How a Province uses Language Laws to Assimilate and Implement a Cultural genocide
The title refers to an “immigrant problem” not because there actually is one but instead to reflect the real conditions of how immigrants are actually treated and dealt with through laws implemented and designed with the intent of containing, restricting and restraining them. These are all measures that are important from the perspective of a racist individual who sees foreign language, culture, and customs as a threat to his or her own way of life. Enter here the racist so called “language laws” of the Canadian province of Quebec. Indeed, when properly examined this is what perspires about their true nature. Let’s dive into the subject and get a better understanding.
Even upon a superficial analysis a striking similarity comes to mind for those a bit more familiar with the history and workings of totalitarian regimes. Indeed, those language laws are very much reminiscent of the type enacted under the Nazi regime that ruled Germany or the fascist Italian regime of the same era, just to name a few of the more well-known ones. A feature that those laws share with those regimes is the way that they have been disguised to appear legitimate and justified enough, to the point that to most people they do not appear to disregard basic human rights and dignity.
Similarly, the Nazi regime pushed a set of laws and regulations that seemed legitimate and even reasonable to a large segment of the population that therefore supported them. It was a while before the true face of Nazism showed itself and its madness and absurdity became evident, at least to those not yet brainwashed or blinded by it. Take for example the Law on the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, forbidding marriages and intercourse between Jews and Germans.
Consider the Reich Citizenship Law, stating that only those of German or related blood could be Reich citizens while others were only state subjects without citizenship rights. Consider how those laws actually outlined who was Jewish, Romani, Black and even decreed them as “enemies of the race-based state”. At least nowadays, those seem obviously racist and wrong.
But what about the “Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases” (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), mandating the forced sterilization of certain individuals with physical and mental disabilities. It allowed to legally perform the involuntary sterilization of people with physical and mental disabilities or mental illness, but also Roma (Gypsies), “asocial elements,” and Afro-Germans. There appears to be a sort of justification for those laws such that they aimed to improve the gene pool and ensure that children born in the future would not suffer from a certain number of diseases. Of course, upon closer analysis it becomes obvious that they are unethical and violate basic human rights such as the right to life, liberty, and security; the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law; the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, etc. However, to a person not even familiar with ethics or human rights, what those stand for and why they even exist, sterilizing some people against their will, may have seemed acceptable. But since we exist in a systemic world where everything is interconnected, ignoring human rights and ethical considerations would be like opening a can of worms, leading to many undesired consequences.
With a clear mind, it is easier to analyze and uncover laws that are plain wrong as they lead to much more issues than solutions. How does it work for a child though?
Under the Nazis, indoctrination was in fact applied through several ways such as propaganda campaigns and made to work its way even in the mind of children who were exposed and trained with school curricula and other material designed to support an evil regime. For those a bit more resistant or older, brainwashing by using various methods of intense pressure, psychological or not, was another tactic. The Hitler Youth recruited teenagers for the purpose of teaching them the Nazi ideology and racism. The indoctrination aimed to make children believe a biased ideology and turn them into radicalized adults supportive of a regime no matter how evil it was, in reality.
Those tactics have been employed by other brutal dictatorships to sustain themselves on a longer term, such as for example the Khmer Rouge, another vicious regime notorious for the systematic mass murder of a quarter of its entire population, 1.5 to 2 million people in Cambodia, in the span of just 4 years. Similarly, to the Nazis, they aimed at influencing people’s lives beyond a basic point of human dignity and decency.
Social engineering, as the attempts and methods employed by a government to manipulate and modify on a large-scale people’s attitude, behaviours, even beliefs has often had tragic results especially when the rule of law was employed to enforce the requested changes. Hence, the Khmer Rouge embarked on the collectivization of farming which led to widespread famine; national purity purges i.e., the extermination of minorities, along executions of so-called subversive elements or possible dissenters along with most intellectuals and anyone with an education. Children were encouraged to spy on their parents and denounce them. Many were taken away to live in communes and indoctrinated. The family structure along with what it stood for i.e., the loving and caring support environment that provides a reasonable amount of comfort and happiness to allow children to flourish, was deliberately destroyed.
Replacing it, was an inhumane authoritarian machine aiming at raising those children so that they would become obedient supporters and defenders of a mad regime.
In 1976 South-Africa, ten to twenty thousand students took to the streets to demonstrate and protest the language imposed on them as medium of instruction in schools. Police fired live ammunition on the crowd, killing many, mostly children. A national uprising ensued. This movement had a long history dating as far back as 1955 when the African National Congress called on parents to withdraw their children from schools in response to the Bantu Education Act. The Minister in charge of education promoted the act to the parliament with a speech interspersed with racist rhetoric and demeaning colonial overtones: “When I have control of native education, I will reform it so that natives will be taught from childhood to realize that equality with Europeans is not for them. People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers for Natives. There is no place for him (the Black child) in European society above the level of certain forms of labour… What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?”
All those tragic historical events, at the least, tell us that whenever a government enacts laws dictating to families or parents how to raise their children, alarm bells should be going on that something is not right, especially when the laws have nothing to do with basic matters such as safety, human rights, or health.
Just a few years ago, on June 11, 2008 the prime minister of Canada apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the practice of forcibly separating aboriginal children from their family and confining them into “Indian residential schools” where they suffered widespread sexual abuse, rape, violence, degradation and for those who survived, lifelong trauma. Those crimes were perpetrated on a massive scale. Later, just in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the Canadian Indian residential school system was tantamount to cultural genocide, separating aboriginal children from their parents to prevent the passing of the cultural heritage from parents to children.
September 30, 2021 marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in honour of the survivors and in memory of the victims of the residential school system.
The adopted namesake of Truth and Reconciliation Commission is reminiscent of the one that took place in South Africa at the end of the Apartheid. However different was the process that took place in Canada, the fact that a similar effort was attempted is revealing when it comes to the gravity and extent of the crimes committed. When we size up the amount of abuse, atrocities, murders, subjugation, sub-human treatment of the majority of a population of about 40 million South-Africans at the time, and when we compare to previous similar efforts deployed in 1945-1946 in the form of the Nuremberg trials for example to try Nazi war criminals who committed crimes against humanity, it puts in perspective the seriousness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that investigated the atrocities of the Canadian residential schools.
However, how is it, that this now infamous system of residential schools was able to operate in the first place? Let’s jump back and revisit Canadian history or North American history. In 1755, a British Indian Department was established to handle interactions with the aboriginals of the North American lands. In 1775, similar organizations were formed in the U.S. and eventually formed the current American Bureau of Indian Affairs. While in Canada, the name varied slightly overtime.
In 1857, a bill was passed to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of Indian Tribes in this Province (Canada), and to Amend the Laws Relating to Indians also known as the Gradual Civilization Act, later changed to the 1869 Gradual Enfranchisement Act of the new Dominion of Canada. The purpose was to help the assimilation of Indigenous peoples into the broader settler society by offering the status of “enfranchised” to Indians who qualified and were willing to claim it to take advantage of the benefits of enfranchisement such as being able to vote. Obviously, the Canadian government had a policy of assimilation of the First Nations that dates far back in time.
A decorated Canadian civil servant served from 1913 to 1932 at the Department of Indian Affairs: Dr. Duncan Campbell Scott recipient of the “Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George” and of the “Fellowship of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC)”. He strongly supported the assimilationist policy and elaborated his thoughts as such: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” At one point, when alerted about severe outbreaks of tuberculosis in residential schools he actually intervened to prevent efforts aimed to fight the disease and reduce the casualties, claiming that this “does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem”. Among some other thoughts he put in writing: “…use your utmost endeavours to dissuade the Indians from excessive indulgence in the practice of dancing. You should suppress any dances which cause waste of time, interfere with the occupations of the Indians, unsettle them for serious work, injure their health or encourage them in sloth and idleness”.
It turns out that the Indian Act was amended in 1920 making it mandatory for all native children aged seven to fifteen to attend school. The preference was for residential schools which were hence made compulsory. Although the law didn’t specify it, Scott was in favour of residential schooling for aboriginal children, believing that separating them from their homes and reserves would hasten the cultural and economic transformation of the whole aboriginal population. Those children were then forcibly taken from their families and culture and shipped away to what turned out to be a hellish environment, that no child should ever be exposed to.
As can be seen, the atrocities committed through the residential school system were not to blame simply on random isolated individuals or only the church. This was an orchestrated effort engineered and designed by the country’s lawmakers themselves, approved by the highest governmental institutions and enforced by the police forces and the law, just like in Nazi Germany a few decades later where people were deported in mass to concentration camps and murdered; or in Pol Pot’s Cambodia where children were taken away from their families and their parents executed. Those actions were all the doing of governments conducting implemented mass atrocities and exacting genocide on their own people i.e., population under the control of a government regardless of how sympathetic it is toward them.
We can even see the similarities in the rhetoric. Scott quoted above, used the terms “Indian problem” and “final solution”. Likewise, the Nazis would use similar terms when debating how to handle the “Jewish problem” and when they devised the “final solution”. Hermann Göring, one of the highest ranked officers of Nazi Germany ordered Reinhard Heydrich in July 1941 to coordinate a plan for the “Final Solution”. Then, during a meeting in Berlin, on January 20, 1942, that included state secretaries of offices that carried out Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies, SS leaders and Adolf Eichmann, director of Heydrich’s Jewish office, they discussed how to coordinate the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Problem” i.e., their mass extermination.
Meanwhile, in Canada at around the same time, Canadian people of Japanese origin were rounded up, taken away from their home and forced into internment camps. Most were fishers living in British Columbia. Those actions were sanctioned by the War Measures Act. The order came from the Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King federal cabinet on February 24, 1942. Their fishing boats were impounded. Their schools and newspapers were shut down. As they were detained, many of their belonging were taken away and they were forced to live in subpar conditions without electricity or running water. Those who resisted were even sent to actual prisoner of war camps. Then, in a subsequent order signed a year later on January 19, 1943 their properties, that had been supposedly under the government’s “protective custody”, such as homes, farms, businesses and personal property were sold and the proceeds used to cover the costs of detaining them against their will.
In total, about 21,000 Canadians were affected by those government implemented acts of racism and abuse for the sole and only reason of being of Japanese descent. Some were held in the camps until 1948. After the war, the Prime Minister Mackenzie King then offered to those Canadians to either move to Japan or disperse to provinces east of the Rocky Mountains. Most of them were born in this country.
In 1946, nearly 4,000 of them chose to leave Canada to return to a war-torn devastated Japan. Of those, 2,000 were already aging first-generation immigrants while 1,300 were just children under 16 years of age.
Abuses to different extents perpetrated on a population by a government have occurred since time immemorial and despite claims of modernity, progress or supposed democracy or free society, this still occurs to this day, even in so-called “democracies”.
Yet let’s now look at a specific case where similar practices of a government interference between parents and their children are ongoing in the province of Quebec. It may be a different scenario, different laws but the basics are still the same: create a system of laws, restrictive enough to force most parents to raise children according to the will of the government. In that case, children are forced to study in French schools. Imposing a language of education was what actually led to the June 16, 1976 uprising in Soweto, South Africa at the height of the Apartheid era, clearly in a very oppressive and brutal regime.
When we gather the clues and piece them together, the picture becomes clearer that what’s going on in Quebec amounts to oppression and dictatorship, instead of a free and democratic society as this province and the Canadian government backing it, obviously, attempt to portray it.
Consider that a majority of people in Quebec have French ancestry and have been speaking French for several generations. Hence, having their kids study in French is an obvious or normal choice for most of them and in fact, their first choice. However, newcomers to Quebec don’t have that privilege if they don’t have French ancestry and instead speak another language. Having their children study in English would be a viable option if they do happen to already speak English or are more comfortable in it than French, which, as it turns out is more than often the case since English is not only more widely spoken worldwide than French but also one of the most studied languages and most used to communicate between different nations.
However, the Quebec government uses a set of very restrictive laws to force most of those people to have their children study in French schools, taking away their ability to choose what they deem best for their children and their household. Therefore, as a result, one group has the privilege of sending their children in the school where the language of their choice is spoken while another group is denied that right. Hence, we have the premises of Nazi-like laws in Canada, which is justified to the grand public as necessary to “safeguard the French culture and protect the French society from oblivion and disappearance”, etc. All of it boils down to forcing kids to speak a language they or their parents didn’t choose or want.
Integration by force has rarely been effective historically. Take again for example the Indian residential school system which attempted to erase Indian heritage by disrupting the cultural transfer from generation to generation. It succeeded in destroying and maiming psychologically, culturally and in many other ways both the children and their families. Substance abuse, crime, depression, mental health issues, suicide have since plagued the aboriginal communities as a result.
In perspective, Quebec’s French education laws may as well be designed to instead destroy the families and children of people coming to Quebec under the pretense of assimilation or integration. People should choose to have their kids study in French because they like the language or it appeals to them but not because they are forced to. This builds resentment, hatred and dislike for the language and the culture itself that they supposedly claimed to preserve.
For some people, education in English is still the better choice for their children, no matter what a set of rules forces them into, while obviously pushing a political agenda more than the welfare of the people they target. Take for example a family where parents from different backgrounds had already adopted English to speak at home, such that the children’s mother tongue at birth is indeed and effectively English. While education in English would then be a proper choice, imagine instead how disruptive it is for those children to go to school and not understand properly what is even being said and for the parents not to be able to help them either. Would French speaking people find it acceptable to send their kids to an English school when they or the children don’t speak English at all? While nowhere else in Canada, such restrictions exist, why is it then acceptable in Quebec to force people into speaking French? Why don’t other provinces enact laws forcing people to speak English or any other particular language, or couldn’t aboriginal communities have laws as well imposing native languages?
When digging further into the matter, it does become clear in fact that Quebec language laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional. To supposedly protect a French culture and language from vanishing, as we are led to believe, a cultural genocide is being allowed instead to take place.
Cultural genocides have occurred multiple times in the past in different parts of the world. Another example that is somewhat reminiscent of Quebec especially by the number of similarities was the prohibition of minority languages during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. One of those, the Catalan language was banned in all public places, including schools, Catalan birth names forbidden, and Catalan cities, streets and other toponyms renamed to Spanish.
What transpire from most of those historical examples of cultural genocides is that they appear politically motivated either by fear or conquest and expansion, but never by a thoughtful goal of looking out for people’s welfare and best interests. Even when it comes to preserving a language, the correct process isn’t aggression and restrictions on other languages but instead the promotion of that particular language. How do language restrictions on public signs help preserve a language other than irritate, antagonize, and build lasting resentment in the people they target? Wouldn’t those resources be spent more efficiently by promoting the language instead of systematic harassment with a distinct hint of xenophobia?
Does forcing parents to send kids to a French school, when their choice would be an English one, help integrate and assimilate those families into the French culture and society or is it that they resent it and instead choose to distance themselves along with their kids from that language and culture?
Isn’t it a reality that there are people coming to Quebec who are already interested in the French language and culture and don’t need any restrictive laws to fuel their interest, while on the other hand, there are other people who would definitely be more comfortable in English and for whom those laws are a serious hindrance instead?
In regard to other cultures, the history of Canada and North America in general abounds with efforts made to either assimilate them as a softer measure or exterminate them as the harsher one.
Efforts by the United States to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream European-American culture have culminated between 1790 and 1920. After the American Revolution, George Washington devised a policy to implement what he referred to as the “civilizing process”, intended to assimilate the Indian population. The American Indian boarding schools were also established during the early 19th through the mid-20th centuries with a primary objective of “civilizing” or assimilating Native American children and youth into Euro-American culture.
The Indian Act passed in 1876 is a Canadian law pertaining to Indian status, bands, and Indian reserves mostly in a highly invasive and paternalistic manner. Despite numerous amendments, it largely retains its original form today and basically is part of a long history of assimilation policies intended to terminate the cultural, social, economic, and political distinctiveness of Aboriginal peoples by absorbing them into mainstream Canadian life and values.
This shows that practices of assimilation implying attempts to erase, negate or minimize distinctiveness have historically been standard and commonplace throughout North America for centuries, so much that they are ingrained in the customs, mentality, way of thinking and policymaking itself. Hence, it’s not surprising to find those same practices reappear in the current laws, government affairs and decisions. Quebec’s Language laws are no different as they target specifically none else than the immigrant population. Simply put, those laws were created to “deal” with immigrants.
Overall, it is usually the same patterns of abuse being repeated. A group is deemed a problem, a solution is devised, turned into law and then enforced. Whether this is the “Indian problem” and “the Indian solution”; or the “Jewish problem” and the “final solution”; or the “immigrant problem” and “the immigrant solution” … the pattern is the same. No matter how subtle it is made to appear or how hidden it is, behind false ideologies or doctrines, it is still a pattern of xenophobia and hate fueled by stupidity, that leads to discrimination then abuse enacted by a government on targeted members of its own population.
Let us learn and practice to see this wicked pattern, recognize it, call it for what it really is and denounce it for all to hear and see, loud and clear. This would truly be in everyone’s best interest, because when we are all – without discrimination – able to prosper and flourish unimpeded by harm and evil, the whole society, by ripple effect, without distinction benefits as a result.