English-speaking Quebecers must wake up and defend their rights

Political elites have abandoned anglos so courts are the only chance for success

Loi 104 - promotion du bilinguisme

Nine days ago, the Quebec Court of Appeal recognized that Quebec was systematically violating the constitutionally protected right to be educated in English of children who had already been instructed in English. This violation of rights had been in effect since Bill 104 was passed in 2002, restricting a right to English schooling guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

So what did the Court of Appeal decide yesterday? That this violation of a constitutional right must continue until the Supreme Court of Canada gives its final verdict, that might take three years.

Does that make sense? Yes, in our society that has condoned the perverting of the clearly expressed intentions of the fathers of confederation that French and English would have equal status in the province of Quebec; yes, in our society that refused to defend the constitutional order and the rule of law when the Quebec government threatened both in the 1995 referendum; yes, in our society that has allowed Québécois nationalism to become the supreme value, overriding freedom and historic rights.

The courts will not save those who choose to abdicate their rights.
Bernard Landry stated the new orthodoxy last Sunday: "Quebec is not bilingual. The official language of Quebec is French. The common language of Quebec is French, for all the governments of Quebec." Premier Jean Charest agrees with him.

But, constitutionally, both are wrong. English also is an official language of Quebec. That was stated by McGill University law faculty's most distinguished jurists on July 19, 1974, against Premier Robert Bourassa's Bill 22. The signatories were Dean Frank R. Scott, John Humphrey, chief drafter of the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, Irwin Cotler and four other law professors.

"Section 1, which provides that French is 'the official language of the province of Quebec,' is misleading in that it suggests that English is not also an official language in Quebec, which it is by virtue of Section 133 of the BNA Act and the federal Official Languages Act. ... No legislation in the National Assembly proclaiming French the sole official language in the province can affect these bilingual areas protected by the BNA Act."

That was a time when the English-speaking community had convictions and dared to defend constitutional rights. No more, since the Parti Québécois won the 1976 election. The fear of fostering separatism has led to repeated abdication by the elites.

Such was the refusal during the 1995 referendum by federal and Quebec Liberals and Alliance Quebec to raise the issue of constitutionality even after Justice Robert Lesage declared Jacques Parizeau's proposal meant the overthrow of the constitutional order. The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed this in 1998, but our elites were too polite in 1995 to defend the rule of law.
For the future, one issue is key if our community is to survive: The widespread conviction that the French language is threatened and, therefore, that constitutional rights, historic rights, even a mere sense of fairness, can be trampled to protect the frail French language

This question was studied at great length by the 1973 Commission of Inquiry on the Situation of the French Language and Linguistic Rights in Quebec, chaired by linguist Jean-Denis Gendron. After careful factual analysis, the commission found Quebecers believed English was Quebec's universal language of work, while the reality was that most French-speaking Quebecers overwhelmingly worked in French. The commission proposed measures to encourage the use of French, but did not find the French language endangered and did not propose coercive measures to force immigrant children into French schools.

Ever since, the careful work of the Gendron commission has been misrepresented. The PQ government's 1977 White Paper on the French Language, the prelude to Bill 101, claimed the Gendron Commission found Quebecers worked more than 80 per cent in English. In reality, that was the figure only for anglophones.

The Supreme Court of Canada, when it ruled on the language of signs, ignored the Gendron data and accepted uncritically the argument that French was endangered, based on information dating from before the Quiet Revolution. As no one expressed a contrary view, the court concluded the frailty of French justified curtailing Charter rights.

The English-speaking community must wake up and, at long last, defend our rights. The political arena is lost.

Only in court can we win, and that means rallying, raising money, recovering the clear-sightedness and conviction of Frank R. Scott and John Humphrey.
William Johnson, a Quebec journalist, is a former president of Alliance Quebec.

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