Creating a new linguistic world order in Quebec

MONTREAL, Feb. 5, 2013 /CNW Telbec/ - Bill 14, the first large scale revision of Quebec's Charter of the French language since its inception in 1977 will create a new linguistic world order for Quebec.  Many public commentators have suggested that this draft law is not really significant; depending on their perspective, they find it timid or unnecessary. I see in Bill 14 a much more insidious proposition. Taken together, the 155 proposed amendments to the Charter of the French Language and complementary laws conscript the Quebec government, bureaucracy, public and para-public institutions, municipalities, health institutions, school boards, unions, private enterprise and individual Quebecers as soldiers to protect, promote and defend Quebec's French language.  All these players will do their part by, according to their roles, studying, reporting, creating policy, analyzing, implementing, behaving, and exercising individual human rights and freedoms, to assure the primacy of the French language in all aspects of Quebec life.

At the apex of this prescribed hierarchy of linguistic warriors is the government which the proposed amendments require to, "…play an exemplary role in language matters,…".  On a more metaphysical level the proposed amendments proclaim that the French language, "…constitutes a stronger vector for social cohesion… and maintaining harmonious relations…".  Not satisfied that the proposed amendments to the Charter of the French Language will, on their own, achieve that desired result, Bill 14 goes further: It also amends the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to elevate the right to live and work in French in Quebec to a human right and fundamental freedom.  On an existential note, the preamble of the Quebec Charter of Rights will be amended to insist that the French language is the fundamental glue that holds Quebec society together. ("…is a fundamental factor of its social cohesion;"to be exact).

Arguably, the French language in Quebec is the most legislated language in the world.  Bill 14 takes this obsession with language to new heights by bureaucratizing the process of linguistic policy making, handing to the bureaucracy's minions the administrative authority to regulate the implementation of that policyAt least 73 of the proposed amendments deal with language policy making, not to mention pre-existing ministerial and administrative policy initiatives.

Bill 14 implicitly - and sometimes explicitly -- mandates a bias against any language other than French and particularly English.  The inherent assumption in the proposed amendments is that increased monitoring and tightening of language policy is a chronic need.  No amount of regulation is enough.  Examples of this abound.  The proposed amendments cancel a government regulation that previously allowed otherwise ineligible children of members of the Canadian Armed Forces to attend English public school.  Apparently risking life or limb for Canada is not sufficient to allow your children to attend English public schools in Quebec.  The proposed amendments will require English Cegeps to create policies to give priority to English speaking candidates for admission when college resources and finances are inadequate.  Sure, the PQ backed away from its election promise to extend Bill 101 to Cegeps but is this not a rather ingenious back-door way of implementing the government's desire to prevent those who do not have the right to attend English primary and secondary schools from attending English Cegeps?  Colleges already face a financial crunch.  Now, they will have to adopt a policy of prioritizing Anglophone admission in times of resource shortage rather than consider all applicants regardless of language on their academic merit.  Employers will be required to regularly review and justify the need for staff to speak languages other than French or face sanction.  For the first time, officially bilingual municipalities stand to lose their status against their democratic will, simply due to shifting demographics.  Hospitals will have to provide French language medical summaries on demand if the record is not in French.  Daycares will have to have policies to facilitate the acquisition of French language skills by infants.

Hand in hand with this intensified bureaucratization of language enforcement is the creation of the specific human right and fundamental freedom to live and work in French, quite apart from and in addition to the traditional right and freedom of expression.  A human right to live and work in French of necessity means that everyone must be able to express themselves in French.  Otherwise the freedom to live and work in French would be useless if an individual could not be responded to in French.  Taken to absurd lengths this means that a teenager could insist that her parents speak to her in French at the dinner table because she has a right to live in French.  If her parents refuse, could it not be argued that they are violating their daughter's human rights and freedoms, for which, in the logic of this scenario, the parents may be sanctioned by law?  The amendments presume no good will about language, assume no common linguistic etiquette and, based on those narrow presumptions, proceed to legislate a marsh of linguistic quicksand.

It can be argued that the right to work and live in French gives employees in officially bilingual institutions, hospitals for example, the right to communicate with patients in French without fear of sanction.  Bill 14 amends employment law in Quebec to permit employees to seek redress against employers who unjustifiably require an employee to communicate in a language other than French.

Bill 14 manipulates individual rights and freedoms in favor of a single collective objective: the primacy of one language to the comprehensive detriment of others.  It reinforces stereotypes and creates linguistic pariahs.  Its fixation on policy making, constantly reviewed and updated, ignores the rich and evolving dynamic of Quebec society and its growing capacity to produce linguistic balance and harmony -without the need for intrusive, retrograde and redundant lawmaking.

If Bill 14 is adopted, the courts will be presented with a legal conundrum: Which freedom has priority, the rights of the individual or the rights of the collective, one of which must win out?  There is no reasonable accommodation here.  There is no qualifier of the proposed right to live in French restricting it to the public sphere.  There is no wise or common sense compromise about the practical interactions of people.  There is no emphasis on the positive, that a strong Quebec has no need of heavy handed conformity.  The presumption is, no matter its dynamism, Quebec will always fight a desperate rear-guard action to stave off the onslaught of the English language. That presumption is false, and this draft law based upon it should be withdrawn.

SOURCE: Michael Bergman, Esq.

For further information:

Michael N. Bergman, Lawyer/avocat

Bergman & Associates, Lawyers/avocats
2000, avenue McGill College, bureau 200
Montréal (Québec)  H3A 3H3
Tél.: 514-842-9994
Téléc. : 514-842-1112
Cell : 514-279-1177
E-mail :

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Michael Bergman, Esq.

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