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French in Canada

The minister responsible for Bill 14 says “mutual anxiety” about language in the francophone and anglophone communities is making her job a tough one.

During an emotional day featuring sometimes inflammatory presentations and with one French-language activist, Mario Beaulieu, revealing he has received death threats, Diane De Courcy said the debate over her bill has taken on an acrimonious tone.

“I have heard it all,” De Courcy, minister responsible for the Charter of the French Language, told reporters. “I even heard someone say we wanted to partition Quebec and create apartheid between anglophones and francophones.

“I admit I have seen a very, very acrimonious tone, very acrimonious tone, in social media and, in certain cases, written media.

“There are abuses of language. It’s not desirable but I think the truth is in the middle. If there is one thing we share with the English-speaking community and all of us, it is our mutual anxiety on questions of language.

“So this requires a lot of tact, balance and profound understanding.”

But getting to the middle is proving to be a challenge. Into a fourth week of hearings into the bill by a National Assembly committee, the “middle,” was certainly not the message from Jean-Paul Perreault, president of the Outaouais-based language lobby group Impératif français.

He started the day by — among other themes — urging Quebec to abolish the concept of anglophone hospitals.

“In our view, there’s no place for anglophone hospitals in Quebec,” Perreault said at a news conference. “They should all be francophone hospitals and the front-line services should be offered in the form of a translation service.”

He said in his view, the rules of the charter should be extended to all public health and education institutions — including CEGEPs and universities, plus all Crown corporations.

He said this is only logical “if we accept the principle that all persons who choose to live in Quebec must speak French or learn it.”

“I think what we need are hospitals,” Perreault responded later at the committee under questioning from the Coalition Avenir Québec MNA on the committee, Nathalie Roy, who said she could not disagree more with Perreault.

“Defining hospitals on a linguistic basis is to practise a form of discrimination.”

De Courcy immediately quashed the idea, lumping it into the pile of extreme ideas tossed into the mix almost daily now.

But her day was not over.

Two other groups, Beaulieu’s Movement Québec français and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), took turns saying Bill 14 does not go far enough.

Despite statements from business lobbies that workplace language rules are fine as they are, the CSN said the proportion of employees working mainly in French in Montreal has dropped from 85 per cent to 80 per cent between 1989 and 2010.

The number of firms working only in French only has dropped 6.5 percentage points between 1997 and 2010, they told the committee.

In yet another warning about creeping bilingualism, CSN president Jacques Létourneau told the committee three out of four available jobs in Montreal require English.

Letourneau told the committee about a newly arrived Italian immigrant who learned French when she arrived because she was told she would need it to work as a waitress in a café in Petite-Patrie.

He said the woman told him: “Nobody told me I would also have to work in English.”

And CSN vice-president Michel Forget dismissed Liberal arguments that the incentive approach is best in the workplace.

He said the voluntary route has been tried for a number of years. Given the chance to do nothing, firms will, he said.

Beaulieu also quoted dire statistics, telling the committee that short of a shakeup, in 20 years the francophone population of Quebec will be down to 40 per cent.

Overall in Quebec, the percentage of francophones is now below 80 per cent.

“If we don’t act now, by the time the problem shows up in the City of Quebec, it will be too late,” Beaulieu said.

And earlier, Beaulieu — a familiar face in Quebec’s linguistic battles — revealed he received death threats after a January interview about language on a Montreal English-language radio station.

“It was very explicit — ‘You should be shot, all of you,’ ” Beaulieu said, switching briefly into English while explaining the incident to reporters.

Beaulieu said he turned over the threats to police but blamed some English-language media for the problem because he said he has been described as “xenophobic, anglophobe and racist.”

“I am not anglophobic,” Beaulieu said. “I have anglophones in my family. I want to assure the future of French.”

The day ended with an appearance by a group named the Office Québécoise de la langue anglaise, which presented a harshly-worded brief calling on Quebec to make English an official language, scrap Bill 14, give parents freedom of choice for schools and lower the threshold for bilingual cities.

Accompanied by about 20 supporters, group spokesperson Hugo Shebbeare accused the government of wanting to legitimize discrimination based on language and “get rid of anglophones.”

He said a legal divide is being placed between Quebecers by “opportunistic politicians, inebriated nationalists and separatist militants who think we are foreigners here.”

“This is an angry presentation, an angry brief,” a Liberal MNA on the committee, Geoffrey Kelley, remarked to the committee as it wrapped for the day.

He said language is always a “question of balance,” and asked the group if it had any concrete suggestions about that.

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