Introducing his recycled cabinet on Wednesday, Premier Jean Charest said his ministers represent the future of Quebec. But a clearer glimpse of the future, we fear, turned up in Friday’s Gazette, in our story about a family that feels forced to divide itself because of Quebec’s intractable language law.
To be sure, the relentless language-of-education rules are being applied, in this case, to an anglophone family. But the same imperious limitation on choice covers all Quebecers.
In case you missed it, the story was about a Chambly family : francophone father, American mother, five kids ages 8 to 17. No eligibility, you’ll notice, for English schools, even though the children’s mother tongue, literally, is English. Son Justin, age 9, is struggling in French school. Experts say he should switch to English school ; one said he is "strongly at risk" of dyslexia. Cherie Le Blanc, the mom, has worked with anglophone special-needs students on the South Shore, and she agrees.
But a faceless government bureaucrat does not, and so there will be no English schooling for Justin. Instead, the family feels it must fission, temporarily : Justin, his younger sister, and their mother will move to Cherie’s native Delaware ; father Daniel will stay here, with their 11-year-old son (who’s doing fine in French) and two older teenagers.
You don’t have to be a parent to envision the huge emotional and financial cost of this division. But evidently the official who made the decision can’t envision it, or else is such a zealot for the French language that he or she just doesn’t care.
Under other circumstances, Justin might have been able to use the "loophole" of a year in a fully-private school to move to the English side. But that access was closed by the National Assembly in Bill 103, which authorizes designated bureaucrats to apply "rules, assessment criteria, a weighting system, a cutoff or a passing score and interpretive principles" imposed by government regulation. The Charter of the French language, equally, authorizes officials to "verify and decide" eligibility cases. Nowhere in this legal verbiage is there any reference to common sense, or to compassion. And if this is the way the law is applied under a Liberal government, how much stricter might a future Parti Quebecois government be ?
Cases like this happen when civil servants, instead of parents, decide what’s right for children. This newspaper has long agreed, and still accepts, that schooling restrictions under Bill 101 were necessary, when enacted, as an antidote to francophones’ perception that their language was in danger. But does anyone really believe that protection of French requires disruption of families on this scale of cruelty ?