A language bill deepens a culture clash in Quebec

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A language bill deepens a culture clash in Quebec
Aude Le Dubé poses for a portrait at her English-language bookstore, De Stiil, in Plateau-Mont-Royal, a multicultural neighborhood with a large Francophone population in Montreal, Canada, on Aug. 3, 2021. “Language should be a bridge to other cultures,” she said. Nasuna Stuart-Ulin/The New York Times.

by Dan Bilefsky

MONTREAL.- Since Aude Le Dubé opened an English-only bookshop in Montreal last year, she has had several unwelcome guests each month: irate Francophones, sometimes draped in Quebec flags, who storm in and berate her for not selling books in French.

“You would think I had opened a sex shop at the Vatican,” mused Le Dubé.

Now, however, Le Dubé is worried that resistance against businesses like her De Stiil bookshop will intensify. A language bill that the Quebec government has proposed would solidify the status of French as the paramount language in Quebec.

Under the legislation, which builds on a four decades-old language law and is expected to pass in the coming months, small and medium-size businesses would face more rigorous regulations to ensure they are operating in French, including raising the bar for companies to justify why they need to hire employees with a command of a language other than French. Government language inspectors would have expanded powers to raid offices and search private computers and iPhones.

Language is inextricably bound to identity in Quebec, a former French colony that fell to Britain in 1763. Today, French-speaking Quebecers are a minority in 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 the government, commerce and the courts. On commercial advertising and public signs, the French must be predominant. And children of immigrant families must attend French schools.

The new bill is spurring 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 over human rights.

The premier of Quebec, François Legault, has argued that the new law is “urgently required” to stave off the decline of the French language in a Francophone-majority province.

Shady Hafez, an Indigenous advocate and a sociology doctoral student at the University of Toronto, whose Indigenous community resides in Quebec, criticized the measure as tone-deaf. He said it ignored other marginalized cultures altogether, including Canada’s large Indigenous population.

Referring to efforts in Canada historically to stamp out Indigenous languages like his native Algonquin, he said, “We should be prioritizing preserving our own oppressed languages — not French.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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