Commentary, Opinion

Reinforcing Bill 101 is Discrimination 101

A reinvigorated Bill 101 looms over Quebec, and if it descends, it could impede demographic reconciliation in the province. Enacted in 1977, the bill established French as the official language of Quebec, forcing government agencies, many businesses, and other institutions to conduct operations in French. While the bill is longstanding in Quebec, anglophones have not historically feared the bill because many of its stipulations have not been strictly enforced. However, anglophones may have reason to fear it again, because Premier François Legault announced on Nov. 5 that his Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government would reinforce the bill. McGill students, in particular, should heed these developments, because they could be threatened by the policy. Although Quebec’s French history and culture should absolutely be preserved, Bill 101 has not been and still should not be fully enforced, because it disregards Quebec’s multicultural reality.

Quebec is not a cultural blank slate. In fact, cultural diversity is inherent to Quebec’s history. Additionally, Quebec has long been a land of hope and sanctuary for the marginalized; including Black Americans using the Underground Railroad to escape slavery, Jewish people escaping pogroms, and most recently, those fleeing political upheaval in the Middle East. Moreover, while relations between anglophones and francophones remain contentious, they have improved overall since the 1970 October Crisis. Francophone Quebecers were once forced to assimilate into English society if they wanted to access economic and political opportunities, but cultural pluralism has nevertheless become a foundational pillar of Quebec society. Reinforcing Bill 101 is a betrayal of this principle as it would disproportionately affect already struggling immigrants who do not speak French. Enforcing cultural homogeneity would not only antagonize minority groups that Quebec has historically protected, it would also put a roadblock in the way of improving cultural relations in Quebec. As the world confronts crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, reconciling cultural differences is more urgent than ever, because tackling these challenges requires unity and mutual support between all sectors of society.

Reinforcing Bill 101 would also be logistically impracticable. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, portions of the bill were challenged in court as violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While Legault has claimed that only “historic anglophones” defined by the bill would receive government communications in English, the legal obstructions to this action render Legault’s claim false. Besides which, if the original purpose of the bill was to alleviate a French-language crisis in Quebec, it has already succeeded. According to economists, Quebecers’ proficiency in the language rose to 94.5 per cent in 2016, up from 88.5 per cent in 1971. Reinforcing Bill 101 could cause an actual crisis for Quebecers who do not speak French, especially if they must receive medical bills and documents in French. Considering that many students at McGill are either Anglophone Quebecers, Canadians from English-speaking provinces, or international students who do not speak French, it is possible that the McGill student body would be hit particularly hard by these measures. Consequently, reinforcing the bill would not only be disastrous for affected students, it could also threaten McGill as an institution. Premier Legault should learn from the failure of René Lévesque, because the economic havoc created by his nationalist Parti Québécois and the premiership of Lucien Bouchard is partly responsible for McGill’s current financial problems, among other economic issues across Quebec. 

Reinforcing Bill 101 is morally objectionable, logistically untenable, and economically inadvisable. Most importantly, Legault’s proposal is indefensible because it would unnecessarily hinder the lives of the CAQ’s English-speaking constituents. Not only that, but it could also negatively impact McGill students, particularly international students, by making it more difficult to live in Quebec without speaking French. Divisive policies like Bill 101 are a disservice to Quebec’s cultural heritage, because they ultimately prevent outsiders from even accessing Quebec, preventing the world from appreciating Quebec’s many idiosyncrasies. By touting Quebec’s multicultural and bilingual history as much as its French history, the CAQ can promote French culture without replicating the draconian policies of past anglophone administrations. McGill students should support protests against Bill 101 in Montreal, but not just because the bill could negatively affect students. McGill is an institution of learning and, armed with the facts, its students have the means to challenge the bill on moral and practical grounds.

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  1. JF Pelchat

    Est-ce que cet article est supposé s’adresser à des lecteurs de niveau universitaire ?

  2. This article provides one-sided arguments with no sources that provide context in the subject matter. I understand that this is an opinion piece, but Bill 101 is obviously a contentious issue — the author could have done much more research on the Canadian legal system, Quebec public opinion, and French-Canadian history.

    This comment is coming from an out-of-province student.

  3. Réjean Drouin

    Typical foreign bigot crap from guys who long for the Speak White era when anglos were masters and the real Canadiens were servants.

    Language is a province responsibility so Québec does as it likes and, just like EIGHT other provinces in this dominion, there is only ONE official language here.

    If having more rights than the people has, if having more privileges than any other minority on earth have is not enough for Québec anglos, then Québec shall just give up and do the same as Ontario does :: Cut all services in the minority language and leave it to the federal to pay for those. No more McGill, no more Concordia, no more Dawson, no more MUHC and no more hundreds of anglo clinics, kindergarten, schools, etc.

  4. I wonder what the real motivation is here. Why write today about news from last November? Lacking political hate materials? Don’t get me wrong, I have my issues with the 101 bill, but this opinion piece today seems to me like you are doing the exact opposite of what you are suggesting; you are promoting oil on fire instead of solidarity. You should also note that in the midst of the crisis, the Prime Minister actually makes it the point to also talk in (bad) English. I suggest you follow your own advice and don’t stir the pot.

  5. Brad Bourgaize

    Bill 101 needs to be scrapped it’s a discrimination against the population of the provance

  6. The bill was made during a time that is not at all like the present. It is time to review whether this bill is necessary or not. 1960s were a time of nationalism worldwide amidst decolonization. Today, the world is more integrated than ever (look at the virus) and this bill has turned into a dog whistle against minorities and immigrants in Quebec. French should be an option not forced. No one likes to be forced to learn a language they don’t want.

    If you have attended school, you’ll see how much motivation matters in success and appreciation. Being forced can only give you that much good. Whereas being genuinely interested and having made the choice yourself results in a much more satisfying life. Effort is better made at making people interested in French. Just like how people want to learn Japanese despite not even being in Japan and not under the watch of the Japanese language police if any. Quebec in the end is more than just French. It’s about individual choice and accomplishment. It’s about an easy going life. It’s about openness to the world and new ideas. It’s about democracy.

  7. trans rights

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