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THE BASTARDS OF BILL 101
By Colin Standish
“It ain’t Lennoxville, is it?,” I remark as I gesture from an oak-panelled boardroom in the soaring office towers of Toronto’s Financial District.
We chuckle meekly.
My friend and I have taken our Quebec law degrees to Bay Street, far away from our quaint corner of Quebec’s Eastern Townships and Sherbrooke’s only officially bilingual borough.
This past Christmas, around the dinner table I found myself starting conversations with distant relatives with expressions English-speaking Quebecers find themselves repeating with the same frequency as “pass the turkey,” “more mashed potatoes, please,” and ‘Grace’ over the holidays:
“When did you leave Quebec?” (1977, of course),
“What part of Montreal are you from?” (Westmount, of course)
“Where in the Townships was your cottage?” (North Hatley, of course).
“Oh, we used to hate you!,” quipped my Francophone server as she delivered drinks during the Taste of Toronto festival. The ‘you’ being English-speaking Quebecers, when I explained to her that I was from Quebec.
Daily I walk past the Bank of Montreal’s head office in the heart of Toronto to my own office working alongside three other Quebecers.
Like the fifty percent of English-speakers born in Quebec, I have left too.
It haunts me. I cannot escape it.
We cannot escape it.
Recent events have highlighted that language debates have not been fully resolved. Moreover, more than utterances, it is Quebec’s entire linguistic framework that is flawed.
“The children of Bill 101,” referring to newcomers to Quebec who are compelled, indeed coerced, into sending their children to French-language schools by the Charter of the French Language, thus, assimilating them into the majority culture. To a lesser extent, it can be used to refer to English-speaking youth of whom 80 percent are fluent in French.
If these are our pride and joy, I’ve asked myself, what of the illegitimate, the shunned, those not invited to gatherings, swept into the corner at celebrations?
Who are our bastards?
The hundreds of thousands of Quebecers whom have left Quebec, those who have chosen to remain, the over fifty percent of immigrants who leave Quebec in their first five years, and the millions of Francophones who are hindered in expressing their identity.
I see them in the smiling faces of my family at Christmas dinners that happen in Lawrence Park in Toronto, and not in Quebec. My sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins are bastards of Bill 101.
I see them in my friends from law school, who despite having civil law degrees, moved to Toronto. My friends are bastards of Bill 101.
I remember my 17-year-old self looking to Bishop’s University across from my high school knowing that legislation barred me from attending a Quebec university. During my four years at Queen’s University in Ontario I was a bastard of Bill 101.
The largest transfer of human and financial capital in Canadian history has happened silently for 50 years. The Bank of Montreal now stands in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District alongside other former beacons of Quebec industry and finance, and approximately twenty billion dollars a year is transferred from the ROC to Quebec, subsidizing such things from daycares, to cement plants, to language inspectors, and more.
I think of the kind, spirited young men I have met who were adopted by local farm families when the Dixville Home for the physically, intellectually and mentally disabled English-speakers was shuttered and they were left without a home.
The first surgical procedure in Canada using anesthetic was performed in tiny Eaton Corner in 1847. Bishop’s University’s once had a prominent medical faculty. Anglos now lack basic access to healthcare in their language of choice. The Brome-Mississquoi Perkins Hospital in Cowansville is not an officially bilingual institution and the Sherbrooke Hospital was shuttered without guaranteed bilingual services being absorbed within the University of Sherbrooke’s CHUS system.
Elderly English-speakers are 50% more likely to not be bilingual, have a higher rate of unpaid care than Francophones, and over 80% of them opt out of institutional healthcare and turn to family and friends first.
This contributes to the feminization of poverty in the community, with 51% of English-speaking women in the Townships not in the labour market.
Those with serious psychological, physical or intellectual disabilities have difficulty accessing rehabilitation programs in English.
A key determinant of health is wealth and English-speaking Quebecers are 26% more likely than the Francophone majority to have incomes below the low-income cut-off.
The myth of the privileged Townshipper is laid bare by the harsh reality most English-speakers face. The English-speaking community is defined by a declining population, an aging population, and what is described as the “missing-middle” with English-speakers aged 15 to 44 who have, on average, lower levels of education, income and employment than their French-speaking counterparts. Youth stand to earn $4,000 less a year than a Francophone their age with the same education. Between 1971 and 2001, due to economic and political instability in Quebec, the number of English-speaking Townshippers dropped almost 30%.
This exodus constitutes a loss of human capital for English-speaking communities and for all of Quebec society. These individuals tend to be highly educated and the majority are fluently bilingual.
Quebec and Canadian public policy has been utterly incapable of resolving these issues, and our solutions are often framed as acquiescence and dangerous pandering to Quebec nationalism and specificity in the worst possible and asymmetrical way: Quebec would have rights that no other province or region has, substantial intrusions by a province into core federal powers, and policies subversive of the Constitution and of the public interest.
Since the Quiet Revolution, Quebec has been defined as French-speaking. However, Quebec as a political entity was created by the British in 1763. That, “French is the official language,” is also a myth and exists in law as a declaratory statement in Bill 101, contradicting the Constitution which requires all provincial laws, regulations, courts and the legislature to accord equal status to English and French.
Quebec’s motto, “Je me souviens,” was never meant to be an exclusionary term, but one that recognized the diverse heritage and history of all Quebecers. The Fathers of Confederation original intent was for a Quebec and Canada that respectfully celebrated all groups. The same dream that propelled Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier to distant shores, the same dream that brought my ancestors North from the United States, and new Canadians here from all walks of life and distant lands.
I am confident that that we can we can create a new framework for human dignity, language and prosperity in Quebec.
We can purge our collective Caliban.
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