In a rare speech to France’s Academie Française – the body tasked with protecting the French language in its home country – one of Quebec’s top ministers said Canadian multiculturalism is a thorn in Quebec’s eye.
People can not see that Quebec’s controversial recent laws, both Bill 96 of the Language Act and even Bill 21 of the Securalism Act, are in themselves about protecting a fragile culture, said Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.
We are in a time when “the diversity of cultures is becoming as threatened as the diversity of fauna and flora,” he said in Thursday’s speech – referring to Quebec’s French-speaking culture.
Jolin-Barrette is Quebec’s Minister of Justice and also its Minister of the French Language, making him deeply involved in both parts of the legislation.
In the long speech, he reviewed the history of Quebec, from its founding as a French colony to the silent revolution and beyond.
But one thing is a particular problem, he said: to ensure that newcomers to Quebec learn to live in French.
“One of our biggest challenges is to involve immigrants in our national project,” he said.
“We are neighbors of a great power, the United States, and we operate within a federation with an English majority. The continental and global linguistic dynamics favor English in every way.”
He criticized Canadian federal law protecting individual rights, calling this emphasis on the individual “almost absolute,” to the detriment of Quebec’s collective rights.
“Although our project is thwarted by Canadian multiculturalism, which finds an equivalent in what you call communitarianism, and which opposes Quebec’s claims to constitute itself as a separate nation,” Jolin-Barrette continued, “the French language must really become the language for the use of all Quebecers. “
Despite previous laws forcing all children of immigrants to go to school in French, he said it has not been enough, which led to the current government cracking down on English in post-secondary colleges by slowing down their growth with enrollment ceilings.
“After graduating from high school … an alarming proportion of students, especially those whose first language is neither English nor French, rush into the English network to continue their studies,” he said.
He also explicitly linked Law 21 with the same fight. Probably the current government’s most controversial bill in its four years in power, it banned certain public servants, including teachers and police, from wearing religious symbols at work.
In practice, it affected female Muslim teachers most severely and prevented school boards from hiring or promoting teachers wearing the hijab. Challenges to that are still before the courts and are expected to end at the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Law 96 on the French language does not come alone,” Jolin-Barrette said.
“It was passed under Law 21 on secularism, which I also had the honor of governing, always with the same idea of strengthening the autonomy and personality of the state of Quebec.”
LEGAULT DOES NOT SAY ALL CULTURES ‘AT THE SAME LEVEL’
When asked about Minister Jolin-Barrette’s comments in Paris today, Prime Minister François Legault said he was opposed to putting “all cultures on an equal footing” and stressed the importance of having an “integration culture” above all else.
“So that’s why we’re against multiculturalism. We prefer to concentrate on what we call ‘interculturalism’, where you have one culture, the Quebec culture, where we try to integrate the newcomers, but we want to add to this. culture, “said Premier.
“I think new people are coming to Quebec – they are adding to our culture. But it’s important to have a culture where we integrate, especially into our language.”
Legault also argued that this is in direct contrast to the Canadian model of multiculturalism.
“I can see that Mr Trudeau is pushing for multiculturalism, so he does not want us to have a culture and a language where we integrate newcomers,” the prime minister said.
MEDIA CRITICISM OF BILL 96 IS “DOV,” says JOLIN-BARRETE
In her speech, Jolin-Barrette addressed criticism that embracing English and bilingualism is a way of being open to the world, whether one sees it as Shakespeare’s language or “Silicon Valley”.
But it is a misplaced idea, the minister argued.
“What is presented as an openness to the world all too often masks acculturation, which comes with a significant loss of memory and identity,” he said.
He said the time is over where people can request to be served in English or French in Quebec, as in a “self-service business.”
And Jolin-Barrette made a special point by attacking English-Canadian media coverage of Bill 96.
“Recently, defamatory articles against Quebec have been published with too much complacency in American and English Canadian newspapers,” he said.
“Lazy writers portray our struggle from the most degrading and insulting angle, trying to portray it as a mastermind, a form of authoritarianism.”
“Our struggle for the French language is just, it is a universal struggle, the struggle for a nation that has peacefully resisted the will of the strongest to power.”
In much of the speech, Jolin-Barrette spoke about the time before the silent revolution, in which he said that French himself was being lost in Quebec.
“A vulnerable proletariat was born whose polluted language quickly shifted to Franglais,” he said.
“The English-speaking oligarchy, heir to British power, imposed its language and imagination … in the 1950s, French-Canadians lived in cities where commercial signage was often in English.”
At another time he called French the greatest of the Western languages, with the greatest literary influence.
In those decades, “French Canada, however, was one of the very few places in the world where the French language was a sign of social inferiority,” he said.