and Anglos. Not good... back to the linguistic tensions of the 70s in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Make Montreal a city-state; most French-Montrealers are distinct from the the French in the Rest of Quebec (ROQ) as they've been exposed to other cultures whereas most French in the ROQ have not. A city-state could scrap 101 in favor of bilingual status. In fact, Montreal's population in general is distinct from the ROQ. True there's English as a Second language in French schools but I'm a native Montrealer having been born well b4 101 and those I've met that speak and understand English are mostly over 40. Under the 101 generation, most French I've met around the city know little to nothing of English. So much for the quality of ESL in French schools. There are those that want to learn English and others who don't and/or don't feel the need to learn English under 101. Most of my elementary school classmates long left Quebec after 101 came out. They didn't want to spend the rest of their lives as a second class citizen with no future as an ethnic and linguistic minority. I love the French culture of Quebec but it's unfortunate but understandable for electoral reasons that the Quebec governments of past and present think of themselves as a country while always using the excuse of fearing the encroachment of English to justify their actions against anything English. Listen, Israel is surrounded by a billion Muslims from Indonesia to Morocco with many millions speaking and/or understanding Arabic among them and they have not one or two but three official languages - Arabic being one of them. So the French/Quebec government excuse for lessening educational freedom of choice in English in Quebec doesn't hold a plate of poutine in my eyes. Summarizing, Montreal, the ROQ, and the ROC (rest of Canada) are clearly distinct to varying degrees from each other and so should be separate political entities. And that's why the Quebec government generally can't stand Montreal.

Ramesh said...

Just a suggestion - would one way to ensure bilingualism be to ensure that all high school graduates spoke both languages fluently?

For example - if you take English CEGEP, you must pass French as a subject. If you take French CEGEP, you must pass English as a subject.

That way Quebec retains its French character but equips people for dealing with the rest of North America and the world.

Again, this is just a suggestion for discussion.

Ramesh said...

"English schooling is simply not an option; the trade-off is too costly."

Can you explain this statement please Michel? I am always curious as to why Quebecois say this.

The reason is as follows: I come from Malaysia, which is an ex-British colony.

Our neighbours in Singapore, another ex-British colony went one step further - they made English the language of instruction in schools, but also required all students to learn their "mother tongue". That way no one's culture died but the people could do business and interact with the world around them. This was seen as important, as Singapore is highly dependent on foreign trade and investment. If you are familiar with Singapore's economic performance over the last 50 years, you would see that this is not a bad thing at all.

Seeing the similarities between Singapore and Quebec (small population, highly dependent on foreign trade and investment) - is English schooling such a bad thing?

Again, just wondering if you could explain your position. Thanks.

Michel Bolduc said...

If Québec's population spoke French exclusively there would be huge gains to make from a bilingual education, but almost half of its French-speaking population is already bilingual. Finding qualified resources for key roles in the trading business is not an issue. Perhaps Singapore's commercial success lies elsewhere.

Also, the parallel you draw has its limits. Asian countries adopting English as their lingua franca all have their own indigenous culture, as for most of Europe. They all understand the value of a different culture. This is not the case for the majority of Canadians and they don't see this value as clearly.

The majority of French-speakers living in other provinces are already bilingual. If Québec's population were to become completely bilingual, French in Canada would quickly become a luxury that the majority would deem superfluous; many already do.

Selamat Tingal!

サムライ said...

This is in response to the article where Michelle mentioned that Canada's immigration system might be giving extremists (of course this could only apply to Muslims; there's never been an FLQ or any other terrorist except someone who is muslim)in Canada shelter who cannot get their rights in their own country.
A muslim woman wearing a hijab or a niqab, is not an extremist. You consider it to be extreme because it does not meet your value system.
I honestly wanted to give the Quebecois people a chance but after reading so much about you guys and your struggle to maintain the French language in North America, this is pretty disheartening. When I have traveled to Canada I have been told that you are racists and arrogant and I refused to believe it, now I am not so sure. I have read other blogs by Quebecois and by Anglophones in Quebec as well.
It is very sad what you seem to believe about Islam. I doubt you know much about the religion. I know of women who wear the niqab, have their doctorate degrees and work as pharmacists or in other parts of the medical field, all here in North America while speaking perfect English. Niqab does not mean that someone won't integrate and learn the language of the country they are in. I am just addressing this because you are saying Canada is letting in immigrants who are "so extreme" for their own country that they come to Canada to practice their "extremism" (wearing a type of clothing-clothing you are not used to seeing everyday). You sound like a republican fear-monger in the US.
The low rate of crimes amongst Muslims in the US, their high levels of education, their well-paying jobs, their ability to speak, read, and write in English shows that you can be a Muslim and follow your religion and live in the West and contribute in better ways than the locals.

Michel Bolduc said...

This isn't about Islam or religion. It's about personal choices made by individuals.

How someone dresses is her/his own business. However, I do expect people to drop their ceremonial blade upon entering a courthouse or embarking an airplane. I also expect them to show their faces when asked to identify themselves or upon entering a bank.

Please be careful with what you think I seem to believe about Islam.