Quebec is still not pure enough for François Legault

François Legault

On June 16, 2019, Quebec’s National Assembly passed Bill No. 21. The bill plainly was an attack on religious minorities in the province. Among other restrictions, it declared that members of religious minorities will not be employed in the public sector unless they ditched the symbols of their faith. So Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and others need not apply unless they toss the emblems.

The reaction in the province and around Canada was subdued, sanctimonious and temporary. Presumably Bill 21 took a backseat as the country was recoiling at the advance of COVID 19. More likely, politicians know how to count; and French Quebec votes are the key to victory. So lip service was paid to minority rights, boats were gently rocked knowing that the waters will soon be calm. The result was that Quebec carried on without much resistance.

Not satisfied with the passage and application of the objectionable Bill 21, the Quebec government went at it again, as premier François Legault lead the separatist Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) to yet another assault on minorities in the form of Bill 96 – “An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec.”, which was passed last week in the Quebec National Assembly.

The bill tightens the screws on those institutions that may have escaped the net of Bills 101 and 21.  For instance, businesses with 50 or more employees in Quebec must ensure that French is the language of work. Bill 96 will now apply to all companies in Quebec employing at least 25 people. This includes written or oral conversations, private or public, between co-workers or workers with the public.

It doesn’t stop there – just in case the recalcitrant feel that they would merely be lectured to, not so. The inspectors of the Office de la langue française can enter a premises without warrant to enforce the new law. Doctors cannot speak to their patients in any other language but French. Doesn’t matter if the patient doesn’t have a clue what the doctor is saying. The inspectors can access your computer to read text messages and private medical records.

Immigrants will be allowed the use of their native tongue for six months, after that it must be French all the way. And of course they will have no access to English schools, while at the same time enrolment in the English-language junior colleges (CEGEPs) is limited. This is a small part of what Bill 96 entails. There are lots more along the same lines.

All this reinforced with statements by Legault that provide his definition of a citizen; that definition, it seems, does not include brown-skinned people who wear “funny” stuff on their heads. And lest traitors believe that their whispering in foreign tongues will escape the language surete, forget it, snitches are encouraged to expose their treachery. 

Ironically, all this is happening at a time when the French language is at its strongest in over 50 years – 95 percent of Quebec can speak French. So this is not being done to protect a language that is clearly thriving; it is simply nationalism that seeks purity. And we know where that ideology often leads.

In the meantime, the language inspectors will be out and about, sniffing out the scofflaws, combing the landscape with searches that require no warrant, while the politicians will rage for a few months and hope that the media will drop the subject while they canvas for votes in Quebec.