Scandal has arisen in Quebec with recently implemented and newly enforced language laws, making the province—as The Globe and Mail put it—an “international laughingstock.” The incidents were minor but absurd, such as forcing an Italian restaurant to change “pasta” on its menu to its French equivalent. To someone who is not from Quebec, the government’s enforcement appears radical and perplexing to say the least, as it tenaciously holds onto laws that do more harm than good. However, with Bill 14, the fourth piece of legislation of its kind aimed at restricting the use of non-French languages, the situation is no longer a laughing matter.
Quebec’s long-held obsession with language restrictions stems from its staunch interest in the protection of the French language. This pursuit, however, has come at the cost of other aspects of its culture, and arguably, the province’s own reputation. So what do outsiders think when they see Quebec portrayed through the “if it bleeds, it leads” apparatus we call mass media? Unfortunately, it is typically hardline separatist rhetoric, the “language police,” and radical protests.
The province doesn’t seem to understand that while utility is one reason why people learn new languages, interest in that language is also important. What it has been trying to do with Bills 22, 68, 101, and now, 14, is to make French vital for survival, so that people have no choice but to study it. The government can’t seem to grasp that North America is a mobile society. Quebec is a French island—people can leave in nearly any direction. Montreal, once the top economy in Canada, has long ago ceded that title to Toronto. Quebec has lost, and is still losing, its businesses and top-notch people to the rest of Canada on top of an ongoing brain-drain to the U.S.
The current situation in Quebec is, sadly, that little good publicity is coming out, and little talent is flowing in. Culturally too, the province suffers, trapped in a paradox where making its culture more accessible to the rest of the continent, and making any attempt at cultural export would mean relaxing its language regulations, which it considers imperative to protecting its culture.
It seems at times that Quebec is trying so hard to distinguish itself from the rest of Canada, that its behaviour tends towards the irrational. The new Bill 14 is only making things worse, creating a real “language police” that had existed only in mockery during the time of its predecessor, Bill 101. With this new legislation that would “require the production of any book, account, record, file or other document,” and allow a language inspector access to anything that “may prove the commission of an offence,” these measures aimed at protecting the French language seem to be quickly getting out of control.