User:Mathieugp/Drafts/Institutional bilingualism in Quebec

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From 1760 to 1791

When Quebec became a British colony, the Canadiens became subjects of the British crown. This meant that, in all public and legal matters, they were to be treated exactly as if they had been born British, and, in fact, as time went by, those who were born under French rule passed away, and Canadiens born under British rule became all that existed in the colony. What this recognition implied was always and still is perceived very differently by Francophones and Anglophones.

  • Article XXVII - The free exercise of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion, shall subsist entire, in such manner as all the states and the people of the Towns and countries, places and distant posts, shall continue to assemble in the churches and to frequent the sacraments as heretofore, without being molested in any manner, directly or indirectly. These people shall be obliged, by the English government, to pay their Priests the tithes, and all the taxes they were used to pay under the Government of his Most Christian Majesty. - "Granted, as to the free exercise of their religion, the obligation of paying the tithes to the Priests will depend upon the King's pleasure."
  • Article XLI - The French, the Canadians, and Acadians of whatever state and condition soever, who shall remain in the colony, shall not be forced to take arms against his most Christian Majesty, or his Allies, directly or indirectly, on any occasion whatsoever; The British government shall only require them an exact neutrality. - "They become Subjects of the King."

If the legal guarantees granted to the New Subjects (Canadiens) were clear from a legal standpoint in the September 8, 1760 Articles of Capitulation of Montreal, they were not seriously enforced in the colony. If the Canadiens were British subjects, and they were, how were they supposed to wait before being granted the constitutional government which the other British colonists enjoyed? History tells us this constitutional government never came.

Despite positive some aspects, the Quebec Act of 1774 caused major dissatisfactions to both the New Subjects and the Old Subjects, the then very few British settlers. In the 13 British colonies of North America, the Quebec Act became one of the Intolerable Acts which contributed to spark the American war of Independence. In 1791, 4 years after the independence of the new United States, the Quebec Act, was replaced by the Constitutional Act.

From 1792 to 1840

The Constitutional Act finally introduce British parliamentarianism in the Province of Quebec, which was divided in two separate colonies: Upper Canada, a large territory west of the Ottawa river and Lower Canada which included the St. Lawrence river valley where most of the Canadiens lived. From that point and on, the French-speaking and Catholic Canadien people enjoyed a political strenght that put them at odds with the colonial power, essentially English-speaking and Protestant and refratory to the idea that the majority of the subjects in the colony be governing themselves. The very first political debate that took place in the house of assembly had to do with the language that we were to use in the proceedings. The elected house decided that the Speaker should be bilingual and that the MPs should be free to use either French, the language of the majority of English, the language of Empire. It was decided also that French civil laws should continue to be written in French (with English translation) and English laws in English with French translation. This seemed like a good compromise to the majority of the people who participated in the debates.

From 1841 to 1867

In 1840, London passed the Act of Union after the military repression of the Patriote movement. This Act abolished the parliament of Lower Canada and Upper Canada and made English the unique language of the courts and the parliament of the new United Canada. In 1848, Francophone polititians succeeded in repealing the section of the Act of Union which banned French and French was reintroduced as a translation language and a language that could be used in the debates. In the reality of life however, with massive immigration from the British Iles, English kept advancing and French kept loosing ground and influence, especially in urbans areas. During the 1850s, English speakers became the majority in the new United Canada, as projected, and Montreal, today the second largest francophone city in the world after Paris, gradually became the economic metropolis of British Canada.

From 1867 to 1950s

In 1867, the British North America Act constitutionalized certain important rights that the French Canadians had battled for inside the forced union: the right to catholic and francophone schools, the right to use French in the courts and in the parliament. The conservative elements of Quebec presented these guarantees as great victories while the liberals continued to battle for a free and secular State for the Quebec people.

From 1867 until the 1960s, Quebec politicians battled tirelessly for the respect of these constitutional garantees. That governmental services be available in French throughout Canada at both the federal and provincial level was, for many French Canadians, a sort of utopia to attain. To them, it was a fundamental question of justice and equality, seeing itself as one of the two founding peoples of the Canadian federation. Since the Anglophone minority of Quebec had given itself the right to use its language in all aspects of public life, they considered it only fair that francophone minorities be treated the same in the provinces where they were a minority. Unfortunately, this sentiment was not shared by the other founding people of the Canadian Dominion.

From 1960s to Now

During the 1960s and 1970s, the question of the status of French in Quebec and Canada resurfaced in the form of a deep crisis. Over the preceding century, many factors had contributed to the deterioration of the linguistic situation of Quebec francophones: a net socio-economic inferiority caused by the lack of political power over themselves, the assimilationist pressures felt everywhere in North America including inside Quebec, and, after the Quiet Revolution, the incapacity to integrate Neo-Quebecers in a society which had just experienced a sudden drop in fertility. We recommend our visitors to read on the Quiet Revolution to learn all the details of this very important period of our history. In summary, many francophone and informed non-francophone observers considered the situation disastrous for the future of this national community. Things had to change or a two century old resistance to imperialism and assimilation was going to end bitterly.

Before that time, Québec was the only province to be thoroughly bilingual both in real life and in law. The English-speaking minority of Québec had the right to use its language in every aspect of public life: right to plead in English before the courts, right to be prosecuted by an English-speaking court, right to use English at the provincial legislative assembly. All laws were written in English as well as French. English was by far the dominant language in Québec, like in the rest of Canada where it was the language of the majority. English speakers, whether of English, Scottish, Irish, French, German or other origin enjoyed full civil, religious and political liberties despite them being a minority group. Anglophones had full control over their educational, social, economic, and cultural institutions. On top of that, Québec was part of the British Empire and, being right next to the United States, was under the strong influence of this nation's incredibly powerful and pervasive culture. In the daily reality of the time, a bilingual Quebecer was generally a Francophone who also spoke English.

Despite laws setting English and French on an equal basis in a number of ways, the reality was that French had been increasingly marginalized in public life since the British takeover. This should come as no surprise. Such was the reality of all aboriginal languages in the British Empire. In India, Ireland, Australia, Québec, the rest of Canada or New-Zealand, the members of the ruling class and the business class were English-speaking Protestants who considered themselves at home in the colonies of Britain.


In 1963, liberal Prime Minister Lester B Pearson created the Royal Commission of Enquiry on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, aka the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission. The report of this enquiry highlighted the state of inferiority in which the French Canadians were socially and economicall maintained, as much in Quebec as in the rest of Canada.


In 1967, in the entourage of the Sovereignty-Association Movement, both in reaction to the bombs of the FLQ and the pan-canadian vision of Pierre Trudeau, the delegates of the Estates General of French Canada proclaimed that the existence of a French-speaking majority in Quebec, and Quebec only, is a fact which forces Quebecers to draw the following conclusion: from now on, the stake consists in making the Quebec State a French language State, no matter what happens to French Canadians: "Quebec constitutes the national territory and the fundamental political milieu of the French-Canadian nation.". This assertion shocked many people of the older generations. This Estate General announced the direction that the nationalist movements (the Saint-Jean-Baptist Societies, the CSN, CEQ, FTQ trade unions etc.) would take from now on in their interventions and also, gradually, political leaders of Quebec.


In 1968, under Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Ottawa passed the Official Languages Act, which enforced the constitutional rights of Anglophones and Francophones. Institutional bilingualism, as it exists in Canada since then, means that both francophone and anglophone citizens are entitled to receive governmental services in their prefered language throughout Canada. This type of legislation is classified as bilingualism based on non-territorial individual rights. In practice, this means that for all services provided by the federal government, it is required by law that they be available in both offical languages. The provinces are not subjected to the federal law on official languages. However, the Constitutional Act of 1982 later forced provinces to respect the educational rights of the linguistic minorities throughout Canada. In the constitution of Canada, the provinces must respect the rights of individuals who belong to the minority to chose to send their children to French schools outside Québec and English schools inside Québec.

Therefore, while Québec was moving towards French unilingualism to promote its language, a French Canadian Prime Minister was convincing Ottawa to partly adhere to the demands made by Henri Bourassa and Lionel Groulx half a century before. In light of a new and greater understanding of the problem by Quebec's academic world, institutional bilingualism was rejected as insufficiant and in some regards even harmful to Quebec. For Quebec politicians, the move of Ottawa was seen as too little, too late. It was a timid response to something Ottawa considered a more serious problem: the rise of a secular Quebec nationalism and separatism among the young generations of Quebec Francophones.


After having imposed the use of French, beside English or other languages, in the labelling of the food products, the Union nationale government had to face, in 1968-1969, a much more disturbing situation: the Saint-Léonard school problem turned into a national crisis. The parish of Saint-Léonard, in the suburb of Montreal, lived a rapid demographic growth: the French-speaking agricultural village of the Fifties was becoming a suburb where anglicized immigrants (many of Italian origin), were settling in great number. The locals of Saint-Léonard decided to react: on June 1968, the school board authorities voted a resolution which made inscription of the new immigrants in the French schools compulsory in the district. This sparked a true language battle in Quebec society. Wanting to calm down things, the Union nationale passed Bill 63 with the support of the Liberal opposition. Even if it bore the name "Law to promote French", it was immediately denounced by the nationalist movements which renamed it "Bill Sixty Three" (in English). Indeed, this law confirmed that the federal vision of bilingualism applied to Quebec. With Bill 63, Quebec parents were guaranteed the right to choose the language of teaching for their children (English of French). In practice this meant that English schools could keep assimilating the majority of the immigrants' children and even local children.


To try to calm down a growing working class unrest, the Union national government, had set up the Commission of Inquiry on the Situation of the French Language and Linguistic Rights in Quebec, the so called Commission Gendron. Here is an extract of the report published in 1972:

"It appears that if French is not in the process of disappearing among Francophones, it is neither the prevalent language in the Quebec labour market. French appears useful only to Francophones. Even in Quebec, it is altogether a marginal language, since non-Francophones have little use for it, and, for a considerable number of Francophones, in the important tasks, use as much, and sometimes more English that their mother tongue. And that, in spite of fact that, in Quebec, Francophones are a strong majority, in labour as in the population in general."

This reality of the sixties and seventies, inherited from the Conquest of 1760, still is downplayed and even denied today by the opponents of Quebec independence. Somehow, we would have been conquered and annexed, but this would have had no consequences on our society.


In 1974, the government of young Robert Bourassa passed Bill 22, which made French the sole official language of Québec. The Gendron report showed, without a doubt, that the situation of French in Quebec required a ferm and unambigous political intervention. In 1974, pushed by public opinion, the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa crossed a border the Union national had not dared to approach: Bill 22 proclaimed that "French is the official language of Quebec". The preamble to the law affirmed that "the French language constitutes a national heritage that the State has the duty to preserve, and that it falls on the government of Quebec to use all its resources to ensure its preeminence and support it development and quality". In July 74, to astonished journalists of American television, Robert Bourassa declared that there is now a French State in the North of America, the State of Quebec. Law 22 touched to all sectors of public life: it is concerned with the language of the public administration, with that of public utility companies and the professions, with the language of work, of business, of contracts, of posting, and the statute of the French language in teaching.

However, Anglophones protests loudly, conscious of losing certain privileges, and demanded official bilingualism inside Quebec. However, the law was in fact still strongly impregnated with the principle of linguistic duality preached in the federal context; in spite of the assertion of the French fact, the law officially recognized English the place that it had always occupied. As for the French-speaking majority, it was frustrated by the half-measures of Bill 22 with regard to the promotion of French. For example, the choice of the language of teaching remained almost intact. Another weakness was in the language of work, the law only demanded that businesses obtain a certificate of Francization to deal with the government. Moreover, the deficiencies of Bill 22 let many believe that the government remained pledged to the private sector in its refusal to really protect the interests of the majority of the workers.


In accordance to the party program of the PQ, the Parliament was seized with the linguistic question as of the arrival the pequists. In August 1977, Doctor Camille Laurin was pleased to see the National Assembly sanction the Charter of the French Language, aka Bill 101. This law aimed at guaranteeing the preeminence of French, establishing it as the common language for all Quebecers, while recognizing the contribution of other cultures. Here an extract of the preamble:

" Distinctive language of people in the majority French-speaking, the French language makes it possible for the people of Quebec to express its identity.

The National Assembly recognizes the will of Quebecers to ensure the quality and radiation of the French language.

The National Assembly is thus determined to make French the language of the State and the Law as well as the normal and everyday language of work, teaching, communications, trade and business. The National Assembly intends to pursue this goal in a climate of justice and openness with regard to ethnic minorities, of which it recognizes the invaluable contribution to the development of Quebec.

The National Assembly recognizes the Amerindians and Inuits of Quebec, descendants of the first inhabitants of the country, the right to maintain and to develop their language and culture of origin. "

In the text of the law, the use of French is always presented as a civil right. Thus, article 4 affirms that "the workers have the right to carry on their activities in French" article 5, that "the consumers of goods and services have the right to be informed and served in French". As for public posting, if certain exceptions, especially of a cultural nature, are envisaged, article 58 is categorical: "public posting and commercial publicity is done only in the official language". In the very hot field of the language of teaching, the Charter (article 72) stipulates that "teaching is given in French in kindergarten, primary schools and secondary schools with the exceptions envisaged in the present chapter". The principal one of these exceptions was called the "Quebec clause": it was necessary to have studied in English in Quebec to transmit to his/her children the right to attend publish school in the English network; the goal was to stop the growth of anglicisation by the means of immigration; thus, new immigrants, even of a Canadian province, were to register their children to French school.

The Charter of the French language gave Quebecers a new source of collective pride in echo with many the other sources of pride which occurred in the Quebec of the Seventies: the rise of music, literature and theatre, the development of multinational corporations controlled by Quebecers, an increased presence of Quebec on the international scene, etc.

In the spirit of Rene Lévesque and Camille Laurin, Bill 101 was to mark the beginning of a normal life for French Quebec. But this Charter, first tool of the promotion of Quebec's identity, disturbed Canadian nationalists as it touched all the aspects of the collective life. It was thus attacked under several angles.


Patriation of the constitution (more to come)


Bill 86 (more to come)

Montréal today

There are two Montreals in the segregated country of Québec: Montréal, Québec and Montreal, Canada. If a visitor, a tourist, a temporary worker or an immigrant lands in Montreal, Canada, he/she will discover a different country than if he/she lands in Montréal, Québec. Montréal is a city that has been subject to linguistic transformations out of the ordinary. Founded by Maisonneuve in the 17th century, it started as a French-speaking city and it remained this way up until the Conquest of 1760. After the Conquest, British immigration gradually transformed it into a city in which lived a majority of English-speakers. The trend was reversed during the urbanization of of 1930-50 when hundreds of thousands of French-speaking Quebecers migrated into the city to find employment. In the 1970s, when language became the central political issue to resolve, there was a solid majority of French speakers living in the city. This majority was however far from having the influence that a majority is entitled to have in a democratic society. This majority of Francophones was in fact behaving as though it were a socio-linguistic minority. Just like the other ethnic minorities of Canada, it was obeying the business rules of a British colony which imposed English in every aspect of public life. You could speak your own language, but only in your private life and within your community like the majority of immigrants.