Politicians, Damned Politicians, and Madness

I don’t normally engage in discussions or debates about politics or religion. However, a series of news items in late August has my blood boiling.

After five long years, a law passed by the Quebec provincial government of the day and recognized by everyone outside Quebec and most people inside Quebec as a gross infringement on human rights, was finally declared unconstitutional by the Court of Appeal on Thursday, August 23, 2007.

Bill 104 declared unconstitutional by Court of Appeal 
Thu, Aug 23 2007

The court ruled Thursday that Bill 104, which was passed five years ago and prevents many children of francophone and immigrant families from attending English schools, violates the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Even this apparent victory was qualified:

More than two dozen families went to court to challenge the law in 2002. Their victory means children can attend English public schools if they have attended an English private school for at least a year, or have been granted a special exemption.

At least it appeared to be a step in the right direction, after years of gutless government in Ottawa had repeatedly declined to take action in the courts to overturn Bill 104 for fear of “losing the Quebec vote”.

But it didn’t end there, of course:

But the government is appealing Wednesday’s ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. The president of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society said Thursday Bill 104 is vital to protect enrollment in French schools in Quebec. Jean Dorion also said decisions by judges of the Quebec Court of Appeal do not represent the views of Quebecers. “People see it as a Quebecois institution. It is not. It is a federal institution. Judges are appointed by the federal government. So there is a big misunderstanding there,” he said.

What misunderstanding? Quebec is still part of Canada – at least so far – and therefore should be subject to the same laws as every other province.

And it didn’t end there. A week later, this story appeared:

Quebec gets support in bid to overturn language-law ruling
August 30, 2007

A coalition of groups dedicated to protecting the French language is supporting the Quebec government in its bid to overturn a Superior Court ruling that has declared the province’s language law unconstitutional.

And in short order:

Court suspends ruling that backed challenge to Quebec’s language law 

On Thursday, August 30, 2007, Appeal Court Judge Andre Rochon suspended the ruling until the provincial government could appeal it to the Supreme Court of Canada, a process that could take years.

Understandably, the English population in Quebec felt betrayed once again:

English school boards say language-law ruling ‘unfair’ 
August 31, 2007

The Quebec Court of Appeal ruling that stamped out any hope that 75 immigrant and anglophone children could attend an English school this year is “absolutely unfair,” says the president of the province’s English School Board Association.

Tabachnik said enrollment has gradually dropped in English schools over the past 30 years. He urged the provincial government to address that issue, and to ensure the survival of the English school system.

He said Thursday’s decision will further damage the system.

“The appeals court is the highest court in Quebec. They made a decision, and we expected them to obey that decision, the way we’d be expected to obey it.

“Now, to say to the families that it could be a couple of years to know if the Supreme Court will even hear the case – it could be four or five years after that before there’s a decision – is absolutely unfair,” Tabachnik said.

Of course it’s unfair. There was no suspension of Bill 104 during the period of time it took to appeal that decision.

Then again, English Quebeckers must be accustomed to unfair treatment at the hands of the Quebec government by now – Quebec has become a unilingual French state even as the rest of the country is subjected to enforced bilingualism. It’s not that bilingualism is a bad thing, or even that government mandated bilingualism in some form isn’t a good idea. It’s the reality that what’s good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander. While the rest of the country attempts to become bilingual, Quebec moves closer and closer to outlawing the English language.

As for Quebec politicians, the ones that aren’t conspicuously silent appear to be proud of their actions to trample the rights of their non-French citizens:

PQ backs new leader’s hard-line stance on French language
Friday, August 31, 2007

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois said the party must shake its fear of appearing intolerant to minorities, and must say out loud what most Quebecers are thinking: “You have to speak French.”

MNA Sylvain Simard said he is fully behind his leader’s wish to rebuild the party’s message around the politics of speaking French. “It’s not against anybody. Everybody that comes here, and wants to be part of this society, is a member of Quebec society,” he said.

One would have thought that, first and foremost, everybody that “comes here and wants to be part of this society” is a member of Canadian society but that hasn’t carried any weight in Quebec for years, apparently.

And what is the word from Ottawa while this travesty of the Bill of Rights continues to play out in Quebec? The deafening sound of crickets and tumbleweed…

This is beyond madness.

Update October 1, 2007

I came across this story today:

Quebec’s anglophone community in decline

Quebec’s English-speaking community is increasingly fragmented, lacking in leadership and struggling to find jobs, according to a report released Wednesday. More than 75 per cent of the province’s anglophones live in the greater Montreal area, and a new survey paints a grim portrait of their lives and their opportunities…

As of 2001, more than a third of the 699,200 anglophones living in the Montreal area were born outside Canada. Another 7.9 per cent were born in another province, according to the QCGN report…

The report suggests declining English school enrollment and high unemployment point to fundamental problems in the community. Taylor said English speakers have fewer job opportunities, leading to a significantly higher unemployment rate than among francophones. Even in the public service, anglophones are under-represented, he said.

Anglophones in the greater Montreal area are 24 per cent more likely to be jobless than francophones in the area, the report said. It also reported a lower proportion of middle-income earners (those making $40,000 to $60,000 a year) among the anglophones. The survey found visible minority groups have a higher proportion of households that fall below the low-income cut-off index, including immigrants from Africa, China and West Asia. “Given that anglophones make up a disproportionate share of the visible minority and immigrant groups, it is likely that there are many anglophones who are living below the low-income cut-off index,” the report said.

It’s hardly surprising that anglophones are leaving the province in droves. I don’t doubt that separatists are happy with the situation, since the more they dilute the non-francophone vote, the better the odds for one of their separatist referendums finally succeeding. But why hasn’t the federal government stepped up to actually do the jobs they were elected to do, i.e., protect the rights of Canadian Citizens under the Human Rights Act?

Bill 104, Canadian Bill of Rights, Canadian Politics, Francophone unilingualism, Quebec language laws, bilingualism

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  1. Well written look into a fascinating topic. Politics in the great white north are pretty confusing to us Americans, so it’s good to read what the locals who know what they’re talking about think. Gives the rest of us some context when we try to peer into your system.

  2. What goes around comes around. The situation in Québec today is precisely a reversal of what used to be. Up to a mear 50 years ago, everything of any importance was run by anglophones; industry, politics, security, etc. Francophones, even though in the majority, were considered second class citizens, much as the blacks were in the US. Hence, the term “Nègres blancs d’Amérique” (White Negroes of America), which was coined by Pierre Vallières in his book of the same title, a Marxist view of the history of the province.

  3. 1. The logic of “who kept the francophones down” is flawed. If you want to point historical fingers, point them directly at the Catholic Church for that.

    2. You are talking about a situation that existed 50 years ago. If francophones haven’t achieved parity now, perhaps one should consider what is preventing them from doing so.

    3. In the end, the language laws are not about anything except political power. And bullying and intimidation on the part of francophone politicians to try to preserve that power.

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