Sean Ehmann ’24
Quebec is well-known as Canada’s French-speaking province. Being the only francophone majority province in a country dominated by English speakers gives it leeway to brand controversial actions it takes as “protecting the French language and culture.” But some of the steps taken by their government have led many to think that they have gone too far.
Non-French-speaking Canadians from outside Quebec often view it as a monolith of French speakers. However, this is not the case. As much as Quebec nationalists may not want this to be a reality, just half of Quebec’s population only speaks French. 45% can speak both English and French, with English speakers located predominately in Montreal. The Greater Montreal Area also contains a wide array of languages other than French and English, with languages such as Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, and many more being spoken at home representing 25% of the population.
Though Quebec is very multicultural, François Legault’s government continues to restrict the use of languages other than French in public places. Some restrictions include: disallowing non-French signage in business-es, limiting English schooling, eliminating bilingual requirements for judges, and more. Many businesses oppose the laws saying they create extra hassle.
Opponents also criticize these laws, saying that they violate constitutionally protected language freedoms. This criticism was seemly validated as the “notwithstanding clause” was invoked by Legault, citing the need to protect French’s precarious position, which he claims is “under attack”.
There was also much uproar recently over the fact that Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau isn’t fluent in French. Many were outraged, believing his lack of fluency was an affront to Quebec. He justified this by saying: “I’ve been able to live in Montreal without speaking French, and I think that’s a testament to the city of Montreal.” These comments were met with fire and fury, with Prime Minister Trudeau calling the situation “unacceptable” and the NDP even calling for Rousseau’s resignation.
Quebec has also come under fire for controversial Bill 21. The infamous bill bans public employees such as teachers, judges, and police officers from wearing religious symbols on the job. The bill, first passed back it 2019 by Legault’s government, under-went lengthy court challenges but ultimately prevailed this April. The bill was opposed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association who have called it an attack on religious freedom. Former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also opposes the law saying that it specifically targets certain minority groups and is “blatantly unconstitutional.” It is opposed by federal Liberals, Conservatives, and New Democrats alike. Despite their vehement opposition to the bill, all of these parties have said they wouldn’t intervene, calling it “an issue for Quebec to deal with.” This is despite the fact Legault invoked the notwithstanding clause exempting the law from respecting certain constitutional freedoms. Polling finds that the majority of Canadians oppose this bill, especially those outside Quebec. However, the law is supported by 64% of Quebecers. Bloc Quebecois leader Yves Francois Blanchet defended the law, saying: “[it’s] not about discrimination, but about the values of Quebec”. The question: how can Canada move forward when one province is so determined to protect their “culture” through such dramatic measures? Or is Quebec justified in wanting to take these actions in order to preserve their supposedly unique culture? The only thing known for certain is that debate surrounding Quebec’s precarious position in Canada are not going away any time soon.
Photo Credit: CBC