Appeasement: Lamb lobby hides truth on language

Montreal Gazette

Fri Jun 14 1996

Page: B3

Section: Editorial/Op-Ed



Dateline: OTTAWA

Source: The Gazette


What does English Quebec want? Says who? I asked that while watching the special on Quebec of famed French television critic, Bernard Pivot. His Bouillon de culture quebecoise was broadcast on Radio-Quebec June 2 and on French television last Friday.

Pivot interviewed five prominent writers to form a picture of culture in Quebec, including novelist Neil Bissoondath and Gazette editor-in-chief Joan Fraser. Bissoondath, in Montreal for only a few years, found it only right that immigrants to Quebec be compelled to send their children to French school. And what did Fraser tell the international audience? Unlike Bissoondath, she did not speak only for herself, but purported to speak for Quebec's English-speaking community.

``The rule regarding access to English school has been accepted - even if it has not been backed enthusiastically - but it has been truly accepted by the anglophone community because it is true that, given the very low birthrate in French Quebec, it is necessary that newcomers learn French and integrate into the (francophone) community . . . and really, the great majority of anglophones accept it.''

Oh? She made one qualification to her blanket assurance of English Quebec's compliance. The restrictions had cut drastically the numbers in English schools. ``And so, what we at least propose, is that people like Mr. Bissoondath, because and only because his mother tongue is English, would have the right to send their children to English school. But as for saying that each Italian and Greek and German and Moroccan who comes here would go to English school? No, no, no, no, no, no, no.''

Fraser doth protest too much, I thought, so I did some checks to see how accurately she reported English Quebec's concurrence with excluding Italian, German, Greek and Moroccan from English schools.

At Alliance Quebec, I was told that their policy, unchanged, was adopted at their 1993 meeting: it proposed that ``the elementary, secondary and post-secondary education system serving the English-speaking communities of Quebec be open and accessible to all Quebecers.''

Was Alliance Quebec singularly radical? I phoned the polling firm, CROP, with interesting results. In April 1987, CROP asked: ``Are you in agreement with the fact that French is the language of instruction for the children of immigrants in Quebec?'' The answer of anglophones: 84 per cent disagreed.

In March 1988, CROP asked whether people agreed with ``French being the only language used in teaching immigrant children in Quebec?'' Of English-speaking respondents, 78 per cent disagreed.

In April 1991, CROP asked: ``Are you in agreement with the fact that French is the only language of instruction for the children of immigrants in Quebec?'' This time, 89 per cent of anglophones disagreed.

Where is this ``great majority'' that backs restricted access to English schools? Over the years, Gazette editorials have repeatedly played down the constant and overwhelming opposition of English-speaking Quebec to all dimensions of Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language. Example, on Feb. 20, 1993: ``The minorities fully accept most of the language regime that has been put in place - for example, the need for medium- and large-sized businesses to meet francization requirements, and for immigrants whose mother tongue is not English to attend French schools.''

In fact, the CROP poll of April 1991, showed that 79 per cent were against ``the fact that French is the language of work in Quebec,'' 90 per cent were against ``the fact that French is the only official language in Quebec,'' and 93 per cent were opposed to ``the policy of the Quebec government regarding commercial signs.''

An editorial on April 20 commented on a demonstration at the Fairview shopping mall for English on commercial signs. It said that ``for many English Quebecers'' it was ``not a big deal'' not to have English on signs. It said that while the demonstrators had a point about putting English on signs, only some anglophones cared deeply. Yet, in March 1988, people were asked, ``Is the issue of the language used in signs an issue in which you feel personally concerned?'' Sixty-four per cent replied that they cared ``a great deal'' or ``a lot.'' (It's true, Bill 86 has since made changes to the language law.)

For years, Fraser and The Gazette editorial board have consistently misrepresented English Quebec's firm, constant and total rejection of the ethnocentric language laws. We are not all lambs.



Edition: Final  Story Type: COLUMN  Length: 716 words  Idnumber: 199606140052