MONTREAL — Since Aude Le Dubé opened an English-only bookstore in Montreal last year, they’ve had several unwanted guests each month: erratic francophones, sometimes draped in Quebec flags, who read books in French. Storm and reprimand him for not selling.
“You would think I had opened a sex shop in the Vatican,” said Ms. Le Dube, a novelist from Brittany, France, and an enthusiast F. Scott Fitzgerald fan said.
Now, however, Ms. Le Dubey is worried that resistance will intensify against businesses such as her De Stil Bookshop. A new language bill proposed by the Quebec government would strengthen French’s status as a paramount language in Quebec, a move that could undermine businesses that rely on English.
Under the law, which is based on a four-decade-old language law and is expected to be passed in the coming months, small and medium-sized businesses will face more stringent regulations to ensure they operate in French. That includes raising the bar for companies. Justify why they need to hire staff with command of a language other than French. Government language inspectors will have expanded powers to raid offices and search personal computers and iPhones. And the number of Francophone Quebecers attending English-language colleges would be severely limited.
The language is inextricably tied to Quebec, a former French colony that fell to Britain in 1763. Today, French-speaking Quebecers are a minority. North America, where their language faces a daily challenge in English-dominated social media and global popular culture.
In Quebec, French is already the official language of government, commerce and the courts. On commercial advertising and public signs, French should be dominant. And children from immigrant families must attend French schools.
The new bill is causing a backlash among the province’s English-speaking minority and others, who complain that it seeks to create a monocultural Quebec in multicultural Canada and tramples on human rights.
The debate over the language is particularly heated in Montreal, a sprawling metropolitan city with an English-speaking minority. There is such alarm in Quebec about the fragility of French that a few years ago the provincial government passed a non-binding resolution asking shop attendants to replace “bonjour hi” – a common greeting in bilingual, tourist-friendly Montreal – only by ” Bonjour”. “
The premier of Quebec, François Legault, has argued that the new law is “urgently necessary” to halt the decline of the French language in the francophone-majority province. “It’s nothing against English Quebecers,” he said.
Other proponents argue that the law is necessary in a world in which the allure of English is so strong.
But critics of the bill say stigmatizing bilingualism would prove detrimental to Quebec. “Language should be a bridge to other cultures, but this bill seeks to put up barriers,” said Ms. Le Dube, whose bookstore is in Montreal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal, a large Francophone community, street art and Hip cafe neighborhood.
To protect the bill from potential court challenges, the government has called for a constitutional loophole, known as a “notwithstanding clause”, that allows Canadian governments to violate certain constitutional rights, including freedom of religion or expression. gives power.
Quebec’s quest to preserve French is echoed in other countries, including the United States, where more than 20 states have enacted laws in recent years to make English an official language, amid the spread of Spanish.
In France, the Académie Française, a rare French language defense body, has called for a ban on some English words such as “hashtag”, although it later backed it. The Language Agency of Quebec, for its part, has allowed “grilled cheese” to enter the dictionary, but prefers “coreal” to “email”.
Its proponents argue that the bill is imperative because bilingualism in Quebec workplaces is on the rise. They point to a 2019 study by the agency protecting the French language, which showed that the proportion of workers who exclusively use French at work fell from 60 percent to 56 percent between 2011 and 2016. .
Alain Belanger, a demographer at Quebec’s Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, a graduate research organization in Quebec City, said the future of the French in the province was at risk, especially among second- and third-generation immigrants, who always switched to English. Were. .
“This legislation is necessary to help address this imbalance,” he said.
Louis Beaudoin, who served as language minister for a nationalist party, the Parti Québécois, in the 1990s, said at a recent hearing on the legislation that the bill did not go far enough, and may not be appropriate to the liberal and “French state”. Looking at Quebec.”
Critics of the bill said bilingualism should be seen as a benefit – not a threat – and accused Quebec’s government of seeking to end English and other minority languages.
Shady Hafez, an Indigenous advocate and a sociology doctoral student at the University of Toronto whose Indigenous community lives in Quebec, criticized the measure as tone-deaf. He said it completely ignored other marginalized cultures, including Canada’s large indigenous population.
“We need you all to speak your language, to say Quebec is continuing the project of building a culture state,” he said. Referring to Canada’s efforts to historically stamp indigenous languages like their native Algonquin, he said, “we must prioritize preserving our own oppressed languages—not French.”
Alex Vinicki, co-owner of Satya Brothers, a popular Asian street-food restaurant, said the bill’s rules would disrupt small businesses already hit by the pandemic. He would ideally like to have a “Satya Brothers” sign outside his restaurant, which is now unmarked.
“A new sign would cost about $10,000, and I don’t want the language police to break down my door,” said Mr. Winicki, the son of immigrants from Singapore and Poland.
In addition, in multilingual Montreal – where hip-hop artists mix English and French and where many residents switch between French, English and mother tongues such as Mandarin and Arabic – they espouse the notion that the government effectively polices daily life. Could use language that was “ridiculous”.
The bill requires that companies justify their requirement to hire employees with knowledge of a language other than French. Its proponents worry that a bilingual person may be preferred over someone who speaks only French, which may harm francophones.
Michel LeBlanc, president of Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce, said he does not want a situation in which a restaurant has a bilingual waiter called every time an American tourist arrives. But he insisted that language protection was necessary, noting that French was spoken by a minority in Canada.
Yet some, including Mr LeBlanc, fear the economic consequences of the bill. During a recent legislative committee debate on the bill, he insisted that English was the international language of business and that the bill could undermine Quebec’s economy. In the late 1970s, following the passage of the last landmark Language Bill, Montreal experienced an exodus of Anglophones and businesses to Toronto.
Christopher Shannon, principal of Lower Canada College, an elite English-language private school in Montreal, warned that the bill threatened to reduce his enrollment and make Montreal a less attractive place for world-class talent to settle. Under the bill, he said, foreign nationals living in Quebec cannot temporarily send their children to a private English school like theirs for more than three years.
“This bill threatens to turn Montreal into a backwater,” he said.
Ms Le Dube, the owner of the English bookstore, said that, being from Brittany, where the Breton language declined rapidly under French oppression in the 20th century, she recognized the importance of preserving a nation’s language. kind of understood.
But, she said quickly, “Why can’t different languages coexist?”