When the Quebec Court of Appeal struck down Bill 104 last summer, the Quebec government wasted no time filing an appeal. The government decided to use taxpayers' money to try to defend a law limiting taxpayers' freedom. Now the same government is grumbling that some English-language school board are ready to use much less taxpayers' money to intervene in the case on the other side.
Bill 104, passed by the Parti Québécois government in 2002, outlawed the practice of sending a child to fully-private English school for one year, which then served as a ticket into English education all the way through high school. Only a few families could take advantage of this costly route around restrictions on language choice, but a few families - anglophone, francophone and allophone - did so. Oh no you don't, said the government.
But Bill 104 was flawed, the Appeal Court said - it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights. Now that the government is appealing the decision, the case is starting to becoming a rallying point for anglophones and allophones.
Most anglos and allos have, over the years, patiently accepted the restrictions imposed by Bill 101, and on the whole the relative linguistic peace that has followed the Quebec language charter has served minority communities - and all Quebecers - well.
But there's a whiff of mean-spiritedness about Bill 104, and a reek of betrayal about the eagerness to support that law of a Liberal government which owes so much, electorally, to allophones and anglophones.
So something is stirring in this Bill 104 business. The Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations is rallying member support. The Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, speaking for 9,000 English-school teachers, is also seeking intervenor status. And now five of Quebec's nine English school boards will get involved in the case, using modest amounts from their budgets.
We can understand that some boards are reluctant to incur the government's wrath, but we applaud the courage of those who are getting involved. The Quebec Association of English School Boards calmly mustered reasonable arguments for the intervention: Francophone boards in other provinces have taken comparable actions; English schools are working hard to teach French; and so on.
News of the five school boards' participation has got Pauline Marois complaining - how dare the English stand up for their Charter rights? - and even Liberal Education Minister Michelle Courchesne expressed concern. Her view seems to be that it's OK for taxpayers' money to be spent trying to overturn a court ruling, but not OK for taxpayers' money to be spent trying to defend that ruling. The hypocrisy takes your breath away.
As more and more players speak up on this issue, there is still only silence, shameful silence, from Montreal Island MNAs, some of them anglophones and most of them elected by anglophones and allophones. Why won't they say anything about this issue?
Bill 104 becomes a rallying point
We can understand that some boards are reluctant to incur the government's wrath, but we applaud the courage of those who are getting involved.