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Language Constraints: Tip of a Massive Iceberg of Discrimination in Quebec, Canada

Have you ever heard anyone argue that when they were younger they could not get a certain job or access a certain service because it required knowledge of a language which they didn’t have?
I have a few times heard that argument from people who then rejoiced in the fact that those times were gone and that now it was their mother tongue which had become the required language in those same situations.
Did they fail to see that the injustice they had suffered still existed but only shifted to other people? Or perhaps is it instead they didn’t care as long as the injustice was not directed toward them? Either way, as it seems, this is either a case of ignorance or selfishness.
Let’s dig deeper and further analyze the previous scenario. We take the example of a person looking to apply for a specific position but being unable to obtain it because of not having sufficient knowledge of a particular language. For the sake of the example, let’s say that this particular language is English. Let’s also call that person Jane. Now, Jane has approached several potential employers and gets the same response that she is not fluent enough in English. Jane also visits several commercial establishments and public facilities and has difficulties communicating with the staff because they speak English which she doesn’t. Jane later reflects on those experiences and wonders why the language that she has spoken since she was a child is not good enough for any of those situations. Jane also wonders why those speaking English are given preferential treatment? What Jane has observed seems to be discrimination. It involves preferential treatment based on a particular attribute, in this case the knowledge of a particular language. In this case, the preferential treatment also involves better work opportunities and better service at either commercial establishments or public offices. Jane inquires about this situation which is she believes is wrong. She finds out that because English is the chosen official language it is given preferential treatment over other languages. Jane believes in changing this situation. Eventually, years later, the situation has changed for what Jane believes is the best, since now her mother tongue is the new language that has replaced English. Let’s say her mother tongue is French. So when Jane now seeks employment The language that she knows and speaks well is the one required for the position and likewise when she requires services from government offices or places of business.
Jane believes the problem is now resolved and she’s willing to fight hard to keep it that way.
Around the same time, a young lady, let’s call her Mary, is looking for employment. However, most of the employers she approaches deny her only because she does not speak French fluently. Similarly she has difficulties getting services from government offices and businesses for the same reasons. Mary reflects on those experiences and wonder why the language she has spoken since she was a child is not good enough for any of those situations. She also wonders why those speaking French are given a preferential treatment. What Mary has observed also seems to be discrimination, exactly like Jane did earlier. Mary finds out that Because French is the chosen official language it is given preferential treatment over other languages. It doesn’t matter at this point which language is Mary’s mother tongue. It could be English or any other languages of the world. It is still discrimination. Indeed, preferential treatment is still given to some people over others based on a specific attribute, the language.
If you have wondered how can a law forcing the use of a specific language over others be discriminatory, then this is how.
In essence, every way you look at it, if the use of a language is either constrained, restricted, forbidden or passed over in favour of another language then the result is essentially discrimination.

Some apologists might defend such actions based on misplaced objectives such as the protection of a particular language; or claim the necessity of minimizing the number of official languages for economical reasons. Yet, neither of those arguments hold weight when properly analyzed.

1-  Economical reasons for minimizing the number of official languages: official language should mean a language selected as a mean of communication for official purposes. It should not mean a language imposed or forced upon people against their will. This shows not just a lack of tolerance but of respect towards peoples’individualities, difference, traits and abilities. Where specific official languages are chosen, the use of other languages should not be forbidden and efforts should be made to allow communication and assistance for those communicating in other languages in the name of diversity and differences. It is the least one should expect from a so-called “inclusive” society, or even pretending to be one. An official language should not be used as shackle or whip. Instead it should be used as a tool with obvious limited capacities since it would not make up for all the languages actually or potentially spoken. In other words, in a friendly and respectful society or community, efforts should be made to provide some assistance to those who may benefit from it when using a non official languages. This is a simple, basic civilized and humane behaviour. This is not just a matter of tolerance it is about respect and dignity. It is obvious nonetheless to anyone willing to communicate with a larger portion of a society that they would want to use official languages. However it should be a choice and never imposed or forced. When available, if possible, communications in non-official languages should be an option. Forbidding any such attempt of even of the simple intent to provide such help is inconsiderate, disrespectful, demeaning and insulting. A vibrant community, enriched by its diverse heritage should be able to benefit from it and enjoy freedom of speech, expression and distinctiveness without fear, petty restrictions or humiliating policies. This is especially true for a country such as Canada, which is ranked as one of the most diverse countries in the world. As of statistics dating back to 2016, they were 215 other languages spoken in Canada beside English or French. In Toronto, the largest Canadian city, roughly half the population was not born in Canada. It is even considered as one of the most, if not the most, culturally diverse city of the world. However, despite possessing such a richness and diversity, instead of exploiting this amazing trait to its fullest potential, even innovate or becoming a world leader and model, instead all this is lost to backward discriminatory practices enforced in Canada.

2-  Protection of a particular language: protecting, defending a language by force is he wrong approach, doing more harm than good. It creates animosity, anger, frustration, contempt and disdain towards the targeted language. It sends the wrong message, i.e. the message that “my language is better than yours, my culture is better than yours, my background, my origins are better than yours, I am better than you”… Protecting defending a language is not best done by force but instead by promoting it. In other words, it is not done by the rule of law but by offering courses, programs, organizing events, Just to name a few activities that people can join of their own free will, and not under duress, constraints or restrictions.

The rhetoric and argumentation exposed here can apply to a very large number of communities and societies where such issues are encountered. This reasoning applies to the Canadian province of Quebec where those issues are pervasive and have been so for quite a number of generations.

The root of the problem:
Furthermore the reality is that such laws are only the tip of the iceberg. Upon analysis of the various actions, efforts, and arguments, it becomes obvious that language is not really what is being supposedly defended here. One needs to look a bit deeper, beyond the appearances, the generic made up lines, the catchphrases, the make-believe rhetorics and see the actual machinations born from a racist ideology that is to place one group of people above others by providing them with privilege. Technically and in essence, the laws although nicknamed language laws encompass a broad range and multiple aspects of life in the Quebec society such that they are far much more than just language laws. It turns out that language is only but a small portion of the aspects of life they aim to control. Just to name a few, they affect schools, education, multiple aspects of businesses, hiring practices, public function and services, signs, governmental affairs, immigration policies, etc.
In reality, those laws aim at providing privilege as much as possible to the French speaking population, whose ancestors immigrated from France. Those laws attempt a balancing act, by providing such privilege to a specific group of people while at the same time seemingly pretending to only exist for the sole and only purpose of protecting the French language. The reality however is quite different. Obviously, if protecting a language was the real and only purpose, other more efficient ways, better suited for such a goal would have been applied to do so.
Obvious hints and clues to the actual purpose of those efforts can be seen in the fact that the same political parties that pushed those laws, historically displayed far right or extreme right rhetorics with distinct overtones of fascism. Furthermore, part of their agenda has been for quite sometime to create a new French Quebec nation either by secession or demanding packages of specific laws providing special status.
This has resulted in creating a discriminatory society geared towards favouritism and privilege for the French segment of the population, and specifically the one with French ancestry. Only in recent years has there been attempts to soften the camouflaged yet barely veiled racist ideology and rhetorics behind all the efforts deployed by the far right government, usually elected in the province of Quebec. For example, the term “inclusion” had to be brought in and promoted when it became increasingly obvious and shameful that the political agenda being pushed was discriminatory, racist and fascist, aiming to offer privilege to one group of people only and at the detriment of others. However this was not the only reason. Courting other groups of the population and gain their support was a needed political move for those extreme right parties. In other words, the new agenda was to trick and get support from the same people they made underprivileged in order to get even more privilege for themselves.
In reality however, successive governments of the province of Quebec have more or less stuck to a statu quo of racist discriminatory policies stemming from fascist beliefs aiming to provide privilege to one group of people at the expense of all others.
Nonetheless, it’s important to recognize and see beyond their scheming and lies and call them for what they really are, racists, fascists and expose them to the world. Let us call them what they are crooks and liars and bring them to answer in front of everyone for their lies and tricks Since being racist has not been fashionable in politics for quite sometime now, they will probably attempt to lie more and scurry in search of believable explanations.
Exposing and force them to come in the open is an important first step toward correcting the wrongs and improving our world.

Manes L.

July 15, 2022

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